Jim Gordon, a top drummer for Eric Clapton, George Harrison and countless others who was diagnosed with schizophrenia after murdering his mother in 1983, has died.
According to the release, he died Monday of natural causes at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California, after a long incarceration and lifelong battle with mental illness. He was 77.
Gordon was a member of Clapton’s group Derek and the Dominos and is the credited co-writer of the classic 1970 hit “Layla,” playing literally hundreds of songs as part of the elite team of session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. He was also a member of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen group and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and was one of the lead drummers on George Harrison’s epochal 1970 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 fan of 1960s and 70s rock has heard his playing on songs by the Beach Boys (including the “Pet Sounds” album), 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 whip drum fills in at the end of their 1967 cover of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Goin’ Back ” was played by him. He was undeniably one of the greatest rock drummers of his era, but his long, mistreated mental illness resulted in the murder of his mother.
Born in 1945, he was raised in the San Fernando Valley of California and began his professional career the day after graduating high school in 1963, playing with the Everly Brothers. He cut his teeth as a session musician on hits by many of the above artists, occasionally touring with the likes of Delaney and Bonnie, Cocker and Derek and the Dominos.
However, he had a history of mental illness and his behavior became erratic in the late 1960s. While on tour with Cocker in 1970, he assaulted singer Rita Coolidge, his girlfriend at the time. Quoted in Bill Janovitz’s Leon Russell biography, Coolidge says, “Jim said very quietly, so that only I could hear, ‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ He thought he wanted to talk alone. So we went out of the room together … And then he hit me so hard that I was lifted off the floor and slammed against the wall across the hall … It came from nowhere.”
While he had been treated for mental illness, Gordon had previously shown little if any signs of unstable behavior towards his fellow musicians. “He was a great guy, just really so charismatic,” Coolidge continued. “(But) after everything happened, I started to recognize that look in his eye and knew he wasn’t playing with a full deck.”
However, the tour and Gordon’s busy career continued, peaking with Derek and the Dominos—Gordon is credited with the piano-driven, instrumental second half of “Layla” (although two of his bandmates insist the composition was actually written by Coolidge). His career continued through the 70s through work with Alice Cooper, Steely Dan, Dave Mason, Helen Reddy, Frank Zappa, Johnny Rivers and many others.
In June 1983, he bludgeoned and then stabbed his 72-year-old mother to death, claiming voices told him to do it. He was then officially diagnosed with schizophrenia and in 1984 was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. He was up for parole several times, which was denied.