Jim Gordon, the famed session drummer who backed Eric Clapton and The Beach Boys before being diagnosed with schizophrenia and going to prison for killing his mother, has died. He was 77.
Gordon died Monday at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed Thursday. It’s believed he died of natural causes, but the official cause will be determined by the Solano County coroner.
Gordon was the drummer in the blues-rock supergroup Derek and the Dominos, led by Clapton. He played on their 1970 double album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and toured with them.
Gordon was credited with contributing the elegiac piano coda for Layla. The group’s keyboardist Bobby Whitlock later claimed Gordon took the piano melody from his then-girlfriend, singer Rita Coolidge, and didn’t give her 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 infuriated,” Coolidge wrote. “What they’d clearly done was take the song Jim and I had written, jettisoned the lyrics, and tacked it on to the end of Eric’s song. It was almost the same arrangement.”
Coolidge said she took solace in the fact that Gordon’s song royalties went to his daughter, Amy.
Gordon can be heard on George Harrison’s first post-Beatles album All Things Must Pass, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, and Steely Dan’s 1974 song Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.
He 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 mental health eventually declined.
In 1970, Gordon was part of Joe Cocker’s famed Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, along with Coolidge, then a backup singer before going on to a successful solo career.
She wrote in her memoir that one night in a hotel hallway, Gordon hit her in the eye “so hard that I was lifted off the floor and slammed against the wall on the other side of the hallway.” She was briefly knocked unconscious.
With two weeks left of the tour, Coolidge performed with a black eye. She didn’t file battery charges against Gordon but did sign a restraining order, and their relationship ended.
In June 1983, he attacked his 71-year-old mother, Osa Gordon, with a hammer and then fatally stabbed her with a butcher knife. He claimed that a voice told him to do it.
It wasn’t until 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 denied parole several times after not attending 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, backing The Everly Brothers.
Gordon was a member of The Wrecking Crew, a famed group of Los Angeles-based session musicians who played on hundreds of hits in the 1960s and ‘70s.
He was a protégé of drum legend Hal Blaine.
“When I didn’t have the time, I recommended Jim,” Blaine told Rolling Stone in 1985. “He was one hell of a drummer. I thought he was one of the real comers.”