Tragic Hero of the Month: Drummer Jim Go ...

Tragic Hero of the Month: Drummer Jim Gordon

Mar 27, 2023

Tragic Hero of the Month: Drummer Jim Gordon

As a teenager passionate about guitar and rock music, I was a fan of the band Cream. The band featured Eric Clapton, Jack  Bruce, and Ginger Baker. I never got the chance to see them in concert, so when Eric, Ginger, and Steve Winwood (from Traffic) formed Blind Faith, there was no way I would miss seeing them when they came to Bridgeport, CT in 1969.

From our vantage point in front of the stage, my friend Jay Stollman and I were mesmerized by both the headliner and opening act Delaney, Bonnie, & Friends. The concert took place before the Blind Faith album came out, so it was new to all of us there.  

Little did Jay and I know that  most of the collective talent appearing on that rainy day at Kennedy Stadium would spawn timeless musical masterpieces over the next decade. I’m referring to On Tour with Delaney and Bonnie (featuring Clapton, George Harrison, and Dave Mason), Clapton’s first solo album, Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and Derek and the Dominos' Layla. The common thread in this tapestry was drummer Jim Gordon, the flawed tragic hero in this story.

Musical success for Jim Gordon began early. Rather than take advantage of a music scholarship to UCLA, he went on tour with the Everly Brothers at age 17. The next milestone in his career was playing for the Shindogs. They were the house band on the popular Shindig TV show, which featured the best talent of the 1960s, before the lip sync era. After the show had run its course Gordon formed a band with fellow Shindog Delaney Bramlett and Bramlett's wife Bonnie.

The Delaney, Bonnie & Friends’ sound was a rich blend of American rhythm and blues, gospel, and rock. The band caught the attention of Eric Clapton while opening for Clapton’s Blind Faith. DB&F proved to be the right address  for Clapton to find solace. After the electric excesses of Cream, DB&F's song-based roots revival was very grounding. Clapton joined them on their British tour, and  invited George Harrison along for the ride.  

Gordon, together with DB&F's bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock,  got “kidnapped” by Clapton to form his next band. Their first mission was a stint as the core backing band for Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. That triple album became the first solo release by a former Beatle to reach number one.

From there, they formed Derek and the Dominoes, along with Duane Allman. The famous piano coda at the end of "Layla" was written by Gordon. Although there are conflicting reports as to the authorship , we will go with the official narrative.

Even before working with DB&F Gordon was in demand as a session drummer. Among his notable recordings were 1966’s Pet Sounds (Beach Boys), 1968’s “Classical Gas” (Mason Williams), 1972’s “Summer Breeze” (Seals and Crofts), and 1974’s “Sundown” (Gordon Lightfoot). 

In 1970 Gordon joined Joe Cocker and Leon Russell for the post-Woodstock Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. The following year he toured and recorded with Traffic. Later that decade he did sessions with Steely Dan, and Alice Cooper.

And now the story turns troubling. Somewhere along the way in his first thirty eight years, Jim was misdiagnosed with alcoholism. His erratic behavior was actually a product of mental health issues. Unfortunately the “voices in his head” landed him behind bars in 1983 for the last forty years of his life. Further details are not for here and now. I just want to say “Thank you, Jim” for a treasure trove of wonderful music. Rest in peace.

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