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For Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding, it's now or never

By Ken Burke, September 2007

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"Initially, the connection (for the reunion) came from a good friend of mine, Richard Connolly, who has been helpful in many ways to me. He suggested that I get back together with Chris, and I think he started putting the feelers out first. He spoke to Chris, but it was Arjan Deelen - this guy from Denmark who got us our first tour together in Europe - he made that happen." The result was the rousing live set, " Rockin' at the Paradiso," released on the Last Call label in 2006.

Initially, the new Rykodisc album had been titled " The King and I." "I had that under my hat for many years," laughs Gordon. "I was thinking there was a good chance that "we' re not going to get away with it.' And, we didn't. I was disappointed because I thought it was a great title."

Retitled " It's Now or Never," the disc features remakes of classic Elvis tunes circa 1954 - 1960, some of which - " Don't Be Cruel," " Too Much," "I Beg of You," " Love Me," and the title track - reside among the biggest hits of early rock ‘ n' roll.

Was Gordon intimidated at the thought of remaking them?

"Well, I didn't really even think about it that way," the singer chuckles. " I just went in to make a good record with great players, and of course, the fabulous Jordanaires. So, I figured that if I did the best I could, it would all work out."

Saying that the play list was mostly " pulled out of a fish bowl," Gordon explains how some tunes were selected.

"‘Don't Leave Me Now' is one I've always wanted to do. I knew I was going to that. But originally, I had no intentions of doing "It's Now or Never.

In fact, I was a little intimidated by that. And, while we were scratching our heads trying to figure out what tune we should do next, (pianist) Johnny Neel said, "Hey man, look - as long as we're down here and have The Jordanaires here, you ought to do a gospel tune.' That's how "Peace in the Valley' happened. I love the song."

Like many other artists, Gordon is in awe of Presley's former background vocalists, The Jordanaires. " They work around one mic... they just know what to do," Gordon says. "These guys are sharp as tacks and talk about stamina. We went in and did this thing with The Jordanaires in one day. They just wanted to keep going. They did nine tracks and did another session afterwards. It's just incredible. Ray Walker is just a riot, and Gordon Stoker is amazing for an 81-year-old."

Contacted in Nashville, Walker, The Jordanaires' popular bass singer, remembers the session well. "Robert does a fine job with his artistry," he recalls. "We had a grand time with him and Chris - They are two fine fellas. We joked about our ages and numbers of ye ars in the business. Chris got a kick out of our, mainly my, picking on Robert. Neither of them had any requests as to how we were to sound, except, to sound like we did on the original records. I told them, we sounded better, now, and I hoped it wouldn't bring them down."

Another key ingredient was supplied by Spedding, whose guitar contributions alternated between his own balls out style and recreations of Scotty Moore's seminal work with Presley. A good example of the latter can be found on " Too Much," wherein the British guitarist recreates Moore's famous runaway solo - which he himself cannot recreate - note-for note.

Despite the fact that Spedding was a full creative partner, his guitar work does not dominate the album. " (N)ormally my albums with Chris have been extremely guitar oriented with solos," explains Gordon. " (This time) we found that this album is devoid of solos on most of the songs... and to tell you the truth, I'm a bit disappointed about that. In fact, I was apologetic to Chris after the whole thing...because I respect Chris, just like everybody. But, he is all over the thing, arrangement-wise. So, he didn't mind."

Asked if he had any other regrets, Gordon laughs, " Since I recorded the record, we started doing some things from a different period like "Little Sister' and "Devil in Disguise.' I'm really sorry that I didn't get around to doing those because they would have really lifted the record."

However, these are minor quibbles at best. The 60-year-old Gordon seems flat-out pleased that Rykodisc is providing the opportunity. "At my age, I'm fortunate enough to have gotten another record deal," he confesses.

More tours with Spedding - who is currently backing Roxy Music founder Bryan Ferry - are on the books, most of them in Europe. " Of course, just to be able to tour in the states now is very difficult, unless you've got record company support," he explains. " Most of the clubs that I used to play are gone."

Then, the singer adopts an amused tone. "I think the Stray Cats are doing a tour with Z.Z. Top. I mean, why the hell didn't they give us a call? Jimmie Vaughan opens up for Bob Dylan. I mean, hell! Bob Dylan came backstage and invited me up to his hotel room when I was working with Link (Wray) when he saw us in a show in London and was pitching tunes to me. I mean, why can‘ t we tour with him?"

"I think it's all just a matter of being in the right place at the right time," Gordon sums up philosophically before cheerfully concluding, " I'm still as optimistic at 60-years-old as I was when I was 15."

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