Goose, Lindo Lake © Robert Sommers 2020

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wrecking Crew

Jimmy Gordon

Sanoguy got this letter the other day from his friend Dave. Pretty cool. I wasn't aware of Jimmy Gordon. What a story that is. But I have been following the Wrecking Crew story for many years. Leslie saw the documentary last week when she was in Los Angeles. Said it was great.

Hey guys-
     A few weeks ago I heard the old song "My Maria" by B.W. Stevenson on the radio, and was reminded what a great song it was.  When I got back home, I looked it up on YouTube to play it again, and as I did I noticed people in the comment section referring specifically to the session drummer who worked on the recording of that song.  As an old garage-band drummer, I was always struck by the great drumming in that song, but found it curious that YT commenters all these years later actually knew the name of the session drummer on such an old song, and several of the comments then alerted me to the fact that there's a story there.
     Here's the song, and pay attention to the drumming:


     Turns out the drummer's name was Jimmy Gordon.  So, I did a little research and, oh yeah- there's a story there- big time.  He played drums on session recordings for many of the biggest names in rock/pop music going back to the '60s, but got caught up in the alcohol/drug scene and self-destructed.  I continued to dig further and found a startling story.  One night, freaked out on drugs, he beat his mother to death, confessed, and in about '83 was sentenced to 16 years-to-life.
     Then it gets even more bizarre.  He's still alive.  And he's spending his sentence up here in SLO- at the California Men's Colony, or possibly the Atascadero State Hospital for the criminally insane (I found references to both, and Wikipedia says he's at Vacaville).  
     OK, so he was a good- maybe even great- drummer and worked with just about every big name in the rock business.  So what, he's a drummer- big deal lots of "great" drummers out there, right?  Well, OK, check out this little factoid I uncovered:

"Gordon is perhaps best known for playing the piano climax of Derek and the Dominos' 1971 hit "Layla," which he wrote with Eric Clapton. The song still pays him well; California's deputy district attorney said that for years inmates have solicited money from Gordon, which he has allegedly given them." 
     Not interested yet?  Here's some additional detail- pay particular attention to the list of rock stars he has played for:


     As I continued to read through the articles I was finding, I learned that Gordon was part of a tight-knit group of session musicians who played with a wide variety of singers and bands that we always listened to.  Turns out that those folks became collectively know as "The Wrecking Crew", and they worked with just about anyone you can think of.  
     So, coincidentally, last weekend Marie and I went to a matinee showing of the new Brian Wilson biopic titled "Love and Mercy", and much of the film details how Wilson collaborated with various iterations of Wrecking Crew folks to make many of the biggest Beach Boy songs, including "Good Vibrations" and basically the entire "Pet Sounds" album.  So later that night then, while just scrolling through the guide on our cable system, I noticed that the AXSTV channel was running a documentary film titled "The Wrecking Crew."  Between the Wilson film and the Crew doc film, what I saw and learned was an immense revelation.  Turns out that many of my most favorite all-time songs were done by the Crew.  We're talking everything from Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, to Nancy Sinatra and Sonny and Cher, the Beach Boys, the Association, the Monkees, many of the Phil Spector groups, and on and on and on.  Basically everyone except the big British groups, who revolutionized popular music in so many ways, because so many of them wrote their songs, played their songs, and sang their songs.
     Remember that deep driving bass theme in "The Beat Goes On" by Sonny and Cher?  Turns out that the bass was played by Carol Kaye of The Crew.  And it turns out that she played the bass on several other old favorites of mine.  The Crew's main drummers were Earl Palmer and Hal Blaine, and among their guitarists were Tommy Tedesco and the only Crew member who became known and famous- Glen Campbell.  Like Gordon, Kaye and several others of the Crew played several different instruments equally well.
     Anyhow, if you're "into" the history of our old rock music, you might want to go to see "Love and Mercy" ("in a theater near you"), and you can check out info on doc film about The Crew here:


     The Crew doc is purely an indie film, with individual screenings in only certain towns.  I don't think it has screened in Wisconsin yet, so those of you there might want to put in a word with someone out there to get it into a theater.  Some of the Crew folks are still alive, but they're getting up there now.  Let's face it- we're all pushing 70 ourselves, and they were recording these songs when we were kids.  Carol Kaye is 80, but Tedesco is long gone- his son did that doc film as a tribute to his dad and The Crew.  
     So, there we are- that's my music lesson for the day.  You may have been aware of some or all of this, but it has been a real eye-opener for me.  For more info, just google any of this or check out on YouTube- there's a ton of fascinating stuff out there.  For now, I'll leave you off with this memorable Crew contribution by Carol Kaye that you will remember:


     Oh, yeah, so much history- and so much we didn't know.  Enjoy-

Thanks, Dave! I heard a great interview last week on Sirius 60's on 6 with these guys. Lou Simon interviewed Hal Blaine (born Harold Belsky), Don Randi, Chuck Beghofer and Denny Tedesco, who put the movie together after fighting for years to the rights of his father's music. Great stories, hope that I can find a link.


Anonymous said...

Be it known that Glen Campbell was a 'Shindog', on Shindig and shall remain unto his soul. One day on an NBC broadcast of a PGA golf tournament, the announcers were talking up the 'Greatest Guitarist of All Time', and all agreed it had to be Eric C. But Johnny Miller spoke up for Glen. To his credit.

Some time in the late 1970's Glen was reading a list of the 100 greatest (at that time) pop songs ever recorded. He said he counted at least 25 the number HE had played on.

But never forget the 'Crew' guitarist who stepped in for Scotty Moore to back Elvis in the later years and has his own statue in Louisiana. The great James Burton.

Sanoguy said...

Re: Glen Campbell... He substituted for Brian Wilson on at least one Beach Boys tour in the mid-60s.

North County Film Club said...

Fascinating !

Dave said...

Yeah, Glen Campbell did a lot of work with The Crew, and then went on to make his own "mark" in the 'biz. So many great guitarists over the years- hard to pick just one as "the best."

One of my favorites- more recent- is Steve Stevens, who has paired with Billy Idol on some great songs: