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Jim Gordon (musician)

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Jim Gordon
Gordon with Derek and the Dominos
Background information
Birth nameJames Beck Gordon
Born(1945-07-14)July 14, 1945
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedMarch 13, 2023(2023-03-13) (aged 77)
Vacaville, California, U.S.
Years active1963–1980
Formerly of

James Beck Gordon (July 14, 1945 – March 13, 2023) was an American musician, songwriter, and convicted murderer. Gordon was a session drummer in the late 1960s and 1970s and was the drummer in the blues rock supergroup Derek and the Dominos.

In 1983, in a psychotic episode associated with undiagnosed schizophrenia, Gordon murdered his mother and was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison, remaining incarcerated until his death in 2023.

Music career[edit]

Gordon was raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and attended Grant High School.[2] He passed up a music scholarship to UCLA in order to begin his professional career in 1963, at age 17, backing the Everly Brothers. He went on to become one of the most sought-after recording session drummers in Los Angeles. The protégé of studio drummer Hal Blaine, Gordon performed on many notable recordings in the 1960s, including Pet Sounds, by the Beach Boys (1966); The Spirit of '67, by Paul Revere & the Raiders; Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, by Gene Clark (1967); The Notorious Byrd Brothers, by the Byrds (1968); and the hit "Classical Gas", by Mason Williams (1968). At the height of his career Gordon was reportedly so busy as a studio musician that he flew back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas every day to do two or three recording sessions and then returned in time to play the evening show at Caesars Palace.

In 1969 and 1970 Gordon toured as part of the backing band for Delaney & Bonnie, which at the time included Eric Clapton. Clapton subsequently took over the group's rhythm section — Gordon (drummer), Carl Radle (bassist), Bobby Whitlock (keyboardist, singer, songwriter) — and they formed a new band, later called Derek and the Dominos. The band's first studio work was as the house band for George Harrison's three-disc set All Things Must Pass (1970).

Gordon then played on Derek and the Dominos' 1970 double album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and also played with the band on subsequent U.S. and UK tours. The group split in spring 1971 before they finished recording their second album. In addition to his drumming, Gordon was credited with contributing the elegiac piano coda for the title track, "Layla". In later years, Whitlock claimed that the coda was not actually written by Gordon: "Jim took that piano melody from his ex-girlfriend Rita Coolidge. I know because in the D&B days I lived in John Garfield's old house in the Hollywood Hills and there was a guest house with an upright piano in it. Rita and Jim were up there in the guest house and invited me to join in on writing this song with them called "Time". (Her sister Priscilla wound up recording it with Booker T. Jones) Jim took the melody from Rita's song and didn't give her credit for writing it. Her boyfriend ripped her off".[3] Graham Nash (who later dated Coolidge) substantiated Whitlock's claim in his memoir.[4] "Time" was not released by Priscilla Coolidge and Booker T. until 1973, on their album Chronicles.[5]

In 1970 Gordon was part of Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour and played on Dave Mason's album Alone Together. In 1971, he toured with Traffic and appeared on two of their albums, including The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. That same year he played on Harry Nilsson's album Nilsson Schmilsson, contributing the drum solo on the track "Jump into the Fire".

Gordon was the drummer on the Incredible Bongo Band's album Bongo Rock, released in 1972, and his drum break on the LP version of "Apache" has been frequently sampled by rap music artists.[6] He recorded with Frank Zappa, including on the title track of the 1974 album Apostrophe ('). Also in 1972, Gordon played drums on Helen Reddy's Top 20 US album I Am Woman.[citation needed]

In 1973 Gordon played on Johnny Rivers' Blue Suede Shoes as well as on Art Garfunkel's Angel Clare albums, and toured with Rivers through 1974 appearing on the Last Boogie in Paris live album. Also in 1974, Gordon played on most of the tracks on Steely Dan's album Pretzel Logic, including the single "Rikki Don't Lose That Number". He again worked with Chris Hillman of the Byrds as the drummer in the Souther–Hillman–Furay Band from 1973 to 1975. He also played drums on three tracks on Alice Cooper's 1976 album, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell.

Mental health[edit]

Gordon developed schizophrenia and began to hear voices (including his mother's) which compelled him to starve himself and prevented him from sleeping, relaxing or playing drums.[7] His physicians misdiagnosed the problems and instead treated him for alcohol abuse.[citation needed]

While on tour with Joe Cocker in the early 1970s, Gordon reportedly punched his then-girlfriend Rita Coolidge in a hotel hallway, causing her to end their relationship.[8]

Murder of mother, conviction and incarceration[edit]

On June 3, 1983, Gordon attacked his 71-year-old widowed mother, Osa Marie (Beck) Gordon, with a hammer, then fatally stabbed her with a butcher knife, claiming that a voice told him to kill her.[6][9][10]

Only after his arrest for murder was Gordon properly diagnosed with schizophrenia. At his trial, the court accepted that he had acute schizophrenia, but he was not allowed to use an insanity defense because of changes to California law arising from the federal Insanity Defense Reform Act.[7]

On July 10, 1984, Gordon was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.[11] He was first eligible for parole in 1991, but it was denied several times because he never attended a parole hearing.

In 2014, he declined to attend his hearing and was denied parole until at least 2018. A Los Angeles deputy district attorney stated at the hearing that Gordon was still "seriously psychologically incapacitated" and "a danger when he is not taking his medication".[12]

In November 2017, Gordon was rediagnosed with schizophrenia. On March 7, 2018, he was denied parole for the tenth time and was tentatively scheduled to become eligible again in March 2021.[13] At the time of his death in 2023, he was serving his sentence at the California Medical Facility, a medical and psychiatric prison in Vacaville, California.[14]


Gordon died in prison on March 13, 2023, at the age of 77. Two marriages, to singer Renee Armand and dancer Jill Barabe, both ended in divorce. He was survived by his daughter, Amy Gordon, who was born in 1968.[15]

Partial discography[edit]

During his career, Gordon played with a long list of musicians and record producers, including:[16]


  1. ^ "Jim Gordon - Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  2. ^ Kent Hartman, The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Best-Kept Secret (Macmillan Publishers, 2012), ISBN 978-0312619749, p. 235. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  3. ^ "Layla's 40th: The Where's Eric! Interview With Bobby Whitlock". Whereseric.com. Retrieved 2015-06-20.
  4. ^ "Wild Tales" - Crown Publishing Group
  5. ^ "Booker T.* & Priscilla Jones - Chronicles (Vinyl, LP, Album)". Discogs.com. 2011-09-17. Retrieved 2015-06-20.
  6. ^ a b Hermes, Will (October 29, 2006). "All Rise for the National Anthem of Hip-Hop". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-11-01.
  7. ^ a b "The Haunted Talent Behind 'Layla' Jim Gordon Won A Grammy For Co-writing The Song That Eric Clapton Reprised In The '90s. But Honors Mean Little. Gordon Is Serving Time For The 1983 Slaying Of His Mother". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2011-07-05. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  8. ^ Getlen, Larry (2016-04-03). "Rita Coolidge was muse to rock icons — and this is how they treated her". New York Post. Retrieved 2016-04-04. They walked into the hallway, and something in Coolidge's mind told her this might be when Gordon would propose. As they got to the hallway, Coolidge slightly nervous in anticipatory delight, Gordon "hit me so hard that I was lifted off the floor and slammed against the wall on the other side of the hallway." As his fist met her eye, she "literally went flying" and was knocked unconscious. Then Gordon walked back into the room — alone — as if nothing had happened. The relationship was over, although Gordon was not removed from the tour — everyone worked to make sure she and Gordon were separated, she writes, and that she was safe.
  9. ^ Robinson, John (March 16, 2011). "The curse of the Dominos". Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 2022-01-12. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  10. ^ Kirby, Terry (November 11, 2006). "Bloc Party's drummer is latest casualty of toughest job in rock". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 2012-02-21. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  11. ^ "Names.. In The News". The Union Democrat. 11 July 1984. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  12. ^ Flanary, Patrick (2013-05-17). "Jailed Drummer Jim Gordon Denied Parole". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2023-09-26.
  13. ^ Flanary, Patrick (2018-04-30). "Derek and the Dominos' Jim Gordon, Jailed for Killing His Mom, Denied Parole for Fear 'He'd Hurt Somebody Else'". Billboard. Retrieved 2023-09-26.
  14. ^ "CDCR Inmate Locator". California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. January 14, 2018. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  15. ^ Aswad, Jem (15 March 2023). "Jim Gordon, Drummer for Eric Clapton and 'Layla' Co-Writer Who Was Convicted of Murder, Dies at 77". Variety. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  16. ^ "Jim Gordon credits". AllMusic. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  17. ^ Power To The People. JohnLennon.com. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
  18. ^ Myers, Marc, Anatomy of a Song:The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop, Grove Press, New York, 2016 p. 103

External links[edit]