Jim Gordon, a drummer who played on Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, died Monday at the age of 77. The musician, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was serving a prison sentence for killing his mother in 1983, died in a state-run medical facility in Vacaville, California. A publicist, Bob Merlis, told Los Angeles Times that Gordon died of natural causes.
Gordon is best known for sharing a songwriting credit on “Layla” with Eric Clapton, since he was responsible for the song’s famous piano coda. (Organist Bobby Whitlock has claimed that Gordon plagiarized the part from something Gordon’s ex-girlfriend, Rita Coolidge, had written. Coolidge also accused Gordon of physical abuse.)
Before the Layla album, though, Gordon — who was born James Beck Gordon on July 14, 1945 and grew up in Sherman Oaks, California — was known as a member of the group of session players called the Wrecking Crew. His drumming features on recordings by John Lennon, Cher, the Byrds, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Neil Diamond, George Harrison, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Mel Torme, and many others. He can be heard on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” and Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind,” according to the Times.
By the mid-Seventies, Gordon started having trouble with addiction. “I guess I was an alcoholic,” he told Rolling Stone in 1985. “Before, I was drinking every night, but I wasn’t getting up in the morning for a drink; I would put a needle in my arm. When I stopped taking the heroin, I began to drink all day.” He began to hear voices in his head and by the late Seventies, his mother urged him to get help. He checked into a psychiatric hospital, where he told doctors his mom was “the only friend” he had.
“He used to talk to me about hearing voices, but I told him that it was his consciousness speaking to him,” Whitlock told Rolling Stone in 2013. “He said it was someone else. Evidently he never stopped or even lightened up on his drug and alcohol intake. The end result was the destruction of his family.”
On June 3rd, 1983, Gordon murdered his mother, Osa Marie Gordon, using a hammer and a butcher knife. The following year, he was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. “I had no interest in killing [my mother],” Gordon told Rolling Stone in 1985. “I wanted to stay away from her. I had no choice. It was so matter-of-fact, like I was being guided like a zombie. She wanted me to kill her, and good riddance to her.”
“I had no idea that he had a psychotic history of visions and hearing voices, from an early age,” Clapton told Rolling Stone in 1991. “That was never apparent when we were working together. It just seemed like bad vibes, the worst kind of bad vibes. I would have never said that he was going mad. To me, it was just the drugs.”
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