Written by Fantasma el Rey
Have you heard the news! There’s good rockin’ tonight and it’s coming from the return of Rockabilly legends Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding. Vocalist Gordon and guitarist Spedding pay tribute to Elvis Presley with their new release, It’s Now Or Never. These gentlemen are joined by the King’s backing vocalists The Jordanaires on fifteen tracks that range from the well known to the obscure. The CD is perfectly timed to hit shelves on the thirty-year anniversary of Elvis’ passing,
These two first teamed up when Spedding became guitarist for Gordon’s backing band The WildCats by replacing guitar hero/master Link Wray. Producing some good albums and ripping live venues apart, these kats scored with a cover of the classic “Red Hot” and Bruce Springsteen’s gift to Gordon, “Fire.” After spending twenty years apart, the voice and the guitar tear it up again with this collection of tunes first made popular by “the hillbilly kat,” Mr. Elvis Presley.
From reeling and rockin’ to slow and low Gordon has chosen tracks that represent the power and emotion that Elvis could convey when he wasn’t singing about crap such as clam bakes or luaus. Gordon’s vocals are as strong as ever on ballads where he pleads “Don’t Leave Me Now,” “Love Me,” and the swinging title track “It’s Now Or Never.” On the latter Gordon shows off the power in his baritone voice as The Jordanaires recreate their smooth group harmony behind him. Gordon’s voice is reminiscent of Elvis’ but is deeper and more gruff, giving him a sound all his own.
Spedding begins to cut his way and be heard on some of the King’s bluesy sides, turning tunes like “A Mess Of Blues,” “Trying To Get to You,” and “It Feels So Right” into grittier, mean-sounding gems from an after-hour’s juke joint. The original session guitarist had the vibe but its Spedding’s talent and feelings pushing these songs further, reminding us that with the right guitar slinger these songs are street level, greasy blues tunes.
The two rockabilly titans are strongest on the up-tempo numbers. It’s here that Spedding swings his ax with a style that adds to the original arrangements while showcasing Gordon’s fierce vocals. Songs like “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone,” and “Too Much” are given new life and jump just as much as the previous versions. “My Baby Left Me” hits hard and fast, leaving you asking for more, which our heroes gladly supply by tackling one of the holiest of Elvis’ tunes, “Don’t Be Cruel.” Many consider this song untouchable and would rather it be left alone, but bravely they step and rock it almost as well as the King himself. Gordon’s mature vocals conjure up images of an older Elvis performing in his ’68 comeback prime as Spedding gives the tune more of a country slant
The track that pulls it all together is “I Beg Of You.” Gordon asserts himself as an older, wiser vocalist. Spedding’s picking and strumming jives well with The Jordanaires whose peppy backing chores shine as bright as one of the King’s pinky rings. And no true Elvis tribute can be complete with out the spiritual that the King loved so much, “Peace In The Valley;” which is given a fine treatment by this talented group of performers.
In It’s Now Or Never you’ll get a fresh take on a few Elvis tunes that jump and swing with a life of their own. The rockabilly world is thankful that Gordon ditched his punk band the Tuff Darts to pursue his love of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. He carried the torch for music that might have died with Elvis.
There are plenty of good rockabilly bands making the scene now but Gordon hit at a time when this brand of rock was at a low point. Elvis himself shied away from it at the end of his career, focusing more on being a jumpsuit-wearing entertainer. Gordon appeared and stripped this music back to its roots and drawing from the energy of his punk rock beginnings was able to breathe fire and attitude back into the rebellious music known as Rockabilly, the punk rock of the 1950s. So it’s now or never, ghoulies. Enjoy the coming month because it’s not often that Elvis and rockabilly will be celebrated as much as it will be this August.