LOS ANGELES — Jim Gordon, the famed session drummer who backed Eric Clapton and The Beach Boys before he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and jailed for his mother’s murder, has died. He was 77.
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 is being determined by the Solano County Coroner.
Gordon was the drummer for 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 has been credited with providing the elegiac piano coda for “Layla”. The group’s keyboardist, Bobby Whitlock, later claimed that Gordon took the piano tune 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 angry,” Coolidge wrote. “What they clearly did was take the song that Jim and I wrote, ditched the lyrics and pinned them to the end of Eric’s song. It was almost the same arrangement.”
Coolidge said she took comfort in the fact that Gordon’s royalties on his songs went to his daughter Amy.
Gordon is featured 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 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, and Tom Petty others the Heartbreakers and Barbra Streisand, among others.
Gordon’s mental health eventually deteriorated.
In 1970 Gordon was part of Joe Cocker’s famous “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” tour with Coolidge, then a backup singer, before embarking on a successful solo career.
She wrote in her memoir that Gordon punched her in the eye one night in a hotel corridor, “so hard that I was lifted off the floor and slammed against the wall across the hall”. She was briefly knocked unconscious.
Two weeks before the tour, Coolidge appeared with a black eye. She did not file a battery lawsuit 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 a voice told him to do it.
It was only after his arrest for second-degree murder that Gordon was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Gordon was sentenced to 16 years of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. However, he was denied parole several times 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 neighborhood 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 Los Angeles session musicians who played hundreds of hits in the 1960s and ’70s.
He was a protégé of drum legend Hal Blaine.
“When I didn’t have time, I recommended Jim,” Blaine told Rolling Stone in 1985. “He was a damn good drummer. I thought he was one of the real comers.”