John Guerin, 64; Star Jazz and Pop Drummer

Times Staff Writer

John Guerin, a drummer who was best known as a founding member of the L.A. Express and for his contributions to an innovative Joni Mitchell recording, has died. He was 64.

Guerin, who had a broad resume in both jazz and pop, died Monday of heart failure at West Hills Hospital in West Hills. He had been battling a cold that led to pneumonia, but continued to perform as late as Dec. 30, when he accompanied singer Steve Tyrell at the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. Guerin was hospitalized the next day.

As a performer, producer and arranger, he worked with a number of the leading figures in jazz and pop music in his four-decade career. In the world of jazz, that list included Thelonious Monk, George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald and Roger Kellaway. Among pop and rock figures, besides Mitchell, Guerin played with Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, the Byrds, Lou Rawls and Linda Ronstadt.

In 1975, Guerin was a founding member of the L.A. Express, a jazz fusion band made up of four studio musicians. Led by saxophonist Tom Scott, the top-flight roster included guitarist Robben Ford and bassist Max Bennett.


The band started playing Tuesday-night gigs at the Baked Potato, a small jazz club in North Hollywood. After hearing the group play, Mitchell invited the combo into the studio when she was recording her “Court and Spark” album. The band later went on tour with her as the opening act.

Guerin also collaborated with Mitchell on the title track of her album “The Hissing of Summer Lawns.”

“I’m very proud of that album,” he told Down Beat magazine. “It’s a portrait in sound of the American dream, marriage and suburbia, in a myriad of shapes and forms. The album has touched a lot of people where they didn’t want to be touched. Joni has a way of articulating self-exploration in a very heartfelt way.”

Guerin was born in Hawaii but grew up in the San Diego area.

By his early 20s, he was performing professionally with major figures such as clarinetist Buddy DeFranco.

Guerin played with pianist Shearing in the mid-1960s and was off and running on an eclectic career that included work on film scores, notably those for Clint Eastwood’s biography of Charlie Parker, “Bird,” and the recent Diane Keaton-Jack Nicholson release, “Something’s Gotta Give.”

Guerin is survived by his wife, Michelle Palombi Guerin, of Chatsworth; a son, Scott, of Los Angeles; a sister, Victoria Shoemaker, of Oakland; a brother, Michael, of Santa Rosa; and two grandchildren. Another son, Shaun, died last summer.

The family suggests that donations be made to Guerin’s favorite charity, the Nevada SPCA, 4800 W. Dewey Drive, Suite D, Las Vegas, NV 89118.