June 5, 1990 – Jim Hodder was born on December 17, 1947 in in the small Long Island hamlet of Bethpage, New York in 1947. He graduated from Plainedge High School in the Plainedge Union Free School District in 1965 and relocated thereafter to the Boston area, where he became active in the local music scene.
As drummer and lead vocalist, he joined the Boston-based psychedelic rock group The Bead Game, named after Hermann Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game. The group built a local following before attracting the attention of Avco Records and producer Gary Kannon, later known as Gary Katz. Their first album, Baptism, was cancelled, though it would receive a posthumous release in 1996 with a limited run.
In 1970 they appeared in the film The People Next Door in which they performed two songs, and soon thereafter recorded the album Easy Ridin’ as part of the collective Freedom Express. 1970 also saw the release of the band’s only proper album, Welcome, on Avco/Embassy. This album showcased a late psychedelic/early progressive crossover sound, and featured Hodder singing lead vocals on all tracks.
In 1972, Hodder accepted an invitation from Katz and Boston guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter to relocate to Los Angeles and join Steely Dan, a new group built around songwriters Donald Fagen and Walter Becker with whom the two were working. He made the move with his girlfriend Kathi Kamen Goldmark, later a successful author and musician. He barely knew the other band members prior to beginning tracking for their first records.
Hodder acted as the group’s drummer, but was also given occasional lead vocal duties thanks to Fagen’s insecurities as a vocalist. He sang lead on “Dallas”, the A-side on their initial two-song single, and the “Midnite Cruiser” cut on their debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill. The band soon embarked upon extensive touring in the wake of their early commercial success. Hodder’s drumming featured on the entirety of the follow-up album, Countdown to Ecstasy, a band-focused effort recorded the following year after the group’s sound had cohered on the road.
Jim Hodder, “percussionist, bronze god, pulse of the rhythm section,” was the original drummer for Steely. Burly, with large hands, Hodder brought a syncopated, pert style to the music. He exemplified “tasty,” a common term then used among musicians to describe one who was creative but not overly flashy. His drumming seemed part BJ Wilson from Procol Harum, part Bobby Colomby from Blood, Sweat & Tears, and part Ringo. He wed lots of straight 8th notes on the hi-hat with snappy tom fills. An attention to detail is apparent from his articulate press rolls on “Dirty Work” to the rags-style bossa groove he played on “Do It Again.”
“Bodhisaitva,” the first song on Countdown to Ecstasy, kicks off with snare drum/hi-hat blasts from Hodder. Along with the rest of the band, Hodder’s playing reflects a new looseness and confidence. Instead of striking a closed hi-hat with the tip, more of a swinging bash is employed, using the shank. He’s more aggressive, playing Richie Hayward-ish fusion on the sci-fi “King of The World”.
Like Idris Muhammad or Herbie Lovelle from the l960s Prestige-era jazz recordings, Hodder maintained a snakey, slinky touch. He was still playing rock, but with a jazzer’s approach. His drums were tuned a bit lower; and the cymbals seemed to ring more, matching the Indian flare of “Your Gold Teeth” or the country twang of “Pearl Of The Quarter.” However, by 1974 this was it for Hodder as far as Steely Dan was concerned. Though a strong drummer and timekeeper, he lacked the definitive personality that might have kept him on Becker and Fagen’s first-call list.
Nonetheless, Countdown is the album that set the course for Steely Dan. They continued to refine and redefine their music with each successive album, becoming more exacting and demanding with the performances and the overall sound, while writing more stunning compositions.
Hodder continued working as a session musician. He played drums on Linda Ronstadt’s 1974 single “You’re No Good”, and tracks on the 1976 albums Nine on a Ten Scale by Sammy Hagar and Sibling Rivalry by The Rowans. He later appeared as the sole drummer on David Soul’s Playing to an Audience of One and Rocky Sullivan’s 1984 Caught in the Crossfire record.
Jim Hodder drowned in his swimming pool on June 5, 1990. He was 42.