It was the night of July 2, 1956, and in the New York studios of RCA Victor a young Elvis Presley had just finished his thirty-first take of a new song called “Hound Dog.” Elvis had just premiered the song on Milton Berle’s television show, and it looked like a sure hit. RCA had brought to New York Elvis’s regular band (Scotty Moore, Bill Black, D. J. Fontana), but for this session Elvis had added a “male quartet” as well. The RCA secretary stared at the union cards the men had signed and carefully began typing the “session sheet” for the recordings. They were personable young men, these singers: one named Gordon Stoker, who sang lead, had even taken over the piano playing for the date when the regular piano player had had to leave for another job. Then there was Neal Matthews, who had a sky-high tenor, Hoyt Hawkins on baritone, and Hugh Jarret on bass. And the name of the group? She searched her memory. Some kind of “aires.” It sounded like they were saying Gordonaires. Yes. That would make sense, with a leader named Gordon. The Gordanaires it must have been. She typed it on the sheets, and the bit of history that validated one of the biggest two-sided hits in music history, “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” went into the files—wrong.
Had the secretary known country and gospel music as well as Elvis did, she would have known in a flash that the group was actually called the Jordanaires. She would have known that they were far from some anonymous backup group, even in 1955. They had been regulars on the Grand Ole Opry since 1949, and had appeared on Eddy Arnold’s summer TV show. They had recorded for almost every major label, starting with Decca in 1949-50, moving to RCA Victor in 1951, and on to Capitol in 1953. They had recorded gospel hits like “Mansion Over the Hilltop” (1951), “On the Jericho Road” (1953), “Gonna Walk Those Golden Stairs” (1951), and “Tattler’s Wagon” (1953). They had sung backup on records by Hank Snow, Elton Britt, Stuart Hamblen, and Red Foley.