Jim Gordon, a drummer who plays for Derek and the Dominos Layla and other assorted love songs and the Beach Boys Pet sounds, died Monday at age 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 sharing songwriting credit on “Layla” with Eric Clapton, as he is credited for the song’s famous piano coda. (Organist Bobby Whitlock has since claimed that Gordon plagiarized the part from something Gordon’s ex-girlfriend, Rita Coolidge, had written. Coolidge also accused Gordon of physical abuse.)
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Before Leila However, Gordon – who was born James Beck Gordon on July 14, 1945 and grew up in Sherman Oaks, California – was a member of a group of session players called the Wrecking Crew, a protégé of drumming legend Hal Blaine. “When I didn’t have time,” Blaine said A rolling stone in 1985. “I recommended Jim. He was a great drummer. I thought he was one of the real up-and-comers.
Gordon played drums on records by John Lennon, Cher, the Byrds (Notorious 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 more. He can be heard on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”, Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas” and Glenn Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind”.
Gordon, ranked number 59 on A rolling stoneList of the 100 greatest drummers of all time, despite his shortened career, he was so highly regarded for his precision and mastery that he even became the drummer of choice for some of rock’s most famous perfectionists, including Frank Zappa (who included for his band Grand Wazoo as well as “apostrophe,” for which Gordon received a co-writing credit) and Steely Dan, who hired Gordon to play on their 1974 album. Pretzel logic and the hit single from that album “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”.
Gordon was also the drummer for half of Harry Nilsson’s Classics Nilsson Schmilsonand provided the famous drum solo on “Jump Into the Fire” from that album, which – like “Layla” – later soundtracked a key sequence in the film Good boys.
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.” “Everybody started looking for the perfect rhythm, trying to beat that record,” Herc recalls. “They still can’t beat that record to this day.”
However, by the mid-seventies, Gordon began to have problems with addiction. “I guess I was an alcoholic,” he said A rolling stone in 1985. “I used to drink every night, but I didn’t get up in the morning for a drink; I’d stick a needle in my arm. When I quit heroin, I started drinking all day. He started hearing voices in his head and in the late seventies his mother urged him to seek help. He checked himself into a psychiatric hospital, where he told doctors that his mother was the “only friend” he had.
“He was telling me he was hearing voices, but I told him his mind was talking to him,” Whitlock said A rolling stone in 2013. “He said he was someone else. Apparently, he never stopped or even eased up on drugs and alcohol. The end result was the destruction of his family.
“I couldn’t handle being outside anymore,” Gordon said. “The voices haunted me. It makes me drive to different places. To starve me. I was only allowed one bite per meal. And if I disobeyed, the voices would fill me with rage, like the Hulk.
As Gordon’s mental state worsened, so did his position in the music industry, and despite over a dozen voluntary trips to psychiatric hospitals, he was never diagnosed with a mental illness. While there were multiple voices in Gordon’s mind, the most dominant was his mother’s, which grew louder and more ruthless in his head, Gordon said, even threatening to destroy his gold records and forcing him to flee a concert as Paul Anka’s drummer during a Las Vegas residency.
On June 3, 1983, Gordon killed his mother, Ossa Marie Gordon, using a hammer and butcher knife. The following year, he was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. “I had no interest in killing [my mother]Gordon said A rolling stone in 1985. “I wanted to stay away from her. I did not have a choice. It was so matter of fact like I was being led as a zombie. She wanted me to kill her and get rid of her.
“I had no idea he had a psychotic history of visions and hearing voices from a young age,” Clapton said A rolling stone in 1991. “It was never obvious when we were working together. It just seemed like a bad mood, the worst kind of bad mood. I would never say he’s going crazy. For me it was just the drugs.
Although Gordon has been eligible for parole for decades, he has never attended hearings on his own behalf, including in 2013 and 2018, when a parole board determined he still posed an “unreasonable risk of a threat to the public safety”.
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