Jim Gordon Still Behind Bars

Jim Gordon.jpg

Submitted by Don Graham

Jim Gordon a metronome steady rock drummer was never behind in anything, but today, after 30 years in prison, he is still behind bars in California. On July 14, 2013 James Beck Gordon, prisoner #C89262 turned 68 in prison.

Gordon had developed schizophrenia and was hearing voices, including those of his mother. These voices affected him in such a way that he starved himself and couldn’t sleep, relax or play drums. In 1983 he attacked his mother with a hammer before fatally stabbing her. Even though at his trial the court accepted that Gordon had acute schizophrenia they would not allow an insanity defense. There had been changes to California law due to the Insanity Defense Reform Act and so on July 10th, 1984, Gordon was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.

There was a time in the late sixties and seventies that the name Jim Gordon appeared on some of the top albums of the day. A Grammy Award winner in his own right, he was one of the most requested session drummers of his time. Gordon began his career in 1963, at age seventeen, providing the backbeat for The Everly Brothers. A protégé of legendary studio drummer Hal Blaine, Gordon performed on  ‘Pet Sounds’ by The Beach Boys (1966),  Gene Clark (1967),  ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’ by The Byrds (1968) and the monster hit ‘Classical Gas’ by Mason Williams (1968). During his peak years, Gordon was reportedly so busy as a studio musician that he would fly back to Los Angeles from Las Vegas every day to do two or three recording sessions, and then return in time to play the evening show at Caesar’s Palace.

In 1969 and 1970, Gordon toured as part of the backing band for the group Delaney & Bonnie, which at the time included Eric Clapton. Clapton subsequently took over the group's rhythm section — Gordon, bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist-singer-songwriter Bobby Whitlock. They formed a new band that was later called Derek and the Dominos. The band's first studio work was as the house band for George Harrison's first solo album, the three-disc set ‘All Things Must Pass’. Gordon then played on Derek and the Dominos' 1970 double album, ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’, contributing, in addition to his drumming, the  piano coda for the title track, ‘Layla’, co-written by Gordon and Clapton. In 1970, Gordon was part of Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and played on Dave Mason's album ‘Alone Together’. In 1971, he toured with Traffic and appeared on two of their albums, including ‘The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys’. That same year he played on Harry Nilsson's ‘Nilsson Schmilsson’ album, contributing the drum solo to the track ‘Jump into the Fire’. In 1972, Gordon was part of Frank Zappa's 20-piece ‘Grand Wazoo’ big band tour, and the subsequent 10-piece ‘Petit Wazoo’ band. Perhaps his best-known recording with Zappa is the title track of the1974album ‘Apostrophe’ ('), a jam with Zappa and Tony Duran on guitar and Jack Bruce on bass guitar, for which both Bruce and Gordon received a writing credit. Also in 1974, Gordon played on the majority of tracks on Steely Dan's album ‘Pretzel Logic’, including the single ‘Rikki Don't Lose That Number’. He again worked with Chris Hillman of The Byrds as the drummer in the Souther–Hillman–Furay Band from 1973 to 1975. He also played drums on three tracks on Alice Cooper's 1976 album Alice Cooper Goes to Hell.

Gordon was denied parole until at least 2018 at a hearing this past April. A California board panel deemed the musician "a danger to society if released from prison," citing his resistance to court-ordered medication and counseling. He continues to shows symptoms of schizophrenia and is "medically and psychologically noncompliant," Los Angeles County deputy district attorney Alexis de la Garza told the three-member panel. "This is one of the saddest cases that we have in prison. We have an individual who is seriously psychologically incapacitated, and he is a danger when he is not taking his medication." In terms of parole plans, because of his condition it is our opinion that, not only for the good of society but for his own good, what needs to be done is work on getting him a conservator, because I do believe he has a substantial amount of income," de la Garza said at the hearing. "The question is would people be preying on him on the outside, as they have on the inside, because of his finances?" The panel recommended Gordon seek substance abuse self-help, and will finalize its decision to deny parole for a five-year period in August.

Seems like a sad ending for a man who gave so much of himself and we can only hope that Jim Gordon gets the help he needs and is set free to live out his final years in peace and reflection of all he contributed to the musical soundtrack of the 60’s and 70’s.