Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Rita Coolidge says she helped write the classical piano coda in Eric Clapton’s 1971 classic, Layla, with the Derek & The Dominos. Coolidge says she’s been cheated out of songwriter credit for the past 45 years.
They wrote the lyrics together and named the song, Time (Don’t let the World Get in Our Way). The couple then recorded a tape demo.
A short time later while on tour, “we played the song for Eric Clapton when we were in England…I remember clearly sitting at the piano at Olympic Studios while Eric listened to me play it all the way through… Jim and I left a taped cassette of the demo with Eric, hoping of course, that he might cover it. Nothing came of it and I largely forgot about it…” she wrote.
“I was infuriated. 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.”
Coolidge and Gordon eventually split up and their song was forgotten, or so she thought.
A year later, in 1971, while at a photo shot for her first solo album, the photographer turned on the radio. Coolidge heard Layla for the first time: “That’s my music! That’s my music!” she screamed when she heard the coda part of the song.
“I was infuriated. 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 as the arrangement,” Coolidge writes in Delta Lady.
Coolidge, who eventually had hit songs with Kris Kristofferson and as a solo artist, says she tried to get credit for her part of the Layla songwriting. She says she approached Clapton’s manager, the late Robert Stigwood — who told her to get lost.
Eric Clapton talked about the Layla coda with Uncut magazine in October 2006: “The piano part was a pure accident. It came from Jim Gordon, the Dominos’ drummer. When the band left the studio, it turned out that, unknown to us, Jim would sneak back in and use the time to make his own record. Basically, he was poaching. One night I went back to the studio to collect something and I caught him, playing that piano riff. I think the deal we offered him was that we’d let him carry on using our studio time to make his record if we could have that tune for the LP. I don’t think he ever did finish his album, but the piano theme fitted what we were doing perfectly and now the song just doesn’t sound right without it.”
Ultimately, who does Coolidge feel cheated her out of a songwriter credit of one of rock’s most recognizable songs?
“There was no way Jim could have forgotten we’d written the song together. And, frankly, I don’t think Eric could have, either.”
Getting Jim Gordon’s side of the story is difficult. He murdered his mother in 1983 and is serving time in a California prison.