In the ElvisBlog tribute to Gordon Stoker last week, not much biographical material was given for this legendary musician. So, here’s a little history. Gordon was not a charter member of the Jordanaires vocal group when it formed in 1948, but he joined soon after and became the leader for the next six decades. Gordon backed Elvis on his first RCA recording, “Heartbreak Hotel,” and the Jordanaires sang on almost every song Elvis recorded for the next thirteen years.
Here is Gordon (right) doing a little dance move in Jailhouse Rock. The Jordanaires also appeared in King Creole and G.I. Blues.
In addition to recording with Elvis and appearing in movies with him, the Jordanaires also backed him in concert. Here are Gordon Stoker and Hugh Jarrett behind Elvis in his famous gold lamé jacket.
The Jordanaires did backing vocals for many other singers, including Marty Robbins, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, K. D. Lang, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ricky Nelson, Ringo Starr, Chicago, Neil Young, Jimmy Buffett, Connie Francis, the Judds, and Vince Gill. It has been estimated that songs with their backing vocals have sold over 2.6 billion records.
During my meatloaf meal with Gordon Stoker, he took my phone number and e-mail address, but I never thought I would actually hear from him. Well, a few years later he called me to correct a mistake I had made. The story is a little involved but here it is.
For years, I liked to make CD music compilations and send them to friends at Christmas. One was called “Elvis Songs by Other Artists,” and it contained two covers each by Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Blacks Combo, Scotty Moore, the Jordanaires, and others. However, four of the songs came from Scotty Moore’s 1968 album, The Guitar That Changed the World.
Scotty had called upon old buddies like DJ Fontana and the Jordanaires to help him out with the album. You would consider most of the songs instrumentals, even though the Jordanaires repeated their original vocal backing parts. However, on two songs, Gordon and the boys replaced Elvis doing the vocal lead. These sounded more like Jordanaires’ songs, so I labelled them on my CD that way.
I thought Gordon Stoker would enjoy hearing the compillation and I sent him a copy. A few weeks later, he called me and said I had it wrong. He insisted those two songs were not sung by the Jordanaires; it had to be someone else. So, I explained about them coming from Scotty’s album, and he thought about it and finally said, “Yeah, you’re right.” After that forty-year-old memory came back to him, he was happy and we had a nice conversation.
The last Gordon Stoker story is a little tricky, but I’ll try to write it so it doesn’t offend anyone. See this picture of Elvis at the piano with the Jordanaires around him. Knowledgeable fans know Elvis liked to wind down after concerts by singing Gospel music for hours. Gordon told me a story about one of these sessions.
Bill Black was hanging out with everybody one night while the Gospel singing went on. He was something of a prankster, and he noticed Gordon was leaning against the side of the piano with his hands behind his back. One hand held the other, and the upper hand was in a cupped position. Bill Black moved behind Gordon, who was really focused on the singing. Black quietly opened his fly and gently placed his penis on Gordon’s cupped hand. Gordon was so into the singing that he didn’t notice. Of course, the giggles from everyone else finally gave him a clue and he saw what was going on. Gordon said everybody broke into raucous laughter.
All of the photos so far have been of Gordon Stoker as a young man. Let’s look at some more recent shots, starting with the one above from 2001 when the Jordanaires were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The fellow in the center next to Gordon is Ray Walker, who replaced Hugh Jarrett as the bass singer in 1958.
This photo was shot before the Elvis Week 2007 concert, “The Last Man Standing.” It was a tribute to Scotty Moore, the last man remaining from the Sun Records recording session on July 5, 1954, that started Elvis on his way. The concert was also the last time Scotty ever performed on stage. That’s me wearing my all-access pass and standing behind Gordon. In 2004, I got autographs from all the performers, but in 2007, I was smarter and got photos with everybody.
That was the last time I ever saw Gordon Stoker. I was unable to attend Elvis Week 2012, but once again he was part of another concert promoted by Darwin Lamm. Declining health made it necessary for Gordon to be brought on stage in a wheelchair, and I am told the audience reception was emotional and huge. Boy, I wish I could have been there.
The last photo comes from 2008 and features Ray Walker and Millie Kirkham along with Gordon Stoker. Millie was the high soprano voice behind Elvis for fifteen years, starting with the 1957 Christmas album.
I have some concert stories about Ray and Millie, too. They are not as old as Gordon, but in the back of my mind, I know I will be writing tributes to them as well someday. It saddens me how we keep losing folks from Elvis’ world.
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