Jim Gordon – The Man Rock & Roll Forgot

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Derek And The Dominos

Although Jim Gordon does not have the name recognition of a top rock star, from the early ’60s through the dawn of the ’80s, he was there. He’d had beautiful women and jet-setted between London and Los Angeles, he partied like a rock star. Through hundreds of recording sessions that spawned dozens of Top 10 hits, his work as one of the most in-demand session drummers of the era spills through a stunning array of albums.

But unfortunately, this is a sad tale of a brilliant Grammy Award-winning musician who worked with some of the greatest songwriters ever, who played and added his magic to such classics as “Layla”, (he also co-wrote the piano refrain), as well as George Harrison’s three-album set and finest moment, All Things Must Pass.

Jim Gordon was known as a solidly reliable professional session drummer, who could command as much as triple the usual rate paid to session musicians.

He began his career in 1963, at the age of seventeen, backing the hit-making Everly Brothers, and went on to become one of the most sought-after recording session drummers in Los Angeles, (he was the protégé of legendary studio drummer Hal Blaine, who played on over 35 U.S. #1 hits).

John Lennon, George Harrison, The Everly Brothers, Frank Zappa, Leon Russell, Traffic, Gordon Lightfoot, Seals & Crofts, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Bread – Gordon laid down the beat for all of them, playing in myriad styles.

At the height of his career, 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 Caesars Palace.

During 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. When out on the road, Gordon became something of a liability, the exposure to vast quantities of drink and drugs brought out an extremely troubling side to his personality: at best ambitious and manipulative, at worst violent.

Gordon’s personality disorder was a major factor in the demise of Derek and the Dominos. More seriously, in 1983, it led to Gordon’s conviction for murder. On June 3, 1983, Gordon drove to the Hollywood home of his 72-year-old mother, Osa, attacked her with a hammer and then fatally stabbed her. He has been in prison ever since.

A diagnosed schizophrenic, it was not until his trial in 1984 that he was properly diagnosed. Due to the fact that his attorney was unable to use the insanity defence after a change in California law. Gordon was sentenced to sixteen years-to-life in prison in 1984.

Today, with but a dim possibility for parole, Jim Gordon is the man rock & roll forgot. Except, perhaps, for one brief moment on Feb. 24, 1993, when, along with Eric Clapton, he was awarded the rock songwriting Grammy for “Layla.”

So next time you hear John Lennon’s “Imagine”, Stephen Bishops “On and On”, Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” or Steely Dans “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, listen carefully to the beat of one of the greatest drummers of all time.



  1. Barry

    March 27, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    Interesting story. Thanks.

  2. Paul Sineath

    October 3, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    He also plays on the Smile album, well worth mentioning.

  3. John moniz

    October 29, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    I’ve been a drummer Musician since the age of 10 years old, and I am 67 and I just learned of Jim Gordon, after watching a documentary on the drummer of, Toto, And I am so saddened to hear of this great musician songwriter and Great Drummer, simply a sad story he should have gotten all the recognition of a Steve Gad or Vinny Cooley yada Or even Dave Weckl I sincerely hope he gets all the help he needs so he may be at peace with himself,, the article was a great tribute to him thank you,, John Moniz

  4. Michael Bennett

    January 10, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    For the sake of clarity, Jim Gordon did not play on the title track ‘Imagine’. Alan White had this honour.

  5. Paul woodrow

    May 9, 2020 at 10:00 pm

    Wow a truly talented man. What a shame that people needed his skills and experience. The signs were there but when he needed help nobody was there for him until it was too late. What a shame massive shame, all he played for got rich and he got life.

  6. Thom Adams

    July 11, 2020 at 4:57 pm

    The band I was in, Goldrush, was set to open for Derek and the Dominos in July of 1972 in Honolulu when the concert was abruptly canceled. Never heard why, could have been Jim complications.

  7. Richard Bock

    July 12, 2020 at 10:29 pm

    Rita Coolidge probably wrote the out to Layla. Her boyfriend at the time (Jim Gordon) stole it.

  8. Dyann Mitchell

    February 3, 2021 at 8:17 am

    I believe Jim Gordon needs to be recognized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a drummer. He is more than his mental illness. Just like any artist, please help him get the recognition he deserves.

  9. Bigdog

    July 10, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    Graham Nash states in his book that Gordon’s girlfriend at the time, Rita Coolidge, wrote and played the piano coda to Layla, which Gordon used for the song.

  10. spoonful

    November 10, 2021 at 10:33 pm

    Jim Gordon was the best drummer ever

  11. Nathan

    February 20, 2022 at 11:23 am

    Jim Gordon did not write the piano coda to Layla. His girlfriend Rita Coolidge wrote the piano coda and Jim stole it and never credited her. This has been confirmed by former band member Bobby Whitlock.

  12. Stewart Rentfro

    October 20, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    As a mentally ill drummer myself,I have to defend Jim.Yes he murdered someone,but he was also a disturbed man and had been for years.Even more regrettable than his criminal act was the fact that no one ever intervened to help the man.Instead,he tried to cope by using drugs which only intensified his long growing psychosis.He is still incarcerated and will never pick up a drumstick again and will eventually die,recognized only as a murderer rather than the great session drummer he was.

  13. Ross

    May 4, 2023 at 5:47 pm

    One of the top 5 drummers all time in rock music. Definitely the drugs that caused this to happen in his life. He deserves much more recognition in the music industry than he has .

  14. Leland W Fortner Jr

    October 20, 2023 at 3:33 pm

    Separating drugged behavior from mental illness behavior was very difficult for myself and my wife whose son ended up dying in mental care at the age of 42. It was after I took him to the emergency room because he was claiming he was trying to walk across the water of a river, we realized there was a problem. Years later I asked his doctor was our environment a cause for his breakdown? His answer was that the breakdown and voices were causing him to cover with drugs. in later years, my son told me he was hearing voices since he was seven, but did not know how to explain it to anyone because he didn’t know what they were.


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