Kevin Gordon’s voice is made from dust and red clay. And the songs on the Louisiana-born performer’s sweeping new album Gloryland are chiseled from the bedrock of life — the honest facts of rambling, needing, loving, soul-searching and experience.
Gordon’s own narrative begins in Monroe, Louisiana, where he “grew up the son of well-intentioned, but backsliding parents. I was a very confused young man.”
Like many other children of the 1970s who fit that description, Gordon wrote poetry and discovered skate-boarding and punk rock despite being weaned on the region’s early rock, blues, honky-tonk and rockabilly sounds. He sang in a high school band whose repertoire was entirely Ramones and Sex Pistols covers. But his own fusion of words and music ignited after a girlfriend’s parents gave him a guitar and he discovered the more literate and worldly compositions of the influential Los Angeles roots- punk outfit X.
In the late-’80s Gordon moved to Iowa City, where he studied poetry and graduated with a masters degree from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. At the same time, he became indoctrinated in the world of the working musician. Gordon graduated from blues jams to playing guitar in a regionally touring band led by Bo Ramsey, who went on to become a producer and guitarist for Greg Brown and Lucinda Williams.
When Ramsey took a hiatus, Gordon began fronting his own group and writing his own songs, which he’s continued to do for more than 20 years. He moved to Tennessee in 1992, and four years later recorded the numbers that would become his first nationally distributed album, Cadillac Jack’s #1 Son, with producer Garry Tallent of the E Street Band, which was released in 1998 on Shanachie.
Gordon also has his own connection to Lucinda Williams, who he befriended in Nashville. She sang on the track “Down To the Well,” which was the title of his 2000 album and one of the most popular cuts on the 6th annual Oxford American Southern Music Sampler. The song also appeared on No Depression’s What It Sounds Like compilation.
“Many fans have discovered me because of that,” says Gordon.
His songs have been cut by a host of artists. Keith Richards and Levon Helm performed Gordon’s and Gwil Owen’s “Deuce And A Quarter” with Scotty Moore on the former Elvis Presley guitarist’s 1996 solo album. New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas recorded “Flowers” from O Come Look At the Burning on her Grammy-winning post-Katrina album After the Rain. Southside Johnny, Webb Wilder and Kate Campbell have also covered Gordon’s songs. And in 2009 Gordon issued his own live tracks, demos and rarities collection, Salvage & Drift Vol. 1, which examines his musical history in previously unreleased recordings from 1994 through that year.
“When I write a song, I have nobody else in mind but myself,” Gordon says. “When I first started writing songs it seemed like absolute freedom for me — exactly the opposite of what I was experiencing in the Writers’ Workshop. Except for the year when I had a publishing contract and discovered writing by numbers was anathema to me, that’s what it’s been about ever since.”
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