STOMP GORDON (By Dave Penny)
Born Archie A. Gordon, 10 February 1926, Columbus, Ohio
In his brief career as a recording artist in the mid 1950s, Archie "Stomp" Gordon appeared on Ed Sullivan's top-rated TV Show, appeared in several musical movie shorts, accompanied Billie Holiday on a 1954 tour which took in Alaska, recorded for major labels such as Decca and Mercury, had his own fan club and earned such rankings as 17th best pianist in the respected Downbeat Magazine poll and 26th in Metronome's rival one. But the rock 'n' roll years were not kind to him and an early death in 1958 has resulted in his name being all but erased from the history books.
Archie A. Gordon was born on 10th February 1926 to William Gordon and Leola Jordan, and was raised on the South Side of Columbus, Ohio. The 1930 US census, however, shows that, by the age of four, he was living at 241 Barthman Avenue as the "adopted son" of Squire Bagby and his wife, Elizabeth, the circumstances of which remain surrounded in mystery.
Thriving in his spacious new home, Little Archie began displaying precocious talents, not only as a pianist and vocalist, but also as a youthful bandleader, and by the tender age of 13, young Archie - who was now known to everyone in Columbus as "Stomp" Gordon - was something of a local celebrity, playing to audiences at the Nelsonville Eagles Club, Lafayette High School in London, and at the famous Wilberforce University. The garage behind his Barthman Avenue home had become a haven for other budding young musicians who joined him for lengthy jam sessions, with an eye on impressing him enough to be invited to join his popular jump combo.
By the time he was 16, Gordon was working at the Kiri Café, the Musical Bar, El Traviato, and other Central Ohio clubs and was now renowned as a flamboyant showman, wearing bright ties, dice-capped shoe laces, and a long zebra-skin coat, he was a wonder to behold, especially when he would add more power to the bass keys by stomping on them with his bare feet - hence his nickname - and by 1948 he was leading his own locally-important r&b combo. One of the star-struck neighbourhood kids who would hang around the Gordon family garage was little Rusty Bryant who asked Gordon what he needed to do to join his band. Gordon told him to go buy a saxophone and learn to play it, and little more than a year later, Rusty Bryant was blowing outrageous tenor sax in the Stomp Gordon band.
By 1952, the reputation of Stomp's current quartet (Gordon on piano/vocal with Little Hiawatha Edmundson on tenor sax, Bruce Woode on bass and drummer Chick Glenn) was such that Decca Records, hundreds of miles east in New York City, heard the cheers, and signed the combo to a year's contract on their 48000 R&B series. While the stage act was lauded wherever they played, however, their record sales were continually disappointing, and Decca let them go before the year was up, after which they suffered similarly truncated contracts with the Mercury, Chess and Savoy labels. As one contemporary report put it, "Gordon plays good music, but his real strength lies in his clowning and showmanship. He takes off his shoes and socks and knocks out the blues with his toes. People go for it!"
Like many performers of his generation, Stomp explored the extremes from old-fashioned tearjerkers such as "My Mother's Eyes" "and "Pennies from Heaven" (performed a la Johnnie Ray) and the novelty "Hide The Bottle" - which borrows heavily from The Savoy Sultans' decade-earlier "Fish For Supper" - to popular culture references like "Dragnet", "Ride, Superman, Ride" and the unissued "Captain Video". His stock-in-trade, however, was the hilarious put-down ("Damp Rag", "Devil's Daughter", etc.) or the salacious, party r&b of "Sloppy Daddy Blues", "Juicy Lucy" and "What's Her Whimsy, Dr Kinsey"; the latter, a hot-off-the-mark reference to Alfred Kinsey's then recent controversial publication, "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" - which remains the best-selling scientific text to this day and started a sub-genre of Kinsey-related risqué R&B! Stomp and his band recorded around thirty masters during his heyday, yet only had eight singles released : four for Decca in 1952/53, two for Mercury in 1953, and one each for Chess (1955) and Savoy (1956).
His recording career over by the age of 30 with the release of his sole Savoy 45, Stomp Gordon was signed to Universal Attractions in 1957, but the change in management didn't herald the upswing in his fortunes it should have, and it appears that he had also picked up a heroine habit by this time and sadly may have taken to sleeping in his car to save on hotel bills after his gigs. Under a headline proclaiming "'Stomp Gordon, Band Leader, Dies in NYC", the Ohio State Journal published on Tuesday, 21st January 1958, reported that "Archie A. Gordon, a 26-year-old (sic) Columbus musician was found dead in a parked car on New York City's Madison Ave. late Sunday night. The body was not identified until early Monday. Police found the piano-player slumped over the wheel of his station wagon between 123rd and 124th Sts. The body was taken to Bellevue Morgue where it was identified by one of the members of the five-piece orchestra he had taken to New York. New York Medical examiners said an autopsy disclosed Gordon died of pneumonia and a liver ailment. No injuries were found on the body." Stomp Gordon's death was later recorded as being the 18th January and his body was shipped back to his hometown and buried in Columbus' Green Lawn Cemetery.
Much of this information comes from Columbus jazz historian, Arnett Howard who, while tidying his basement in 1997 came across what can only be the personal scrapbook of Stomp Gordon and his family. He is not sure where he obtained it, but has vague memories of a woman trying to sell him it in the 1980s. The full story can be found here http://www.columbusmusichistory.com/html/stomp_gordon_1.html
It was in the 1980s too, with the release of Ace's wonderful "Jumpin' The Blues" LPs, that many of us were introduced to the great jump R&B of Stomp and his boys and now, in 2008, with the release of Classics CD 5185 we can finally hear the complete issued legacy of the man.
With grateful acknowledgement to the groundbreaking research of Columbus music historian, Arnett Howard, and with many thanks, too, to Brian Baumgartner and Bob Eagle.
(Originally published in 2008 as the liner notes for the Classics CD "The Chronological Stomp Gordon, 1952-56". Reproduced with Dave's permission. - Dik)
|These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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