Rockabilly Revivalist Robert Gordon Has Died

photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin

Throughout the 70s and 80s when so many others styles of music were all the rage, a group of dedicated rockabilly cats did everything they could to keep the sounds of Memphis and Sun Records alive in the present tense, emblematic of artists such as Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, and Eddie Cochran. Singer Robert Gordon was at the very top of that class of revivalists. He passed away on October 18th at the age of 75 after suffering from leukemia for years prior to his death.

Born in Bethesda, Maryland on March 29, 1947 to a Jewish family, Robert Gordon heard Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” when he was nine, and immediately decided his life’s purpose was to play rock and roll, pursuing a career from an early age. His first official band was called The Confidentials, which he fronted as Bob Gordon, and recorded a couple of singles with. Shortly thereafter Gordon chose to enlist in the National Guard in lieu of running the risk of being drafted for Vietnam.

After his military service, Robert Gordon moved to New York City where he fell into the city’s burgeoning punk scene in the 70s, playing in the band the Tuff Darts, which was one of the original bands that helped establish the New York punk club CBGB (incidentally, standing for “Country, Blue Grass, and Blues) as a mecca for punk music, including appearing on the Live at CBGB’s release.

Though punk and rockabilly blended together early on, Robert Gordon was seeking a more pure rockabilly sound, and found it through producer Richard Gottehrer, who was impressed with Gordon’s Elvis covers. The producer paired up Gordon with legendary rockabilly guitarist Link Wray, which resulted in two successful rockabilly revivalist releases on Private Stock Records: Robert Gordon with Link Wray (1977), and Fresh Fish Special (1978), with the latter featuring Country Music Hall of Famers The Jordanaires who had also sung behind Elvis.

This established Robert Gordon as one of the top rockabilly revivalists, and he signed with RCA Records—the same label as his idol Elvis. There Gordon was joined by English-born producer and guitarist Chris Spedding, and released Rock Billy Boogie, with the title track becoming one of Robert Gordon’s signature songs. Gordon later released Bad Boy (1980), and his most successful album, Are You Gonna Be The One (1981), which included the first recorded version of the song “Someday, Someway” written by Marshall Crenshaw, who would have a hit with the song himself the following year.

As the rockabilly revival era began to wind down, so did the the opportunities for Robert Gordon, though he continued to tour and perform, recording albums for Viceroy and other labels in the 90s, and continuing to record and perform well into the 2000s, including in Europe and in rockabilly revival events around the United States.

In 2020, Rockabilly for Life was released on Cleopatra Records, and included collaborations with Dale Watson, Rosie Flores, Albert Lee, Kathy Valentine of the Go Go’s, Linda Gail Lewis, and Steve Wariner among others, speaking to the appreciation Robert Gordon enjoyed across music. Beloved throughout roots, punk, rockabilly, and country music for keeping the original spirit of rockabilly alive, the death of Robert Gordon is being mourned across the music world.

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