Jim Gordon, a top drummer for Eric Clapton, George Harrison and countless others who was diagnosed with schizophrenia after his mother’s murder in 1983, has passed away.
According to the announcement, he died of natural causes Monday at the California Medical Facility in Vacavillle, Calif., after a long incarceration and a lifelong battle with mental illness. He turned 77.
A member of Clapton’s group Derek and the Dominos, Gordon is the credited co-writer of the 1970 classic hit song “Layla”, and has played on literally hundreds of songs as part of the elite crew 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 main drummers on George Harrison’s seminal 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 60s and 70s rock 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 — who whip 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 day, but his long-term, ill-treated mental illness resulted in his mother’s murder.
Born in 1945, he grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley and began his professional career the day after graduating from high school in 1963, playing with the Everly Brothers. He cut his teeth as a session musician on hits by many of the aforementioned artists, and occasionally toured 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 on tour with Cocker in 1970, he assaulted singer Rita Coolidge, his girlfriend at the time. Coolidge, quoted in Bill Janovitz’s biography of Leon Russell, says, “Jim said very quietly so only I could hear, ‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ He meant he just wanted to talk. So we walked out of the room together… And then he hit me so hard I was lifted off the floor and slammed into the wall across the hall… It came out of nowhere.
Although he had been treated for a mental illness, Gordon had previously shown little or no sign 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 eyes and i knew he wasn’t playing with a full deck.
However, the tour and Gordon’s busy career continued, culminating in Derek and the Dominos – Gordon is credited with the piano-driven, instrumental second half of “Layla” (although two of his bandmates insist that the composition was actually written by Coolidge ). His career continued into the 1970s 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 so. He was then officially diagnosed with schizophrenia and was sentenced in 1984 to 16 years to life in prison. He was paroled several times, which was rejected.