Former session drummer still suffering from schizophrenia
Artist biography Jim Gordon
Jim Gordon, born as James Beck Gordon on July 14, 1945, was rock's premiere session drummer in the 60s and 70s. His life and career were ruined by the voices in his head that controlled his every move.
The list of groups Jim Gordon played with reads like a Who’s Who of rock: Traffic, Gordon Lightfoot, Delaney and Bonnie, Derek and the Dominoes, Jackson Browne, The Byrds, Joe Cocker, John Lennon, The Beach Boys, and The Monkees to name a few.
Jim Gordon’s passion for percussion started at age eight when he fashioned a drum kit out of trash cans. Tall, husky and shy, “Gordo” progressed rapidly, playing with The Burbank Symphony and backing the Everly Brothers at the age of 17 in 1963.
Jim Gordon was meticulous about his drum kit and its sound, which became known as 'The Big Gordon Beat'. Fellow musicians took Gordon's long silences and polite manner to be part of his straight-laced Burbank upbringing, but Gordon was obeying the voices in his head. They took care of him, guided him.
Jim Gordon toured with Delaney and Bonnie in 1969 with a band that included George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Dave Mason and Bobby Whitlock. They were the hottest ticket in England, but nearly everyone, including Gordon, deserted Delaney and Bonnie to join Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour. The two dozen musicians made memorable music, but also indulged in booze, heroin, speed and acid.
His relationship with back up singer Rita Coolidge came to an abrupt end in New York when Gordon asked Coolidge to step into a hallway. Without provocation, he punched her. She sported a black eye for the rest of tour, avoiding an apologetic Gordon.
Following the Mad Dogs tour, George Harrison contacted Gordon to play on 'All Things Must Pass' alongside Clapton, Carl Radle and Whitlock. The four musicians started jamming together, and with the addition of Duane Allman, Derek and the Dominoes was born. The group recorded one studio album before their thirst for speedballs and a rift between Clapton and Whitlock broke them apart.
One night Eric Clapton came into the studio while Jim Gordon was playing a piano piece he intended to use for a solo album. He asked Gordon if he could use it for a song he’d written about his unrequited love for George Harrison's wife, Patti Boyd. Layla became the group's signature song.
Now in constant demand, Jim Gordon played on Emitt Rhodes’ American Dream, John Lennon’s Imagine and Nilsson's Nilsson Schmilsson, tearing off a thunderous solo for Jump into the Fire.
When Traffic's drummer, Jim Capaldi, decided to ditch his kit and become a singer, the group drafted Jim Gordon as his replacement. Teamed with new members Rick Grech (bass), and Rebop Kwaku Baah (percussion), Gordon energized the group’s sound, playing on Welcome to the Canteen and The Low Spark of High Heel Boys. But jamming alongside the likes of free spirits like Chris Wood, Rebop and Grech only accelerated Gordon's appetite for drugs.
Following his dismissal from Traffic, Grech hinted that his relationship with Gordon was at best, rocky in The Grech Traffic Report, a January 15, 1972 interview in New Musical Express. The pair still managed to write together, penning Rock N’ Roll Stew, a showcase for Capaldi.
Jim Gordon left Traffic when Steve Winwood was felled by peritonitis, truncating the “Low Spark” tour. He returned to playing sessions, working with B.B. King, Steely Dan, Carly Simon (providing the big beat for You’re So Vain) and Gordon Lightfoot, appearing on four of his albums, including his biggest seller, Sundown.
He played with Jack Bruce and Frank Zappa (who affectionately made fun of Gordon’s All-American features by calling him Skippy), receiving a writing credit for the title track for the 'Apostrophe' album and was part of Zappa’s Grand Wazoo tour.
He joined the argumentative country rock aggregation The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band in 1973, but left after one album.
Jim Gordon married singer Renee Armand, curtailing his drug use. His six-month marriage to Armand ended when mumbling incoherently, he hit her, cracking several ribs.
He complained that the voices in his head were getting louder, harder to silence, and that one in particular – his mother — was keeping him from eating. His doctors misdiagnosed his symptoms, treating him for alcoholism.
In 1977, while recording Johnny Rivers's album 'Outside Help', Jim Gordon suddenly stopped playing. Glaring at Dean Parks, he accused the guitarist of disrupting his time. Parks cautiously denied it and Gordon’s reputation for being difficult to work with grew.
Later that year, Jim Gordon checked himself into Van Nuys Psychiatric Hospital. Over the next six years he'd be admitted more than a dozen times, but no amount of therapy, pills or alcohol could stave off his mother's voice.
Subsisting on playing for commercials or TV shows, Jim Gordon reluctantly went back on the road with Jackson Browne without incident in the spring of 1978.
The voices made him turn down a lucrative tour with Bob Dylan. Jim Gordon signed on to work with Paul Anka in Las Vegas, but walked off after playing a few notes.
By 1980, Jim Gordon was unable to play at all. Increasingly delusional, he believed his mother was responsible for the deaths of Paul Lynde and Karen Carpenter.
Jim Gordon called his mother on June 1 1983, saying she was bothering him and he'd have to kill her. He knocked on his mother’s door two days later. When she opened it, he hit her repeatedly with a hammer so she wouldn't suffer when he stabbed her with a butcher knife.
In May 1984, Jim Gordon was found guilty of second-degree murder, rather than insanity, because California had restricted its use as a defense. He was sent to the Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, Atascadero State Hospital and the State Mental Corrections facility in Vacaville and remains incarcerated.