Neal Matthews Jr., second tenor for The Jordanaires, died Friday night after an apparent heart attack at his home in the Brentwood section of Nashville. He was 70. A Nashville native, Mr. Matthews joined the vocal harmony quartet in 1953.
Gordon Stoker of The Jordanaires figures that during its most active stretch the prolific group did two to four recording sessions a day, six days a week, for 23 years. By one estimate, in 1957 the quartet sang on country and pop hits that collectively sold more than 33 million copies, among them Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.”
Mr. Matthews became a member of The Jordanaires following a stint in the U.S. Army from 1951-53. He served in Korea and was awarded a Bronze Star.
Though they had backed major country artists such as Red Foley, Hank Snow and Eddy Arnold, and performed as regulars on the Grand Ole Opry, The Jordanaires rose to national prominence singing behind Presley on his recordings and in his appearances on Ed Sullivan’s variety show.
Their smooth, layered harmonies came to be regarded as an essential component of the cosmopolitan Nashville Sound, along with the use of horns, strings, and the absence of fiddles and banjos.
The Jordanaires developed great versatility to accommodate the many different musical styles in which they were required to sing. Toward that end, Mr. Matthews came up with a system for numbering chords based on their relationship to each other. The Nashville Number System, as it was called, emerged as the common notation for Nashville’s studio players and was adopted to some degree by musicians in studios the world over.
The Jordaniares remain active, performing in Las Vegas and touring from time to time. Mr. Matthews returned to Nashville from Las Vegas on April 4 and was scheduled to return May 8.
Services for Mr. Matthews are scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Immanuel Baptist Church, 222 Belle Meade Blvd. Burial will be in Woodlawn Memorial Park. Brentwood Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.