Robert Gordon burst onto the musical scene in the early ‘70’s, coming out of the primordial ooze that was the NYCity punk scene. Playing original songs in the same clubs frequented by the likes of Blondie and the Ramones he was just treading water with his band, Tuff Darts. A convergence of events saw him emerge as a solo artist (w/ guitar support, initially the late, great, Link Wray) performing roots rhythm ‘n rock. Elvis with a grrrrrrrr on. A post-beat, pre-hippy ethos. All leather, black slacks, duck tails and Brylcreem. Standing on the shoulders of Eddie Cochrane and Gene Vincent he’s stuck in the ‘50’s… the good part, not the boring part. He could have broke big but his chance to showcase the powerful Springsteen tune, Fire, done like it’s supposed to be done, was sucked away by the star making machinery when the Pointer Sisters watered-down version became a smash radio hit. Perhaps he was too authentic for the radio. The door he kicked open let bands like Stray Cats and Shakin’ Stevens find a niche.
My wife and I looked hard at catching a show back in 1979 but had to defer due to something… oh, right, our honeymoon. So better late than never as we have tix for two consecutive nights at the Cadillac Lounge. Guest guitarist this time around: Chris Spedding. A grand reunion, as Spedding had replaced Link Wray in 1978 and was the featured guitarist on Rock Billy Boogie, the album that introduced Robert Gordon to the alternative music airwaves in our city.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that time. Gordon’s career has never reached the stature his talent deserves. Over the years he’s dabbled in movies, personal tragedies and demons. After a long trip he’s found his way back home, to where he started. This isn’t an ‘oldies tour’, he’s always played those songs, it’s a chance to honour the journey by looking back while moving forward. He’s riding a wave of artistic success, if not popularity. In August of 2007 he will join other luminaries; Narvel Felts, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, Charlie Rich, The Jordanaires, W. S. Holland (Johnny's drummer from Jackson), Sonny Burgess & the Pacers, Carl Mann and Sam Phillips, when he is inducted into the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame at a function in Jackson TN.
The dates at the Cadillac Loungeare special. The only ones in Canada, sandwiched loosely between a summer European tour that ended on July 17th and return to Europe for a fall tour that starts on Hallowe’en. Sam, the owner of the Lounge, sometimes hosts our Toronto region Dylan gatherings. I believe these shows are a favour to him for supporting Gordon throughout the lean years, his stage always being open. This is a great Toronto theme bar if you're ever up here. It's just steps west of the trendy Queen St West club and shopping scene. All the benefits of being in the heart of the action with none of the traffic. Great food and the best patio in the city outside of the reefer bars .
In my never ending effort to shake off my OCD issues around time I contacted the club to find out when doors were opening. 8 pm I'm told. So at 7:45 we pull up to find the patio half filled with people already finishing their dinner. At least we're not first. Still, the bands not due onstage until 10 pm ("But don't hold me to that," the girl at the door says.) And we've already eaten. Which means it's jacks 'n lolli's time.
I spy a poster on the wall commemorating this date. It's half obscured by a beer advert. When I ask about purchasing one the bartender tells me there'll be more available later and Robert Gordon will be signing some. That's cool. But I don't buy it...the story that is. When Sam shows up I ask him the same. "All out of them," he says, "put them up all around town." Damn! Then it the thought hits: What would Michele do? (Michele is a friend of Sam's, I'd already cozied up to him earlier by passing on her best and we usually congregate at this bar in her company, so she was on my mind.) Well, she wouldn't take NO for an answer, that's for sure. The first thing I did was scout the nether regions of the club to see if there was another one in a less visible place. No such luck. So I ask if I can have the one on the wall and Sam said "take it quick man, i got to run." Climbing the leopard-skin couch I tear the large beer poster down and carefully remove the memento and put it in my trunk. There's no harm in asking, it seems.
Shortly after 10 pm the sound and light guy if fiddling around onstage. I take a moment to prepare my rig and meander up front as a silver-haired gent starts playing some familiar chords. Interesting, I think, he's sound-checking the opening song.
I hit record just as Robert Gordon steps to the mic and launches into The Way I Walk, a lazy-river doo-wop song that has the audience immediately doing their immitation of 180 bobble heads. "di ooby ooby ooby ooby doo wop" repeat that ten times, it feels good. If you gotta have a mantra this one don't suck. Great gift from rockabilly hero Jack Scott, that gets passed on to us.
Gordon's voice is terrific. An hypnotic, soulful baritone. Though others have said he doesn't have the range he had 30 years ago it's not painfully obvious like it is with some other artists I could mention, but won't, until November.
I'm Gonna Be Your Lover Boy injects some octane and a little bombastic fun. It occurs to me, as Gordon preens onstage, there's a lot in rockabilly that's present in the hip-hop scene. Music you can dance to and a tendency for the slick-haired, leather-clad, singers to toot their own horn. With rockabilly it's just good ole fashioned fun though, not mysoginistic, gun-totin', gang recruitin' braggadocio.
More boogie than rockabilly in a cover of Cliff Richards' Move It, a call to arms for butts. Followed quickly by a song Tommy Sands (some Frankie Avalon look-a-like which won't really narrow it down too much) made famous, The Worryin' Kind. This gets a great treatment, wonderful surprise.
First nod to Elvis in the shape of A Mess of Blues, which is probable where Dylan got the idea for his country tune Living The Blues that he sang on Johnny Cash's TV show. Bob's bad mojo is coming back to haunt me tonight (right, like that kind of cosmic karma could exist) as the song closes with the first interruption of the evening. Something blew onstage and we lost all the PA's. Maybe a fuse, maybe some excited fan kicked the plug out of the wall. In the confusion the audience starts to stir, some looking for drinks, some looking for a place to deposit the last 5 drinks they had. Sam comes charging out from behind the bar to see if he can nail down the source of the problem. More people start migrating towards the patio, others strike up the conversations they'd left behind. Some of the magic is beginning to seep out of the show. Waitress passes me and asks if she can get me anything. "A band on the stage would be nice." Not her table apparently. I take the chance to flip discs after taping 10 minutes of nothing but me bitching. (This has been thankfully edited out of the final copy.) Shortly after everything's back in order.
Gordon returns, apologizes, checks his levels and bravely dives into Long Lonely Weekend. Believe it's a Ronnie Milsap song but it's not the easiest google around. Sad song, really, but you can get that in the title.
Next up, a scare and a total mental disconnect when it sounds like they're about to cover Every Little Breath You Take, that homage to stalking that The Police did a couple decades ago. It's followed by a major treat as it turns out to be a cover of Doc Pomus' collaboration with Mort Shuman, Suspicion. What a great song. First heard it when Terry Staffordrecorded it in the '60's, had the 45 rpm. I mean it's sappy but it's a classic, captivating moan. There is no back up on the stage but the mind can play funny tricks as you can distinctly hear the "woo - ooo's" that respond to the lyrical call. In that space just after "every time you hold me I'm still not certain that you love me" ... woo ooo! Over on my left a party of 4 is supplying the harmony, not obtrusively, and just a hint of it appears on the recording but it augments the moment wonderfully. It works best after the line: "every time you call me and tell me that we should meet tomorrow" ...on cue, woo - ooo, from the crowd, a little louder. Robert heard it on stage and half-chuckles into "ha-i can't help but think you're meeting someone else tonight."
This was so enjoyable it was goose-pimple time. In fact, I'm gonna put it on right now.....Back, f*ck, i almost cried that time.
No let down on the quality of the show as we're into the Paul Hampton/Hal David composition Sea of Heartbreak. This was first recorded, I think, by Don Gibson, who penned a slew of his own hits for other artists as well. Johnny Cash covered it, which is probably where I became familiar with it because I'm not much into Margarita's so it's unlikely I've heard Jimmy Buffet's version. Gordon's is top-notch, it honours them all.
Notice something here? These songs are all f*cking killer tunes. Songs that will survive forever because they reach you on a level you can't even verbalize. A combination of melody and sentiment that is so evocative you can't help but respond emotionally. Unfortunately most of these songs stay in peoples memory because of some watered-down version that was radio friendly. Gordon's reaching back and treating them right. The onslaught doesn't stop here.
Gordon gives us a chance to get our bearings with a couple lighter songs, Nervous, followed by a duet of sorts with Chris Spedding on Spedding's own Wild Wild Women, a raucous celebration of raucous celebration. The song serves as an introduction to Chris who has been providing some stellar guitar work in support. And this guy is a real guitar player. All he has with him is a guitar and an amp. No crap. No guys running in from side stage to strap a freshly tuned axe around his shoulder. He'd just as well put a capo in your butt as strap one on his fret board. Didn't notice any fuzz-pedals either. Naked.
He opens up with a song designed to prove you don't need 18 guitars to perform 16 songs. Guitar Jamboree is a roll call of most of the greats. First the familar intro and he starts with blues great Albert King, "no one can get within a mile of him", followed by some blistering licks. Tip 'o the hat to Chuck Berry "with his famous duck-walk" and talking guitar. Then the "time they still talk about" when Jimi layed Purple Haze on us all. Lovely, tripping, transition, then we pick up the pace. Jack Bruce, Sunshine of Your Love. Pete Townsend with something from Tommy. Keef' with Start Me Up. Clapton with Layla. Harrison with Something. Break, clap and smile. Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and a couple of others I couldn't make out followed by a tight solo. Very nice.
Motor Bikin' has a good pace to it and I haven't heard a bad song all night. Hey Miss Betty is another unfamiliar but immediately enjoyable tune. Spedding closes his set with three classics; Wild Thing, Shakin' All Over and Summertime Blues, all embellished by his stellar guitar work.
Gordon's back onstage and he's playing an Iggy Pop song, given to him in the early '90's, Beside You. Ain't much to the song and it certainly doesn't seem like something Iggy would do for himself. Gordon's voice gives it all purpose.
More Elvis in the guise of the very familiar Don't Be Cruel. This sh*t is right down Gordon's alley, it's where he really excels. If age is diminishing his pipes it's very hard to tell.
Band introductions follow and we learn the two youngsters onstage, playing drums and bass, are Todd Glass and Greasy Carlise. Things go slightly awry here as we learn the drum skin on the bass drum has broken. More downtime, almost 20 minutes this time. We're only a handful of songs away from the lead-in to the denoument, just before the climax. This audio-interruptus thing is really starting to spoil the moment.
Let me digress for a moment here and say that a concert is not just 90 minutes of music. It's an aural painting that must be absorbed, digested and converted into energy. The best artists are trying to deliver something and I strive to receive it. It doesn't always work and I don't get obseqious about it...if you suck I'll say so. But if you don't I really want to get the whole picture. There's so much involved in the pacing of a show. The sequence, the pace, as well as the content of the songs, converge to create the product. And like sex, timing is everything. We were on a roll. Everyone had been properly massaged by Gordon's voice, stroked by Spedding's licks (or licked by Spedding's strokes depending on what your pleasure is)and were building for the moment. These breaks are to the show what "don't stop now" is to a good f*ck...a bad idea. Needless to say I probably let this impact my enjoyment more than I should have. But I'm a little bit like that sometimes.
Not to be too critical here but I think, especially because of the first problem with the sound, that this would have been a good time for Spedding to sit on a chair and regale us with some instrumental surf classics. Instead they left the stage and the audience became a little more disconnected, distracted and drunk. In fairness to them, there ain't much you can do about this, sh*t happens.
Gordon's back onstage to deliver Bertha Lou, a song Dylan also copped for his Rita Mae and probably took a hook from it for Everything Is Broken. 'Course it could be public domain.
A terrific Hello Walls, another surprise that lightens the mood considerably, which is a little strange since it's not high on the list of 'feel good' songs. Didn't expect any Willie tonight.
Is Fire one kick-ass song or what? No need to review it. When Gordon does this song it has found it's resting place. The bad boy of rockabilly sings his theme song, Bad Boy and then delivers There You Go and If It Feels So Right in rapid order as the hour is getting late.
Rockabilly Boogie closes the set and the encore consists of another great Elvis tune, the yearning, burning, Love Me, with backing harmonies provided by the guy who was leading the 'woo-ooo' krewe in Suspicion. He's good too. His memory ain't what it used to be as he calls out for "wild wild women"!
We close with the salacious Red Hot.
Awesome. Think I'll do another night.