Lee Gordon (promoter)

Knowledge Identifier: +Lee_Gordon_(promoter)

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Lee Gordon (promoter)

American entrepreneur and rock and roll promoter who worked extensively in Australia in the late 1950s and early 1960s add

Category: Business

Born in 1923.

Countries: United States (53%), France (23%), Australia (16%)

Main connections: Frank Sinatra, Hawaii, Buddy Rich

Linked to: Australian Record Company, University of Miami, Columbia Records, Mafia

 

Timeline


 

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Lee Gordon was born in 1923 add something


1944

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Gordon was born in Detroit, Michigan, and educated at Highland Park, Michigan High School, Highland Park, Michigan, Michigan and at the University of Miami, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1944 add something


1950

Thanks to the deal struck by Gordon, Stadiums Ltd's venues became indelibly associated with the "Big Show" tours of the 1950s add something


1953

Another version of these events, recounted by Max Moore, states that in early 1953 Gordon accepted a bet from some influential New York business people, who doubted his claims that he could start with nothing and become a success add something

 

On the supposed advice of a friend, Detroit promoter Arthur Shergin, he came to Sydney in 1953 to investigate the possibilities of promoting concert tours there add something

 

Gordon arrived in Sydney in September 1953 add something


1954

In 1954 Australian taxation law was amended, ending the punitive double taxation levied on artists who worked in both Australia and the USA. As soon as the change took effect, Gordon terminated his work with Royal Art Furnishings to concentrate on building his concert promotions business add something

 

In late 1954 Gordon next tour starred The Andrews Sisters and Billy Daniels; although only two of the three Andrews sisters were available for the tour, it was a success add something

 

Gordon's first major concert tour, staged in July 1954, was a 'package' bill featuring jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich and Artie Shaw, with comedian Jerry Colonna add something

 

Undeterred by this failure, Gordon went ahead with a tour by popular American singer Johnnie Ray in August 1954 add something


1955

An ill-fated tour 1955 by American Roller Derby teams failed to draw the expected crowds and Gordon took another huge financial loss add something

 

Johnnie Ray's second Australian tour in 1955 was a landmark in the history of Australian entertainment add something

 

His new company, which traded as The Big Show Pty Ltd, opened an office at 151 Bayswater Rd in Rushcutter's Bay and in January 1955 he hired book-keeper and future promoter Max Moore as his assistant add something

 

In January 1955 Gordon scored one of his biggest coups by landing a tour with legendary singer and film star Frank Sinatra add something


1956

Gordon bounced back with several successful tours during 1956, including visits by the Louis Armstrong All-Stars , Nat King Cole, Calypso king Harry Belafonte and the "Record Star Parade", which featured Don Cornell, Stan Freberg, Joe "Fingers" Carr, Buddy Rich and a dance duo called The Nilsson Twins add something


1957

According to O'Keefe biographer Damian Johnstone, Gordon introduced O'Keefe to marijuana during 1957; an associate later commented that the singer took to it "like mother's milk" and they often smoked it together add something

 

Remarkably, Gordon is reported to have been involved in several short U.S. tours by Elvis Presley during 1957 add something

 

Thinking that he had found a winning formula, Gordon booked a similar tour for 1957, featuring Lionel Hampton, Stan Kenton and vocalists Cathy Carr and Guy Mitchell, but his attempt to repeat the success of the Record Star Parade proved to be another financial disaster add something

 

In March 1957 Gordon mounted his first major rock'n'roll tour, an all-star bill with Bill Haley & The Comets, LaVern Baker, Big Joe Turner, The Platters and Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys add something

 

These included Presley's Northeast tour of March 1957, and his subsequent West Coast tour of September 1957, which included dates in San Diego , Oakland, his first concert in Hollywood and his first three-date visit to Hawaii; on this latter tour, Guralnick reports, Gordon did "his usual good job" of promotion add something


1958

A 1958 tour by pianist Liberace fell apart moments after the curtain went up on the first performance at the Sydney Trocadero add something

 

Although most Australian sources suggest that Gordon left Australia sometime in early 1958, Peter Guralnick's book "Last Train to Memphis" records that Lee Gordon was in America during 1957 and that he promoted at least two short tours for Elvis during that year add something

 

He was overseas for much of 1958-59, leaving his company in the hands of his executive staff; he was eventually located when his mother contacted his company to inform them that Gordon had suffered a serious mental breakdown and was being cared for in a sanatorium in Hawaii add something

 

Most accounts of his life suggest that, some time in early 1958 Gordon abruptly left for the USA. Although his reasons for doing so may never be known, his company had lost considerable amounts of money on a number of failed tours add something

 

One intriguing facet of the Leedon story is the group of recordings the label released during 1958 which were attributed to an artist called Johnny "Scat" Brown add something

 

Soon after the establishment of Lee Gordon Records and the historic tour by Buddy Holly in February 1958, Gordon disappeared overseas add something

 

Months later, around September 1958, Gordon's mother telephoned his associate Alan Heffernan and told him that Gordon had suffered a serious mental breakdown and that she had tracked him down to a sanatorium in Hawaii, where he had evidently been staying for several months add something


1959

Gordon spotted her singing in a Sydney club in early 1959 and signed her as the support singer for the Stan Freberg tour of New Zealand, which featured the Australian Jazz Quartet and Frank Ifield add something

 

He disagreed with O'Keefe's plan to try establish himself in the United States and strongly opposed both of O'Keefe's visits there in 1959 and 1960 add something

 

In February 1959 Gordon promoted another groundbreaking tour starring Buddy Holly & The Crickets, Jerry Lee Lewis and Paul Anka add something

 

In March 1959, after a year's absence from the music scene, Big Show returned to promotion with the "Parade of Stars" tour featuring Tommy Sands & The Sharks, The Platters, and Frankie Avalon add something

 

In April 1959 Big Show Pty Ltd promoted three major tours, with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Johnny Cash all playing dates simultaneously at venues around the country add something

 

In July 1959 Gordon presented a tour promoted as "The Battle of the Big Beat - USA Versus Australia" add something

 

Sinatra was impressed enough to suggest that she should try her luck overseas and recommended her to contacts back in the USA. Thanks to Sinatra's patronage, in August 1959 she secured a four-week engagement at the Blue Angel nightclub in New York City add something

 

Johnny Ray made his fifth visit in September 1959, when he was supported by Johnny O'Keefe, who was by the biggest star on the local music scene add something


1960

After Gordon left Australia it was leased to promoter John Harrigan and renamed Surf City; it became a popular and influential venue in Sydney during the early days of the 'beat boom' in the early-to-mid 1960s, and is particularly associated with Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs add something

 

He returned to Australia in 1960 but by this time he was deeply in debt add something

 

Ironically, Gordon proved to be ahead of its time with this attraction, which became very popular in the late 1960s when rebadged as "The Roller Game" add something

 

On 27 June 1960 Johnny O'Keefe's face was severely injured in a car accident near Kempsey in northern NSW. Soon after the accident, Gordon advised him to turn his misfortune to his advantage, and O'Keefe later told Sydney DJ Bob Rogers that he had his scars "accentuated" with makeup and announced that the audience would see his face change week by week; as a result, O'Keefe said, ratings increased as people tuned in to see his face change add something

 

In September 1960, after two years of protracted negotiations, Gordon managed to book a concert tour by TV heartthrob and rock'n'roll star Ricky Nelson add something


1961

Gordon helped O'Keefe after the singer suffered a serious mental breakdown in London in early 1961 add something


1962

He stayed for a time at a private hotel in Darling Point before moving into a rented harbourside penthouse in the prestigious eastern suburb of Point Piper, where he remained until he left Australia for the last time in 1962 add something

 

In January 1962, Gordon travelled to Acapulco, where he married his "de facto" partner Arlene Topfer, with Frank Sinatra as his best man add something


1963

In Sydney in June 1963, Gordon was charged with attempting to obtain the drug pethidine without a prescription add something

 

He was found dead in his hotel room in Kensington, London , on 7 November 1963, reportedly from a coronary occlusion add something


Lee Gordon died in 1978 add something


1980

Although he did eventually return to performance for a few years in the 1980s, this was as conductor only, so his 1954 Australian tour was the very last time in his career that he fronted a band as clarinettist add something


2003

Under his real name, "'John Highfield"', he went on to a distinguished 35-year career as a journalist, foreign correspondent and presenter with ABC Radio, becoming the network's first International Editor, the inaugural host of its nightly current affairs show "PM", and finally as co-host of Radio National's "The World Today", before retiring in 2003 add something


2010

Remarkably, although some four million of these promotional leaflets were printed, Powerhouse Museum curator and music historian Peter Cox revealed in 2010 that he had never seen one, and the museum did not have one in its collection add something


2011

The tape was rediscovered in 2011 in the possession of Australian singer "Little" Sammy Gaha, and was reportedly donated to the Lenny Bruce audio collection at Brandeis University add something


2014

"'Reference note"' - information about the Lee Gordon/Big Show tours is sourced from the database compiled by Michael De Looper and published on his ://australianrecordlabels.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/AUSTRALIAN-TOURS-1954-1975 add something