Drummer Jim Gordon, co-author of the rock classic ‘Layla’ and in prison for 40 years, dies

Few songs so classic as layla, and few lives as lurid as that of one of its two authors (the other is Eric Clapton), Jim Gordon. The Californian drummer has died at the age of 77 in a center to treat mental problems for inmates in Vacaville, California. Gordon had been in prison since 1983, when he murdered his mother using a hammer and knife.

Born James Beck Gordon in California on July 14, 1945, he was part of the capable roster of the Wrecking Crew, a collective of session musicians employed on hundreds of studio recordings during the 1960s. And that decade was a glorious one for rock and folk. His drums can be heard on records by The Beach Boys (the Pet Sounds!), Carly Simon, John Lennon, George Harrison, Joan Baez and The Byrds, among many others. But the highlight of Gordon’s career was being at the side of a hugely talented star in a moment of overwhelming creativity. That rocker was Eric Clapton. The British guitarist assembled Derek and the Dominos after two creatively intense and also conflicting experiences: Cream and Blind Faith. Especially Cream, formed together with drummer Ginger Baker (who would also be in Blind Faith) and bassist Jack Bruce, managed to create a liberating and tremendously influential blues-rock, but Clapton also graduated as a mediator of problems, since his two companions they hated each other After those experiences, Clapton was looking for a break from heroin and some peace around him. Tranquility was found in the Delaney & Bonnie duo, with whom he went on tour. “It was an incredibly wonderful experience playing with a group of musicians who were hitting the road for the pure joy of playing and not making money. An enveloping feeling of love invaded all of us when we played”. This is how Clapton describes in his book autobiography the situation with Delaney & Bonnie as opposed to what he lived with his two previous groups.

When the tour was over, Clapton was so pleased that he asked the members of the duo’s group to meet up and rehearse. There was Carl Radle on bass, Bobby Whitlock on organ and Jim Gordon on drums. They were called Derek and the Dominos and other musicians joined the recording, including a young guitarist, Duane Allman, from the Allman Brothers Band, who Clapton was in love with his style. The magic, fueled by the substances, began to flow and they began to record. His first and only studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970), was also the therapeutic form used by the guitarist to write about the model Pattie Boyd, the woman who was married to his friend George Harrison and with whom he was madly in love. “It was an incredibly creative moment for me. Driven by my obsession with Pattie, I wrote a lot. All the songs on her album talk about her and our relationship. layla it was the key issue, and a deliberate attempt to talk Pattie out of the fact that she was resisting and didn’t dare leave George and move in with me,” says the guitarist in his memoirs.

How could Gordon enter into that intimacy? A bit by chance. When he had already assembled the song, Clapton heard Gordon in the studio improvising on the piano, his second instrument after the drums. He was so impressed by the melody that he proposed to introduce it as a coda de layla. Gordon’s composition (who also plays piano on the recording) begins at 3.10 minutes and gives the piece an epic and beautiful four minute finale that is already a rock classic.

Derek and the Dominos in concert at the Lyceum Theater in London on June 14, 1970. Behind Eric Clapton (singing and on guitar) Jim Gordon can be seen, applying himself on drums. Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music (Getty Images)

After that, Gordon continued to lend his precise, intuitive and feeling drumming touch (Ringo Starr praised him on several occasions) to works by Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne or Tom Petty. But so far the good news. In the mid-seventies his heroin and alcohol use was daily. In addition, he began to suffer psychotic episodes. Visiting psychiatric hospitals has been common ever since. His life was a mess and he was falling into a tailspin. They diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Until the madness broke loose. In 1983 he murdered his mother with a hammer and a knife, the only person who insisted on helping him. “I had no interest in killing her. I just wanted to get away from her. And I had no choice. It was easy, because I looked like a zombie who was led by someone, ”he declared. He was first sentenced to 16 years and then to life in prison. He was denied parole on several occasions. He has spent four decades deprived of liberty until his death from natural causes at the age of 77. The considerable amount of money he generates in royalties layla (it’s one of the most played songs on thousands of classic rock stations) will go to his heiress, Amy, his only daughter.

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Drummer Jim Gordon, co-author of the rock classic ‘Layla’ and in prison for 40 years, dies