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Link Wray

Robert Gordon

in Reviews

Robert Gordon with Link Wray

robert gordon with link wray

Private Stock [1977]
Red Hot – I Sure Miss You – Summertime Blues – Boppin’ The Blues – Sweet Surrender – Flying Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll – The Fool – It’s In The Bottle – Woman (You’re My Woman) – Is This The Way

In a musical landscape where Rock’n’roll was treated like a joke (ShaNaNa) or at best like a thing of the past only good for nostalgia, Robert Gordon was one of the first – if not the first – American singer to take this music seriously since the golden era of the genre.
His first album, recorded in April 1977 under the guidance of Richard Gottehrer, saw Gordon team with the legendary Link Wray and had nothing to do with nostalgia. If the set includes six covers out of ten songs, there was no question of revival or anything like that. The sound was modern yet respectful of the genre. Gordon and Wray were here to make this music a relevant thing for the audience of the mid-’70s.
Next to Wray, the secret weapon was, of course, Gordon’s flexible and ample voice, allowing him to be at ease whatever the style they approached. And what a better opener than Red Hot. It’s a shot of Rock’n’roll straight to your feet with Gordon singing like a real wildcat with a nasty and vicious voice.
Next is Gene Vincent’s I Sure Miss You. Gordon captures the essence of the Screamin’ Kid but avoids the trap of imitation. By comparison, Cochran’s Summertime Blues seems pale and uninspired. Though it could be the perfect vehicle for Wray’s guitar, both the singer and the guitarist seem too respectful to bring something new to the song. If there’s nothing to say on the vocal performance or the guitar on Perkins’ Boppin’ The Blues, one can regret that the rhythm section, with its prominent electric bass and annoying crash cymbal, doesn’t fit the tune.
Things go better with Gottherer/Feldman’s Sweet Surrender, a superb Presley-esque ballad on which Gordon’s voice makes, once again, wonders.
Like the A-side, the flip opens with another superb cover of Billy Lee Riley, giving plenty of room for Wray to rock. Sandford Clark’s the Fool seems tailored-made for the singer’s deep voice.
The last three songs are originals penned by Wray. It’s In the Bottle with an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar emulating the sound of a steel guitar, finds him dabbling with country music and could (should!) have been a hit.
Woman sounds very modern, and Gordon sings it with a deep and commanding voice. Is This The Way? is another delicate ballad that closes the album in beauty.


Fresh Fish Special

fresh fish special

Private stock [1977]
The Way I Walk – Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache – If This Is Wrong – Five Day, Five Days – Fire – I Want To Be Free – Twenty Flight Rock – Sea Cruise – Lonesome Train (On A Lonesome Track) – Blue Eyes (Don’t Run Away)

Robert Gordon recorded Fresh Fish Special in December 1977. During the Summer, Elvis Presley, the King of Rock’n’Roll passed away, hence the album’s name, a reference to Jailhouse Rock. It also explains the presence of the lesser-known Elvis song I Want to Be Free, from the same movie. To pursue the Elvis connection, the Jordanaires can be heard on five of the ten tracks, including Wray’s If This Wrong that sounds like a pastiche of Don’t Leave Me Now.
With this album, Gordon follows more or less the same recipe used for Robert Gordon with Link Wray. Thus, one can find a ballad (Blue Eyes), covers of Gene Vincent (Five Days Five Days) and Eddie Cochran (Twenty Flight Rock), as well as more obscure gems – for the time – like Red Cadillac and Black Moustache and Lonesome Train. But it also finds Gordon expanding the scope of his repertoire with the inclusion of Frankie Ford’s New Orleans hit Sea Cruise or original material like Bruce Springsteen’s Fire. Formerly written with Elvis in mind, Springsteen eventually passed the song to Gordon, who recorded it with the Boss on piano. Fire had all the ingredients to open the doors to success to the singer if the Pointer Sisters hadn’t covered it and made a hit with their far less-inferior version.
If one can regret the lack of pure Rockabilly material like the two Billy Lee Riley tracks on his debut album, Fresh Fish Special is a more coherent affair. Also, the band seems more at ease, especially Wray, who seems less contrived.


Rock Billy Boogie

rockbilly boogie

RCA [1978]
Rock Billy Boogie – Love My Baby – I Just Found Out – All By Myself – Black Slacks – The Catman – It’s Only Make Believe – Wheel Of Fortune – Am I Blue – Walk On By – I Just Met A Memory – Blue Christmas

On Gordon’s third album, the first for RCA, British guitar ace Chris Spedding replaced Link Wray. Gordon gained a cleaner sound, closer to Cliff Gallup and Scotty Moore, which suited him better. Sadly the production is a tad too clean and, despite the presence of three tunes associated with Johnny Burnette’s Rock’n’Roll Trio, the result is way tamer than his first two albums.
The slow songs save the thing. The rendition of It’s Only Make Believe is superb, and his voice is perfect for Walk On By. When it comes to the original material, I Just Met A Memory is a solid ballad with strings, while The Catman, a tribute to Gene Vincent, is more average. Like the Stray Cats‘ Gene and Eddie years later, the lyrics are made of titles of Vincent’s tunes put together.
Despite some good, even great moments, Rock Billy Boogie is a far less convincing album, and the shadow of self-parody begins to show up.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

Link Wray

in Reissues

Link Wray – Rocks

Link Wray rocks

Bear Family – BCD17600
Raw-Hide – Batman Theme – Tijuana – Slinky – Right Turn – I’m Countin’ On You* – I’m Branded – Hand Clapper – The Swag – Comanche – Deuces Wild – El Toro – Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby – Studio Blues – Hang On – Jack The Ripper – Turnpike USA – The Black Widow – Big City After Dark* – Danger One Way Love* – Dance Contest – Run Chicken, Run – Pancho Villa – Radar – Mary Ann – The Outlaw – Hold It* – Dinosaur – Big City Stomp – The Shadow Knows – Dixie Doodle – Ace Of Spades – Mr. Guitar – Rumble
*Ray Vernon

While the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame continues to ignore Link Wray, the Shawnee guitar player receives the Bear Family treatment with a 35 tracks compilation album in the “Rock” series. All things considered, he’s in a better company on the German label than with the likes of Madonna, Pink Floyd, Donna Summer, and al.
I hope Link Wray needs no introduction. His simple, straight-in-your-face and powerful guitar style influenced countless guitar players, from The Who’s Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page to Eddie Angel, Billy Childish, and Poison Ivy.
There have been quite a few Wray’s compilation albums on the market, but none as good nor as this one. And the fact that Bear managed to license sides from more labels than its competitors makes it one of the most complete too. Between Rawhide, the opening track, and Rumble the last one, and next to hits like Run Chicken Run and Jack The Ripper, you’ll find a whole panorama of Wray’s recordings between 1958 and 1965, including some lesser-known tune but by no means, songs one could consider as fillers. Among the rare tracks are songs recorded by Link’s brother under his name (Ray Vernon) and two numbers sung by Link Wray’s himself (Mary Ann and Ain’t That Loving You Baby.)
As usual with Bear Family, it comes with a thick booklet, including a story by Bill Dahl, rare photographies, and a discography.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

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