On the day of his big break, a spot on ABC’s Good Morning America, Gordy was “pre-empted by the untimely death of Frank Sinatra.” It was an honor for him to share any spotlight with the famous crooner, although this was certainly not how he would have wanted it to happen. The show was eventually aired; however, it was not nearly as star-studded as NOT being on the show.
Gordy appeared on the show as part of the program’s special tourism of the Black Hills. “I was on the show because I showed up at the Deadwood Chamber office with my guitar and proceeded to sing a couple of songs for the GMA producer. He said, ‘Could we use that one on the show?’ Could they? YEAH!!!” And so Gordy sang his original song “Days of ‘76” from his one-man show, “SETH BULLOCK: Spirit of the West,” on the popular morning program.
“Turns out that wasn’t my big break. I’m still waiting. In the meantime, I’m doing what I love: playing music and singing.”
Born in Corpus Christie, Texas, where his father was stationed in the Navy, Gordy came home to a 20-foot trailer. At the tender age of eight months, Gordy began walking. His father said it was because the hallway was so narrow that Gordy could brace himself against the two walls. Gordy said it’s because he knew he had “pretty much done everything there was to do in Corpus Christie and he was ready to move on.”
As part of a military family, Gordy moved around a lot. I learned early on that I could make friends by making people laugh–with me or at me, it didn’t matter.” In second grade, Gordy was a foot taller than most of his classmates (he is six feet, four inches tall–the same height he was at 13) and sat at the back of his second-grade classroom in a desk built for much taller children. It’s not as if he loved being the center of attention, he simply had no choice. “I was a bit of a conversation piece.”
Gordy began playing music on a guitar his mother bought for him at Montgomery Ward. For $37.50. It didn’t matter to the 10-year-old Pratt. “I wanted to rock and roll.” Two years later, Pratt began spending summers at the Black Hills Playhouse in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He met people from all over the country–actors, musicians, directors, you name it–and became “hooked” on entertainment. His exposure to so many talented people propelled Gordy into the entertainment world; it wasn’t long before the lanky teenager was performing professionally.
His first engagement was with the band “Fungi” in Grand Valley, Colorado. He was 13 years old. “The drummer and I wanted to play the Beatles and Rolling Stones. But Pat, the cowboy of the group, wanted to play the ‘real’ country music. He introduced us to ‘Cheating Heart’ and ‘Wings of a Dove.’ I still love those songs.”
Another move, this time to Morgantown, West Virginia, landed Gordy in a college “horn band.” He was 15. Or maybe 16. He’s not sure anymore and it really didn’t matter anyway. He was playing rock and roll. “We played behind Woody the singer, who was always late and always drunk but always good.” They played (and Woody sang) the music of such greats as Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett and the Temptations in frat houses and bars for $25 a night. “We played the music all right, but we never could get the choreography.” He was in “heaven.”
In 1969, right before “the Summer of Love,” Gordy played with the trio, Greg, Gordon and Gordy. They played original music and revolution music on the folk circuit. “My big number was the Mason Williams’ poem ‘The Censor,’ which was followed by Gordy’s first original satirical song.
Later, he went on the road with singer/pianist Becky Bell. They played in lounges, bars and the occasional coffee house. They hitchhiked from West Virginia to New York City to Michigan and back, playing wherever they could get a gig. “Becky introduced me to the music of Laura Niro (most people don’t recognize her name but she wrote ‘And When I Die,’‘Eli’s Coming’ and lots of others, most of which were recorded by fancy people) and Burt Bacharach. Eventually, Gordy formed Fresh Air, a band that traveled around the country playing in bars, at colleges and in other venues. “We auditioned at the Bitter End in New York City for the National Coffee House Circuit, which we didn’t get. Still it was a great experience.”
When he wasn’t playing, he might be cooking hamburgers, pouring drinks or doing maintenance—or all three. As long as he could play music, he didn’t care what he had to do. And then something happened that would change Gordy’s life—and music. “Fresh Air’s fiddle player, Ricky Morrison, dropped the needle on a Julian Bream classical guitar record (vinyl, that is). I was amazed at the sounds coming out of that machine! I said, ‘Hey, those guys are great!’ Ricky said, ‘That’s one guy.’” It was the beginning of a lifelong love for classical guitar. And the ONE GUY.
A Classical Gas
From that point forward, Gordy became obsessed. He studied classical guitar at Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, and the Royal College of Music in London, England. He took a year off to make some money so he could continue his studies. He received the first of many touring grants from the South Dakota Arts council and toured the state playing classical guitar, including a performance of Vivaldi’s Lute Concerto with the Rapid City Chamber Orchestra.
He married Janet Brown (they were married for 30-some odd years—“and there were some odd years”) then headed west for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to continue his studies in classical guitar with Michael Lorimer and George Sakalerio. It was there he came under the spell of Laurette Goldberg and the instruments of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods, especially the lute. “Laurette was like the Queen Mother of early music. I was privileged to attend workshops with the best practitioners of ancient music in the world, including lutenist Paul Odette, who she brought in for me (and the two other luters in town).”
(Aside): Gordy grew up in western Colorado wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots. When the tall, long-haired western-styled 20-something showed up in those hallowed halls of musical education, the reaction was always the same. “They didn’t know what to think of me. But my passion for plucking soon convinced them I was serious and worth the trouble.”
Gordy lived in San Francisco for five years. He toured with La Corte Musical, a “very theatrical” Medieval Spanish music group, playing the oud. They played up and down the West Coast, including a tour of Spanish Missions. “We were playing music that might have been heard in those beautiful mission churches when they were built. It really was a cool deal to play there. There were no microphones, no anything. We just walked out and played. To feel our music vibrate in that architecture was truly amazing.”
Frustrated with trying to make a living as a musician, Gordy had to make a decision about whether he would continue. Laurette, the Queen Mother of ancient music, gave him this advice: “if you can’t not do it, don’t do it.” In other words, if he could live without music, he should give it up. So he did.
Back Stage Again
He and Janet moved to New York City where he slipped back into theater. He built sets for the New York Shakespeare Festival and sold programs on Broadway. He and Janet did a tour of “Pirates of Penzance” with Jim Belushi and Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits). Gordy served as a merchandise manager (Belushi, who played the Pirate King, called Gordy “the Pirate King of the Lobby”) and sound operator. “It was a Class A tour.” They spent five to 10 weeks in major American cities. While in Chicago, Gordy bought a guitar and started playing again. “I decided I couldn’t not do it.”
A few months later, he went on a world tour with “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and spent nine months in Europe, listening to the incredible music of Fats Waller eight to 10 times a week as a stage hand and stage manager. When Janet became pregnant, the couple moved back to the United States. They eventually settled in the Black Hills where they raised two beautiful and talented children, Jason and Miranda (both of whom are now gainfully employed in their fields of choice).
Jumping off the Cliff
Gordy worked for a time in marketing and gaming, which gave him a great education in business. “It gave me the knowledge and confidence to start my own business, which became the Deadwood Production Company and One Guy LLC.” He wrote, produced, acted in, did tech stuff, made props and even built a couple of performing spaces (ONE GUY, get it?) for more than a dozen shows that were performed more than 3,000 times. His shows included historical entertainments: “CALAMITY JANE: The Wild Woman of the West,” “WILD BILL HICKOK: Gunfighter and Lawman”; and “SETH BULLOCK: The Spirit of the West”; a musical comedy mellerdrammer, “The Desperate Damsels of Deadwood”; Broadway musical revues: “Gold Fever,” “Deadwood Swings,” and “Forbidden Deadwood”; and Christmas follies a la Capitol Steps.
In 1990, Gordy began writing and performing his unique brand of stand-up musical comedy and now does more than 100 corporate comedy shows a year across the country. His 90-minute concert shows, which include a generous sprinkle of comedy, classical guitar, favorite songs and original songs, have been seen in concert halls and other venues from Vancouver to San Francisco to New York.
He continues to write comedy and original songs, while performing “sensational songs” by some of his favorite songwriters: Guy Clark, Don Henry, Craig Carothers and many others. He also performs the one-man living history show about Deadwood’s most famous sheriff: Seth Bullock. The show, “SETH BULLOCK: The Spirit of the West” was written by Gordy and includes four original songs.
Gordy lives in Spearfish, South Dakota, and he wouldn’t live any place else!