Gordon Solie called Wrestling’s Walter Cronkite because of his distinguished, educative, superb on-air presence. He could relate to regular, every-folk still remains my benchmark. Solie commentated in Florida, Georgia, USA Championship (out of Knoxville, TN), Continental, and even at the end, for “Ring Warriors”. He could be heard on TV outside North America and was paired with Bruno Sammartino for the very first time. He was doing voiceover work on New Japan’s great action at the time. Jim Ross is obviously right there as Gordon’s later peer with most everyone following.
From Bob Caudle who just had, what his amazing 90th birthday to Lance Russell who we lost not long after Jerry Lawler was able to bring him to one of his last public appearances at a Vegas Cauliflower Alley reunion. WWWF’s Bill Cardille, Vince Jr on occasion, Roy Shire’s original and first voice, Walt Harris from 1961. Harris was already an established KTVU/channel two newspeople in San Francisco. He was the sports director covering the San Francisco Giants and their training camps. If you’ve not heard Walt call action in his booth, he belongs right up there with the above greats.
We at CAC honored him onstage in 1996 in LA. The new NWA honored him in 2005, PWI Magazine awarded him 1977’s & announcer of the year. Plus he was awarded in ’89, gave him their lead Editor’s Award. PWHOFame/Museum honored him posthumously in 2004, WWE’s HOF in 2008 with Jim Ross presenting to Gordon’s five kids, WCW in 1995 and Wrestler Observer Awards as Best TV announcer from 1981-83 and elected to their HOF in 1996.
In that regard, I’ve been writing a lot about who we’d have on various wrestling Mount Rushmore’s, and Gordon, Ross, Russell would have to be up there. But who would be the fourth stone, “talking head?” SF’s Walt Harris? Los Angeles’ Dick Lane? Midwest Sammy Menacker? More modern-day historians might cite Joey Styles to PWG’s Excalibur now lending his verbal excellence to AEW(well, save the last few weeks at the Florida lockdowns). Mauro, who seems to call everything, including MMA and pro boxing, is one of the best.
Gordon Solie | Leaving His Mark
Being from LA and growing up near Mike Tenay who was, even more, an LA historian than myself or Dan W or even the great Kurt Brown; “Iron” Mike (who used that name originated from one of his Jules Strongbow/Cal Eaton Los Angeles mid 60’s heroes there in Iron Mike DiBiase) was excellent learning while working in WCW as well as during calmer moments during his TNA run. It was disgraceful how Dixey Carter’s crew pushed Mike aside, gutting the announce crew several years ago most assume over monetary issues.
But Mike also grew up on and was a fan of Dick Lane and Gordon Solie’s work, and he was lucky enough to have spent more time with Gordon once Bischoff heard his work on a Vegas radio show where Tenay and I were amongst several regular weekly cohosts. Eric Bischoff liked Tenay’s work and hired him initially along with some “smart fan/writers” for WCW’s 1-900 pay call-line.
‘The Dean of Wrestling Announcers’
Tenay, I’m sure would hopefully agree that few were as respected as Gordon Solie for all the decades he worked in and for Florida Championship Wrestling(and later for Ole Anderson’s Georgia Championship). If any of my fellow historian friends out there know when Gordon started exactly in Georgia(since he was so busy with Eddie Graham in FL), please let me know. I don’t know if Gordon began when the non-wrestler Paul Jones was still running Georgia in the ’70s, well before Ole.
I didn’t even know that Gordon was born Francis Jonard Labiak, later Jonard Pierre Sjoblom in Minneapolis. He had an amateur athletic background as he might say, before moving to Tampa, Florida in the early 1950s after a stint with the US Military. From $5/night pay emceeing Tampa Bay, Florida shows to graduating to Championship Wrestling From Florida(CWF)’s Saturday morning tv show in late 1960, he was quickly the must-see talk of the business for the next 25+ years there.
Gordon Solie | Working With A Legend
When I had him on my national radio show back in 2004, Jack Brisco said, “if it wasn’t for Gordon, I don’t know where my brother Jerry and I would be in the business. He was like Eddie Graham in learning all about someone’s high school and collegiate wrestling, and like Gagne, that’s who Eddie tried to hire. With Gordon then getting over those very amateur backgrounds. I probably would never have had Eddie put up the bond or become NWA champion without Gordon’s hard work getting me over in my early years there in Florida. The same goes true to Jerry, Dusty, Buddy Colt, Bobby Shane, and so many others who became stars in Florida, and then tried conquering the world.”
I spoke last week by phone to someone I respect in Jody (Joe) Malenko, Larry “Great Malenko’s” Kid. He’s doing the voiceover for a Pancrase documentary that wants to use my photos of the legendary MMA Japanese group. He dropped out of pro wrestling as an athlete. Gordon Solie and his Dean Malenko‘s dad started the monthly tradition in the ’90s in Florida. They were gathering as many of the classic Florida office wrestlers for regular lunch meetings beginning with the Briscoes, Buddy Colt, Paul Jones, Bob Roop, and more.
Foreign Announce Team
Jody continues that tradition with those greats still alive, plus the wrestling kin of them, etc. I think Flair’s even attended at least one of them over the years, and tradition drove Gordon Solie to excellence.
Growing up on and eventually working as a ringside and locker room photographer for our Los Angeles/Mike Lebell territory’s program and then finally touring all over the globe writing and shooting for the magazines exposed me to several great wrestling announcers. At home in LA, we had arguably the greatest ring announcer ever in Jimmy Lennon Sr. calling the tv action on our Saturday night KCOP-13 indie station. Wednesday night tv mostly was done in Espanol; we had the great Miguel Alonzo who’d later first work globally with Pedro Morales doing WWF’s Spanish broadcasting for television and PPV’s, later the pair moving to Bischoff’s WCW.
Think they were US wrestling’s first “foreign” announce team. Traveling around to the territories I’d cover (San Francisco and genial announcer Hank Renner was my secondary home base as Roy Shire’s only ringside photographer for his program)from the WWWF to IWA, AWA, Toronto/the real Tunney, Florida, etc.; I got to hear Gordon Solie call the action on tv and prior to that in the early ’70s, it was Gordon’s educated, serious voice I heard when wrestling friends would tape tv audio on cassettes and send them for me to listen and return.
Gordon Solie In Georgia Championship Wrestling
Finally, getting to cover and see Gordon do his thing so masterfully on Georgia Championship Wrestling was a goal I got to achieve. What a voice, knowledge, attitude and thought, delivery, and more. Gordon Solie offered everything. He showed he’d lost none of those skills cohosting the too-brief, syndicated Pro Wrestling This Week weekend tv show in the late ’80s.
We all knew he’d finessed his chops for Eddie Graham’s promotion in Florida for which he was best known. When Ole Anderson wisely hired him to call his GCW weekly show on WTBS, Gordon slightly altered his Florida/Graham signoff of “so long from the Sunshine State,” to “so long from the Peach State of Georgia.”
Gordon very very rarely ever was involved in an angle where anyone would even touch a suit jacket lapel of his. Most really only recall that happening during the Muraco attack on Gordon(at the commentary desk) with Gordon’s color-commentator Roddy Piper turning face in the process to kick off an in-ring feud between Muraco and Piper. Piper and some of the talent were doing the drive from Charlotte and MidAtlantic’s equally fantastic tv to work shots for Ole, which was the magic of GCW because Gordon would perfectly sell the surprise of big names that would be popping in. Sometimes, Eddie Graham regulars like Abby, BJ Mulligan, and Mark Lewin to feud.
A Legend Commentating on Other Legends
Twice it was Gordon standing there commentating on who could be in Dusty Rhodes surprise box when out popped Mad Dog Vachon one time and George Steele on another with Dusty going nuts and Gordon holding his composure as only he could. I had the honor to serve on Cauliflower Alley Club’s board once we put Gordon on for the few years we had him there. He’d first attended a CAC when we had our first ancillary one in 1993, Springfield, MA that Tom Burke helped put on since he lived there. Gordon was there with his lifelong best Florida pal in wrestling legend Don Curtis (of the great Mark Lewin/Don Curtis tag team of the early ’60s).
I think it was Monsoon who talked Gordon into joining our board that year. Gordon would bring Don (and wife Dotty) along the following three years to our regular CAC single night awards banquet every April.
I was able to drive Gordon to and from WCW’s hotel to the venue and back several times in the ’90s. I always picked his brain and he loved talking history, one on one with anyone. But it eventually became rough seeing him by about the mid-’90s, smoking so heavily. That and some alcohol would take the life of his cherished wife Smokey and later Gordon himself It was after his voicebox was so cruelly taken away by cancer. Gordon only lasted a few months with the voicebox so at odds with the fabric and being of who he’d always been to his core.
Gordon Solie | The Best Voice in the Business
And yep, the rumors were true. Even if Gordon had a pop or two prior to a tv taping, he’d still nail commentary with no one being the wiser. He would save the production staff who helped prepare him for on-camera. I hated seeing him getting skinnier and frailer by the year, particularly when wife Smokey became ill.
When CWF wound down without Eddie Graham at the helm in 1987 and folded into Crockett, Gordon would instead work for Continental. But he would eventually return to Atlanta and “Sound, Center Stage but in a limited capacity.” Once WCW birthed out of the NWA’s ashes on Ted Turner WTBS circa 1992, Gordon was brought back again for duties. For instance for events such as; Slamboree weekly updates and interviews, after having done some decent work on/off since 1989 for what most thought of as GCW’s follow-up programming. I believe Crockett Jr was forced to sell out in early 1989 to Ted Turner. Turner owned the station NWA programming was on.
That was the year of promise with Eddie Gilbert briefly head-booker and Flair v Steamboat 5-star amazing classics. Too bad Gordon wasn’t there to help Jim Ross call them. I’d just have liked to have had Gordon in the “call” mix somehow.
Not long after Florida fell, Bill Watt’s UWF was equally purchased and folded into the NWA on WTBS. Jim Ross came in as lead to Schiavone in the former Crockett’s NWA circa 1989. It was nearly all that was left of the real NWA as GCW was long gone with Black Saturday. This was following on the famous cable net where Tony Schiavone had that, brief run doing commentary in WWF. Many of us would’ve liked to have seen a strong and healthy Gordon paired with than the top announcer already in Jim Ross for NWA. Gordon ended up being used later primarily for interviews and unique features. He was not really in the commentary booth anymore, which was a shame.
They had so many guys rotating in and out doing commentary. From Chris Cruise to the absolute best at the time doing color in Terry Funk, Cornette, Heyman, & even Lance Russell! Any time Gordon was paired with Lance, everyone was in heaven. Although it was only for a few shows, it still showed their collective majesty at the mike.
When Gordon’s kids put out a book on his short stories, poetry, and reflections called “Gordon Solie…Something Left Behind,” it became the talk of wrestling and a best seller. Years before that in ’87, there was even a limited-release Gordon Solie’s Championship Wrestling Trivia board game I still have up in the attic somewhere. I think only Verne Gagne in the ’60s had his own dedicated board game. In New York, Jim Cornette beat me in an auction bidding war for that game at 1992’s Weekend Of Champions.
So long from…
Planet Earth Gordon, at least for the time being. That is until we all meet again (said with Gordon’s sly wink to end each broadcast). I just wanted to write a few thoughts down about how much you will always be missed down here.