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Robert Gordon: Still Showing His Rockabilly Roots

gordon1.jpgRobert Gordon grew up in Bethesda and when I talked on the phone to the rockabilly singer yesterday I asked which high school he went to. He chuckled.

"I went to B-CC, Walt Whitman and Walter Johnson," he said. "School was not one of my high points. I was more interested in riding my motorcycle."

Riding his motorcycle and playing his music. Born in 1947, Gordon started playing clubs in the D.C. area at age 15. "I got my start in terms of performing in the Washington, D.C. area when I was underage. My first group, the Confidentials, we worked at not one of the better clubs in the area, the Rocket Room across form the Greyhound bus station. That was really an eye opener, man. We did 45 minutes on, 15 off for like five shows a night. I paid a lot of dues."

Gordon was playing a lot of music but he was also seeing a lot of it. "I remember all the great groups in the area: the Chartbusters, the Telstars, the British Walkers. In the early '60s I started going to the Howard Theater, when very few white people would go near the place. I was just amazed. You'd spend three bucks and see like five or six amazing acts. I saw everyone man: Otis Redding, James Brown, Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Gladys Knight, Jerry Butler....It was a real great place musically to grow up."

In 1970 Gordon moved to New York. He joined a band called the Tuff Darts then struck out on his own, recording mainly music that was 20 years old at the time. With his skyscraper of jet-black hair, he was Kramer decades before "Seinfeld."

Many critics were not kind to Gordon. Some saw him as a "rockabilly revivalist" at a time when rockabilly wasn't worthy of reviving. I pulled My Lovely Wife's Robert Gordon LPs out just now and a scathing review from the Unicorn Times fell out from one. "Robert Gordon only dresses the part," read the headline. Gordon had autographed the scrap of newsprint: "Ruth -- Don't believe everything you read."

I think some critics thought there was something unauthentic about Gordon, that he was jumping on some sort of rockabilly bandwagon. If so, he picked a pretty rickety bandwagon. I think he just loved playing the music.

And loves it still. He's playing at the 930 club tonight. Gordon's always had exquisite taste in collaborators. He conscripted D.C. guitar great Link Wray for his early releases ("I'd seen him at a Don Dillard/Barry Richards record hop"). He toured with the incredible Danny Gatton. He recorded songs by Bruce Springsteen and Marshall Crenshaw. Tonight at 930 he'll be joined onstage by Sex Pistol Glen Matlock on bass, Stray Cat Slim Jim Phantom on drums and Britain's Chris Spedding on guitar. (I always thought the Gibson Flying V was a pretty naff instrument. Then I saw Spedding shred one with Gordon during a show at the old Roxy club on Connecticut Avenue some 20 years ago.)

"Last night was our first show," Gordon said of his new lineup. "Tonight is our second."

And tonight at the 930 club will be their third. I'll see you there.

By John Kelly  |  August 14, 2009; 9:30 AM ET
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I missed that Roxy club show. Should have gone.

Posted by: bbcrock | August 14, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

John, thanks for posting this - when I saw the title of the post, I thought you might have been doing an album review or something, and I was so excited to see that Gordon was playing in DC that night (!) that I bought 2 tickets without bothering to ask the wife.

I assume it was pretty well-advertised, since the club was full, but I hadn't heard about it. That's the price I pay for listening to an iPod on the Metro - since I moved to DC, I hardly ever listen to the radio.

It was a great concert, even though there were a ton of his songs I was looking forward to that he didn't play. Sea Cruise? Five Days? But great nonetheless. And the Fleshtones for the opening act put on a hell of a show.

Posted by: tomsing | August 18, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

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