Jim Gordon, one of the best drummers of Eric Clapton, George Harrison and countless others who was diagnosed with schizophrenia after the murder of his mother in 1983, has died.
According to the announcement, he died Monday of natural causes at the California Medical Facility in Vacavillle, Calif., after a long incarceration and a lifelong battle with mental illness. He was 77 years old.
Gordon was a member of Clapton’s band Derek and the Dominos and is the credited co-writer of the classic 1970 hit “Layla”, and performed on hundreds of songs as part of the elite team of session musicians known as the name of Wrecking Crew. He was also a member of Joe Cocker’s band Mad Dogs and Englishmen and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and was one of the main drummers on George Harrison’s 1970 vintage album “All Things Must Pass”. His work on the Incredible Bongo Band’s 1972 song Apache is one of the most sampled drum breaks in hip-hop history.
Any casual rock fan of the 1960s and 1970s has heard his playing on songs by the Beach Boys (including the album “Pet Sounds”), Steely Dan (“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”), Carly Simon (” You’re So Vain”), Gordon Lightfoot, Harry Nilsson, Sonny and Cher, Nancy Sinatra, Glen Campbell, Leon Russell and even the Byrds – that whiplash at the end of their 1967 cover of “Goin’ Back” by Carole King and Gerry Goffin was played by him.He was unquestionably one of the greatest rock drummers of his time, but his long and poorly treated mental illness led to the murder of his mother.
Born in 1945, he grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley and began his professional career the day after he graduated from high school in 1963, playing with the Everly Brothers. He cut his teeth as a session musician on hits by many of the artists above, occasionally touring with Delaney and Bonnie, Cocker and Derek and the Dominos.
However, he had a history of mental illness, and his behavior became unstable in the late 1960s. While touring with Cocker in 1970, he assaulted singer Rita Coolidge, his girlfriend at the time. Quoted in Bill Janovitz’s Biography of Leon Russell, Coolidge says, “Jim said very softly, so that I would be the only one to hear, ‘Can I just talk to you for a minute?’ He meant he wanted to talk alone. So we walked out of the room together… And then he hit me so hard that I was lifted off the floor and banged against the wall across the hall… It came out of nowhere.
While being treated for a mental illness, Gordon had previously shown little to no signs of unstable behavior to fellow musicians. “He was an amazing guy, so charismatic,” Coolidge continued. “[But] after everything that happened i started to recognize that look in his eyes and i knew he wasn’t playing a full game.
However, Gordon’s touring and busy career continued, culminating with Derek and the Dominos – Gordon is credited with the instrumental and piano second half of “Layla” (although two of his bandmates insist that the composition was written by Coolidge). His career continued into the 70s working with Alice Cooper, Steely Dan, Dave Mason, Helen Reddy, Frank Zappa, Johnny Rivers and many more.
In June 1983, he bludgeoned and then stabbed his 72-year-old mother to death, claiming voices had told him to do so. He was later officially diagnosed with schizophrenia and in 1984 was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. He was released on parole several times, which was denied.