Jim Gordon, Wrecking Crew Drummer Heard on Derek and the Dominos’ ‘Layla,’ Dies at 71

Gordon suffered a psychotic episode in 1983 and killed his mother. He remained imprisoned until his death

Jim Gordon
UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Derek and the Dominoes Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Jim Gordon, one of the most in-demand session drummers of the 1960s and ’70s whose beats were heard on dozens of recordings including Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” and the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album, has died. He was 71.

In 1983, Gordon suffered a psychiatric event and killed his mother with a hammer and a knife. He was diagnosed schizophrenic but was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison and never attended a parole hearing, as his mental condition never improved. He died in a prison medical facility in Vacaville, California.

Gordon began drumming professionally in the Los Angeles area as a teen, backing the Everly Brothers as early as 1963. He was the understudy of Hal Baine, original drummer for the Los Angeles session aces known as the Wrecking Crew, and eventually became the informal group’s first-call drummer.

As a Wrecking Crew member, Gordon played on dozens of recordings including The Beach Boys’ landmark Pet Sounds album and the instrumental hit “Classical Gas.”

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Derek and the Dominoes Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Gordon (second from right, above) was touring with an Eric Clapton-fronted band called Delaney & Bonnie when the blues guitarist formed a new band, Derek and the Dominos, taking his rhythm section with him. Gordon was credited as a co-songwriter on “Layla,” having contributed the unmistakeable piano line – which he was later accused of stealing from his ex-girlfriend, fellow recording artist Rita Coolidge.

Gordon also toured with Joe Cocker, Traffic and Frank Zappa, and was a member of the Incredible Bongo Band when it recorded a version of “Apache” that is still widely sampled on hip-hop records.

Steely Dan, more of an elite composing club and curator of fine session musicians than a traditional band, hired Gordon for most of the tracks on “Prezel Logic,” including “Ricky Don’t Lose That Number.” He was still working with Alice Cooper in the late 1970s, but by then his mental health was deteriorating.