Jim Gordon, A Drummer who played with Derek and the Dominos Layla and other selected love songs and the beach boys pet sounds, died on Monday at the age of 77. The musician, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was serving a prison sentence for the 1983 murder of his mother, died at a state medical facility in Vacaville, California. Publicist Bob Merlis confirmed Gordon’s death in a statement, adding that Gordon died of natural causes.
In addition to his incredible catalog of recordings, Gordon is also known for co-writing “Layla” with Eric Clapton, as he is credited with writing the song’s famous piano coda. (Organist Bobby Whitlock has since claimed that Gordon plagiarized the role from something written by Gordon’s ex-girlfriend, Rita Coolidge. Coolidge also accused Gordon of physical abuse.)
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Before the layla However, Gordon – born James Beck Gordon on July 14, 1945 and raised in Sherman Oaks, California – was a member of the group of session players called the Wrecking Crew, a protégé of drumming legend Hal Blaine. “When I didn’t have time,” Blaine explained Rolling Stone 1985: “I recommended Jim. He was a damn good drummer. I thought he was one of the real comers.”
Gordon’s drum features on recordings by John Lennon, Cher, the Byrds (The infamous Byrd brothers), Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits (The heart of Saturday night), Neil Diamond, George Harrison (All things must pass), Yoko Ono, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Mel Torme and many others. He can be heard on Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain, Mason Williams’ Classical Gas and Glen Campbell’s Gentle on My Mind.
Gordon, ranked number 59 At Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time was so highly regarded for his precision and skill, despite his shortened career, that he even became the session drummer of choice for some of rock’s most notorious perfectionists, including Frank Zappa (who hired him for his Grand Wazoo Band and “apostrophe‘, for which Gordon received co-writing credit) and Steely Dan, who hired Gordon to play on their 1974 LP pretzel logic and that album’s hit “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”
Gordon was also the drummer on half of Harry Nilsson’s classic Nilsson Schmillsonand provided the famous drum solo on that album’s “Jump Into the Fire” which – like “Layla” – later formed the soundtrack of a key sequence in the film Goodfellas.
Gordon also became an unlikely figure in the rise of hip-hop after DJ Kool Herc began inspiring Bronx dancers with Gordon’s drum break from the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache.” “Everyone started looking for the perfect beat and trying to beat that record,” Herc recalls. “They still can’t beat that record to this day.”
However, in the mid-1970s, Gordon started having addiction problems. “I think I was an alcoholic,” he said Rolling Stone 1985. “Before, I drank every night, but I didn’t get up in the morning for a drink; I would stick a needle in my arm. When I stopped taking heroin, I started drinking all day.” He began to hear voices in his head, and in the late 1970s his mother urged him to get help. He went to a psychiatric hospital, where he told doctors his mother was “the only girlfriend” he had.
“He used to talk to me about hearing voices, but I told him his consciousness was talking to him,” Whitlock said Rolling Stone in 2013. “He said it was someone else. Apparently, he never stopped or even eased his drug and alcohol use. The end result was the destruction of his family.”
“I couldn’t take being outside anymore,” Gordon said. “The voices chased me around. Makes me go to different places. starve me. I was only allowed one bite per meal. And if I disobeyed, the voices would fill me with rage like the Hulk gets.”
As Gordon’s mental health deteriorated, so did his standing in the music industry, and despite over a dozen voluntary visits to psychiatric hospitals, he was never diagnosed with a mental illness. While Gordon’s mind harbored multiple voices, the most dominant was that of his mother, who had grown louder and more relentless in his mind, Gordon said, even threatening to destroy his gold records and, meanwhile, forcing him from a gig as Paul to Anka’s drummer flee a residence in Las Vegas.
On June 3, 1983, Gordon murdered his mother, Osa Marie Gordon, with a hammer and butcher knife. The following year he was sentenced to 16 years of life imprisonment. “I had no interest in killing [my mother]”, Gordon told Rolling Stone 1985. “I wanted to stay away from her. I had no choice. It was so natural, like being led like a zombie. She wanted me to kill her and get well soon.”
“I had no idea he had a psychotic history of visions and hearing voices from a young age,” Clapton said Rolling Stone in 1991. “It was never obvious when we worked together. It just seemed bad vibes, the worst kind of bad vibes. I never would have said he was going insane. For me it was just the drugs.”
While Gordon had been eligible for parole for decades, he never attended hearings on his own behalf, including In 2013 and in 2018, when a parole board considered he still posed “an unreasonable risk of a threat to public safety.”
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