|Photo by Eric Fusco|
It was in Gordon's clean, tidy room at the Hotel where I lengthily interviewed him for Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America's Garage Band. I found him to be guarded but very funny, leery of saying too much about his chaotic personal history but talking a lot, even offering me a hand-written list of the drugs he'd abused in his lifetime, for inclusion in the book. Gordon was kind, generous with his time, always polite and unfailingly patient with my questions, even the probing ones, and I was grateful to have become a latter-day friend of his, happy that he came to trust me. Gordon was a good sax and harmonica player and a greater raconteur, a dangerous presence on and off stage when he was drinking, which was often, more of a danger to himself when he was using hard drugs, which he'd managed to stay away from in his final years. He was very knowledgeable about R&B, rock and roll, and pop music—I cherish our walks around his neighborhood, leavened with his stories about Brill Building history—a lover of music and sharp style, and a hilarious guy, brimming with episodes of wackiness and mayhem from his drinking and drugging days, always quick with a self-effacing remark as with a cutting jibe aimed at someone else. He seemed tough, and he was, but the posture was part-ironic, borne of b-movie juvee ethos and a toxic and unhappy childhood and adolescence, a protective layer from his own self-destructive demons. His heart was pure, if his body was, by the end, compromised. I tell the whole story in Sweat. Gordon Spaeth is still very much missed.
|June 2001: Gordon, far left, holding forth on a roof in Brooklyn for (l-r) Ken Fox, me, Keith Streng. (Woman in corner unidentified) Photo by Anne Arbor|
|1983 or '84: downstairs at the 9:30 Club, Washington D.C.. Photos by Jimmy Cohrssen.|
There are plenty of videos online of Gordon Spaeth in action. This from 1986 is terrific fun, as is this 1982 show. Perhaps my favorite is a riotous lip-synched performance of "Return Of The Leather Kings" (from 1987's Fleshtones Vs. Reality) filmed for Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes on MTV. The whole band's hamming it up, and Gordon's at his mock-serious best.
Here's Gordon letting it rip on the Fleshtones' cover of Champion Jack Dupree's "Let The Doorbell Ring," from 1997's Hitsburg USA!
Finally, here's "(Legend Of A) Wheelman," one of Gordon's signature songs, from 1983's Hexbreaker: