Hugh Gordon Stoker, holding
the accordion, made his debut into the music business as
the piano player for the Clement Trio of Gleason. With
Hugh Gordon are little Gloria Clement, Fred, Jr. and
Read Part 1, Gordon Stoker - Gleason's
Musical Marvel Makes it to Nashville,
Gordon Stoker was raised among a family
of musicians in Gleason in the 1930's, a time when singing
conventions were prime entertainment among small southern
towns that took turns hosting the events, giving locals at
least one opportunity each month to enjoy the shows while
many ventured to neighboring towns on successive weekends
for the added spice of variety.
One of the most spectacular of the singing conventions was
the Snead-Grove Picnic in McKenzie, where local talent
mixed with stars of the Grand Ole Opry to the delight of
enthusiasts who came from near and far to enjoy the
popular event. It was here that 12-year-old piano
sensation Gordon Stoker caught the eye and ear of John
Daniel, manager of the famed Daniel Quartet, who
proclaimed his intention to make the boy a star someday.
While members of the Daniel Quartet waited for Gordon to
grow up before whisking him away to Nashville (an act that
was set in motion just one week after he graduated from
high school at the age of 15), Gordon set about promoting
his own fame as a member of the Clement trio, the
sensational young group that in addition to Stoker was
made up of the Clement children: Gloria, Rachel, and Fred,
Jr.. The hot young trio was an early morning staple on
WTJS radio, listened to regularly in homes where
television had not yet made its debut.
Fans continued to enjoy Gordon's inimitable skills on the
piano as WSM radio in Nashville broadcast the sounds of
the Daniel Quartet to homes across Tennessee. Gordon's
success with the quartet was interrupted, however, when he
was drafted into the Air Force in 1943. He served as a
Teletype operator for three years during World War II,
then devoted a few years to education - studying
psychology, music and voice - before being drawn back to
Nashville, where the Daniel Quartet was still going
Hugh Gordon Stoker rejoined
the Daniel Quartet upon his return to Nashville, bringing
back his special brand of piano skills that had
increasingly thrilled listeners since he was eight years
old. Meanwhile, in Springfield Missouri, a new quartet,
The Jordanaires, was formed in 1948 by Bill and Monty
Matthews along with bass singer Culley Holt and second
tenor Bob Hubbard.
The following year The Jordanaires were in Nashville,
having been hired by the Grand Ole Opry. Then, once again,
the draft changed the face of music when the group's
original piano player, Bob Money, was drafted.
Gordon auditioned among competition like Boyce Hawkins and
Marvin Hughes, both of whom later played for The
Jordanaires from time to time, Hawkins filling in as
needed and Hughes playing for the group during Grand Ole
Gordon won the audition, becoming the group's piano player
in 1950, the same year he met his wife, Jean, at a singing
"We had a church singing every second Tuesday; it was a
big singing," Gordon shared, recalling once more the
affairs that filled weekends everywhere with music.
"She loved to sing gospel songs and I loved to play them,"
he continues by way of explaining the attraction that grew
between the young couple. As a member of the Wilkerson
Trio, along with her sisters Mildred and Edna, Jean was
also a performer at the singing where she met Hugh Gordon,
finally meeting the young man whose music she had enjoyed
since both were children.
"She had listened to me play as far back as 1942. People
listened to the radio every morning before work," he says,
explaining again the differences in the era before
television was a widespread source of entertainment and
information. When Gordon and Jean married on September 9,
1951, The Jordanaires sang "Tell Me Why" at the wedding with
Boyce Hawkins at the organ.
In 1952, Gordon's career shifted suddenly and dramatically
when first tenor Bill Matthews was unable to perform
during the first evening of an engagement at a supper club
in Detroit, Michigan.
"Hoyt Hawkins came to play piano," says Gordon, who was
forced that evening to assume the role of first tenor at a
moment's notice. More changes were in store for the group
when Bob Hubbard was drafted, with Neil Matthews (no
relation to the former Matthews brothers) taking the
second tenor position in 1953.
For 47 years, from 1953 through 2000, the group's
membership was almost constant with Gordon Stoker at first
tenor, Neal Matthews as second tenor, and Hoyt Hawkins as
baritone. Their joint tenures were interrupted in 1982
when Hoyt passed away with the baritone position then
filled by Duane West, who died last year. In the bass
position, Ray Walker filled Hugh Jarrett's position (who
had replaced Holt in 1954) in 1958 and continues to
The quartet is currently composed of first tenor/manager
Gordon Stoker, second tenor Curtis Young (who filled
Neal's position when he died in 2000), baritone Louis Nunley (who took Duane West's place) and bass Ray Walker.
In 1955, The Jordanaires traveled to Memphis to sing with
Eddie Arnold at Ellis Auditorium, the historic and
architecturally rich edifice that, unbelievably, was razed
last year to make room for the expansion of the Memphis
Cook Convention Center.
When the show was over, a young musician who was working
hard at earning his own success went backstage to meet The
Jordanaires. He told the group that if he ever got a major
recording contract he wanted them to sing with him. At the
time he was recording on the Sun label, a recording
company now famous as "the birthplace of rock and roll."
In addition to Elvis Presley, the label recorded such
legends as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins
as well as Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Bill Justis, and
Harold Jenkins (now known as Conway Twitty.)
The only thing that made the young man memorable at the
time, Gordon says, was his long sideburns.
"Boys didn't have long sideburns back then," he explains,
"But the main thing was that he had on a pink shirt. Boys
just did not wear pink shirts in 1955."
The young gentleman was none other than the prince who
would become the King of Rock and Roll, his pink shirt and
sideburns just a sampling of the ways he would shake up
the world with his new brand of music.
"Elvis had heard us sing on the Grand Ole Opry's Prince
Albert Show; we would always sing a fast-moving spiritual
and that's what he liked," says Gordon, who says Presley
had wanted to join a quartet himself and had auditioned
for two groups in Memphis but was turned away.
Gordon later ran into one of the quartets who had turned
away the King and asked, incredulously, "You turned down
"We had to," was the reply, "You give Elvis one part and
before you know it he's singing another part." Singers
within a quartet must be very disciplined within their
assigned roles, Gordon explains, lending insight to the
astonishing harmonics of The Jordanaires.
True to his word, Elvis called the group in January 1956
after signing on with RCA Records, beginning a
relationship that would last nearly 15 years and a
friendship that would last even longer.
Gordon sang duets with Elvis on hit records like "All
Shook Up", "Good Luck Charm", and "Easy Come Easy Go"
while the full quartet sang back up on most of Elvis'
Gordon pulls out a CD containing 30 of Elvis' number one
hits. "We're on 24 of them, that gives you an idea of how
many we did," he says. He's wrong. While the ratio may be
right, the numbers don't compare, with The Jordanaires
performing on an astounding 361 records with the King, not
to mention 28 of some 31 Elvis movies.
Memories of the Elvis years come easy for Gordon, his
recollections aided by more keepsakes in what may best be
described as a trophy room, were it not for the fact that
the mementos displayed are not meant to boast but to
remember and honor. In the same room with his childhood
keepsakes - his mom's guitar, his brother's banjo, the
church organ of his youth - are the vibrant photos of a
lifetime of music alongside Elvis and other great stars of
country, gospel and rock and roll.
There's The Jordanaires with Elvis, taken at 7:00 in the
morning after recording all night in Studio B in
Nashville; a scene from the set of Elvis' - and the
Jordanaire's - first movie, "Love Me Tender", and a
collage of scenes from four other movies: "King Creole",
"Loving You", "Jailhouse Rock" and "G.I. Blues", and
memorable early photos of Elvis performing on the Ed
There's even a custom made jacket Elvis once wore,
authenticated by its label, with accompanying photos of
the King performing in the coat.
One of Gordon's favorite memoirs is a metal wall hanging
he first spied in an overseas restaurant, perhaps
Amsterdam, that shows a close up of an early Elvis with
undyed, sandy hair, and smaller inserts of an airplane and
an older model vehicle. None of the components make sense,
says Gordon, trying to reconcile the pieces into a
It was some time later when the hanging fell into Gordon's
hands when he received a phone call one day. "I'm downtown
in Nashville," said the accented voice of the restaurant's
owner, "I brought a present for you."
Emblazoned across the top of the collage are the words
"The Amazing Years", which alone give credence to the
components; whatever they were, they came together to
create truly remarkable years. The same can be said of The
Jordanaires' amazing years, with over 50 years of
continuous demand for the singers' vocal talents giving
testimony to their tremendous versatility and awesome
Besides Elvis, there are photos of many other artists with
whom The Jordanaires have performed: Patsy Cline ("We
loved, Patsy, didn't everybody," Gordon sighs), Tennessee
Ernie Ford, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Connie Frances and
George Jones. The photos get newer and gain color as the
years progress on The Jordanaires own "wall of fame", with
Vince Gill, Steve Warner, the Judds and Tanya Tucker just
a few of the contemporary artists with whom The
Jordanaires have performed. The most recent estimate of
recordings sales using the The Jordanaires' for background
vocals is 2.6 billion.
But The Jordanaires are performers in their own right, as
well, their discography reflecting continuous releases
from 1950 to the present. Their honors include:
* 1998: Gospel Music Hall of Fame
* 1999: North America Country Music Associations
International Hall of Fame 2000: Rockabilly Hall of Fame
* 2001: Country Music Hall of Fame
* 2002: Golden Voice Awards Vocal Group of the Year
* 2003: Grammy for Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass
Gospel Album ("We Called Him Mr. Gospel Music: The James
Blackwood Tribute Album" with The Jordanaires, Larry Ford
and The Light Crust Doughboys)
Their voices are heard on Coca-cola's ad, singing "We'd
Like to Teach the World to Sing" and are those of the
singing portions of the 1990 animation "Rock a Doodle".
Nowadays, after 53 years in the music business, The
Jordanaires remain in great demand, singing back up for
various artists plus performing Elvis tributes with Scotty
Moore, Elvis' original guitarist, and D.J. Fontano, his
original drummer. Most recently, The Jordanaires performed
last weekend in Jackson with Elvis Wade, one of the most
famous Elvis impersonators.
Gordon remembers Elvis with a fondness reserved for
family. "He was a great, super nice guy," he shares, "much
too good for his own good. He was always in a good mood;
he always had a good attitude - there's nobody that had a
good attitude like Elvis. He was one of us; he considered
himself one of the group, and he was an inspiration to be
around; he made the best of any situation. In 15 years he
never blew up and, believe me, he should have. His mother
raised him that way, to make the best out of any
situation... most of the time you can't do anything about
It was Elvis' good nature, Gordon says, that allowed
people to take advantage of him in everything from the
songs he sang to his appearance. "We used to tell him, man
if you don't want to do it, don't do it," Gordon declares,
"But he would say, 'No, I'd rather do it than argue with
The Jordanaires left Elvis when it was decided he would do
two shows a night in Las Vegas. "I always thought two
shows a night is what took his life," Gordon says sadly,
"It's just hard... They pushed him, he wasn't well; he was
taking uppers and downers all the time. He was never on
hardcore drugs - he didn't even smoke marijuana - but that
eventually took his life."
In their spare time, Gordon and Jean enjoy spending time
in Florida. "We love the auto races," Gordon says. Until
recently the Stokers enjoyed boating as well, the two
house boats they enjoyed over 17 years each named "Sugaree"
after the 1957 Jordanaires hit which was written by Marty
For most of the year, the Stokers live in their home state
of Tennessee in lovely Brentwood just outside Nashville.
Their spacious home is located on what was once
pastureland of T.G. Shepphard's ranch in a music community
that is rapidly growing.
The Stokers have two sons - Alan and Brent - and a
daughter, Venita, plus five grandchildren. Gordon's first
cousins Merle Penick and Lozette Burrow still live in
McKenzie while his brother Wayne is well known in Gleason.
And while Gordon is reminiscing about old times and old
friends, they are remembering him as well. Wanda Clement
of McKenzie is the widow of Fred Clement, Jr. of the
Clement Trio. Now 71, Gloria Clement Lott lives in
Bartlett, TN where her son says, "She can still captivate
the audience or should I say, 'congregation' at the
Ellendale Baptist Church where she faithfully attends with
her husband of 52 years."
Says Gloria, who is the last remaining member of the
Clement Trio besides Gordon, "I thought he was the best
piano player in the world, too. He used to sit me up on
the bench at the piano and teach me my part along with my
mother. I just loved him to death. We just had a great
time singing; when he left our world just left."
For more information about The Jordanaires, see their
website at www.jordanaires.net and listen to them, like
old times, on WSM Radio, 650 A.M. "on your radio dial."