LOS ANGELES — 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 passed away. He turned 77.
Gordon died Monday at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed Thursday. It is 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, fronted 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 that Gordon took the piano tune from his then-girlfriend, singer Rita Coolidge, and did not 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 furious,” Coolidge wrote. “Clearly what they’d done was take the song Jim and I wrote, jettison the lyrics and stick it at the end of Eric’s song. It was almost the same arrangement.”
Coolidge said she took comfort 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’ album “Pet Sounds”, 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 including the Heartbreakers and Barbra Streisand.
Gordon’s mental health eventually declined.
In 1970, Gordon was part of Joe Cocker’s famous “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” tour along with Coolidge, then a backup singer, before embarking on a successful solo career.
She wrote in her memoirs 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 did not press 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 a voice told him to do it.
It was not until after his arrest for manslaughter that Gordon was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Gordon was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole. However, he was paroled 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 section of Los Angeles, he began his professional career at the age of 17 as a backup for The Everly Brothers.
Gordon was a member of The Wrecking Crew, a famous group of Los Angeles session musicians who played on hundreds of hits during the 1960s and 1970s.
He was a protege of drumming legend Hal Blaine.
“When I didn’t have time, I recommended Jim,” Blaine told Rolling Stone in 1985. “He was a great drummer. I thought he was one of the real newcomers.”