In Remembrance of Tom "Count Gordonski" Gordon
As Rob Walker has noted, Tom "Count Gordonski" Gordon, one of the Rockin' Big 97 KAKC jocks in the late 60s, has died. Tom was the first person I met in radio, when I was a starry-eyed fourteen year old. He was incredibly sweet to me, then and always.
Jim Peters, who worked with Tom then, has written a lovely remembrance of him, which he faxed to me and asked me to post here. Here it is.
Today I learned Tom Gordon died. He died yesterday of pneumonia, most likely contracted someplace, an old warehouse, an office, a pick-up or drop he made, during the course of his job --a courier driver in the St. Louis area. Tom, "The Count Gordonski," had long since sworn off radio, after years of broadcasting in St. Louis. I tried to talk him into going back on the air many times, but he despised what radio management has become, and, of course, there was not a fiber of his being that was not defiant of authority. So....
Tom and I got into a lot of trouble in those days. He reigned as the afternoon drive DJ on KAKC during the heydays of The Big 97. He was also the Music Director, the best I ever had the pleasure to work with. We argued a lot, but that was accepted then as part of the creative process. And anyway, I would give up quickly, as soon as I realized I couldn't win. But we accomplished a lot. We did our parts. We played the hits and we got the head rock on the air. We got the Cream and Hendrix and Janis on, we played every Beatles album and were the first to play "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin. And though pulling many of these artists into a Top 40 format required years of back-and-forth with the consultants, that wasn't what got us into trouble most of the time. Sometimes it was what we said. His representing The Revolution as "NOT listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash!" My introduction of "Dock of the Bay" by "Dead Otis!" There were a few others. I almost got fired for suggesting bourbon as a potential ingredient for snow ice cream. (Oklahoma was dry!) Tom would often issue harangues that went on long beyond the approved time limits for a Top 40 station. But nothing we could do, it seemed, would bring the ratings down, so for the most part all that stuff was okay.
But, see, we played every record by a black artist we could get our hands on. You know 'em all by heart now - The Wicked Pickett, Sam & Dave, The Temptations, Supremes, Jimmy "Bright Lights, Big City" Reed, James Brown, Four Tops, L'il Anthony, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Aretha, Martha Reeves, Gladys Knight, Rufus Thomas, Booker T, Etta James. Jesus, I can't remember them all. Then, and this is what really happened, we started going to the ghetto. Tom and I went up to Greenwood every chance we could get. We started by setting up personal appearances, got to know some people, brought in shows featuring their favorite artists. Soon we were meeting folks at Latimer's and going to parties where we met the really down dudes just passing through Tulsa between LA and New York. As soon as possible, we brought our white friends to the parties in the ghetto, and the next thing we knew we had brain police and record men and pretty girls hovering around us at all times and the ratings just blew through the roof. Because we had one of the world's greatest tools for breaking down barriers ever. The radio. And we were good at it.
And that's what got us in trouble the most. Because those parties were kick-ass, man! And we'd get on the radio and talk about 'em all over again, Tom and I (and the other Big 97 jocks, truth be told), and make jokes about getting high and come on the air after a staff party and play "Gimme Some Lovin' " nineteen times in a row (that was Walker's idea), and slip in a little Revolution ("Count me out....in") and jam and jam and jam. So we were constantly defending ourselves while getting our pictures taken and being interviewed and yelling at each other and heading to another party that night, slipping joints and jugs of wine and building up a crowd so huge around our part of South Peoria that the kids had to be banished from the McDonald's parking lot. Well, a lot of them just came down to our place. They'd meet us after the show for some more very fine times, very fine times indeed.
Tom Gordon loved to remember these things, loved causing most of them. He loved doing his job well. He was a giant, ground-breaking disc jockey. He was an impeccable music director. Remember, we had numbers showing ninety-two percent of Tulsa teens listening to our shows. 92%! And the twelve-plus was up around forty to fifty percent all the time. The Man could be crusty and cantankerous, but the Man could definitely do radio. Of the Big 97 jocks, Tom Gordon was the John Lennon of the group.
Right now, I'm sorry that I failed to convince him to get back into radio. That cranky, garrulous style of his has come back in full flower on today's talk shows. He could have been doing that so well, instead of driving around getting pneumonia, making it worse hustling packages through the rain until the disease debilitated him. His wife, Vicki, told me he suffered through it for about a month, with some horrific complications. You know, he always called me about every month or so, and lately I've been wondering why he hadn't called.
I can tell you that he loved his wife. He couldn't wait for Vicki to turn fifty because, he told me, he'd never made love to a woman over fifty and couldn't wait to see what it was like. He loved his home of many years in Edwardsville, Illinois -- the Land of Lincoln. On a visit there, I took a picture of him poised against the icy sunset and he looked a lot like Old Abe himself in that shot.
Of course, I loved that shot and I loved him. I loved living the Sixties with him. I'm proud that we did our parts, and that when we were done that mythical wall between black and white had come down. Besides, it was so much fun.
I'm broken down by his death right now, and don't know what to say, so I'll just remind you of how Tom loved to close his show each day by quoting those immortal words from Canned Heat, 'And don't....forget....to boogie!'
Hi. I guess I'm part of what came out of all those great parties and wild times of radio in Tulsa in the Sixties that my dad remembers so fondly. Part of that magic that brought my mom and dad together was Tom Gordon. I think that had he not met Casey, my parents would never have met and ... well, I wouldn't be here. I'm sorry to say that I learned of his death over email...technology of today makes everything so impersonal, but it doesn't make tragedies any easier. I didn't really know Tom -- we'd talk a little on the phone when he would call for Daddy, but I've been in California for the last few years, and I've definitely missed his talk and his laughter. When I was little, Tom told my parents that as soon as I turned 15, I was his - he claimed me. Of course, he relinquished his hold on me, but he will always hold a little piece o' my heart.
Bob Duff's comments about Tom Gordon and others of the old KAKC crew reminded me that Jim Peters called me a few weeks ago and asked me to post a postscript to Tom's obituary in the form of the following story. I only hope I can correctly interpret my scribbled notes from our phone call.
It seems that, before his death (obviously), Tom Gordon and a group of friends made an annual trip from St. Louis to Arizona to see the Cardinals ball team play in their new hometown. They frequented a bar in Tempe on this annual trip and I think it's best that I don't name this bar (the reason for my uncharacteristic reticence on this point will become clear as the story goes on.) On each trip, a silver loving cup was presented to the member of the group who acted the worst.
Well, you're probably jumping ahead here (if you have a particularly ghoulish imagination). Tom was cremated and his ashes divided to be laid to rest, so to speak, in several locations. One of them was the aforementioned Tempe bar which agreed to accept the loving cup with Tom's ashes to be put on permanent display, proving for all eternity that Tom acted the worst.
I can hear him laughing about it even now.
I just learned of Tom Gordon's death some time ago. Sorry to hear...I enjoyed working with him at KAKC and am still upset about how he and a couple of other good radio guys were forced out of KAKC.
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