Elvis’s Sun days (and an hour two on RCA), Charlie Feather’s tremulous bark, Jerry Lee’s murderin’ everythang, Wanda Jackson’s mighty hair and bare shoulders– rockabilly is music to live for and die by, and Robert Gordon managed both. Lester Bangs dubbed the revivalist “Bopcatus Americanus”, and in honor of what would have been his 76th birthday, here are five crucial cuts from Robert Gordon’s career guaranteed to move you down the line!
1. “The Way I Walk” (1978)
Robert Gordon was born on March 29th, 1947, in Bethesda, Maryland, and in 1956 was struck by Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel”. Landing in New York City in the early 1970s, Gordon traded playing punk with the Tuff Darts for a piled-high pompadour, indulging in his one true love of rockabilly music and enlisting none other than guitarslinger par excellence Link Wray for a ’77 self-titled debut. This cover of Jack Scott’s “The Way I Walk” from the dynamic duo’s 1978 follow-up Fresh Fish Special (so named for Vince Everett’s prison haircut in Jailhouse Rock) is everything rockabilly is meant to be– mean, dirty, twangy, greasy, lusty, and threatening as dual switchblades on a trash-strewn side street.
2. “Standing On the Outside of Her Door” (1981)
Gordon’s fifth studio effort Are You Gonna Be The One featured Telecaster demigod Danny Gatton on lead guitar, but Lloyd Green’s (The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo) pedal steel is the star of this borderline countrypolitan gem penned by Dorsey Burnette and Joe Osborn. Gordon is in top vocal form– equal parts Elvis & Iggy with just a whiskey-sip of Johnny Bush.
3. “Have I The Right” (1998)
Some of the finest guitar players of all time have performed and recorded with Robert Gordon– Link Wray, Danny Gatton, Eddie Angel– but the chemistry he found with Chris Spedding was the perfect boilermaker of hip and cool. Spedding handled the six-string for ’79’s Rock Billy Boogie, ’80’s Bad Boy, ’94’s All For The Love Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, as well as multiple live outings, and in 1998, the Englishman joined Gordon for a project that ultimately would be released in 2022 (after Gordon’s passing) under the title of Hellafied. This reverb-y, thunkin’ chunk of rock is both cats at their boppin’-est.
4. “Ain’t Gonna Take It No More” (2004)
This cover of Sleepy LaBeef’s “I Ain’t Gonna Take It” benefits heavily from Gordon’s vocal maturity– still tough & smooth as oiled leather but deeply toned– Eddie Angel’s pacing guitar, and especially Johnny Neel’s Esquerita-channeling pian-uh.
5. “One Cup of Coffee” (2020)
Likely, 2020’s Rockabilly For Life wasn’t intended to be Robert Gordon’s final studio set. Gordon had been optimistically battling acute myeloid leukemia when he died on October 18th, 2022, and even if he’d had time to consider, he probably couldn’t have arranged a bigger all-star banger than this. Produced by Danny B. Harvey, guest stars on Rockabilly For Life include Dave Alvin, Rosie Flores, Linda Gail Lewis, Dale Watson, Kathy Valentine, James Williamson, and even Jimmy Hall. Wynn Stewart wrote and Glen Glenn (who beat Gordon to rock n’ roll heaven on March 18th of ’22) recorded “One Cup Of Coffee” in 1958. On this rendition, Joe Louis Walker’s blissful guitar is a highlight behind Gordon’s unchained hillbilly delivery. Lesson to be learned? Make every record like it might be your last.
Thee Aaron Irons is a music commentator and host of Honky Tonk Hell, a Rockabilly/Rhythm & Blues retrospective. He lives in Macon, Georgia with his wife and daughter. He is currently balanced on the toes of his boots, hips thrust outward, lip curled, and wishing he still had a head o’ hair full o’ Royal Crown.