The sad story of drummer Jim Gordon, who killed his mother with a hammer, has finally come to an end
Back in 1970 as Eric Clapton was searching for something to following the dissolution of Cream, he formed Derek and the Dominos using members of Delaney and Bonny and Blind Faith. One of those guys was Jim Gordon.
The band release just one album, a double set called Layla and Other Assorted Stories. There was just a single real hit from the album but it was one for the ages: “Layla.”
“Layla,” complete with its occasionally out-of-tune Duane Allman guitar solo (well, to my ears, anyway) is one of the staples of classic rock. It continues to earn bazillions of dollars since its release in November 1970. Some of those bazillions went to drummer Jim Gordon, who co-wrote the song with Clapton.
Derek and the Dominos only had this one record. Clapton was devastated by the death of Jimi Hendrix that September while Allman would perish in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971. The album was also initially a commercial and critical flop. Clapton fell into depression and spiraled into drugs and addiction. A second record was begun, but the band broke up before it could be finished.
Gordon went on to play for the likes of George Harrison, Joe Cocker, Dave Mason, Gordon Lightfoot, Harry Nilsson, Frank Zappa, Art Garfunkel, Traffic, and Steely Dan. Gordon can be heard on literally hundreds of songs. For example, that’s him on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” John Lennon’s “Power to the People,” and even in the first Muppet movie.
He also performed with the Incredible Bongo Band for their 1972 album, Bongo Rock. Material from that record has been sampled by countless hip-hop artists, including Jay-Z and Nas.
Unfortunately, something dangerous was brewing in Gordon’s head, starting in the late 60s and really blooming throughout the 70s. At some point in the latter part of the decade, he started hearing voices. He stopped eating, sleeping, and playing drums. Doctors originally thought these symptoms were brought on by alcohol abuse. That was a misdiagnosis. He had schizophrenia.
He believed that one of the voices in his head was that of his mother. On June 3, 1983, another voice told him to kill his mother. He hit her in the head with a hammer multiple times and then stabbed her repeatedly with a butcher knife. It was only after his arrest that he got a proper diagnosis. But because the case was tried in California, the law didn’t allow him to use insanity or mental health as a defense. The judge did accept that he had schizophrenia, which explains why he was sentenced to just 16 years in jail.
Gordon remained in jail far beyond the length of his sentence because it was determined that he was “still seriously psychologically incapacitated.” There were parole hearings, but he never attended any of the ten that were scheduled. He had no desire to be released.
His last residence was the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, That’s where his tortured life came to an end this week. Jim Gordon died of natural causes in prison at the age of 77 on March 13.