The Jordanaires and Elvis Presley

July 13, 2005

One Sunday afternoon, in 1955, the Jordanaires played a show in Memphis with Eddy Arnold. They had just completed the 'Eddy Arnold Show' for TV in 1954, and, were in Memphis, publicizing the series. The Jordanaires had sung 'Peace In The Valley' on the show that afternoon. When the show was over, a young man, blond, quiet and courteous, and, plenty of combed-back hair, came backstage to meet them.

He was Elvis Presley, a young, practically unheard of singer, just getting his start in the area.

There were a few polite exchanges, then Elvis said, 'If I ever get a recording contract with a major company, I want you guys to back me up'. He was on 'Sun' at that time. Thinking back to that night, The Jordanaires' first tenor, Gordon Stoker, remembers wishing Elvis well, 'But we never expected to hear from him again', he said. 'People were always coming up and saying that. We're still told that'.

Sure enough!! Elvis recorded his first session with RCA on January 10, 1956, with Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and, D. J. Fontana. That day, 'I Got A Woman', 'Heartbreak Hotel', and, 'Money Honey' were recorded.

On January 11, 1956, Gordon Stoker was called by Chet Atkins to do a session with a 'new-probably-wouldn't-be-around-long kid, named Elvis Presley '--- oily hair, pink shirt, black trousers. RCA had, also, just signed 'The Speer Family'. Chet asked Gordon to sing with Ben and Brock Speer so he could use them.

On this day Elvis recorded just two songs, 'I'm Counting On You' and 'I Was The Onewith - with The Jordanaires - this being the first recording session that Elvis did with vocal background.

By April 1956, 'Heartbreak Hotel' was 'No. 1'. After having done several more recording sessions in New York with Scotty, Bill and D. J., Elvis flew to Nashville on April 14, 1956, to record 'I Want You, I Need You, I Love You'. Gordon was called, again, to sing a vocal trio with Ben and Brock. After the session, Elvis took Gordon aside and told him (not knowing, at the time, why all the Jordanaires were not there) that he wanted 'the' Jordanaires on all his future recording sessions. This time, Stoker saw to it that it was known - and - true to his word - Elvis used the Jordanaires on nearly every one of his recording sessions for the next 14 years.

At a time when no backing musicians, producers, or engineers received a name recognition on any records, Elvis insisted that he have the 'Jordanaires' on the 'labels' of his records.

The reflected glory was enough to earn the Jordanaires 'Group of the Year' awards well into the Beatles era.

The Jordanaires were familiar with Elvis by 1956, partially because, Hank Snow had told the Grand Ole Opry artists that there was a young man '... tearing up the stage...' on some of the Country shows and that ' one would follow him...', and, that, '...when he left the stage, the audience went with him...'. Elvis was, certainly, familiar with the Jordanaires. Of all the music Elvis knew and loved, it was the gospel quartets that touched him so deeply. The Jordanaires were among Elvis' favorites, because, he heard them every Saturday night on the Grand Ole Opry. Formed in 1948 in Springfield, Missouri, the Jordanaires had arrived in Nashville in 1949, immediately securing a spot on the Opry. Their music was spirited and black-influenced, very much in keeping with Elvis' tastes. 'We were the first white quartet to sing spirituals...', Gordon Stoker asserted. It was music that moves, that you can snap your fingers to.'. Elvis could relate.

The group, Bill and Monty Matthews (brothers, and, no relation to Neal), Bob Hubbard, and, Culley Holt who all hailed from Springfield, MO., soon changed. In 1950, Gordon Stoker replaced the lead tenor, in '52 Hoyt Hawkins replaced the baritone, in '53 Neal Matthews became the second tenor, and, bass singer Culley Holt, left in December '54 to be replaced by Hugh Jarrett. It was this line-up consisting of Stoker, Hawkins, Matthews and Jarrett which made up the group that backed Elvis on most of his sessions in the mid '50s. They also appeared in his movies, and on some of his landmark television appearances. Hugh Jarrett left in 1958 and was replaced by bass singer, Ray Walker. This line-up remained for the next 24 years.

In 1969, when Elvis decided to play long engagements in Las Vegas, the Jordanaires opted to stay in Nashville. In doing so, they never found themselves short of work. In addition to their work with Elvis, the Jordanaires backed up Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Ricky Nelson and virtually every other major name in both Pop and Country music during the '50s, '60s, and '70s; between 2,200 and 2,500 hundred artists and over 30,000 sides recorded in the studios; plus, their stage work, radio shows, and television appearances

They also appeared in Elvis' movies, and on many of his landmark television appearances.

The Jordanaires - (Top L to R) : Hoyt Hawkins, Gordon Stoker, (Bottom L to R): Neal Matthews, Hugh Jarrett
The Jordanaires - (Top L to R) : Hoyt Hawkins, Gordon Stoker, (Bottom L to R): Neal Matthews, Hugh Jarrett

Elvis Presley, The Jordanaires - Gordon Stoker, Neal Matthews, Hugh Jarrett and Hoyt Hawkins on piano - Sick's Seattle Stadium 1957
Elvis Presley, The Jordanaires - Gordon Stoker, Neal Matthews, Hugh Jarrett and Hoyt Hawkins on piano

Gordon Stoker

'Nobody had heard of Elvis Presley', Gordon Stoker recalled.

'But apparently he was impressed with our rendition of 'Peace in the Valley' because his first love was always gospel, you know. He had listened to us on the Grand Ole Opry where we were the first white quartet to sing spirituals and his music was influenced by that too'. The collaboration took off and the Jordanaires ultimately sang back-up on some of Elvis' biggest hits including 'Don't Be Cruel' and 'Jailhouse Rock'.

Stoker remembers being surprised a year after meeting Presley when the 'noise' he spoke of making at Sun Records in Memphis had landed him a contract with RCA. By that time, the Jordanaires, who had formed their quartet in 1948 in Springfield, Missouri, were a fixture in Nashville.

Elvis Had A Request

Country star Chet Atkins, who was producing Presley's first RCA record, told Stoker that the young fellow had asked for the Jordanaires to sing back-up. 'Chet didn't think the kid would go anywhere in the music business', said Stoker. 'He said that Elvis was just a long-haired kid who was a passing fancy and he called me in to sing back-up with Ben and Brock Speer on the session'.

'It wasn't that we had anything against the Speers', said Stoker, 'but in music, meshing harmonies and styles can be tricky. But I went over to the studio and Elvis asked where the rest of the Jordanaires were and was disappointed that they weren't there. Four months later, Chet brought in the Speers again to join me in backing up Presley on 'I Want You, I Need You, I Love You', which was a big hit'.

At that point, Elvis insisted not only on the Jordanaires on all future sessions but also their name on his album -- an unusual move since no backing musicians, producers or engineers were given credit on labels then.

Elvis, The Jordanaires and Millie Kirkham at Studio B
Elvis, The Jordanaires and Millie Kirkham at Studio B

This time he got his way. The long-haired kid was a star with enough clout to overrule Atkins, then a powerhouse in the business. Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, 'told Chet that when Elvis asks for someone, Elvis gets them', Stoker recalled. And, he added, 'to the day he died, Elvis didn't like Chet'. It was the beginning of a 14-year relationship during which the Jordanaires provided back-up on 'Don't Be Cruel', 'All Shook Up', 'Jailhouse Rock', 'Can't Help Falling in Love' and numerous other Presley hits

Elvis Presley and The Jordanaires on stage 1956
Elvis Presley and The Jordanaires on stage 1956

Elvis Presley Video Gordon Stoker Talks about Elvis Presley
Articles about Elvis Presley Interview with Ray Walker of the Jordanaires

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