LOS ANGELES — Jim Gordon, the famed session drummer who backed Eric Clapton and The Beach Boys before he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and went to jail for killing his mother, has died. He was 77 years old.
Gordon died Monday at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed Thursday. He is believed to have died of natural causes, but the official cause will be determined by the Solano County Coroner.
Gordon was the drummer for blues-rock supergroup Derek and the Dominos, fronted by Clapton. He performed on their 1970 double album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” and toured with them.
Gordon has been credited with contributing the elegiac piano coda to “Layla”. The band’s keyboardist Bobby Whitlock later claimed that Gordon took the piano melody from his then-girlfriend, singer Rita Coolidge, and gave her no credit.
Coolidge wrote in her 2016 memoir “Delta Lady” that the song was called “Time” when she and Gordon wrote it. They played it for Clapton when they went to England to record with him.
“I was furious,” Coolidge wrote. “What they had clearly done was take the song that Jim and I had written, throw the lyrics out and paste it at the end of Eric’s song. It was almost the same arrangement.”
Coolidge said she was comforted that the royalties from Gordon’s song went to her daughter, Amy.
Gordon can be heard on George Harrison’s first post-Beatles album “All Things Must Pass”, the Beach Boys album “Pet Sounds” and Steely Dan’s 1974 song “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”.
He has also worked with Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, The Byrds, Judy Collins, Alice Cooper, Crosby Stills & Nash, Delaney & Bonnie, Neil Diamond, Art Garfunkel, Merle Haggard, Hall & Oates, Carole King, Harry Nilsson, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Barbra Streisand, among others.
Gordon’s sanity eventually declined.
In 1970, Gordon was part of Joe Cocker’s famous “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” tour, with Coolidge, then backup singer before embarking on a successful solo career.
She wrote in her memoir that one night in a hotel hallway, Gordon punched her in the eye “so hard that I was lifted off the floor and slammed against the wall across the hall”. She was briefly knocked out.
With two weeks to go, Coolidge performed with a black eye. She did not file battery charges against Gordon, but signed a restraining order and their relationship ended.
In June 1983, he attacked his 71-year-old mother, Osa Gordon, with a hammer, then fatally stabbed her with a butcher’s knife. He claimed that a voice told him to do so.
It was only after his arrest for second degree murder that Gordon was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Gordon was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole. However, he was repeatedly denied parole after failing to attend any of the hearings and remained in prison until his death.
Born James Beck Gordon on July 14, 1945, in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, he began his professional career at age 17, supporting the Everly Brothers.
Gordon was a member of The Wrecking Crew, a famous group of session musicians based in Los Angeles who played on hundreds of hits in the 1960s and 1970s.
He was a protege of drumming legend Hal Blaine.
“When I didn’t have time, I recommended Jim,” Blaine told Rolling Stone in 1985. “He was a hell of a drummer. I thought he was one of the real comers.”