Gordon’s guitar music encompasses both flatpicking and fingerpicking styles of playing. He learned flatpicking as a young boy in Windsor, Newfoundland after hearing country music on the radio.
“I just loved the sound of the acoustic guitar. Hank Snow was a big influence in those days. I used to hear him on my family’s records and on the radio all the time. He played beautiful lead guitar breaks in his songs and I was really fascinated by them.”
Gordon spent the next few years teaching himself how to play the country songs and instrumentals he heard including the popular “Wildwood Flower” and “Guitar Boogie Breakdown”, both of which became staples in his repertoire and were recorded on vinyl during his later career as a professional musician.
Just as exciting was the traditional music performed by his grandmother, Malena Best from Merasheen, Placentia Bay, who sang and played the accordion when she came to visit Gordon’s family on holidays. He learned many tunes from “Granmay” and was struck by how deeply the music moved her.
“She knew what she wanted to hear and bring out of that instrument, she had her own definite style and approach. When she played, she had a light inside of her, she was beaming, and it was like someone turned on a switch. This beautiful expression was coming from her. It wasn’t just struggling over the notes, it was like she and the instrument became one. She had that magic, I never called it that then but that’s what it was. When I later composed and recorded my fingerpicking jig “Merasheen” for the North Atlantic Dance album, that memory guided me all along the way, and I wanted to recreate both her joy and passion in my tribute to her.”
Gordon’s main focus for many years has been solo, fingerstyle guitar which has allowed him more scope and greater freedom to express his musical ideas.
“For me, it all changed when I saw jazz guitarist Lenny Breau on television in the mid-1960s. It was really amazing how he made his guitar sound like a complete orchestra. He made it sound so full, playing lead and rhythm at the same time. Red Shea’s folk fingerpicking on his Martin D-28 also intrigued me. Many other great fingerpicking guitarists came along at that time and they all sparked my interest and influenced my decision to go in that direction.”
Spurred on by that revelation, Gordon became interested in composing original material for fingerstyle guitar and collaborated in the 1970s with fellow guitarist John Lacey on new works such as “Instrumentally” and “Sunbreeze” among others. A turning point was “Woodnight Moon”, an all original tune created a few years later which garnered excellent reviews and motivated Gordon to pursue composing in earnest. He then devoted himself to composing and recording an entire album of original instrumentals, a feat which resulted in Sea-Winds: Original Guitar Music from Newfoundland. The album was a breakthrough for Gordon.
“I experimented with different techniques and tunings during those years which opened up the instrument to me. Just by changing one string I could increase the range and tones of a piece. I could tune a string down by a tone or semitone and achieve new harmonies and textures. I remember one day, I put the guitar in a G minor tuning and there were all kinds of different notes and colours coming out. It was fantastic, now I could actually compose something and hear and see what I was doing more. It was exciting now, it was like a whole brand new approach to the guitar. Discovering that one open-tuned chord led to the composition “Sea-Winds”. The way I perceived the world around me was suddenly heightened and full of depth and possibility. I recall at that time hearing the wind and seeing a field of grass blowing by the side of the road and wanting to capture and blend those ideas of hearing and seeing in another composition which became “Wild Fields”. The Sea-Winds project was an adventure. I felt like an explorer who all of a sudden stumbles on a new land, it was a whole new wilderness before me.”
North Atlantic Dance, another all original album, soon followed and ever since then Gordon has featured original compositions on his recordings. Traditional music is also a mainstay of his repertoire.
“A lot of the old tradtional music that I play has rich, timeless melodies that express a variety of feelings from happiness in the jigs to melancholy in the laments. I grew up with traditional music, it was in our family and in my community, now it brings back memories of my family roots as well. When I arrange a traditional piece, I try to come up with a new way of playing it by choosing a key that it’s not normally played in and, depending on the tune, I’ll try to find a different type of tuning from the way it was originally played. In that way, it opens up the space to bring new elements to the piece such as different bass notes and different types of rhythms. I embellish some sections with different ornamentations such as tremelo, hammer ons, pull offs and triplets.”
Gordon’s love of nature, pet cats, his Newfoundland and Labrador home, and his family and its history are all woven into his music. Inspiration is all around him.
“In many ways, I feel like I’m just starting out, there is always so much to learn. But mostly I want to enjoy playing the guitar and to bring out the sounds and tones that will move me and all who hear my music.”