Song of the Week – Classical Gas, Mason Williams; Only You Know and I Know, Dave Mason; Rock the Boat, Hues Corporation

Playing on the albums Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominoes, and George Harrison’s epic All Things Must Pass would be enough to cement any musician’s reputation as a superstar.

What if that same artist was a key contributor to all of these past SotW:

  • Midnight At The Oasis – Maria Muldaur
  • Through With Buzz – Steely Dan
  • Jump Into The Fire – Harry Nilsson
  • My Maria – B.W. Stephenson
  • Delta Lady – Leon Russell
  • Run Boy  Run – Longbranch Pennywhistle
  • Goin’ Back/Wasn’t Born to Follow – The Byrds
  • That Old Sweet Roll – The City

And these:

  • Different Drum – Stone Poneys
  • River Deep – Mountain High – Ike & Tina Turner
  • Gentle on My Mid/ Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell
  • You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
  • After Midnight – Eric Clapton
  • Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night – Tom Waits

I’m referring, of course, to “Big” Jim Gordon.  He was not just a great technical drummer; he also had the innate ability to play the right part to enhance whatever song he was working on.  It was this skill that made him such a sought-after drummer in so many different genres.

Take a listen to “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams.

Jim starts off playing softly, but as the brass comes in, his drums push the recording forward.  The bigger the production gets, the bigger his drums kick in to keep up.

Then there’s “Only You Know and I Know,” by Dave Mason.

Gordon had recorded the song first with Delaney & Bonnie.  But when it came time to make an updated version with Mason, he completely remade his rhythm track.  And it is one of his most creative.  It allows the guitars to swim in and out of his groove.

And who would think he could provide a pattern that would become a template for the disco beat?  Check out his drumming on the Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat.”

The Latin-tinged rhythm with the tom-tom offbeats is the song’s defining feature.

Unfortunately, the Jim Gordon story had a very sad ending.  He suffered severe mental illness for most of his life and could not control the voices he heard in his head that ultimately told him he must kill his mother.  He did just that in 1983 and spent the second half of his life institutionalized.

He died one year ago this week at the age of seventy-seven in a maximum-security psychiatric hospital.  A very sad coda to an illustrious career and contribution to rock and roll.

Enjoy… until next week.