Music & Nightlife

Did singer Rita Coolidge write part of Eric Clapton’s classic ‘Layla’ — and receive no credit?

It’s one of rock 'n' roll’s most enduring and haunting songs — and it was recorded at Miami’s Criteria Studios.

Layla, by Derek and the Dominos, was lead singer Eric Clapton’s declaration of unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, who at the time was married to his best friend, Beatle George Harrison.

The song’s inspiration is not news to many. Clapton and group drummer, Jim Gordon, were listed as the songwriters on the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

But just as Layla’s release as a single in April 1971 is about to mark its 45th anniversary, a new detail about the rock classic is being revealed, or confirmed, for the first time: the song might have a third, un-credited songwriter.

Grammy-winning songstress Rita Coolidge, 70, says she helped write the classical piano coda in the second half of the six-minute song.

Some consider the sudden, instrumental change of pace in the song a distraction in a rock song, others a bittersweet and masterful touch.

Either way, Coolidge was partly responsible for it, she writes in her new memoir, Delta Lady.

“I think it’s time everyone knew that it (Layla) also has a mother,” she writes.

Coolidge said the slight as co-writer of the song that eventually became Clapton’s anthem “would come to haunt me the rest of my life.” Not to mention cost her a small fortune in royalties.

Here’s how Coolidge says she came to contribute to the writing of Layla:

In 1970, before she became famous, Coolidge was a respected back-up singer for groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and was dating drummer Jim Gordon.

One day, Coolidge says, she and Gordon sat down at the piano and wrote a song from a riff that had been playing in Gordon’s head. Coolidge added chords and united what he calls “his melody and my sweet counter melody.” 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.

Coolidge and Gordon eventually had a bitter break up and the song fell to the backburner, or so she thought.

A year later, in 1971, while at a photo shot for her upcoming 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 Higher and Higher, We’re All Alone Now and All Time High, said she tried to get credit for her part of the songwriting and even approached Clapton’s manager, the late Robert Stigwood — who told her, rudely, to get lost.

“You’re going to go up against Stiggy? The Robert Stigwood Organization? Who do you think you are? You’re a girl singer — what are you going to do?,” Coolidge writes of the exchange in the book.

So who does Coolidge feel cheated her out of her songwriter credit?

“There was no way Jim could have forgotten we’d written the song together. And, frankly, I don’t think Eric could have, either.”

Gordon could confirm Coolidge’s story, but he’s a schizophrenic who murdered his mother in 1983 and is serving time in a California prison.

Coolidge, who eventually married Kris Kristofferson, makes another clarification in her book. She didn’t break up Crosby, Stills & Nash when she left Crosby for Nash. “There were tensions in the band long before I arrived,” she writes.

Delta Lady, a Memoir by Rita Coolidge with Michael Walker (Harper) goes on sale in April.

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