The Wrecking Crew was the unofficial name of a group of successful musicians in the 1960s and 1970s, principally working in Los Angeles. These musicians worked on thousands of hit records and ran from session to session to work with the biggest names in the recording industry.
Arguably, the three busiest drummers of this period were Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer and Jim Gordon. Gordon was admired and respected as not only the sweetest playing drummer, but also a sweetheart of a guy. “A teddy bear,” one famous musician described him. That is, before the dark side devoured him.
Gordon became a successful, working drummer while still a teenager. He toured with the Everly Brothers, and played on albums by The Beach Boys, Carly Simon, George Harrison, John Lennon, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, Traffic, Steely Dan, Helen Reddy, Alice Cooper, Johnny Rivers and many, many more.
The Serial Talker, is a podcast about true crime. Episode 26 is about Jim Gordon. It is the most in-depth story on Gordon, covering the violence, the voices, how he used alcohol to try and keep them at bay, and his ambivalence toward the crime years after he was convicted.
Gordon died on March 13, 2023, at the California Medical Facility in Vacavillle, Calif. He was incarcerated since 1983, following the brutal murder of his mother with a hammer and knife. Voices told him to do it. Diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia after his arrest, his defense team would introduce that as far back as childhood, Gordon was visited by his companions, the voices. Prescribed powerful medications in prison, he was denied parole on multiple occasions.
The past couple of days, there has been an outpouring of comments from people who knew or worked with Gordon, remembering the man before the darkness.
Mental illness is diagnosed and treated differently than it was 40 or 50 years ago. I’m not a mental health professional, so I’m going to stay in my layperson’s lane, but I find it incredibly questionable why he would be hospitalized 14 times in the six years prior to the murder, his illness escalating, red flags galore, yet he was free to kill his mother, who had made arrangements to move to Seattle, in part because of her fear of him.
As early as 1970, when Gordon physically assaulted girlfriend Rita Coolidge while on tour with Joe Cocker, disturbing signs were there. Gordon continued to work and move from relationship to relationship. My point is, he continued to function and interact with many people, work hundreds of recording sessions and tour, all the while, having this illness growing inside him.
Gordon apparently had as many as 14 hospital stays, frequently checking himself in and out, despite threats of violence and frequent bouts of drug and alcohol abuse. His growing paranoia eventually ended his music career as he turned down jobs, and his disturbing studio behavior scared producers from hiring him. Other women in his life complained of physical abuse as the voices continued to guide his actions. Gordon singled out his mother, who he said was trying to control him. Her efforts to get him help, and protect herself with a restraining order failed to get action. It was his mother who tried the hardest to help him, yet it was her voice that was most dominant in his head. The voices prevented him from eating, turning down job offers, and constantly berated him.
I liked Jim Gordon’s drumming and music, including the song “Layla,” credited to Gordon and Eric Clapton as writers. He claimed to write the piano-based coda, which earned him major money. However, Coolidge disputes the songwriting credit, saying that both she and Gordon wrote it, but her name does not appear as a writer. Others back up her claim. Why would he deny her credit? Why would he assault her so viciously by punching her in the face, bouncing her off a wall? Something was wrong, and it was more than just the alcohol and hard drugs, which he spent years abusing and using to self-medicate.
We live in a world of compartmentalization, which allows us to block off certain aspects and focus only on other related elements. We compartmentalize for a variety of reasons, it’s a coping and efficiency tool.
I do not listen to Gordon’s music if I can help it. Why? Because I cannot compartmentalize Gordon the musician from Gordon the monster. Schizophrenia is a cruel and nasty illness; no one asks to acquire it. The outpouring of sympathy for Gordon’s passing is difficult for me to accept, but I never worked with him or knew the “sweet” side that apparently many did. Talented and charming is how many described him. Maybe that’s what makes this story even more sad.
Many see Gordon as a victim, not responsible for the horrible things he did. Fingers are pointed at healthcare providers for failing to correctly diagnose him and for not holding him even after his craziness erupted into death threats. One of those fingers is mine.
I’m not here to trash the memory of Jim Gordon. I don’t care what memories individuals have of him, but streams of sympathetic social media posts bother me. His mother did not deserve to be murdered, Rita Coolidge did not deserve to be assaulted or the other women in his life he punched or choked, and his daughter did not deserve to grow up with such a sad family legacy.
I hope his passing brings peace: for those saddened by his life, those he hurt, for his tortured soul, and for those conflicted by his legacy.