ROBERT GORDON IS a man born out of time. Many fans and music historians believe that, had he been recording in the ’50s, he might have become a rockabilly legend. Instead, he kickstarted the worldwide rockabilly revival in 1977 with the release of his debut album, Robert Gordon With Link Wray, made in tandem with the guitar legend behind the 1958 instrumental hit “Rumble.” Great things were expected for Gordon. His early albums were produced by Richard Gottehrer, the legendary producer and songwriter behind 1960s hits like “Hang On Sloopy,” “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy,” as well as a major player in the ’70s and ’80s who launched the careers of Madonna, Blondie, the Ramones and Talking Heads. Gordon and Wray’s second album, 1978’s Fresh Fish Special, featured former Elvis Presley vocalists the Jordanaires and included a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” that had the Boss himself on keyboards. In 1981, Gordon had his biggest success with Are You Gonna Be the One, and scored a hit with “Someday, Someway,” a rockabilly tune written by Marshall Crenshaw, based on the 1957 Gene Vincent tune “Lotta Lovin’.”
But then Gordon was sidelined by another rockabilly act, the Stray Cats, who became one of the biggest bands of the early ’80s. “If I’d been coming through in the MTV age, I think I’d have become a big star,” Gordon tells Guitar Player. “Back then, people who didn’t even tour could become huge just because of MTV. I had a real strong image, and the music was unlike everything that was getting airplay.”
“LINK KNEW JUST ONE WAY TO PLAY AND THAT WAS WITH THE VOLUME ON FULL” — ROBERT GORDON
Gordon not only paved the way for rockabilly’s return to the mainstream — he also revived the career of Wray, who had been out of the spotlight for years since his ’50s instrumental hits. Wray made a number of rootsy, proto-Americana albums in the early ’70s but was mainly playing the oldies circuit when Gordon plucked him to be his guitarist. Like John Mayall, the singer became an act through which many great guitarists passed. After Wray, Gordon went on to recruit Chris Spedding and Danny Gatton. More recently, he’s worked with players like Eddie Angel, Quentin Jones and, most recently, Danny B. Harvey, who co-produced Gordon’s 2020 album, Rockabilly for Life, which has guest spots by Albert Lee, Steve Wariner and Steve Cropper.
“The guitarists that I worked with never changed my approach to my music,” he said. “I’ve always done my thing. I choose the songs, and I let the guitarists do their thing. I don’t step on their territory, but I like to hear what I like to hear, and it works out good. When you’re working with people like Chris Spedding and Danny Gatton, you don’t have to tell them too much. These guys have been there and done that, and they’re the best. I always let them do their thing before I open my mouth.”
Here, we let Gordon, and a number of key contributors to his work — including Spedding, Jones, Harvey and Gottehrer — tell the tale of his nearly 50-year career in rockabilly.
Link Wray was a wonderful friend. He was 20 years older than me. I first saw him when I was nine years old at an amusement park in Glen Echo, Maryland. My father took me and my brother there, and they used to have shows on the weekends. He was doing “Rumble,” and it blew me away. When I got the deal with Private Stock [Records], Richard Gottehrer asked me who I’d like to work with. We knocked it around for a couple of weeks and then he suggested Link, and I said that would be awesome. He got Link to come to New York, and we hit it off.
I met Robert while he was still singing for New York City punk band TuffDarts. He said to me that he was thinking of leaving them and putting together a rockabilly band. He was really knowledgeable about the music. He really knew his stuff. The first recordings that we did, I wish I still had them. Johnny Thunders played guitar and Marc Bell played drums. We did it at Plaza Sound Studios, where I did a lot of recording, including the first two Blondie albums. This wasn’t really a band that was going to hold together, because Marc wanted to do his own thing and became Marky Ramone, and Johnny was Johnny. [laughs] We knew we had to find another guitarist.
GORDON Link wasn’t playing rock and roll as such when he joined up with me. I guess he’d been out of the limelight for a while. It had probably been 20 years since he’d had a hit record. I’m very proud of the fact that I wanted to put his name on the album cover. It was billed as Robert Gordon With Link Wray. That was my decision because I wanted him to get the recognition he deserved, and then he went on to have a second coming, I guess you could say.
GOTTEHRER Link was doing the oldies circuit when we caught up with him, almost forgotten by the younger generation of record buyers at the time that we brought him on board. He was very interested in much heavier, guitar-driven music, rather than straightforward rock and roll. We really connected on a personal level. He used to stay at my house when he was in town.
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