Gordon Stoker, tenor and manager of the Jordanaires who spent years backing Elvis Presley along with many other greats, died on Wednesday after a long illness at the age of 88.
His son, Alan, told the AP that he passed at his home in Brentwood, TN. He was originally a piano player, whose dedication to the instrument and his talent for playing in clubs got him his first professional offer at the age of 12. He and the group for which he played, The Clement Trio, went to Nashville where they were heard every morning on WSM.
After being drafted into the Army during World War II, where he spent three years as a teletype operator, Stoker came home and went to Oklahoma Baptist University, starting in psychology but ending up in music and voice. He eventually went back to Nashville where he eventually auditioned for and got the job as the pianist for the Jordanaires.
Two years later, in 1952, Stoker stepped up to replace Bill Matthews as the tenor in the group. It was a position he would hold until his death.
The Jordanaires were mainly a gospel group who successfully brought the music to a white audience in the south. In 1955, they were working with Eddy Arnold on his new TV show when a young Elvis Presley, who was still recording for Sun Records, asked if they would back him up should he ever make it big. The next year, Chet Atkins called Stoker asking if he would back up Presley with two other RCA artists, Ben and Brock Spears. The trio recorded I Was the One and I’m Counting on You with Presley; however, Elvis wasn’t entirely happy. At the next session, he confessed to Stoker that he wanted the Jordanaires, not this slapped together group. Stoker made arrangements with RCA executives and the real group would appear on nearly every Elvis record for the next 14 years.
Post-Elvis, the group became one of the most requested studio artists in Nashville, working with Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Ricky Nelson and many more. One estimate put their output at 30,000 sides for between 2,200 and 2,500 artists. The work was so lucrative that, when Elvis wanted them back for his new contracts in Las Vegas, they had to turn him down. Stoker once explained “Back around the time of our first hit record in 1957, a record producer told us to forget about the hit parade. Stars are here today and gone tomorrow. The industry needed good backup singers. We didn’t think he was telling the truth, but, boy, was he ever. For 23 years we had two to four sessions a day, six days a week.”
Among their many honors are the NARAS Superpickers Award for having performed on more top ten records then any artists in history, the CMA Masters Award and memberships in the Country Music Association, Gospel Music, Vocal Group, Christian Music and Rockabilly Halls of Fame. They won Grammys for Jimmy Dean’s Big Bad John (Record of the Year), Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Great Gospel Songs, Elvis Presley’s How Great Thou Art and Larry Ford and the Light Crust Doughboys’ We Called Him Mr. Gospel Music: The James Blackwood Tribute Album and were nominated 15 more times.
Along with many singles and albums recorded under their own name, Stoker and the Jordanaires major appearances outside of the Presley recordings include:
- Travelin’ Man, Poor Little Fool, Lonesome Town and It’s Late – Ricky Nelson
- Gone – Ferlin Husky
- It’s Only Make Believe, Hello Darlin’ – Conway Twitty
- Battle of New Orleans – Johnny Horton
- Big Bad John – Jimmy Dean
- Crazy – Patsy Cline
- Four Walls – Jim Reeves
- Coal Miner’s Daughter, Stand By Your Man – Loretta Lynn
- Beaucoups of Blues – Ringo Starr
- Lucille – Kenny Rogers
- He Stopped Loving Her Today – George Jones