Tue Jul 12, 2005 7:10 am
Thought you guys might like some reading from the news wire service - rick
US: Elvis back-up The Jordanaires still on song
MUSIC: Jordanaires (Music Feature)
By Pat Harris
NASHVILLE, Tennessee, Reuters - "I'm on a small label right now making some noise," said the brash, dark-haired kid. "But if I get a recording contract with a major company, I want you to back me up."
The year was 1955. The little-known youngster was Elvis Presley, making a backstage pitch to Gordon Stoker, whose Jordanaires quartet had just finished backing up Eddy Arnold at a show in Memphis.
"Nobody had heard of Elvis Presley," Stoker, now 80, recalled.
"But apparently he was impressed with our rendition of Peace in the Valley because his first love was always gospel, you know. He had listened to us on the Grand Ole Opry where we were the first white quartet to sing spirituals and his music was influenced by that too."
The collaboration took off and the Jordanaires ultimately sang back-up on some of Elvis's biggest hits including Don't Be Cruel and Jailhouse Rock.
The quartet also sang back-up for Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Brenda Lee, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton -- even the Beatles' Ringo Starr.
Although they are hardly household names themselves, they have recorded with an estimated 2,500 different artists and have sung on more Top 10 records than any other vocal group in history, culminating in record sales of more than $US2.6 billion ($A3.51 billion).
Looking back on this career, Stoker lounged in the old RCA studio where Presley put out those first albums on Nashville's famed Music Row. His gaze lingered on the somewhat battered 1949 Steinway, the recording equipment, the instruments, the straight-back chairs and the black and white photos on the wall taken when Presley and his entourage were all so very young.
It was almost as if they had left on a break from a session.
Stoker remembers being surprised a year after meeting Presley when the "noise" he spoke of making at Sun Records in Memphis had landed him a contract with RCA. By that time, the Jordanaires, who had formed their quartet in 1948 in Springfield, Missouri, were a fixture in Nashville.
Country star Chet Atkins, who was producing Presley's first RCA record, told Stoker that the young fellow had asked for the Jordanaires to sing back-up.
"Chet didn't think the kid would go anywhere in the music business," said Stoker. "He said that Elvis was just a long-haired kid who was a passing fancy and he called me in to sing back-up with Ben and Brock Speer on the session.
"It wasn't that we had anything against the Speers," said Stoker, "but in music, meshing harmonies and styles can be tricky.
But I went over to the studio and Elvis asked where the rest of the Jordanaires were and was disappointed that they weren't there. Four months later, Chet brought in the Speers again to join me in backing up Presley on I Want You, I Need You, I Love You, which was a big hit."
At that point, Elvis insisted not only on the Jordanaires on all future sessions but also their name on his album -- an unusual move since no backing musicians, producers or engineers were given credit on labels then.
This time he got his way. The long-haired kid was a star with enough clout to overrule Atkins, then a powerhouse in the business.
Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, "told Chet that when Elvis asks for someone, Elvis gets them," Stoker recalled. And, he added, "to the day he died, Elvis didn't like Chet."
It was the beginning of a 14-year relationship during which the Jordanaires provided back-up on Don't Be Cruel, All Shook Up, Jailhouse Rock, Can't Help Falling in Love and numerous other Presley hits.
It lasted until Presley based his career in Las Vegas and the Jordanaires declined to leave their roots in Nashville for the bright lights of the gambling mecca.
Was it a hard decision to make?
"Well," drawled the white-haired Stoker who sees nothing unusual about his continuing to sing harmony at the age of 80 for the biggest artists in the business. "Not really. We could have gone with Elvis to Las Vegas with our careers tied to his but it made more sense for us to stay here and make music with just about everyone in the business. So that's what we did."
Presley died in Memphis in 1977 at the age of 42.
The Jordanaires went on to back up other singers so successfully that they are still cutting records and performing in their own shows, now members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
They take on new challenges, just releasing their first bluegrass album titled Believe, which contains 26 hymns including four new ones written specifically for the project. The album features a Presley favourite, Angel Band.
Through the years several members of the original group have died and been replaced. First tenor Stoker joined in 1950. Ray Walker became a member eight years later. Other current members are Louis Nunley and Curtis Young.
"We've played to a quarter of a million people in Canada during the past two years," said Stoker. "We do between 30 and 35 shows a year here in this country and we can't keep up with the requests for more."
"Yeah," said Walker. "I think people have found out that we're not dead."
Tue Jul 12, 2005 1:07 pm
Interesting read Rick.. Thanks.
Tue Jul 12, 2005 3:57 pm
click below to read the actual article: