Rockabilly legend Robert Gordon talks CBGB, Conan and returning to the studio
by Barry Taylor
March 19, 2011
When the Rockabilly revival of the 1970s happened, there was one artist who was at the forefront of the movement: Robert Gordon. While the revival has long since passed, Gordon continues to perform to loyal audiences across the globe. After a recent Toronto show, the singer sat down with AUX to discuss being part of the infamous CBGB punk rock scene, 1970s rockabilly and performing on the first episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
AUX: As an artist, you’ve crossed multiple genres. Is there one style of music that appeals to you more than others?
Robert Gordon: I like all kinds of music. I was brought up in the Washington DC area and that was sort of a hot bed. Being close to Virginia there was country music, lots of R&B in D.C., it was a lot of rock and roll. Basically if it’s a good song I can get into it. Doesn’t matter what genre.
You’re generally associated with Rockabilly music but you’ve also got roots in the legendary New York punk scene of the 1970s through the Tuff Darts.
The Tuff Dart thing just sort of happened when I was looking to get back into music. I had a business in New York and a family at that time, I guess you could say I was going through some changes, lyrically it was kind of angry so it was a good way to get out my frustrations. We became one of the premiere punk acts in the CBGB’s heyday. Blondie, Ramones, Richard Hell, Television, we all rehearsed in the same joint. It was a good time. But it wasn’t really where my heart was.
How did you go from that punk scene back to rockabilly music?
At the time, producer Richard Gottenhrer saw me and we hooked up. He got me my first recording deal with Private Stock Records. We went to RCA after that. It was an exciting time in the late 70s and early 80s. Since then I’ve done numerous independent releases but the record business has changed physically as you know.
What do you think triggered the rockabilly revival of the early 80s?
It was like a whole new thing for a whole new generation. It was something that people hadn’t heard. Rockabilly per se wasn’t that successful when it was first out there. I’ve been tagged as a rockabilly artist but if you come to my performances or listen to my records, I did a lot of new songs, a lot of modern songs, I did a lot of contemporary things at the same time but I just sort of put on my own feel.
Will Rockabilly ever rise back to popularity like it did back then?
It’s basic rock and roll with a country flare and I think that will always appeal to people. When I was doing it I don’t think I could have been given any bigger of a shot than my label gave me. RCA did a huge amount of promotion, this was before MTV and I got more airplay than most of the groups that got on MTV and became huge stars. The problem now is that there’s no way for people to hear it. It’s not on the radio, unless it’s alternative radio.
Comedy junkies know you as the first musical guest to perform on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. What was that experience like?
It was great. I love performing in front of people and Conan is an old school rock and roll fan, so it was kind of a natural fit. I think he enjoyed it too. I know a lot of the guys in the [show’s] band. I’ve worked with a lot of the guys from the Letterman show too. Anton [Fig] was my drummer for a long time, Paul Shaffer played on many of my records, so it’s sort of a family thing when it comes down to it.
What does the future hold for Robert Gordon?
[Guitarist Chris] Spedding and I are back together again, we’re going to be performing together in Europe in the March and we’ve been writing some songs together so I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio with him.