Gordon Stoker, lead tenor of the Jordanaires Elvis Presley’s backing group died on March 27th after a long illness at the age of 88.
His son, Alan, told the Associated Press that he died at his home in Brentwood, TN. He played the organ in his local Baptist church and was originally a piano player, with The Clement Trio, a pre-teen gospel group who went to Nashville where they were heard every morning on Radio 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, but he eventually went back to Nashville where he auditioned for and got the job as the pianist for the Jordanaires.
The Jordanaires were a regular feature on the Red Foley segment of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1952, Stoker stepped up to replace Bill Matthews as the tenor in the group.
The Jordanaires sang gospel music but in 1955, they were working with country singer 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 of RCA Records 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 ‘Iâ€™m Counting On You’ however, Elvis wasnâ€™t entirely happy. At the next session, he confessed he wanted the Jordanaires – Stoker made arrangements with RCA executives and the group would appear behind Elvis on record for the next 14 years.
Post-Elvis, the group became one of the most requested session singers in Nashville, working with Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Ricky Nelson, Loretta Lynn, George Jones 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 â€śBack 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 didnâ€™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.â€ť
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 Deanâ€™s ‘Big Bad John’Â (Record of the Year), Tennessee Ernie Fordâ€™s ‘Great Gospel Songs’, Elvis Presleyâ€™s ‘How Great Thou Art’Â and Larry Ford and the Light Crust Doughboysâ€™We Called Him Mr. Gospel Music: The James Blackwood Tribute Album’Â and were nominated 15 more times.
As a member of The Jordanaires he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, The Country Music Hall of Fame, The Rockabilly Hall of Fame, The Gospel Music Hall of Fame and The Vocal Group Hall of Fame.Â