The Jordanaires

No Honor in Their Own Country?

By Joyce Trammell

I went to Shelbyville, Tenn. on the weekend of August 25 to watch the National Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration. I came home with information to write a story about a well-known musical group the Jordanaires.

It was one of those friend-of-a-friend kind of introductions that brought me face to face with Jordanaire Duane West at his horse farm.

I found West to be a man who knows who he is, what he wants and what he doesn't want. This may have been the reason he was chosen to replace former Jordanaires member Hoyt Hawkins' on baritone when Hawkins became ill.

Duane West's hometown of Salisbury, Md. seems a very distant place from the Nashville music scene, but it was the place where he received some very important training. During his first year in a Nazarene college there, he was a member of an a cappella quartet. The fund raising that this group did helped to pay his tuition. The quartet got such good reviews that West decided to transfer to Trevecca College in Nashville to be closer to the action. The rest of the quartet followed the next year.

They, along with other friends, used to sneak away from school and attend the Grand Old Opry and when the Jordanaires and Patsy Cline would perform they would stand and cheer. Soon the rest of the audience would join in. One night one of the Jordanaires asked who in the world that was who kept getting them the standing ovations. The answer was, "some college kids." They had gotten noticed.

After Archie Campbell heard this college quartet, he got them guest shots on the Opry. Their a cappella singing got them such a response that "someone" on the Opry asked that they not be invited back.

But when Sonny James needed some Country Gentlemen, Archie Campbell said, "I know just who you need." Five years and 24 number-one hits later West was asked to join the Jordanaires.

Truthfully, all I knew about this quartet prior to meeting West was that they had backed Elvis; they credit him with seeing to it that back-up groups get the credit they deserve on albums.

What I didn't know was that they also sang with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney as well as Ricky Nelson. West describes Nelson as the kindest and gentlest person ever in the music business. He also repudiates the sensationalism surrounding Nelson's death. West related that a vent in the airplane carrying Nelson had just been replaced, that it simply was faulty and the fumes overcame the passengers, leading to the fatal crash.

The philosophy of the Jordanaires of "family first, career second," probably saved their lives because Ricky Nelson had asked them to accompany him on that ill-fated flight during the holidays. They chose instead to spend the holidays with their families.

Duane West was with the Jordanaires on Elvis' last two albums. By 1969-70, Elvis was scheduled for three to four recording sessions a day. That, along with the Vegas shows, became too time-consuming for family-oriented people.

And what have the Jordanaires been doing lately besides recording with Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins on his soon-to-be-released album called "Born to Rock"? They have become "stars" in Europe.

A friend of West's told me that it took a little "getting used to" to have one's shirt ripped and jewelry snatched for souvenirs.

Europe wants to hear every song Elvis ever did. According to West, people abroad are starved for American performers they can make into stars. England seems to be the only place in Europe that puts out these high-profile people.

Through Charlie McCoy, music producer for Hee Haw, the Jordanaires have recorded for a company in Denmark an album called "Elvis Memories."

The unique thing about the recording is that the quartet talks in between songs about their relationship with "The King." You get a picture of what they saw in the man. They saw a good, caring, loving, frustrated gospel-quartet singer who would say to them, "Cover me up boys." They saw a man who carried through on such promises as, "If I become famous I want you with me."

How many famous people have been unable to stand the demands placed upon them by stardom and unscrupulous money-hungry moguls?

The bible says that a prophet has no honor in his own country. The Jordanaires do no concerts in America. But if there is one thing that this quartet deserves it is honor, not for 4.5 billion records sold, but for their lives.

I last saw Duane West moving among the well-wishers following the championship class at the Celebration. He was smiling and rejoicing in someone else's success. In so doing, in my opinion, he showed why he is a success at the "main course of life." Fame and fortune are only his gravy.

New releases: "Christmas to Elvis from the Jordanaires" and "The Jordanaires-Elvis Memories."

Members of the Jordanaires: first tenor, Gordon Stoker; second tenor, Neal Matthews; baritone, Duane West; bass, Ray Walker and Louis Wunley.