Inside the Life of Drummer Jim Gordon – Including his Tragic Death & Family

Jim Gordon, born in Los Angeles in 1945, was a renowned musician and drummer. He has collaborated with many famous names in the industry and has been a member of various bands. Despite his success, he faced personal challenges, including a schizophrenia diagnosis and institutionalization for the murder of his mother. He remains incarcerated till the day of his death. Nevertheless, his legacy in the music industry remains significant.

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Jim Gordon as Growing up with musical surroundings, His Father and Family

Jim Gorodngrew up in the San Fernando Valley area and began playing the drums at a young age. Gordon’s father, a studio musician, and composer encouraged his son’s musical interests, and Gordon began playing professionally in his early teens. He attended Grant High School in Van Nuys, California, where he played in the school’s marching band and jazz band.

Jim Gordon Family

In the early 1960s, Gordon began working as a session musician, playing on recordings by artists such as The Beach Boys, The Byrds, and The Everly Brothers. He soon became one of the most in-demand session drummers in Los Angeles, known for his versatility and technical skill. Gordon’s reputation as a session musician led to him being recruited by the band Delaney & Bonnie and Friends in 1969.

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He played on their debut album, “Accept No Substitute,” and went on to tour with the group. In 1970, Gordon was asked to join Derek and the Dominos, a band formed by Eric Clapton. He played drums on their acclaimed album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs,” which featured the hit title track. Despite his success as a session musician and member of Derek and the Dominos, Gordon struggled with mental health issues

Jim Gordon’s Early Career as a Session Drummer

 Gordon start his professional career in 1963, at the age of 17, backing the Everly Brothers, he turned down a music scholarship to UCLA. He later rose to prominence as one of Los Angeles’ most in-demand recording session drummers.

Gordon, a studio drummer who was Hal Blaine’s protege, appeared on numerous notable recordings in the 1960s, such as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds from 1966, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers from 1967, The Notorious Byrd Brothers from 1968, and Mason Williams’ smash “Classical Gas” from the same year (1968).

Gordon’s Career as a Member of Derek and the Dominos

Gordon toured with Delaney & Bonnie‘s backing band in 1969 and 1970, which at the time also featured Eric Clapton. Afterward, Clapton took over the rhythm section of the band, which included drummer Gordon, bassist Carl Radle, and organist, singer, and composer Bobby Whitlock. They created a new band, later known as Derek and the Dominos. The group’s debut recording was on George Harrison’s three-disc album All Things Must Pass, serving as the house band (1970).

Gordon then contributed to Derek and the Dominos’ 1970 double album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and joined the group on their subsequent tours of the United States and the United Kingdom. Before completing the production of their second album, the group disbanded in the spring of 1971.

Gordon was credited with providing the elegiac piano coda for the title track, “Layla,” in addition to his drumming. Whitlock later asserted that Gordon did not write the coda, saying, “Jim stole the piano melody from his ex-girlfriend Rita Coolidge.

Jim Gordon and Member of Derek and the Dominos

Gordon was the drummer on the Amazing Bongo Band’s album Bongo Rock, published in 1972, and his drum break on the LP version of “Apache” has been extensively imitated by rap music artists. Gordon was a member of both Frank Zappa’s 10-piece “Petit Wazoo” band and the 20-piece “Grand Wazoo” big band in 1972.

The title track from Zappa’s 1974 album Apostrophe, a jam featuring Zappa, Tony Duran on guitar, and Jack Bruce on bass guitar, maybe his best-known collaboration. Both Bruce and Gordon were given composition credit for the song (Zappa, when introducing Gordon onstage, frequently referred to him as “Skippy”, because of his youthful appearance). Gordon contributed to Helen Reddy’s Top 20 US album I am women in 1972 by playing drums.

Gordon’s Contributions to Other Albums

Gordon contributed to the albums Blue Suede Shoes by Johnny Rivers and Angel Clare by Art Garfunkel in 1973. He traveled with Rivers in 1974 and appeared on the Last Boogie in Paris live CD. Gordon contributed to most of the songs on Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic album, including the single “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” which was released in 1974.

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From 1973 until 1975, he collaborated once more with Chris Hillman of the Byrds as the drummer in the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. Also, he contributed drums to three tracks on Alice Cooper’s Alice Cooper Goes to Hell album from 1976.

Jim Gordon’s Battle with Schizophrenia and the Murder of his Mother

In addition to hearing voices, including his mother’s, Gordon developed schizophrenia, which drove him to starve himself and prevented him from falling asleep, unwinding, or playing the drums. His medical professionals misdiagnosed the issues and treated him for alcoholism instead. Gordon allegedly punched his then-girlfriend Rita Coolidge in a hotel hallway while on tour with Joe Cocker in the early 1970s, breaking up their relationship.

Osa Marie (Beck) Gordon, his 71-year-old widowed mother, was fatally stabbed with a butcher knife on June 3, 1983. Gordon claimed that a voice instructed him to do so. Gordon’s schizophrenia wasn’t properly diagnosed until after his arrest for murder. His acute schizophrenia was acknowledged by the court at his trial, but due to modifications made to California law by the Insanity Defense Reform Act, he was not permitted to raise the insanity defense.

RIP! Jim Gordon dies at the age of 77 on March 13, 2023

Jim Gordon passed away on March 13, 2023, at the age of 77, after a lifelong struggle with mental illness. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia after he murdered his mother and was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison in 1984.

Despite being denied parole several times, Gordon’s stacked career came to an abrupt halt in June 1983 when he brutally bludgeoned and stabbed his 72-year-old mother to death. Before his diagnosis, Gordon had a history of mental illness and had even assaulted his then-girlfriend Rita Coolidge in 1970.

Jim Gordon Wife

Gordon received a sentence of 16 years to life in prison on July 10, 1984.  He first qualified for parole in 1991, but it was repeatedly rejected because he never showed up for a hearing. Jim was denied parole until at least 2018 because he chose not to show up for his hearing in 2014.

He was still “seriously psychologically incapacitated” and “a danger when he is not taking his medication,” a Los Angeles deputy district attorney claimed at the hearing. Gordon received a new schizophrenia diagnosis in November 2017. Gordon was denied parole for the tenth time on March 7, 2018, and was tentatively set to be eligible once more in March 2021.