Lee Gordon 1923-1963
Typically, Gordon was the first local promoter to hop aboard the exciting new bandwagon, with a January 1957 package featuring Bill Haley and the Comets, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and The Platters.
In 1958 Gordon established his own record labels, Leedon and Roulette.
There was a second Record Star Parade in 1957, with Stan Kenton, Guy Mitchell, Cathy Carr and Lionel Hampton and his Band – all top artists, but whose music was suddenly and decisively sidelined by the advent of rock ’n’ roll. Typically, Gordon was the first local promoter to hop aboard the exciting new bandwagon, with a January 1957 package featuring Bill Haley and the Comets, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and The Platters. He followed this with The All American Rock ’n’ Roll Show with Little Richard, plus Cochran, Vincent, and a sensational young local act – Johnny O’Keefe and the Dee Jays. Another local act, Graeme Bell’s Skiffle Gang was featured with Johnnie Ray. Gordon also worked in the United States, where he promoted one tour with Sinatra and two with Elvis Presley, in association with the ubiquitous Colonel Tom Parker.
In 1958 Gordon established his own record labels, Leedon and Roulette. There was a brilliant World Hit Parade of Stars, with Paul Anka, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jodie Sands and Johnnie O’Keefe, and a financially disastrous Liberace tour; but mostly Lee Gordon was AWOL: high on drugs in the United States or Britain and later locked away to dry out Honolulu. Competitors took advantage of his absence, notably Bill Watson, whose Headliners tours featured Chuck Berry, Bobby Darin and Disney’s Mouseketeers. Watson later managed and toured the Delltones and Lucky Starr.
Things were more stable in 1959, with a string of Big Shows featuring established overseas stars such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jnr, Stan Freberg, Red Norvo and Johnny Cash, plus a parade of top rockers including Frankie Avalon, Tommy Sands, Gene Vincent, Tab Hunter, Sal Mineo, Fabian, the Everley Brothers, Lloyd Price, Conway Twitty, and the Kalin Twins. And there was plenty of local talent, by now billed equally with the imports: Johnny O’Keefe, Johnny Rebb and the Rebels, Col Joye and the Joy Boys, Johnny Devlin, Dig Richards, Lonnie Lee, the Delltones, Warren Williams, Diana Trask, Helen Reddy, Daryl Stewart, the Australian Jazz Quintet and the Horrie Dargie Quintet. The following year, 1960, brought The Diamonds, Duane Eddy, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Rydell, Santo and Johnny, Floyd Robinson, Crash Craddock, Pat Boone, Harry Belafonte and Ricky Nelson.
When he could, Gordon took his shows, or segments of them, to smaller centres such as Newcastle, Wollongong, Hobart, Launceston, even Broken Hill. Sometimes he encountered an unofficial colour bar against black performers. In Adelaide, for instance, the Platters had to be secreted in and out of their hotel, while one of Gordon’s staff kept the manager plied with Scotch.
Watch this space
Toby Creswell: Love is in the Air, ABC Books, 2003
Alan Heffernan: Big Shows: The Lee Gordon Years, Alan Heffernan, 2003
Max Moore: Some Days are Diamonds, New Holland, 2003
Michael Sturma: ‘Lee Gordon’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 14