by Patrick H. Moore

Murderpedia brings us the tragic story of Jim Gordon, the great rock drummer who in his prime played with a list of rock notables that sounds like a “Who’s Who in Rock ‘n Roll.”  Jim, who was born in 1945, has been serving time in the California Sate Prison system since 1984 for killing his mother with a hammer.  Jim played with the Everly Brothers, the Bryds, Delaney & Bonnie, Derek and the Dominoes (Jim played on the group’s acclaimed 1970 double album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and composed and played the elegiac piano coda for the title track, Layla), Joe Cocker, Traffic and Frank Zappa. Jim was also an in-demand session player and worked with literally dozens of acclaimed musicians during classic rock’s great era.

jimm2Sadly, toward the end of the 1970s, when he was in his late 30s, Jim began hearing voices in his head, primarily that of his mother, telling him to starve himself.  This reportedly filled him with violent rage, particularly if he disobeyed her and ate. Strangely, his physicians failed to diagnose his mental illness and instead treated him for alcohol abuse. Perhaps they thought the voices were the result of his abusing alcohol, a side effect of delirium tremens.

jimIn any event, Jim went untreated and his condition worsened. On June 3, 1983, he brutally murdered his mother with a hammer and a butcher’s knife. Finally, at his trial the following year, he was properly diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia. Unable to use the insanity defense, which California had recently narrowed (Remember the “Twinkie Defense”), Gordon was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to sixteen years to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

He has served time at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, Atascadero State Hospital in Atascadero, and the State Medical Corrections Facility in Vacaville. He has twice been denied parole.

A 1994 Washington Post article delves further into this sad story citing an interview with Jim Gordon that occurred at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Opisbo, California:

Apparently Gordon believes that he didn’t commit the crime, but rather the crime “happened” and says “When I remember the crime, it’s kind of like a dream. I can remember going through what happened in that space and time, and it seems kind of detached, like I was going through it on some other plane. It didn’t seem real.” According to police reports, when they found him he feared that the person who killed his mother might come for him too, and in the police car he sobbed joey“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but she’s tortured me for years.” He was pretty consistently known as an All-American type, with Frank Zappa even nick-naming him “Skippy.” Gordon did admit that speedballs were common on the 1971 Joe Cocker “Mad Dogs and Englishman” tour, when he claims he was dating Rita Coolidge.  A journalist who wrote a never released book on Gordon says he once showed her a letter from Gordon’s father written in 1969 urging him to get psychiatric help.  However, the letter apparently made no reference to the voices that Gordon heard.  The most powerful voice was that of his mother.  The voice would deny him food, with Gordon starving himself for days and then, hiding in a motel to eat fried chicken. The voice also denied him sleep and relaxation, caused him to be sullen and uncommunicative with the occasional violent outburst, and finally, refused to let him play drums. He says “My mother, she persecuted me a great deal, I felt. And it finally got so bad that I just gave up and got a condominium and just stayed indoors. I didn’t go anyplace. That’s when I started hearing voices, and having delusional thoughts and hallucinations, and all of a sudden the crime occurred.”

Although I am no psychiatrist, common sense suggests that the “speedballs” (an injected combination of cocaine and heroin) that Jim Gordon was indulging in with Joe Cocker’s crew in 1971 could not have done him any good.  Although heroin is not known to cause or augment psychosis, it’s well known that cocaine when injected brings on a fantastic rush, not unlike the smoking of crack cocaine.  This indulgence, while reported to be extremely exhilarating at first, can damage the mind with repeated use, and in individuals with a predisposition toward major mental illness, can serve as a mechanism which triggers incipient psychosis.  A similar mental deterioration can occur in individuals who chronically abuse methamphetamine.  The fact that Gordon’s father urged him to get psychiatric help way back in 1969 suggests that the drummer had been struggling with mental issues for some time.  Drugs were rampant among rock royalty during those heady days and although some lucky souls survived their bouts with addiction (Eric Clapton is a good example) others were far less fortunate.

ericUpon reflection, one can’t help but feel pity for Jim Gordon, the All-American rock drummer extraordinaire, who although still alive is now living the half-life of the terminally incarcerated.  His chronic mental illness will almost certainly keep him from ever being paroled.  Or if he was paroled, it would probably be only to transfer him to a maximum security lock-down mental institution, to some California Shutter Island type joint.  No, given Gordon’s options, the California Men’s Colony isn’t that bad an option. But don’t think Gordon blames anyone else, with the possible exception of his mother, for his sad fate. He has clearly stated that he understands fully why his former rock ‘n roll buddies ostracized him as he descended into the abyss of madness.  In his poignant moments, however, he has been known to voice a wish: that he could get back on stage with Eric Clapton, just for one gig, just for one brief shining hour, so that he could feel the pulse of the moment there under the hot lights as the crowd goes wild.


5 Responses to Rock and Roll Hall of Shame: Jim Gordon Killed His Mother Because She Wouldn’t Shut Up!

  1. Diana says:

    I certainly wouldn’t want him getting out and becoming my next door neighbor! It is so sad that someone so talented ascended into the madness of drugs and mental illness.

  2. Curt says:

    I wanted to take the time to say that this article is very well written, and to thank you for writing it.

    The subject of Jim Gordon is of great intrigue to me (as are the stories of many damaged, deranged or otherwise off-kilter musicians). His story is so poignantly tragic, it would be perfect for a documentary of itself, or at least a movie/novel. I have been only been able to track down minimal video footage of him via Youtube. He’s only briefly mentioned in The Wrecking Crew documentary. There are a few articles here and there explaining this story, but this one here is the first I’ve come across with new information. I do have some questions as to the sources of your information, so that I can do some further reading. If you would contact me at the email address below, I would be appreciated.

  3. Joshua Katzman says:

    I’m listening to the classic album Layla by Derek and the Dominos as I write this. I’ve been periodically listening to this album for over 45 years (hard to believe–where has the time gone?!)and have always felt it is one of the great tour de force rock albums of all time, a consummate blend of expert musicianship and songwriting. I recalled that bassist Carl Radle met an untimely end exacerbated by drug and alcohol abuse, and vaguely recalled something about the tragic demise of drummer Jim Gordon, but didn’t know the details until now. It’s a sad, tragic story on so many levels, not the least of which it deprived musicians and listeners the possibility of enjoying a brilliant drummer for many years to come. I didn’t fully realize the list of albums Jim Gordon played on, from Mason William’s Classical Gas to Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic, not to mention his work with Delaney and Bonnie and Frank Zappa. His playing on Derek and the Dominos is so bright and athletic, really inventive. His use of a backbeat is extremely creative and miles ahead of most other drummers. I don’t mean to diminish the personal tragedy of Jim Gordon by going on about his percussive pyrotechnics. The chain of events that led to his downfall are so unfortunate. One wonders what might have happened if some sort of intervention had occurred, but hindsight is always sharper than foresight. I hope he will be able to find peace of mind if he hasn’t already and some measure of liberation from his demons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.