Music Review: Robert Gordon & Chris Spedding It's Now Or Never
It seems like an eternity ago now, but it was only thirty years, when this beanpole guy with a great voice put out an album of rockabilly music. It was so bare bones that if not for the fact it had a full drum kit in play, the album could have been easily recorded on a four track recorder and the sound quality would have been fine.
Robert Gordon accompanied by the late great Link Wray on guitar came out of nowhere to remind the world where Rock and Roll came from. They put out two great albums, Robert Gordon With Link Wray and Fresh Fish Special. "Red Hot", the single from the first album, was actually released in and around when Elvis Presley died, which made the song take off like a rocket.
Comparisons between Elvis and Robert were probably inevitable due to the coincidental timing of the first album's release and their similarities in vocal ranges and musical styles. Robert never denied that as a youngster Elvis' music had been a big influence on him, but none of his tunes would ever be confused with Elvis' music. They were harder edged with an undeniable punk influence in sound and attitude.
Link and Robert only lasted two albums together, mainly because the label that put out Fresh Fish Special went under leaving them high and dry. So his third album didn't come out until 1979 on RCA. Rock Billy Boogie was the first recording that Robert made with guitarist Chris Spedding and it had four songs on it that broke the top 100.
Now for the first time in twenty years, and more importantly thirty years since the death of Elvis, Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding have joined forces again for the release of It's Now Or Never on the RYKO label. The thirty-year anniversary is significant because every track on this disc was recorded by Elvis at one time or another during his career.
Since they are accompanied by Elvis' former backup singers, The Jordanaires, one could be excused for thinking that this is some sort of Elvis impersonator's album. Well you couldn't be further from the truth. If you haven't heard Elvis in a long time, than you might think that Robert sounds like him, but in reality it's only the style of the music and the fact they both are baritones.
At worst this is a tribute album, but in reality its interpretations of some of the classic rockabilly and country blues songs that were recorded by Elvis during his hay day. Looking over the track list there's only one song that Elvis even gets a writing credit for, "Don't Be Cruel" and only three others that he even held the rights to. Remember Elvis' first big hit "Hound Dog" was written by Big Mama Thornton, so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that most of the songs that we associate with him were written by other people..
Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding have recorded the fifteen songs on It's Now Or Never as pure undiluted rockabilly without any of the augmentations or concessions to modern audiences that groups like the Stray Cats used to do in the early eighties during the so called rockabilly revival. These songs sound like they could have been recorded at the old Sun Records studio in downtown Memphis back in the 1950's they are so pure and authentic.
You can't fake the sincerity in the voice of Robert Gordon when he sings any of the songs on this disc. Even something as potentially cloying as the old country gospel tune "Peace In The Valley" works because he so obviously means what he sings. He still has wonderful control over his voice, as he's able to dip down into the baritone on "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" and reach up high when needed on "It's Now Or Never".
What's truly amazing to me when it comes to his singing is how melodious his voice still is. He's been singing for close to forty years now and there's nothing to suggest that his voice has suffered any damage at all. He never sounds like he's straining for a high note or volume. If at the start of the record you had thoughts that he was trying to imitate Elvis, by the time the disc ends you've completely forgotten about Elvis and are only thinking about Robert Gordon's voice.
I can't think of any other guitar player who would compliment Robert Gordon in this type of music better than Chris Spedding. Not only is he an amazing rhythm guitar player when it comes to this style of music, but he is a totally unselfish lead player. His rockabilly leads are incredible, with each note sounding out individually and echoing a time when guitar leads weren't about speed but what you could make a note say.
When the voice of Robert Gordon is joined with the voice of Chris Spedding's guitar and they are backed up the Jordanaires it is to hear what made Elvis and rockabilly so special. People of my generation really only saw Elvis when he had become the parody of himself doing those horrible shows in Las Vegas. Thanks to It's Now Or Never we have a real opportunity to appreciate the music and understand a little better why people would refer to Elvis as the King.
If he sang anything like Robert Gordon does now, then he must have been something wondrous to behold.