Rita Coolidge was one of the most popular female singers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with smash hit songs like “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” and “We’re All Alone,” but her early days in the music industry were tainted by men who used and controlled her.
The New York Post posted excerpts from Coolidge’s new memoir, Delta Lady, in which the Grammy-winning songstress detailed some of her biggest personal and professional struggles in the male-dominated music industry of the 1970s.
In her book, Rita Coolidge reveals that her former boyfriend, Jim Gordon, took a song they wrote together and used it for one of Eric Clapton’s biggest hits without giving her any credit. Rita claims Gordon, who was Eric Clapton’s drummer at the time, took her “counter melody” to a piano progression she wrote in 1969 and then played it for Clapton. Coolidge and Gordon had written lyrics to the song, which they titled “Time (Don’t Let The World Get In Our Way),” and they even recorded a demo, but they never did anything else with it. But in 1970, Rita was listening to the radio when she heard the familiar progression that she had composed. The song? “Layla” by Clapton’s band, Derek and the Dominos.
Coolidge claims her ex-boyfriend, Jim Gordon, re-worked the tune for Clapton without her permission, and never gave her any credit. The song would go on to become one of the biggest rock songs of all time, but Rita didn’t say anything for fear of Gordon’s temper. Rita’s relationship with Jim Gordon ended after he punched her in the eye while they were on tour, and Gordon was later found guilty of murdering his mother and is currently incarcerated in a psychiatric prison.
In her book, Coolidge details an earlier relationship with rhythm and blues legend Leon Russell, who wrote the song “Delta Lady” about her. Joe Cocker recorded the hit 1969 song, and Coolidge ended her relationship with Russell because she claims he wanted her to have a threesome with him and Cocker’s bassist, Carl Radle.
Rita also revealed that her relationship with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young alum Stephen Stills was a bona fide rock ‘n’ roll love triangle. The duo collaborated on the 1970 Stephen Stills hit, “Love the One You’re With,” and his bandmate Graham Nash expressed interest in taking her out. But when Rita called him to firm up the plans, Stills answered the phone and told her Graham had changed his mind, so he took her out instead. Stills went on to pen the song “Cherokee” about Rita, but she still had her eye on Graham Nash. She later found out that Nash had never cancelled his plans with her and that Stills had made the story up.
After Coolidge ended the relationship, Stills wrote “Love Rita” on the bathroom mirror of a motel he was staying at and landed in the hospital after he downed a handful of pills.
“When I heard about it, the story didn’t surprise me, because Stephen was always about drama.”
Coolidge went on to date Graham Nash, but she reveals that his bandmate, David Crosby, never liked her, and once even accused her of putting Quaaludes in a pot of beans she made. He called her the devil, and later blamed Rita for the demise of his longtime band.
“David maintains to this day that I’m the reason Crosby, Stills & Nash eventually broke up. But the problems in that group existed long before I came into the scene.”
Of course, Rita’s most high-profile relationship was with actor/singer Kris Kristofferson. While they were the celebrity power couple of the mid 1970s, winning two Grammy Awards for their famous musical duets, Coolidge paints a much darker picture of their relationship. Rita described the actor as “controlling” and a heavy drinker who cheated on her constantly, and she said things only got worse after he became a movie star with his role in the 1976 blockbuster, A Star Is Born.
“He questioned me about everything.”
Coolidge and Kristofferson divorced in 1979, but not before he allegedly punched her while in a drunken stupor. (Coolidge says her then-husband later apologized profusely for hitting her and didn’t even remember doing it.) While the marriage ended, Rita told People she is still on good terms with her ex.
“Kris and I have a connection and we laugh at stuff that nobody else gets. We just have a bond that is beyond any kind of understanding.”
At at 70-years-old, Rita is back in control of her personal and her professional life. She has a new album in the works, her 21st solo record, and she hasn’t ruled out reuniting with Kristofferson, 79, to perform together again someday.
“Never say never. There are still people who would be happy if we came out in wheelchairs just to sing one more time.”
Take a look at the video below to see Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson in 1978.
[Photo by Keystone/Getty Images]