When Gary and Roberta first met, it wasn’t twang at first sight. It was rock. The British Invasion was just mopping up country music’s teen appeal, and the two kids, who grew up together in the farming country of Southern Illinois, had fallen, hard, for the sock-hop sound. Gary played in a high school rock ‘n’ roll band, and Roberta was just discovering the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. They met at a school dance, fell in love, and have been the Gordons ever since.
For three decades, they have been making a sweet, sublime blend of bluegrass, folk and country rock; they’ve recorded seven albums and still make their home in Sparta, Illinois. Gary runs a music shop, and Roberta paints signs for churches and stores in towns along the Mississippi River.
The moment that finally mapped out their musical direction was the release of Will The Circle Be Unbroken in 1972. “We fell head over heels for the sound,” Roberta says of the first time she heard the album. “It wasn’t foreign to me. By that time I was a mother, we had a family. Gary had bought an acoustic guitar and he gave me an autoharp for Christmas. We started playing in the house together, learned a dozen and a half songs pretty well. We’d play for friends and start passing the hat. And we found we could make a lot more that way. We’d just walk into bars with our instruments and ask if we could play.”
After years of playing rock ‘n’ roll, Gary pushed himself to learn the flatpicker’s art. He has become an uncommonly graceful acoustic guitar player, as evidenced by his exquisite arrangements of classics such as Gene Parsons’ “Desert Childhood,” Greg Brown’s “The Train That Carried Jimmie Rodgers Home” and Norman Blake’s “Slow Train Through Georgia”, which all but cancel out the originals.
On their new album Time Will Tell Our Story (released on Blueberry Hill Records), the Gordons deliver a handful of originals alongside covers of “John Barleycorn” (made famous by Traffic) and Si Kahn’s “Gone Gonna Rise Again”. Guests on the album include progressive bluegrass notables Alison Brown on banjo, Robert Bowlin on fiddle, and Katsuyuki Miyazaki on mandolin. It’s a bluegrass album with a singer-songwriter’s soul.
Quietly, humbly, and sweetly, the Gordons have always made music on terms that coincide with their love of songs, whether bluegrass, rock, or gospel. “We sing each one for the sake of the song,” Roberta says. When the songs have lines as good as “take your sweet time but give it away” and “going home is like a song I’ve heard before,” singing for their sake means so much more than the cliché implies.