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    Stoker, Gordon (3 August 1924 – 27th March 2013)

    Accordionist, pianist, organist and tenor from Gleason, Tennessee, who won his first award for a musical performance when he was only seven or eight years of age.  At age eight, he was already playing organ in church.  He was “discovered” at twelve years of age when he played piano at the Snead-Grove Picnic in McKenzie, Tennessee.  John Daniel, who led his own quartet, was in the audience and told Gordon he was going to make him a star.  He would have to wait three years before moving to Nashville as there was this little matter of school to finish.  In the meantime, Gordon became somewhat of a local celebrity, as a member of The Clement Trio, who were radio stars on WTJS in Jackson, Tennessee.  Upon graduation, Gordon received a phone call from John Daniel, who hired him to play piano with the Daniel Quartet on WSM in Music City, U.S.A.  As his star was on the rise, Gordon was conscripted into the U.S. Air Force in 1943.  He was stationed Down Under as a teletype operator.  (The USAF used teletype to track air traffic.)  After his tour of duty, he moved back to the States, where he studied music, psychology and voice at Oklahoma Baptist University.  In 1948, he transferred to Peabody College in Nashville and took up his old post on the piano bench for the Daniel Quartet.  Then, he went to the most important audition of his life.  The Jordanaires’ pianist had been called up by Uncle Sam and they had an opening.  Gordon aced the audition, beating out Marvin Hughes and Boyce Hawkins, who had both played with The Jordanaires before.  By 1950, Gordon was a Jordanaire, an honour that he continues to enjoy to this day.  He met his future bride, Jean, at a church singing, and their love of gospel music led to their love for each other.  They were wed on 9th September 1951, and were serenaded by the other Jordanaires, who sang “Tell Me Why” to the accompaniment of Boyce Hawkins on organ.  In 1952, at a show in Detroit, Michigan, Bill Matthews, the first tenor, suffered some kind of a breakdown and could not go on.  Gordon was moved to first tenor and Hoyt Hawkins took over at the keys.  Then lead singer Bob Hubbard was gobbled up in the draft and was replaced by Neil Matthews, Jr.  In 1954, The Jordanaires were backing up artists such as Elton Britt, Red Foley, Hank Snow, and Jimmy Wakely.  More personnel changes were on the way, as well.  Culley Holt left the group in 1954 and was supplanted by Hugh Jarrett.  To recap:  At this point, The Jordanaires comprised:  Hoyt Hawkins, Baritone/Pianist; Hugh Jarrett, Bass; Neil Matthews, Jr., Lead/Second Tenor; and, Gordon Stoker, First Tenor/Pianist.  By now, The Jordanaires were fixtures on The Grand Ole Opry and regulars on Eddy Arnold’s TV program, Eddy Arnold Time.  After playing a show with Arnold in Memphis, Tennessee, Gordon was approached by a young Elvis Presley, who told him if he ever made it big, he wanted the Jordanaires to sing back-up vocals on his records.  They first performed with him on the TV program, Louisiana Hayride.  On 11th January 1956, Gordon got a phone call from Chet Atkins asking him to sing backing vocals with The Speer Family on Elvis’s recording of “Was the One”.  Three months later, Ben Speer, Brock Speer and Gordon Stoker were back in the studio, recording with Elvis again.  Elvis did not realize until that day that Chet had only hired Gordon—and not The Jordanaires—and made it plain to Gordon that he wanted the entire quartet.  By now, Elvis was big enough to call his own shots, and thus began one of the most important collaborations in the history of pop-rock music.  Elvis not only hired them; He demanded “The Jordanaires” emblazon his record labels, at a time when behind-the-scenes musicians and technicians were rarely even mentioned on the album cover.  They were with him when he made his infamous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Elvis did not mind if they did not record with him exclusively, as long as they were available when he needed them.  This opened nearly every door in Nashville to the quartet.  Neither were their recordings with Elvis their only famous recordings.  In 1958, The Jordanaires began collaborating with Ricky Nelson, appearing on some of his biggest hits, like “Hello Mary Lou”, “Lonesome Town”, “Poor Little Fool” and “Traveling Man”.  Gordon expresses a preference for these recordings versus anything else they ever recorded.  Ricky liked to have the Jordanaires’ mike levels the same as his.  Elvis had wanted that, too, but the powers-that-be at RCA insisted they be potted down.  In 1959, after another line-up change (Ray Walker in for Hugh Jarrett at bass), the group cut what would become another handful of classics:  “Crazy”; “I Fall to Pieces”; and, “Sweet Dreams”, with Patsy Cline.  In 1963, they inked a deal with Columbia Records, although they continued to perform and record with Elvis until 1970, when he decided to take his show on the road to Las Vegas.  The Jordanaires were doing three or four sessions a day, six days a week, and they could not afford to leave Nashville.  After Elvis died in 1977, The Jordanaires recorded a string of albums in tribute to the King.  They won the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ Superpicker award in 1976, 1977 and 1979, and in 1979 received a special NARAS award for having appeared on more top-ten hits than any other vocal group.  In 1982, Hoyt Hawkins died and was replaced by Duane West.  The group won a CMA Masters Award and a Nashville Entertainment Association Masters Award, a pair of lifetime achievement honours, in 1984.  In 1987, they won an American Music Award.  They joined forces with D.J. Fontana, Ronnie McDowell and Scotty Moore in 1994 for a series of concerts entitled “Memories of Elvis”.  In the late ‘90s, they began honouring Patsy Cline in similar fashion.  They were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1998 and the North America Country Music Association International Hall of Fame the following year.  In 1999, Duane got sick and had to leave the group and was replaced by Louis Nunley.  Neal Matthews, Jr. died in April 2000 and was replaced by Curtis Young.  The group continued to have accolades rain down on them in the 2000s.  In 2000, they were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.  The following year, they were enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame.  In 2002, they won the Performer’s Benefit Golden Voice Award in the category of Vocal Group of the Year.  Then, they scored a Grammy award for their work on the album, We Called Him Mr. Gospel Music:  The James Blackwood Tribute Album.  The group has also issued a bluegrass album and a Christmas album with no signs of slowing down.  Gordon had been the backbone of the group since 1950, an incredible run of almost six decades, and was with them for their final performance in August 2012.  In March 2013 Gordon passed away at home in Brentwood, Tennessee, after a long illness. He was 88 years old and survived by his wife of 61 years, Jean, two sons and a daughter.

     

    Sources:

    1. http://www.jordanaires.net/GordonStoker/index.htm
    2. http://www.rockabilly.nl/references/messages/gordon_stoker.htm
    3. http://www.jordanaires.net/GordonStoker/more.htm
    4. http://www.elvisturk.com/ing/Review.asp
    5. http://www.gleasononline.com/gordon_stoker.htm
    6. http://blog.gactv.com/blog/2013/03/28/gordon-stoker-of-the-jordanaires-dies-at-88/
    7. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/1554549/gordon-stoker-member-of-the-jordanaires-dies-at-88

     

             

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     



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