Gordy, Emory Jr.
Emory Gordy, Jr.
Guitarist, producer, songwriter
Captured between the glossy pages of country music fan magazines and on the covers of slickly photographed albums—with their close-ups of big-haired women and hatted “cowboy” singers—the spirit of the music flowing out of Nashville is generated by thousands of talented musicians, studio technicians, songwriters, and producers. While most never make it into national fanzines, some of these individuals are legendary in the business. One such person is bass player, producer, and songwriter Emory Gordy, Jr. Laying down both electric and acoustic bass tracks on albums for artists as diverse as Dan Fogelberg, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty, and David Gris-man during his many years as a studio musician, Gordy has also turned his talents to producing albums for such notable acts as country mainstreamers Alabama, superstar George “the Possum” Jones, bluegrasser Bill Monroe, and Patty Loveless, a neotraditional country chanteuse who also happens to be Gordy’s wife.
Born December 24, 1944, in Atlanta, Georgia, Gordy quickly gravitated to anything that made music. By age four he knew his way around a piano keyboard; at six he had begun to tackle the trumpet and would soon learn the banjo, euphonium, guitar, and ukelele. In high school Gordy divided his time and talents between string bands, dixieland bands, and a top 40 garage band, honing his musical skills and learning to arrange music. After graduation he continued his musical studies at Georgia State University, performing French horn in the concert band.
While Gordy would flirt with numerous instruments, when he got his first bass—a Gibson EB-0—it was love at first sight. The relationship would be cemented in 1964, after he was asked to fill in on the instrument during a performance by Tommy Roe at a local sock-hop. A week later he got the proverbial phone call; on the other end of the line was Joe South, an Atlanta-based record producer who had covered Roe on guitar alongside Gordy the week before. South was impressed with the young bass player and invited him to do some studio work. Soon Gordy was working alongside Roe, Razzy Bailey, Mac Davis, and Freddy Weller, as well as touring with Lou Christy, RufusThomas, and the Impressions. In addition, his skills as a cowriter helped the hit “Traces,” performed by Classic IV, cruise up the charts.
A year spent in Los Angeles—where Gordy supplemented work as a studio musician with engineering and production work for Debbie Reynolds and Liberace— further broadened his experience. Then, in 1971, he had the opportunity to tour as a bass player with pop
For the Record…
Born December 24, 1944, in Atlanta, GA; married Patty Loveless (a singer). Education: Attended Georgia State University.
Began as bass player in Atlanta, GA, studios, 1964; worked as a studio musician, Los Angeles, CA, beginning 1970; toured and recorded with Neil Diamond, 1971; toured with Elvis Presley, 1973; joined Emmylou Harris and her Hot Band, 1974-77; played with the Cherry Bombs, 1977-79 and 1981-82; toured and recorded with John Denver, 1979-81; worked as a session musician and independent record producer for such artists as the Bellamy Brothers, Vince Gill, and Earl Thomas Conley, Nashville, TN, beginning 1982.
Selected awards Named bass player of the year, Academy of Country Music, 1986; Grammy Award for bluegrass album of the year, 1989, for Southern Flavor; album of the year award, Country Music Association, 1994, for When Fallen Angels Fly.
Addresses: Office —c/o Lauren Cook, 7321 River Park Dr., Nashville, TN 37221.
star Neil Diamond, also alternating his musical talents between a total of nine instruments (including guitar, mandolin, percussion, and vibes) in the recording sessions that led up to Diamond’s million-selling Hot August Night
The exposure he gained while working with Diamond led Gordy to become a much-sought-after sideman. He would soon find himself laying down the bass behind Elvis Presley’s vocals on “Separate Ways” and the high-powered Presley classic “Burning Love,” as well as performing as part of the King’s touring band. Gordy, along with fellow Presley bandmembers, accompanied Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris on Grievous Angel, released the year after Parsons’s untimely death in 1973. Harris shouldered Parsons’s musical legacy and adopted his band as well; Gordy soon found himself touring the country as a charter member of the aptly named Hot Band. Remaining with Harris until 1977, Gordy continued to get calls from L.A. studios, where he played bass on projects by the Bellamy Brothers, Billy Joel, and Tom Petty. Gordy would go on to play in Rodney Crowell and Roseanne Cash’s crack band, the Cherry Bombs, alongside other soon-to-be Nashville luminaries: guitarist Richard Bennett, keyboard player Tony Brown, and Vince Gill on guitar.
By 1979 the stress of backing both Crowell and Cash on their individual tour dates convinced Gordy that it was time for a break. He joined John Denver’s band and alternated touring the U.S., Australia, and Europe with studio work in Nashville, where he composed the bass tracks for two of Denver’s albums. In 1981, however, Gordy was back at work with Cash and Crowell, a collaboration that would last another year before Crowell opted to become a producer.
Over twenty years of experience as a musician—in the studio, on stage, and on tour—proved to be an asset to Gordy when he made the shift from sideman to independent record producer in the mid-1980s. Similar to the role of a director in a film, the producer is at the heart of any album, helping to define both the artist and the material. Producers sign an act; negotiate for a record label; book studio space; hire the necessary engineers, sidemen, and/or backup singers; assist in the selection of material; deal with the talent through hours of high-stress recording sessions; mix tracks; determine the look of the album jacket; and help to develop marketing strategies. They are constantly under the gun, both from the artists they are helping to develop and the record label looking to turn a profit. Gordy’s track record shows he has been able to successfully overcome the pressure: he has produced or coproduced dozens of highly acclaimed albums in over a decade working as an independent in Nashville.
When a newcomer named Vince Gill went to Music City in 1984, Gordy worked with him on Turn Me Loose, Gill’s first step on the way to the country music superstar status that would await him in the 1990s. Alongside MCA’s Tony Brown, Gordy also coproduced 1986’s Guitar Town, a chart-topping debut effort from Steve Earle that landed the then-fledgling singer best country artist honors in Rolling Stone. Considered by many contemporary critics to be a groundbreaking album, Guitar Town remains notable as “an inspired, muscular and uncompromising pieceof music that reverberate[s] with a bold, exuberant, latter-day Duane Eddy-style, larger-than-life electric guitar sound,” according to reviewer Bob Allen in the Comprehensive Country Music Encyclopedia. Records featuring the musclebound sound of Aaron Tippin, the country-fired spirituality of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Bill Monroe’s modern renderings of the sound he created back in the 1940s have all benefited from Gordy’s artful handling.
Gordy’s abilities were put to the acid test in 1992, after his wife, Patty Loveless, left MCA, the label that had jump-started her on the path to becoming country music’s most notable female neotraditional vocalist. Plagued by a vocal chord injury that threatened to cut her career short, Loveless was forced to disappear from view for several months while she underwent laser surgery and a period of recovery. When word gets out that an artist has left his or her label after several successful records, “sobering signals emerge,” Rich Kienzle explained in Country Music. “The move can sometimes indicate that the artist has gone as far as he or she can go, and must be on the road downhill.”
Fortunately, as Kienzle noted in reviewing 1993’s Only What I Feel, Loveless proved to be an exception, “having … made what will probably be the album of her career.” Gordy’s work on Only What I Feel put his wife’s career back on the fast track, and he did it by drawing on her strength as a traditional singer amidst a wave of “New Country” clones. “Gordy and Loveless make a point from note one,” lauded Kienzle: “No way is she yielding to any of the formidable temptations to fit into current trends and lose herself to grab airplay on… ‘hot country’ radio.”
Although one of Nashville’s most influential producers, Gordy remains low-key, preferring to keep out of the spotlight except when backing a headliner on stage. Uncomfortable about discussing his many successes to the point of near-reclusiveness, he prefers to spend his time working on projects where he can gain further experience in his craft. In a rare interview, Gordy modestly speculated on the reason for his success as a record producer. “I have a lot of patience,” he explained to friend and fellow musician Steve Fishell in Guitar Player, “because I’ve been on the other side of the glass, and I know how frustrating it is. I usually sit back, but if it bogs down, I jump in and try to make it move.”
Bellamy Brothers, When We Were Boys, Elektra, 1982.
Vince Gill, Turn Me Loose, RCA, 1984.
Vince Gill, The Things That Matter, RCA, 1985.
(With Tony Brown) Steve Earle, Guitar Town, MCA, 1986.
Bellamy Brothers, Country Rap, MCA, 1987.
(With Emmylou Harris) Emmylou Harris, Angel Band, Warner Bros., 1987.
Bill Monroe, Bluegrass ’87, MCA, 1987.
Bill Monroe, Bill Monroe and the Stars of Bluegrass Hall of Fame, MCA, 1988.
Bill Monroe, Southern Flavor, MCA, 1989.
Bellamy Brothers, Reality Check, MCA, 1990.
Aaron Tippin, You’ve Got to Stand for Something, RCA, 1990.
Aaron Tippin, Read between the Lines, RCA, 1992.
Patty Loveless, Only What I Feel, Epic, 1993.
Patty Loveless, When Fallen Angels Fly, Epic, 1994.
Patty Loveless, Trouble with the Truth, Epic, 1995.
George Jones, Walls Can Fall, MCA.
Alabama, In Pictures, RCA.
Earl Thomas Conley, The Heart of It All, MCA.
Riders in the Sky, The Cowboy Way, MCA.
Comprehensive Country Music Encyclopedia, edited by Russell Barnard and others, Times Books, 1994.
Country Music, October 1993, p. 10; November/December 1993, pp. 55-58.
Guitar Player, March 1988, pp. 68-74.
Additional information for this profile was provided by the Nashville-based office of Lauren Cook, 1996.
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