Obituary: Jim Gordon – session drummer (77) 2023)

Original ‘Wrecking Crew’ musician played on Pet Sounds and with Steely Dan,  Bobby Darin, Judy Collins, the Righteous Brothers,  Derek and the Dominos, Joe Cocker, George Harrison, Traffic…

Photo: Jim Gordon in 1971. Photograph: Brian Cooke/Redferns

16 March 2023 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

Jim Gordon, session drummer on dozens of hits such as Layla, dies aged 77

16 March 2023 | Ben Beaumont-Thomas | The Guardian

Jim Gordon, a session drummer in the 1960s and 70s who contributed to hits by the Beach Boys, Steely Dan and dozens more, has died aged 77.

He died in a psychiatric prison in Vacaville, California. Gordon had been incarcerated since 1983, after he killed his mother during a psychotic episode. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic and sentenced to 16 years to life, but never attended parole hearings and never left prison.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Gordon was a prodigiously talented drummer who turned down a music scholarship to UCLA to pursue music full-time in his teens – an early gig was touring the UK with the Everly Brothers aged 17.

He was championed by fellow drummer Hal Blaine and joined his loose collective of session musicians, the Wrecking Crew. He played with Bobby Darin, Judy Collins, the Righteous Brothers and more, and by the mid 1960s had appeared on the Beach Boys’ masterpiece Pet Sounds, the Byrds’ far-out fifth album The Notorious Byrd Brothers, and the instrumental US No 2 hit Classical Gas by Mason Williams.

He formed a new group, Derek and the Dominos, with Eric Clapton in 1970, its members initially doing session work for George Harrison’s solo classic All Things Must Pass. The group scored a major hit with Layla, co-written by Clapton and Gordon, the latter playing the long ruminative piano coda as well as drums.

His girlfriend, musician Rita Coolidge, claimed she had written the piano part; their relationship had ended when he physically assaulted her in a hotel corridor.

Gordon recorded another 1970s classic, the Incredible Bongo Band’s instrumental Apache, which has since become one of the most sampled tracks of all time. He drummed on Steely Dan’s much-loved third album Pretzel Logic; Harry Nilsson’s album Nilsson Schmilsson; Maria Muldaur’s 1974 hit Midnight at the Oasis; and albums or tours with Traffic, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper, Art Garfunkel and more.

His career faltered as his mental health deteriorated. He reported hearing voices in his head, which he said “started out friendly, they were giving me little pointers” but later, “I had to make sacrifices, and I had to do what they said”.

He often heard his mother’s voice, claiming it tormented him and told him to eat less. He was violent towards a series of girlfriends, and developed problems with heroin and alcohol as he used them to blot out his mental condition, but despite frequent medical interventions he didn’t maintain steady treatment.

In June 1983, he attacked his mother, 71-year-old Osa Marie Gordon, with a hammer and knife, fatally wounding her. “I had no interest in killing her,” he said in 1985. “I wanted to stay away from her. I had no choice. It was so matter-of-fact, like I was being guided like a zombie. She wanted me to kill her.”

He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and the diagnosis was acknowledged by the court, but changes to California law had placed a high threshold on insanity defences, and Gordon was found guilty of second-degree murder.

After his imprisonment, Gordon resisted contact with lawyers and often resisted taking medication for his mental health condition. At a 2018 parole hearing, which he did not attend, he was still deemed to pose “an unreasonable risk of threat to public safety”.

Jim Gordon Jim McCrary/Redferns

Jim Gordon Biography

by Bruce Eder | All Music

Jim Gordon is one of the more renowned rock drummers of the early ’70s, and also one of the saddest cases in rock music. Born in California in 1945, Gordon began playing drums as a boy, and by the end of the 1960s was one of the top drummers in Los Angeles, having worked with the Everly BrothersJoe CockerAndy Williams, and Glen Campbell, among others.

Over six feet tall and extremely muscular, he created a startling figure on-stage and played with a power and stamina that made him a top choice among the younger generation of percussionists.

He was one of the two busiest session drummers in Los Angeles, second only to the legendary Hal Blaine, when he found himself unexpectedly thrust into a regular band situation — he was recruited into the Delaney & Bonnie band after their regular drummer, Jim Keltner, pulled out ahead of a tour. The Delaney & Bonnie tour paired him off with veteran bassist Carl Radle, with whom Gordon became a musical double act over the next couple of years.

Thanks to Eric Clapton‘s association with Delaney & Bonnie and his appreciation of their work, Gordon and Radle, along with keyboard player Bobby Whitlock, ended up on Clapton‘s first solo album and also played with Clapton on George Harrison‘s All Things Must Pass — that album, in turn, paired him with Ringo Starr, then the most famous drummer in the world (albeit not for being a drummer so much as being the Beatles‘ drummer), and elevated him to star status before the public; his drumming became some of the most recognizable in the business, second only to Blaine and perhaps Ringo. It was then a short jump — growing out of the “Apple Jam” sessions on the Harrison album — to the formation of Derek and the Dominos, the Eric Clapton band whose short-lived career generated the single “Layla” and the accompanying album, which became two of the biggest selling records of the 1970s. Gordon not only played on the album but also co-authored the title song with Clapton, contributing the extended instrumental finale. Over the next few years, Gordon was fully employed within the music business and highly visible, playing with everyone from Joan Baez to Frank Zappa.

Behind his fame and success, however, was a dark side to Gordon’s persona that few listeners and few fellow musicians ever knew about. Gordon had always seemed an improbable match to his profession and era, a wide-eyed, all-American-looking California type who only fit in with the late-’60s rock fast lane by virtue of his talent.

In retrospect, that division between his appearance and demeanor, and his career and environment, seemed to reflect something more serious in the way of a split within Gordon himself. Behind that all-American mask was a personality torn by serious psychological demons — the details are sketchy at best, but involve schizophrenia and other aspects of mental illness.

As early as 1969 he would go off for days in spurts of bizarre, self-destructive private behavior. According to some accounts, he often heard a “voice” inside of his head that directed him at various times to act out — whatever the particulars and the pathology, by 1981, he was unable to continue in music, and finally, in 1983, the voice told Gordon to kill his mother, which he did. He was sentenced in 1984 to a term of 16 years to life, and remains in prison as of 2003.

Ironically, thanks to his composer’s credit and the continued sales, radio play, and licensed uses of “Layla” — including Clapton‘s Grammy-winning acoustic re-recording — and some of the other records on which he worked to which he is entitled to royalties,

Gordon is probably in the best legitimate financial condition of virtually any non-white-collar/non-drug felon in California. Coupled with the deaths of Duane Allman and Carl Radle, and the self-imposed retirement for years of Bobby Whitlock, Gordon’s fate only fits into the unfulfilled promise and the tragic, star-crossed lives of every member of the Dominos — one of the great superstar groups of the 1970s, despite their short existence — except for Eric Clapton.

Below is a fraction of the recordings Jim Gordon appeared on over the years. See the complete list here


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