Jim Gordon, a renowned drummer who played with Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and many other musicians, has passed away. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia after killing his mother in 1983.
After a protracted period of incarceration and a lifelong struggle with mental illness, he passed away naturally on Monday (March 13, 2023) at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California. He was 77. As a Clapton band Derek and the Dominos member, Gordon is acknowledged for co-writing the timeless hit song “Layla” from 1970.
He also contributed to hundreds of other songs as a member of the Wrecking Crew, an exclusive group of session musicians. He played with Delaney, Bonnie, Friends, and Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” band. He was one of the primary drummers on George Harrison’s seminal 1970 album “All Things Must Pass.”
One of hip-hop’s most frequently sampled drum breaks is his work on the 1972 song “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest rock drummers of his time, yet his mother was killed because of a long-term, poorly managed-mental condition.
Gordon, a 1945-born Californian in the San Fernando Valley, picked up the drums as a child. He was granted a music scholarship to UCLA as a young man playing in rock bands and the Burbank Symphony, but turned it down and joined the Everly Brothers for a tour of the UK right after high school in 1963.
One of the most in-demand drummers in the industry, he got his start playing as a session musician on songs by many of the artists mentioned above. He occasionally toured with groups like Delaney and Bonnie, Joe Cocker, and Derek and the Dominos.
However, he had a history of mental illness and, in 1970, assaulted singer Rita Coolidge, his girlfriend at the time, while both were on tour with Cocker. Quoted in Bill Janovitz’s Leon Russell biography, Coolidge says (as reported by Kiro7)
“Jim said very quietly, so only I could hear, ‘Can I talk to you for just 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 slammed against the wall on the other side of the hallway… It came from nowhere.”
Gordon quietly had received outpatient treatment for his condition and previously exhibited few, if any, signs of it to his fellow musicians. Coolidge continued (as reported by The Tech Education)
“He was an amazing guy, just really so charismatic. [But] after everything happened, I started to recognize that look in his eye and knew that he was not playing with a full deck.”
But after the assault, the tour and Gordon’s active career continued, peaking with Derek and the Dominos. Gordon is credited with the piano-driven, instrumental second half of “Layla,” but Coolidge claims it is a song she co-wrote with him that was later released as “Time,” a claim supported by two of their bandmates.
He collaborated with several artists during the ensuing years, including Tom Petty, Dave Mason, Alice Cooper, Helen Reddy, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Johnny Rivers, Joan Baez, and Steely Dan. Yet as the 1970s went on, his actions became more unpredictable and psychotic due to drug and alcohol misuse.
He attacked a lover and singer, Renee Armand, to whom he briefly married. When word of his ailment spread, work started to dry up, and he repeatedly checked into hospitals. After displaying threatening behavior for several weeks, Gordon killed his 72-year-old mother on June 3, 1983, alleging that voices had instructed him to do it.
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After receiving a formal diagnosis of schizophrenia, he was given a sentence of 16 years to life in jail in 1984. He was interviewed for a lengthy article in Rolling Stone the following year and revealed the voices he had heard in his brain for most of his life.
He also said he had “no interest in killing” his mother but was instead “being lead like a zombie.” He applied for parole several times during the ensuing years, but each time it was rejected. Amy, a daughter from his first marriage, is his only surviving child.
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