Interview with Gordon Merrick, July 2002
by Kip Singleton

Gordon Merrick wants you to know what love is. He wants to show you. He showed me on an afternoon two weeks ago, when I interviewed him in his charming home on the west side of Buffalo, New York.
Most people know Gordon as “Crooner of the Ought Decade,” a title that suits him. But he is a man of many talents, not the least of which is yo-yoing. When I arrived at his home, Gordon graciously invited me to see his collection, which features many rare pieces of yo-yo paraphernalia. As he “walked the dog,” and went “around the world,” he told me that, for him, yo-yoing acts as a kind of Hatha yoga, a practice that balances his sun and moon. “When I run my fingers over the smooth orb of my yo-yos” he said, “I achieve a sense of wholeness. And, as with music, I have had so many mentors that have helped me hone my skills. Really, for me, yo-yo-ing and music go hand in hand.”
Although we had not met before, I found Gordon to be wonderfully open, and by the time we moved on to our mocha lattes (which Gordon prepared himself) we found ourselves giggling companionably.
Here is our interview:

When did Gordon Merrick first come out?
Come out. Well, see that’s a loaded question because…. I think we’re always coming out on different levels both musically and physically. It was probably about two years ago when I first began to consider what was important about the songs I was enjoying and I sort of just—I don’t know—I came out both to myself and to the people whose music I really loved and I started trying to turn that into something special to me.

What would you say really gets your creative juices flowing?

Basslines. Getting a good bassline tends to bring everything together in that really sort of, uh, low way.

That bassline sort of way?

Trace, if you would, the arc of your career. Where have you been, where are you now, where are you going?

I’ve been in Buffalo. I’m in Buffalo. And then I think I’m going to go to California.

Let’s talk a little about one of my favorite songs, “I wanna know what love is.” In this song you sing, “In my life, there’s been heartache and pain. I don’t know if I can face it again.” Given all that you’ve been through, do you think you can face it again?
Well, I don’t suppose I have much of a choice in the matter. And in referring to those as my words, I suppose in some ways they are because we’re constantly co-opting other people’s words and making them our own. It’s foolish to say those words aren’t my own because that would be implying that I don’t mean them and that I don’t believe them and I don’t feel them just because I didn’t write them. And I know this isn’t part of the question, but I really think it needs to be addressed and it’s something that’s very important to me because on paper, these songs are not mine and legally speaking they’re certainly not mine. But I think they become mine because those words become mine. When I speak of heartache and pain and the sort of difficulty of having to face inevitable situations, I think it’s the desperation that keeps it going. And it’s the desperation that makes those words my own.

In that same song you have the Female Ahs sing backup. What led you into a partnership with them? Would you say you were drawn to their mellifluous vocals or perhaps maybe to the synergistic quality of their live performances?
Yes. But I also think that what they do is add—it all starts to sound so masculine after a while. I think that gender is such a wonderfully permeable space and it needed to be crossed in that song especially because it just all felt [at first] as if it were too much coming out of my own gender identification and I didn’t think that’s really where I needed to go at that time.

You’re best known for your heartfelt renditions of “The New Standards” but you also branch out into other genres. Tell us a little about your less widely celebrated projects.
Funny you asked. I think in a way that they’re all new standards in that they’re all songs that need to be re-envisioned. I think there’s a real need for what I do. And these other projects are sort of allowing me the freedom to move outside of the constraints I set on myself when I’m making a recording. But while a lot of people feel constraints limit you, I think that if anything they expand what you’re capable of doing and [they expand] the tonal qualities and cultural resonances of what you do. So instead of being limited, I think more than anything I’m freed up by these because I’m allowed to extend these constraints out into other projects, such as the Gordon and Praise project coming up in the next few months, which [consists of] renditions of late 60s, early 70s post-Vatican II Catholic music. I’m not a religious man, but I feel there was something unique going on in the construction and composition of these songs that I’d like to revisit because I was raised Catholic. That’s the project that’s happening now—and then the possibility of working with a good friend of mine, Sharon Sherman, on a duet ep. There’s a lot on my plate right now.

In addition to being a singing standard, you’re also considered, in many circles, something of a fashion icon. What is the “must-have” accessory for every man’s closet?
Yellow shirts, preferably five buttons. You can never have too many burned-yellow-orange shirts.

But you can have too many buttons?
Yes. Definitely. Five is more than enough.

Do you like the theme song from Chariots of Fire?
Oh! Very much so. I was once in a ‘rock’ band and whenever I could I tried to sneak that into songs. There are very few people who can really nail down the ‘visualization’ of what is predominately a musical experience of joy and excitement and motivation like Vangelis. He really—he really— did something special with those five maybe six notes. It’s a beautiful song. It makes me happy.

It’s uplifting in the way that your own songs are uplifting but with a slightly different…edge.

Oh, there’s no edge to Vangelis. That’s what’s really wonderful about it. I think we put far too much stock in the idea of edginess, in something that challenges you, as if the more grating the guitar sound, the more intelligent the guitar player. When in fact I think the real challenge comes from not challenging and not daring people to listen to you….to invite them and I think that’s what Vangelis does very well and that’s what Henry Mancini did very well, early on and so many others…so many others. While the desire to ‘rock’ is wonderful, it’s just not always necessary.

Of all the tall-tales that have circulated around you (and there have been many), which do you think is the most inaccurate?

That I was the Prom King in highschool. This was a rumor that started a few years back before I really started recording in earnest, before I moved out of video art and performance pieces that I was doing at the time. And for some this reason there was this idea that I was this former Prom King type—I’m not sure, I’m not sure exactly how they justified it but…. there still are residual effects from this day to day, you know sometimes at shows there will be someone who will throw a crown on the stage and these kinds of things. But you know, you learn to deal with these things and they’re not damaging. It’s kind of sad that people feel the need to do this in order to make their lives more exciting, but ultimately it’s not damaging.

What’s the recipe for the perfect album, according to Gordon?

Three parts love, two parts desperation, and a whole lot of belief.

CHABLIS BLANCHOTS or a couple of ice-cold 40s?
Ooooooh. Chablis Blanchots.

Gordon Merrick is the creator and producer of many fine albums all available from Trifecta Press Records (
Kip Singleton is a columnist for Skips a Beat Magazine and is the author of Big Beat, Big Heart: How the Beat Goes On in Troubled Times, Quinella Press, 2001.