The Legendary Jordanaires

By Ron Wynn, - May 10, 2007

The Jordanaires may be the most honored vocal group in modern music history, having been elected to five different Halls of Fame (country, gospel, rockabilly, North American country and vocal group halls) and appeared on an incredible number of hit recordings. And while it's been performing more than five decades and has backed everyone from Patsy Cline, George Jones and Sonny James to Marty Robbins and Rickey Nelson, it is the band's lengthy association with Elvis Presley that cemented its international fame.

It's one that began with Presley's earliest RCA recordings in the mid-50s and continued until 1970. And the band's longtime lead tenor vocalist Gordon Stoker has many fond memories of their time together.

"He (Elvis) was such a kind-hearted, good person," Stoker said. "He couldn't say no to anyone, and so many people took advantage of that, whether it was the Colonel (his longtime manager Colonel Tom Parker), all those people who were always around him, or all his fans. That's the reason why he's not around today, because he just wouldn't say no to all those demands on his time and his life."

Stoker and the Jordanaires will back Ronnie McDowell in a special fundraiser Friday night in Brentwood for the Morning Rotary Club along with vocalist Millie Kirkwood, a featured harmony vocalist in Presley's 60s group.

The group has worked with McDowell at various times over the past 15 years, and Stoker makes it clear he's no Elvis impersonator.

"Ronnie is a gifted vocalist and he can do a lot of things. He's greatly influenced by Elvis, but he's no impersonator. One thing I know about Elvis if he was still here is that he'd really take all these impersonators as a joke. We've seen some of them and they're really quite funny. They'll even call themselves Elvis or claim they're his father or son. But none of these people really ever can replicate the spirit of Elvis, or capture that special quality in his voice and music that was so captivating."

"What gets me with a lot of these books being written about Elvis is that a lot of them are done by the very people who contributed to what killed him," Stoker continued. "He shouldn't have been doing two shows a night. That's why we left in 1970, because we didn't want to do two shows a night. There are so many myths about what killed him, and the main thing is that he was misused and abused by people who were supposed to be helping him."

Arguably the most versatile vocal group ever, the Jordanaires combined the wailing intensity of classic quartet gospel with the flexibility and stylistic flair of doo-wop, pop and jazz ensembles. Their harmonies were featured on a host of Nashville sound and country recordings, but they've also worked with pop and rock types, including Ringo Starr.

"We made two albums with Ringo, but have never worked with Paul McCartney. He's been quoted as saying that the Beatles listened to Elvis records and learned how to sing harmony by patterning themselves after our vocals. I'd love to work with him, but so far we've never done it."

Stoker also credits Eddy Arnold, a fellow Brentwood resident, with helping get them started. "Eddy Arnold was an early champion of ours. When we didn't have any name or reputation, he went to bat for us, and we've always been thrilled and thankful about that."

The group is still active, though not playing nearly as many shows or cutting as many sessions as it did during the 50s and 60s. Some recent appearances include doing harmonies on some selections from the new Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard/Ray Price twin CD, and an upcoming CD with Dolly Parton that's part of this year's 30th anniversary tribute in recognition of Elvis Presley's death.

Among its many awards are citations for being on more Top 10 hits than any other vocal group, and membership in everything from the Country Music Association, Rockabilly and North American Country Music, International to the Gospel Halls of Fame, though somehow the band has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But Stoker cites one recent honor as being particularly special. "We're proud of being in all those halls of fame, but we were really happy about getting in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. That was one that we didn't necessarily expect to get, but are very grateful that they recognized us. We've enjoyed all the sessions and backing all the artists and are pleased that we're still able to keep working together, although we don't want to work as hard or as long as we used to do in the old days."

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