Hi, and welcome to 1970! We editors really enjoy doing these theme issues, and we hope you take as much pleasure from them.
In 1970, I was thirteen years old and had been playing drums for about five years. This was around the time I started playing in bands, and I was glued to my record player and radio. One of my heavier rock influences was our cover artist—for the first time ever, if you can believe it—Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward. Sabbath was my introduction to what was considered then to be “real heavy and dark rock.” Yes, we had Zeppelin and Deep Purple, two of my faves at that time, but they weren’t heavy like Sabbath was heavy.
As I briefly drifted into fusion, Lenny White, who we also feature this month, influenced me for a while. I was fortunate to see Lenny perform a good number of times in the early ’70s, and he’s still at the top of his game.
Those who know me are aware that I’ve always been a “pop head,” though, and one of my biggest influences was studio drummer Jim Gordon. In 1970 alone he played on the classic live album by Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen (alongside drummers Jim Keltner and Chuck Blackwell); Eric Clapton’s debut solo studio album, which included several favorites of mine like “Let It Rain,” “After Midnight,” and “Blues Power”; Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett’s On Tour with Eric Clapton; yet another Clapton-led project, Derek & the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (Jim is given credit for writing the piano coda of the title track); Dave Mason’s debut, Alone Together (Keltner, Traffic’s Jim Capaldi, and another of this month’s featured drummers, Johny Barbata, also appear); and George Harrison’s masterpiece, All Things Must Pass, which also featured Ringo Starr, Alan White, and Ginger Baker.
Skip to 1972, and we hear Gordon on another one of my favorites, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon. In 1974, he played on the title track to Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe (’) album, which listed him alongside Zappa and Jack Bruce as songwriter. That year Jim also appeared on most of Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic, including the single “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Another favorite, Harry Nilsson’s 1971 classic, Nilsson Schmilsson, featured Gordon, Roger Pope, and Jim Keltner on various tracks. Jim was an early influence on Keltner before he discovered his own style and sound; he was also his good friend, and that’s why we decided to speak to Keltner for this month’s piece on Gordon. Years prior, Hal Blaine played the role of major influencer on Gordon himself, and essentially taught Jim how to become the kind of studio drummer who knew exactly how to turn a song into a hit.
Jim wasn’t just a “song guy,” though. He got to show off his serious technical chops while touring with Delaney and Bonnie, Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and Derek & the Dominos. In fact, in Eric Clapton’s 2007 autobiography he says, “To this day I would say that bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jimmy Gordon are the most powerful rhythm section I have ever played with. When people say Jim Gordon is the greatest rock ’n’ roll drummer who ever lived, I think it’s true.”
Of course we all have our own personal favorites, and it’s a hard call to say who the “best” rock drummer of all time is. But Jim Gordon is certainly one of them! Enjoy the issue.
Editor at Large