He was called ‘The Dean’ of wrestling announcers, one of the most prolific and recognisable play-by-play men in the sport and held in the highest regard by those within the wrestling industry, his broadcasting peers and the general public alike. For many fans it was Gordon Solie’s voice that first greeted them in their early dalliances with professional wrestling and (with a career spanning four decades and a legacy that still stretches onward years after his death) it’s hard to overstate the lasting influence his work had on the medium. Gordon’s indomitable manner behind the microphone lent an air of gravitas and a feeling of authenticity to the proceedings in-ring, while as an interviewer he was second to none with his wonderful sense of timing and deadpan style.
Released in 2009 by Crowbar Press, The Solie Chronicles presents the life and times of Gordon Solie in rich detail. Pamela and Robert Allyn (Gordon’s daughter from his first marriage and his son-in-law) penned the book using extensive notes that Gordon himself had made prior to his death, as well as collecting dozens upon dozens of anecdotes and remembrances from Gordon’s colleagues and friends. The result is a comprehensive look at the legendary announcer’s life from beginning to end. It reads somewhat like an extended obituary with the narrative voice lacking any real character, but while the book’s tone can feel rather matter-of-fact in places it doesn’t detract from the wealth of information on offer.
Starting with Gordon’s early life, we’re guided through his formative years and the effect his parent’s broken marriage had on the young man. The book follows him through his schooling and his first forays into the world of broadcast journalism, as well as going into great detail about Gordon’s love of stock car racing as an announcer and promoter, although this portion of the book will likely hold little significance to wrestling fans not familiar with the US stock car racing scene of sixty years ago. We’re told how Gordon got his start in professional wrestling via Florida promoter Cowboy Luttrell and his booker Eddie Graham and how wrestling helped grow Gordon’s fame in the Sunshine State. The book also details Gordon’s passion for charitable works and giving back to the community, which he took great pride in.
There’s a great many comments in the book from the wrestling greats of Gordon’s era, Harley Race, Dory Funk, Danny Hodge and so on, as well as wrestling journalists and historians like Bill Apter and Scott Teal, fellow announcers Jim Ross, Lance Russell and Mike Tenay, numerous stock car drivers and some of Gordon’s closest friends and family. While there’s a good number of stories from the interviewees, there’s a running theme through most of the interviews and only so many ways to call someone a consummate professional, a class act or a legend. As such, some of the comments tend to run in the same vein. My favourite was from former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco, who recalled Leroy McGuirk (the blind wrestling promoter of the Oklahoma territory) saying “I’m absolutely blind, and yet, Gordon Solie made me see that wrestling match”.
One of the stand-out interviews comes from Bob Roop. Never afraid to ruffle a few feathers, Roop goes into detail about the differences he faced with Gordon and give a little insight into what the man was like when slighted. All in all, those interviewed are extremely complimentary of Gordon as a person and go to lengths to properly state the impact he had on wrestling on a local level and on a national one. There’s also many fan letters included and we’re told how much Gordon always loved to receive letters from his audience. Much of these attest to the esteem that Solie was held in by the fans and how much they appreciated the seriousness with which he treated the sport. That was something of a sore point for Gordon as well, who would become frustrated when the wider world of media and entertainment would look down its nose at professional wrestling.
As the 1980’s progressed and cable television gave Vince McMahon the tools necessary to shake up the wrestling world for good, Gordon worried about the state of the industry and where it was headed, but still had a burning desire to call the action and have his voice heard. These opportunities came to him less and less, however, and he continued to become disillusioned with the state of the wrestling business by the time the 1990’s rolled around, eventually retiring in 1995 after four decades behind the microphone. The latter part of the book describes Gordon’s struggles with adjusting first to retirement, then to losing his wife and to his own deteriorating health in frank terms (perhaps more so than the man himself would have) before ending on a touching note with a letter Gordon penned shortly before his death in 2000. Gordon signing off with his familiar call: “So long, from the Sunshine State”.
Overall ‘The Solie Chronicles’ feels like a labour of love. It’s an incredibly detailed look at Gordon’s life inside and outside of the wrestling business and provides great insight into the sort of man he was and what moulded the magnetic personality that fuelled his accomplishments, his vices and his missteps over the course of his legendary career. It’s not the easiest of reads, lacking a strong narrative voice and without Gordon’s own words to string things together, but while that may hamper a casual reader’s enjoyment, for any fans of Gordon Solie’s work and the ‘golden era’ of US pro wrestling in general, this is a must-read book.