Jim Gordon: The Greatest Rock N Roll Tragedy

Seth Shellhouse
10 min readAug 24, 2020

For a long time, I’ve been sort of obsessed with the career of Jim Gordon. In music, the studio system of the twentieth century created a very interesting scenario wherein certain session musicians seemed to appear on every hit song of their time. In LA, there was Carol Kaye, James Burton and Hal Blaine. There were a few standout session musicians who were also successful solo musicians (the Leon Russells, Billy Prestons and and Glen Campbells). And there were a few players who were members of successful bands (Plastic Ono Band and Manfred Mann member, Klaus Voormann, pretty much everyone in Bread). And then there was Jim Gordon: One of the most prolific drummers and multi-instrumentalists of his time, Derek And The Dominos member and composer whose life descended, savagely and (seemingly) abruptly, into a bloody nightmare of mental illness.

I’ve often wondered why Hollywood has never gone in on a Jim Gordon biopic, but when it’s time to write it, I hope they come see me (self plug: I crush 3 act structure). It’s one hell of a story. And I mean hell in every sense.

The Layla Curse

When Derek And The Dominos released Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs in 1971, it didn’t perform well. The album was a curveball for Eric Clapton fans. A lot of people didn’t even know he was “Derek”. It failed to chart in the UK. It tanked. And as a single, Layla didn’t fare much better. Released for radio in its original, sub-three minute form, without the piano coda, it peaked at #51.

But a year later, it was re-released at a full 7 minutes (because cocaine, probably) and it was a smash. The full version charted #7 in the UK and #10 in the US. Ten years later, it was released again (this time definitely because cocaine) and it hit #4. It is universally considered one of the best rock recordings ever and includes what is almost unquestionably the most notable coda in modern music.

There are a lot of factors that go into a song’s popularity and chart performance, but one has to think there’s something magical about that piano coda. Layla was a weird recording. Beyond the fact that it was the…

Seth Shellhouse

Built the grid so I could spend more time off of it. https://www.sethshellhouse.com/