Gordon ready for Party for Preservation

Published 2:17 pm Sunday, April 8, 2007

Musician Forrest Gordon has played with the best, rubbed shoulders with the giants in rhythm and blues, but nothing pleases him more than to come to his hometown for a gig.

Gordon will bring his trio, Art, from Jackson to play for the Natchez Garden Club Party for Preservation 6 to 8 p.m. April 21 at The Prentiss Club, home of Buzz Harper.

A warehouse chief for Mississippi Department of Transportation, Gordon has continued since his teen years to pursue his love of music as his after-hours job.

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“It works perfectly,” he says. “I work from Monday through Friday for MDOT, and I love my job. And then I have weekends for the music.”

The Natchez party, $35 per person, is a fundraiser for the continuing preservation work at the House on Ellicott Hill. Along with the cash bar, the evening will feature a sumptuous array of party food, said Laura Godfrey, co-chairman of the party along with Janet Sullivan.

Dishes will include salmon, crawfish, smoked pork loin and a variety of garden-fresh open-face sandwiches, among other foods.

“And there will be plenty of wonderful desserts. Our garden club members are known for their talents in making desserts,” Godfrey said.

“And this house is such a draw, so beautiful, and many people have not had an opportunity to see it,” she said.

Sullivan as chairman has organized the event, which will be limited to 200 tickets.

“Everything has fallen together so well,” Sullivan said.

“When I was called to ask to be chairman of this event, I had never done this kind of thing before. I wanted it to be the best, and so I got the best to work with me.”

Tickets are available at the Natchez Garden Club office at Magnolia Hall, corner of Pearl and Washington streets, and at Kimbrell Office Supply, 520 Main St.

Cathedral School art teacher Andree Gamberi chose student Grant Benoit to create the poster for the event. “He has a very whimsical style,” Gamberi said. Benoit received $150 for the artwork.

The poster promotes the theme of the event, a “Salute to Sweet Auntie,” referring to Roane Fleming Byrnes, the Natchez Garden Club member who worked for many years to promote the construction of the Natchez Trace.

Gordon and his group will play jazz from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. “This is what they requested. But we will come prepared for anything,” he said.

As a Natchez teen, Gordon heard the late Joe Frazier play drums. “It was a high school dance and I wasn’t even supposed to be there,” he said. “It was the first time I had heard a real professional drummer.”

Gordon began playing tenor drums in the North Natchez High School band and then bass drum at Jackson State in the band known as the Sonic Boom of the South.

The first time he had an opportunity to sit behind a set of drums, he picked up the sticks and knew what to do, he said.

“It was just a gift. A lot of people have to take lessons to learn how to play. I was blessed that I could play as soon as I sat behind a set,” Gordon said.

He became part of a jazz ensemble, Wynd Chymes, during his freshman year a Jackson State. The group remained together for 13 years.

“We signed a contract with RCA. We toured Japan, Canada and other places,” he said. “Before the band disbanded, we played with Alexander O’Neal, who also is from Natchez. He was a national star in rhythm and blues, in the same league with The Prince and other big names.”

Gordon has played the Apollo Theater in New York City and for many of the big jazz festivals. “We played in all the big stadiums and coliseums across the country.”

When he was 30, he gave up the long tours. “I came home. My son was born, and I changed my life. I started doing more local and regional work,” he said.

He worked with Dorothy Moore, known as the “Misty Blue” singer. “The highlight of performing with her was playing at a big jazz and blues capital near San Francisco. All the big names were there — Etta James, Charles Brown, Neville Brothers.”

Recording was a natural part of the musical career. He worked with Malaco Records and Avanti Records.

As a drummer, it was not a natural thing for him to become a vocalist, but he did it out of necessity, Gordon said.

“I was never afraid of a crowd,” he said. “Over time, I actually learned to go out front. I played drums and sang, another one of those gifts. I never had to practice. It was there,” he said.

The music world keeps his head spinning. “I have so many irons in the fire now, I’m burning up,” he said.

He has built a recording studio in his backyard, The Gate Recording Studio.

A recent success story centers on Billy “Soul” Bonds, who fled the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and was with his family in Jackson.

“He came to me and said, ‘I really need to work and I can’t work without a record,’” Gordon said.

They recorded the record and then Malaco picked it up. The song, “Here, Kitty, Kitty,” is getting national acclaim.

“The ironic thing is that I cut that record on credit. He couldn’t pay me,” Gordon said. “Now he has paid me what he owed after he signed with Malaco. It’s one of the hottest recordings in rhythm and blues Southern soul.”

Gordon has another business, Phoenix Entertainment Group, an artist management group and a small record label for gospel music.

Lee King and Jesse Thompson are partners in that business with him.

Gordon serves on the board of the Jackson Music Awards Association and is director of music for the association. “It recognizes gospel and rhythm and blues talent. Throughout the course of a weekend every year, we entertain 3,000 to 4,000 people.”

He and Gary Scott, bass, and Jimmy Jarrett, pianist, have played together for about 10 years. “I’m excited about coming to Natchez,” he said.