greetings from new york city
by arjan deelen
“I’ve never considered myself solely a rockabilly singer. People like to mention Gene Vincent and Elvis, and they were definitely influences on me. But there were other influences as well. In the country field. In the blues field. In the soul field. When I was living in Washington D.C. during the early ‘60s, there was a place there called the Howard Theater. I used to go there, and I saw all the great black acts. It was one of the last places you could go and pay a buck to see about seven really heavy, heavy acts. So I’ve listened to and been influenced by a lot of different kinds of music”.
– Robert Gordon
So what is it that makes Robert Gordon such a remarkable talent? There are many good singers, so what is it that sets him apart from the rest? The answer to that goes beyond the merits of his powerful baritone voice; it’s also the fact that he’s an exceptional interpreter of song, a unique stylist who can take almost any song and make it his own. “The man’s like a huge melting pot with a knack of being able to stamp his own style on a song regardless of what style it’s in”, writes Trevor Cajiao in his review of ‘Greetings From New York City’ (‘Now Dig This’ no. 116, November 1992).
When this album was originally released in 1992, it has been 10 years since his last proper release, not counting the rather dismal ‘Live at Lone Star’ album. ‘Greetings From New York City’ lived up to my expectations – and then some! In fact, it’s the kind of album that I always hoped he would do, but somehow never figured he would. In my opinion, this is Robert Gordon’s finest hour – there’s a raw power and intensity to the album that really grabs you by the throat, and more than any other release it showcases him as the great natural singer that he is.
One of the most surprising elements of this album is the way he embraces his r&b influences. In interviews, Gordon has often talked with admiration about the r&b package shows that he used to see in his teenage years, but this release marked the first time that he celebrated those influences. He tackles songs like Willie Dixon’s ‘My Babe’, Ray Sharpe’s ‘Linda Lu’ and Lloyd Price’s ‘Just Because’ with verve, displaying a real understanding of the music and its origins. Gordon’s sensitive reading of Marvin Gaye’s ‘One More Heartache’ is a revelation, as is his tremendous version of Wilson Pickett’s ‘Three Time Loser’, where his singing is so intense and so powerful that it’s almost intimidating.
Marshall Crenshaw’s ‘Something’s Gonna Happen’ and ‘Someday, Someway’ were originally recorded by Gordon in 1980/’81, and they both fit his style down to the ground. The live versions here are performed with the same freewheelin’ abandon that characterize his best rockabilly performances. The singer has often cited Johnny Burnette as one of his main influences, and he takes another dive into the Burnette songbook for dynamic versions of “Love You So” and “Undecided”, both regulars in his setlist since ’79. On performances like these, it’s hard not to notice the excellent musicianship behind Robert. He has always surrounded himself with the finest players in the business, and driven by his perfectionism and his ear for even the tiniest of details, he’s always gotten the best out of them. The musicians that back Gordon on these performances are the album’s unsung heroes; they never put a foot wrong, and their playing is imaginative, tight and sympathetic throughout. For some truly inspired musicianship, just check out Chris Spedding’s two solos on “Undecided”; I’m sure he reaches outer orbit on the second one!
In the past, Robert Gordon has sometimes been criticized for his so-called “distant” approach to his material, but this album belies that notion. In fact, it’s his committed delivery that make this release such a captivating listening experience. Whether it’s hard-edged r&b, thumpin’ rockabilly or sensual rock-a-ballads, he masters each of these genres equally well and injects them with something that is uniquely his.
‘Greetings From New York City’ was compiled from various soundboard and 8-track sources, recorded over a period of almost ten years in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. The fact that the album sounds so consistent reminds us once again of Robert Gordon’s unwavering passion for these genres, and with this release he consolidated his position as one of the great interpreters of authentic American music.
Guitar: Chris Spedding – Bass: Tony Garnier, Rob Stoner
Drums: Bobby Chouinard, Tommy Price, Anton Fig
The musicians on ‘Just Because’ are:
Guitars: Danny Gatton, Lance Quinn; drums: Shannon Ford; bass: Tony Garnier; horns: Lee Allen, Louis Taylor
Original engineers: Robin Irvine, a.o. – Remix Engineer: David Dale
Produced by: Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding
Note: I have attempted to find precise recording data for these recordings, but only succeeded in doing so for one track, ‘Three Time Loser’, which was recorded in Lund, Sweden on April 19, 1991. Due to the informal nature in which the majority of these recordings were taped, most of this info is lost to history.