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.
Gordon was raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and attended Grant High School. 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); 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”. Graham Nash (who later dated Coolidge) substantiated Whitlock’s claim in his memoir. “Time” was not released by Priscilla Coolidge and Booker T. until 1973, on their album Chronicles.
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. In 1972, Gordon was also part of Frank Zappa‘s 20-piece ‘Grand Wazoo’ big band and the subsequent 10-piece ‘Petit Wazoo’ band. Perhaps his best-known recording with Zappa is the title track of the 1974 album Apostrophe (‘), a jam with Zappa and Tony Duran on guitar and Jack Bruce on bass guitar, for which both Bruce and Gordon received a writing credit (Zappa, when introducing Gordon onstage, frequently referred to him as “Skippy”, because of his youthful appearance). Also in 1972, Gordon played drums on Helen Reddy‘s Top 20 US album I Am Woman.
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.
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. His physicians misdiagnosed the problems and instead treated him for alcohol abuse.
While on tour with Joe Cocker in the early 1970s, Gordon reportedly punched his then-girlfriend Rita Coolidge in a hotel hallway, thereby ending their relationship.
Murder of mother, conviction and incarceration
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; he claimed that a voice told him to kill her.
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 due to the Insanity Defense Reform Act.
On July 10, 1984, Gordon was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. He was first eligible for parole in 1991, but parole was denied several times as 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 he was still “seriously psychologically incapacitated” and “a danger when he is not taking his medication”. In November 2017, Gordon was rediagnosed with schizophrenia. On March 7, 2018, Gordon was denied parole for the tenth time and was tentatively scheduled to become eligible again in March 2021. As of 2023, he was serving his sentence at the California Medical Facility, a medical and psychiatric prison in Vacaville, California. Gordon died in prison on March 13, 2023.
During his career, Gordon played with a long list of musicians and record producers, including:
- Peter Allen: Taught by Experts
- Duane Allman: An Anthology
- Hoyt Axton: My Griffin Is Gone
- Joan Baez: Diamonds & Rust; From Every Stage; Gulf Winds; Blowin’ Away
- The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds; Smiley Smile; Friends; 20/20
- The Beau Brummels: Triangle
- Stephen Bishop: Careless
- Cilla Black: It Makes Me Feel Good
- Bread: Bread
- Teresa Brewer: 16 Most Requested Songs
- Jackson Browne: The Pretender
- Jack Bruce: Out of the Storm
- The Byrds: The Notorious Byrd Brothers
- The Carpenters: Horizon; A Kind of Hush; Interpretations
- Chad and Jeremy: The Ark
- Cher: Stars
- Eric Clapton: Eric Clapton
- Gene Clark: Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers
- Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs & Englishmen
- Judy Collins: Who Knows Where the Time Goes
- Alice Cooper: Alice Cooper Goes to Hell; Lace and Whiskey
- Crosby, Stills & Nash: Crosby, Stills & Nash
- Burton Cummings: Burton Cummings; Dream of a Child
- Delaney & Bonnie: On Tour with Eric Clapton; D&B Together
- Derek and the Dominos: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs; In Concert; Live at the Fillmore
- Neil Diamond: Beautiful Noise
- Donovan: Essence to Essence
- Dr. John: The Sun, Moon & Herbs
- The Everly Brothers: Gone Gone Gone; Beat & Soul; Two Yanks in England; Roots; Stories We Could Tell
- Art Garfunkel: Angel Clare; Breakaway
- David Gates: First
- Lowell George: Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here
- Merle Haggard: Same Train, a Different Time
- Hall & Oates: Daryl Hall & John Oates; Bigger Than Both of Us
- Albert Hammond: It Never Rains in Southern California; The Free Electric Band; Albert Hammond
- George Harrison: All Things Must Pass; Living in the Material World; Extra Texture (Read All About It)
- Jim Henson: The Muppet Movie
- Richard “Groove” Holmes: Six Million Dollar Man
- John Lee Hooker: Endless Boogie
- Jim Horn: Through the Eyes of a Horn; Jim’s Horn
- Thelma Houston: I’ve Got the Music in Me
- The Hues Corporation: Freedom for the Stallion; Rockin’ Soul; Love Corporation; I Caught Your Act
- Incredible Bongo Band: “Apache“; Bongo Rock
- Phil Keaggy: Love Broke Thru; Ph’lip Side
- B.B. King: B.B. King in London
- Carole King:The City
- Cheryl Ladd: Dance Forever
- John Lennon: “Power to the People“
- The Lettermen: Lettermen 1; Spin Away
- Gordon Lightfoot: Sundown; Cold on the Shoulder; Gord’s Gold; Summertime Dream
- Nils Lofgren: Cry Tough
- Manhattan Transfer: Coming Out; Pastiche
- Dave Mason: Alone Together
- Country Joe McDonald: Love is a Fire
- Maria Muldaur: Maria Muldaur; Waitress in a Donut Shop
- Elliott Murphy: Elliott Murphy; Lost Generation
- Oliver Nelson: Skull Session
- Tracy Nelson: Time Is on My Side
- Randy Newman: Randy Newman; 12 Songs
- Harry Nilsson: Aerial Ballet; Skidoo (Soundtrack); Harry; Nilsson Schmilsson; Son of Dracula (Soundtrack)
- Goro Noguchi: Goro in Los Angeles, U.S.A.
- Yoko Ono: Fly
- Van Dyke Parks: Song Cycle; Discover America
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; Playback
- Kenny Rankin: Silver Morning
- Redeye: Redeye
- Emitt Rhodes: The American Dream
- Righteous Brothers: Give It to the People
- Minnie Riperton: Adventures in Paradise
- Johnny Rivers: L.A. Reggae; Blue Suede Shoes; Last Boogie in Paris; New Lovers and Old Friends; Wild Night; Outside Help
- Leon Russell: Leon Russell and the Shelter People
- Seals and Crofts: Seals & Crofts; Summer Breeze; Diamond Girl
- John Sebastian: Tarzana Kid
- Louie Shelton: Touch Me
- Judee Sill: Heart Food
- Carly Simon: No Secrets; Hotcakes; Playing Possum
- Tom Snow: Taking It All in Stride; Tom Snow
- The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band: The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band
- Joey Stec: Joey Stec
- Steely Dan: Pretzel Logic; “Here at the Western World”
- B. W. Stevenson: Lead Free; My Maria; Calabasas
- John Stewart: The Phoenix Concerts
- Stone Poneys: “Different Drum“; Evergreen, Volume 2
- Barbra Streisand: Barbra Joan Streisand
- Mariya Takeuchi: Love Songs
- Bob Thiele & His Orchestra: I Saw Pinetop Spit Blood
- Mel Tormé: Right Now!
- Traffic: Welcome to the Canteen; The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
- John Travolta: John Travolta
- John Valenti: Anything You Want
- Tom Waits: The Heart of Saturday Night
- Tim Weisberg: Hurtwood Edge; Dreamspeaker
- Bobby Whitlock: Bobby Whitlock; Raw Velvet
- Andy Williams[clarification needed]
- Mason Williams: “Classical Gas“
- Frank Zappa: Apostrophe (‘); Läther; ‘Grand Wazoo’ (tour) and ‘Petit Wazoo’ (tour); Imaginary Diseases; Wazoo; Little Dots
- ^ “Jim Gordon – Biography & History”. AllMusic. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
- ^ 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.
- ^ “Layla’s 40th: The Where’s Eric! Interview With Bobby Whitlock”. Whereseric.com. Retrieved 2015-06-20.
- ^ “Wild Tales” – Crown Publishing Group
- ^ “Booker T.* & Priscilla Jones – Chronicles (Vinyl, LP, Album)”. Discogs.com. 2011-09-17. Retrieved 2015-06-20.
- ^ Jump up to:a b Hermes, Will (October 29, 2006). “All Rise for the National Anthem of Hip-Hop”. New York Times. Retrieved 2006-11-01.
- ^ Jump up to: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.
- ^ 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.
- ^ 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.
- ^ 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.
- ^ “Names.. In The News”. The Union Democrat. 11 July 1984. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
- ^ Flanary, Patrick (May 17, 2013) Jailed Drummer Jim Gordon Denied Parole Archived 2017-08-14 at the Wayback Machine Rolling Stone Magazine. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
- ^ “Derek and the Dominos’ Jim Gordon, Jailed for Killing His Mom, Denied Parole for Fear ‘He’d Hurt Somebody Else'”. Billboard.
- ^ “CDCR Inmate Locator”. California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. January 14, 2018. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
- ^ “CDCR Public Inmate Locator Disclaimer”.
- ^ Aswad, Jem. “Jim Gordon, Drummer for Eric Clapton and ‘Layla’ Co-Writer Who Was Convicted of Murder, Dies at 77”. Variety. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
- ^ “Jim Gordon credits”. AllMusic. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
- ^ Power To The People. JohnLennon.com. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
- ^ 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
- 1945 births
- 2023 deaths
- American rock drummers
- American blues drummers
- American session musicians
- Delaney & Bonnie & Friends members
- Derek and the Dominos members
- Plastic Ono Band members
- Souther–Hillman–Furay Band members
- Traffic (band) members
- American people convicted of murder
- People with schizophrenia
- American prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment
- Prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment by California
- Grammy Award winners
- Songwriters from California
- Warner Music Group artists
- People convicted of murder by California
- The Wrecking Crew (music) members
- People from the San Fernando Valley
- Hall & Oates members
- 20th-century American drummers
- American male drummers
- Grant High School (Los Angeles) alumni