Drummer, murderer BORN 1945
THE STUTTER AND swing beneath Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain. The oft-sampled break at the centre of the Incredible Bongo Band’s Apache. The driving drums and drifting piano beneath Layla. These are just three points in the incredibly prolific but tragically short career of Jim Gordon, who died at 77 in a California prison medical facility in March, just less than 40 years after bludgeoning and stabbing his mother to death.
Born in Los Angeles, Gordon was a drumming wunderkind, turning pro by joining the Everly Brothers while still a teen in the early ’60s. He soon become Hal Blaine’s alternate of choice, an esteemed Wrecking Crew designation that put him behind the kit for some of music’s biggest marquee acts for the next decade-plus. “He became the main guy,” Jim Keltner later confessed, “because he was better.” Gordon played on Imagine and All Things Must Pass, with Zappa and Waits and Newman, on Pet Sounds and Pretzel Logic. He partied and performed hard during the Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour, then soon started Derek & The Dominos with Clapton and crew. An impeccable technician with an expansive range, Gordon was rock’s go-to drummer in a moment of exuberant stylistic metastasis.
But in the six years before he murdered his mother, Gordon checked himself into a psychiatric hospital at least 14 times. Haunted by “command hallucinations” since childhood and eventually diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia, Gordon’s health, career, and relationships languished as he struggled with voices. He beat then-girlfriend Rita Coolidge and nearly strangled his second wife, Renée Armand, a sporadic escalation that led him to his mother’s doorstep in June 1983.
Gordon was sentenced to 16 years with the possibility of parole for second-degree murder, despite his diagnosis. He never attended a parole hearing.