Jim Gordon, a prolific and in-demand session drummer for dozens of acts who joined Eric Clapton in writing “Layla” for their band Derek and the Dominos and later was convicted of murdering his mother, died Monday at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, CA. He was 77.
Publicist Bob Merlis said Gordon, who and had been in prison for 40 years and struggled with mental health issues, died of natural causes.
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Born in Los Angeles, Gordon was part of the Wrecking Crew, the core group of studio musicians who played on scads of hits records for dozens of acts. He was behind the kit for such memorable 1960s albums as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Crosby, Stills & Nash’s eponymous debut and also played with Joe Cocker on his famed tour that produced the seminal live album Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
The 6-foot-4 Gordon also was the drummer on Clapton’s solo debut, which included such popular tracks as “After Midnight” and “Let It Rain.” And that’s a mere sampling of Gordon’s session work.
He went on to play on George Harrison’s first post-Beatles album, the huge-selling 1971 triple-disc set All Things Must Pass, before convening with Clapton and others in Derek and the Dominos. That short-lived group’s lone LP, the two-disc Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, was released in early 1971 and spawned the enduring “Layla,” which Gordon wrote with Clapton and featured the Allman Brothers’ Duane Allman on slide guitar. The track remains among the most popular FM rock songs of all time.
According to a 2016 memoir by Rita Coolidge, she and then-boyfriend Gordon had written a piano progression in 1970, for which she composed some lyrics, and they recorded a demo titled “Time (Don’t Let the World Get in Our Way).” She said they offered it to Clapton, but nothing came of it. But about a year later, Coolidge heard the piano coda of “Layla” on the radio as recognized it as a repurposing of their work. Derek and the Dominos’ keyboard player Bobby Whitlock confirmed Coolidge’s story about uncredited work on the song.
Her relationship with Gordon would end after he punched Coolidge at a hotel during the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour.
Derek and the Dominos imploded not long after the record’s release, and Gordon joined Traffic. He drummed on its classic LP The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys before leaving the band within a year.
After that, Gordon returned to session work, playing on dozens of hits for such acts as John Lennon, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Merle Haggard, Harry Nilsson, Cher, Alice Cooper, Randy Newman, Judy Collins, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne and Joan Baez. His 1970s credits included No. 1 singles for Carly Simon (“You’re So Vain”), Gordon Lightfoot (“Sundown”), Hall & Oates (“Rich Girl”) and the Hues Corporation (“Rock the Boat”), along with many other Top 10 hits.
But Gordon’s life would unravel during the ensuing decade.
In June 1983, he attacked his elderly mother with a hammer and butcher knife at her North Hollywood home, killing her. After his arrest, Gordon — who had told police that voices in his head ordered him to commit the crime — was diagnosed with schizophrenia. But because California’s then-evolving laws regarding insanity pleas, he was convicted of murder in July 1984 and sentenced to 16 years to life in state prison.
Gordon repeatedly was denied parole after failing to show up for his hearings and died in prison.
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