Gordon's new album for Koch is filled to the brim with songs he loves. The best ones - Johnny Burnette's "Little Boy Sad," George Jones' "Your Angel Steps Out of Heaven" and Don Gibson's "Sea of Heartbreak" - embrace the country crossover sounds of the 1950s and 1960s with sincerity and conviction.
Yes, this is the same Robert Gordon who once performed with those purveyors of pop and punk, the Tuff Darts. True, he achieved his initial fame by melding garage rock, punk and rockabilly for a series of groundbreaking albums during the late '70's and early '80s. In addition, Bruce Springsteen wrote the song "Fire" for him before the Pointer Sisters appropriated it for their pop smash.
However, Gordon has never been comfortable being strictly typecast as a rockabilly performer.
"It's not what I set out to do," he affably explains. "In fact, I always try to put a tougher edge on the songs than traditional rockabilly has."
Part of that edge comes from traditional country music, which provides the stark, emotional underpinning for rockabilly and early rock 'n' roll. And, just in case you think he's a newcomer to the genre, the singer adds, "I have used (pedal) steel before. I've always done at least a couple of country things on my records. It's always been important to me."
According to Gordon, being born and raised in Washington, D.C. allowed him to bask in many different musical cultures simultaneously, including country music.
"Well, I'll tell you, Washington was more of a crossroads for everything. It was right near Virginia and real close to New York. So, I was exposed to everything, man. It was just fantastic. Of course, rhythm and blues was a big influence too. During the early '60s, I went to the Howard Theater down there, which was really like the Apollo in New York. I saw - you name 'em - everybody. When I was a kid, I'll never forget me and my brother with a reel-to-reel tape deck would sit in front of the radio and tape WDON and all that great early rock stuff. At the same time, you could get a lot of radio stations in Washington that were primarily country. So, I heard a lot of that."
Gordon was only 12 when he first heard Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," a cross pollination of all the sounds in which he reveled. "It was like the first teen rebel movies. It just changed things, man. When you look back on it, there wasn't anything threatening about it at all. But at the time, it was just amazing."Americans first became aware of Gordon via his 1977 album on Private Stock "Robert Gor-don and Link Wray." It was a mutually beneficial partnership. Wray's presence provided the newcomer with much coveted genre credibility. In return, the attention the album received single-handedly revived the nearly forgotten '50s/'60s guitar god's career.
The first major rockabilly to emerge after the death of Elvis Presley, Gordon became the hard-edged antidote to nostalgia-based oldies acts á la Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids and Sha Na Na. Moreover, by reviving their songs, Gordon created fresh interest in several '50s cult rockers both at home and abroad.
"Then all of a sudden, a lot of cats started doing it again," Gordon laughs. "So, it did start a movement, I have to admit."
That movement opened the doors for the national emergence of The Stray Cats, The Blasters and even Chris Isaak.
Although artistically successful, the two LPs with Wray posed something of a dilemma for Gordon. "He did some brilliant stuff in the studio, man. He can play a sensitive solo on a ballad that is so ferocious at the same time. It's just shocking. Well, he doesn't play live like he played on those records. I must say, he's a sweet guy, but it was difficult live."
More cohesive was the collaboration with British session ace Chris Spedding that came about with Gordon's 1979 move to RCA. "Chris was in London when we contacted him, and he was tired of doing session work for all the biggest names in the business. So, it was a perfect way to get him over here at the time. 'Rock Billy Boogie' was our first album, and we were together for 10 years."
The American rockabilly revival lasted only a little longer than the original movement. After his last album for RCA in 1982, Gordon began cutting sides for such European labels as New Rose and Bear Family.
When his lack of domestic releases is mentioned, Gordon adds a polite correction. "Well, there was one other studio release. It was on Llist Records out of Pennsylvania (1997) But they're defunct now, and they never really had any distribution. Actually, it was a pretty good record. I'm sorry it didn't get out. Of course, there have been numerous, numerous reissues."