The Jim Gordon Collection Vol. 1
There are a few things you need to know about the great drummer Jim Gordon. He played on such classics as “You’re So Vain”, “Sara Smile”, Seals & Croft’s “Summer Breeze” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”. He wrote and played that gorgeous piano coda on “Layla”. And he bludgeoned his mother to death.
Gordon, who once ranked alongside such giants as Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer in the roster of drummers in the session musicians’ collective known as the Wrecking Crew, is still a guest of the US government at the California Medical Facility, a psychiatric prison in Vacaville. The fact of his current domicile tips us off that Gordon’s is a profoundly tragic story, not just a sensational tale of a man gone bad.
Jim Gordon was born in 1945 and grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley. At the age of eight he built his first drum set, from trash cans. The kid showed such talent that his middle-class parents bought him a proper drum set and sprung for lessons by a professional drummer. By the time he was 15, Jim was already regarded by many as a prodigy. When he graduated from high school, UCLA offered him a musician scholarship. To the understandable consternation of his parents, he decided to hit the road instead, with the Everly Brothers on their 1963 tour of England.
Returning from the tour, Jim played for local bands and profited from small session jobs, like doing some percussion work for Sonny & Cher and the Everly Brothers. His talent was gradually attracting notice, until in March 1966 the big break came: Brian Wilson invited Jim, still only 20 years old, to play on the Beach Boys album that would become Pet Sounds (on which Hal Blaine, his mentor, did most of the stick work). Within a couple of years, Gordon ranked as an established member of the Wrecking Crew, playing with Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Byrds, José Feliciano, Mason Williams, and helping Linda Ronstadt get her break with the Stone Poneys.
As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, he played on some groundbreaking albums, such as George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Joe Cockers’ Mad Dogs & Englishmen. Among his steady gigs was that of drumming for the Delaney & Bonnie & Friends scene. Among Delaney & Bonnie’s pals was Eric Clapton. When Clapton decided to form Derek and the Dominos, Gordon was appointed the drummer. Clapton had high regard for Gordon, considering him the greatest rock drummer in the world — greater even than fellow Cream alumnus Ginger Baker! But it was as a pianist that Gordon made his most decisive contribution to the Clapton canon.
The sessions for “Layla” had gone very well. Clapton and Duane Allman had created a rock guitar anthem for the ages. But Clapton was at a loss as to how to end the thing. Then he heard Gordon doodling on the piano. He loved the chords the drummer was playing, and decided that this was exactly what was needed to play out the song. And he asked Gordon to play the piano part on the recording. And so the most famous bit of music one of the greatest drummers ever played was on the piano…
We’ll continue the story of Jim Gordon — for which I have drawn especially from Kent Hartman’s excellent book The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-kept Secret (2012) — with Volume 2.
As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes coverts. PW in comments. Fans of Earth, Wind & Fire will be interested in the arrangement of the Thelma Houston track.
1. Mason Williams – Classical Gas (1968)
2. The Everly Brothers – Hello Amy (1964)
3. The Beach Boys – I’m Waiting For The Day (1966)
4. The Byrds – Wasn’t Born To Follow (1968)
5. The Dillards – Reason To Believe (1968)
6. The Stone Poneys – Different Drum (1967)
7. Mama Cass – California Earthquake (1970)
8. John Lennon – Power To The People (1971)
9. Leon Russell – Alcatraz (1971)
10. The Friends Of Distinction – Grazing in The Grass (1969)
11. Thelma Houston & Pressure Cooker – Got To Get You Into My Life (1975)
12. Minnie Riperton – Simple Things (1975)
13. Bill LaBounty – Lie To Me (1975)
14. Steely Dan – Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (1974)
15. Art Garfunkel – The Same Old Tears On A New Background (1975)
16. Joan Baez – Please Come To Boston (live, 1976)
17. Chi Coltrane – Let It Ride (1973)
18. The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band – Believe Me (1974)
19. Crosby Stills & Nash – Marrakesh Express (1969)
20. George Harrison – Let It Down (1970)
21. Traffic – Rock & Roll Stew (1971)
22. Delaney & Bonnie & Friends – They Call It Rock & Roll Music (1970)
* * *