You learn something new every day.
The real problem with Layla’s musical outro is that Jim Gordon plagiarized it wholesale from an obscure soul artist; it’s not actually an original composition
— Jeff B., who on earth is this guy?? (@EsotericCD) April 8, 2021
If you’ve not heard this before, it’s likely the most amazing thing you will hear all day:
Ignore the vocal line and focus on the piano part and the harmony. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it was stolen for the outro of “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos (Eric Clapton’s band at the time). It was famously used in “Goodfellas.”
Rita Coolidge has spoken about this.
Coolidge says in her memoir Delta Lady (via the Miami Herald): “We played the song for Eric Clapton in England. I remember sitting at the piano in Olympic Studios while Eric listened to me play it. Jim and I left a cassette of the demo, hoping of course that he might cover it.”
She “largely forgot about it” after that – until she heard Layla after she and [Jim] Gordon had split up. “I was infuriated,” she remembers.
“What they had clearly done was take the song Jim and I had written, jettisoned the lyrics and tacked it to the end of Eric’s song. It was almost the same.”
Coolidge approach Clapton’s manager at the time, Robert Stigwood. But she says she was told: “You’re going to go up against the Robert Stigwood Organisation? Who do you think you are? You’re a girl singer.”
She adds: “There was no way Jim could have forgotten we’d written the song together. And I don’t think Eric could have, either.”
In 2011, Derek And The Dominos keyboardist Bobby Whitlock supported Coolidge’s version of events, saying in an interview: “Jim took the melody from Rita’s song and didn’t give her credit for writing it. Her boyfriend ripped her off. I knew – but nobody would listen to or believe me.”
She could try to sue Gordon, I guess . . . except that he
went on to become the police commissioner of Gotham “has been in prison since murdering his mother in a psychotic incident in 1983.” But what if she sued Clapton? Well, if she sued for copyright infringement and it went to trial in L.A., a jury would rule against her as long as Clapton testified and the jury thought he’d throw them a party afterwards as a reward. (Yes, I’m still bitter about the “Stairway to Heaven” verdict.)
Thefts and imitations can be a confounding thing. In the “Stairway to Heaven” case, I have had many people tell me they don’t hear the similarity to “Taurus,” the Spirit song that Led Zeppelin stole. I don’t see how anyone could miss it.
Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit on a 1968 tour — the same year Taurus was released. But Robert Plant testified that he hadn’t heard the song — an obvious lie, in my view — and a star-struck jury bought it. (I never heard whether they got their party. I don’t think they did.)
You can tell I am convinced the beginning of “Stairway to Heaven” was stolen. Yet Rick Beato, who knows his music, has this (in my view totally unconvincing) defense of Led Zeppelin as simply using a common line cliche.
Similarly, I was stunned the day I listened to the end of Dvorak’s “Dumky Trio” and heard the theme to “E.T.”
But when I blogged about that in 2007, I noted that a friend of mine who is a musical expert had advised me to go easy on the criticism of Williams, as borrowing is common in classical music. I am a genuine admirer of John Williams, but I think it’s fair to note that some of his music is clearly derivative of other music (think Darth Vader’s theme and “Mars” from Holst’s “The Planets” (more here) as one of many examples.) But Williams did add a lot of value to the stuff he borrowed from, and is a giant among musicians, in my view.
All that said, Jim Gordon absolutely stole from Rita Coolidge, and she deserves credit.