gordMurderpedia brings us the tragic story of Jim Gordon, the great rock drummer who in his prime played with a list of rock notables that sounds like a “Who’s Who in Rock ‘n Roll.”  Jim, who was born in 1945, has been serving time in the California Sate Prison system since 1984 for killing his mother with a hammer.  Jim played with the Everly Brothers, the Bryds, Delaney & Bonnie, Derek and the Dominoes (Jim played on the group’s acclaimed 1970 double album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and composed and played the elegiac piano coda for the title track, Layla), Joe Cocker, Traffic and Frank Zappa. Jim was also an in-demand session player and worked with literally dozens of acclaimed musicians during classic rock’s great era.

Sadly, toward the end of the 1970s, when he was in his late 30s, Jim began hearing voices in his head, primarily that of his mother, telling him to starve himself.  This reportedly filled him with violent rage, particularly if he disobeyed her and ate. Strangely, his physicians failed to diagnose his mental illness and instead treated him for alcohol abuse. Perhaps they thought the voices were the result of his abusing alcohol, a side effect of delirium tremens.

In any event, Jim went untreated and his condition worsened. On June 3, 1983, he brutally murdered his mother with a hammer and a butcher’s knife. Finally, at his trial the following year, he was properly diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia. Unable to use the insanity defense, which California had recently narrowed (Remember the “Twinkie Defense”), Gordon was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to sixteen years to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

He has served time at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, Atascadero State Hospital in Atascadero, and the State Medical Corrections Facility in Vacaville. He has twice been denied parole.

A 1994 Washington Post article delves further into this sad story citing an interview with Jim Gordon that occurred at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Opisbo, California:

Apparently Gordon believes that he didn’t commit the crime, but rather the crime “happened” and says “When I remember the crime, it’s kind of like a dream. I can remember going through what happened in that space and time, and it seems kind of detached, like I was going through it on some other plane. It didn’t seem real.” According to police reports, when they found him he feared that the person who killed his mother might come for him too, and in the police car he sobbed “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but she’s tortured me for years.” He was pretty consistently known as an All-American type, with Frank Zappa even nick-naming him “Skippy.” Gordon did admit that speedballs were common on the 1971 Joe Cocker “Mad Dogs and Englishman” tour, when he claims he was dating Rita Coolidge.  A journalist who wrote a never released book on Gordon says he once showed her a letter from Gordon’s father written in 1969 urging him to get psychiatric help.  However, the letter apparently made no reference to the voices that Gordon heard.  The most powerful voice was that of his mother.  The voice would deny him food, with Gordon starving himself for days and then, hiding in a motel to eat fried chicken. The voice also denied him sleep and relaxation, caused him to be sullen and uncommunicative with the occasional violent outburst, and finally, refused to let him play drums. He says “My mother, she persecuted me a great deal, I felt. And it finally got so bad that I just gave up and got a condominium and just stayed indoors. I didn’t go anyplace. That’s when I started hearing voices, and having delusional thoughts and hallucinations, and all of a sudden the crime occurred.”

Although I am no psychiatrist, common sense suggests that the “speedballs” (an injected combination of cocaine and heroin) that Jim Gordon was indulging in with Joe Cocker’s crew in 1971 could not have done him any good.  Although heroin is not known to cause or augment psychosis, it’s well known that cocaine when injected brings on a fantastic rush, not unlike the smoking of crack cocaine.  This indulgence, while reported to be extremely exhilarating at first, can damage the mind with repeated use, and in individuals with a predisposition toward major mental illness, can serve as a mechanism which triggers incipient psychosis.  A similar mental deterioration can occur in individuals who chronically abuse methamphetamine.  The fact that Gordon’s father urged him to get psychiatric help way back in 1969 suggests that the drummer had been struggling with mental issues for some time.  Drugs were rampant among rock royalty during those heady days and although some lucky souls survived their bouts with addiction (Eric Clapton is a good example) others were far less fortunate.

Upon reflection, one can’t help but feel pity for Jim Gordon, the All-American rock drummer extraordinaire, who although still alive is now living the half-life of the terminally incarcerated.  His chronic mental illness will almost certainly keep him from ever being paroled.  Or if he was paroled, it would probably be only to transfer him to a maximum security lock-down mental institution, to some California Shutter Island type joint.  No, given Gordon’s options, the California Men’s Colony isn’t that bad an option. But don’t think Gordon blames anyone else, with the possible exception of his mother, for his sad fate. He has clearly stated that he understands fully why his former rock ‘n roll buddies ostracized him as he descended into the abyss of madness.  In his poignant moments, however, he has been known to voice a wish: that he could get back on stage with Eric Clapton, just for one gig, just for one brief shining hour, so that he could feel the pulse of the moment there under the hot lights as the crowd goes wild.

posted by Patrick H. Moore on March 28, 2013


13 Responses to The Homicide Profiles: Mother Made Me Do It: Why Did Rock Drummer Jim Gordon Kill His Mother? Answer: She Told Him to Starve Himself

  1. deepysix says:

    Let’s not forget Larry “Wild Man” Fischer, another Frank Zappa protege, who tried to kill his Mom with a kitchen knife as a 16-yr-old.

    Zappa discovered him singing in the street as the story goes.

    Wild Man’s first album cover depicted Larry and his Mom in the kitchen with the knife he tried to kill her with.

    • Patrick H. Moore says:

      This is very interesting. I have heard of Wild Man Fischer but have never heard his music and of course did not know that the illustrious (and twisted) Zappa had discovered him. How would you describe his musical style? And how badly injured was his mother?

  2. BJW Nashe says:

    Maybe Insane Clown Posse is looking for a new drummer.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist. This is a fantastic post about a truly horrifying story. Gordon was a great musician. Evidently the time of his whole heyday was so marked by overall insanity that he was never adequately diagnosed and treated. Did anyone emerge from the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour unscathed? Or from this whole era in general?

    And this story also points to the whole dark side of the rock biz, which in California took on a particularly glaring, and sometimes overlooked aspect. We had Beach Boys hanging out with Manson, and recording one of his songs. Zappa was recruiting talent straight off the funny farm. Hells Angels were used as “bodyguards” by the Dead and Garcia (and of course at Altamont). Satanism become somewhat fashionable. Drug casualties everywhere.

    Beneath the “peaceful, easy feeling” lurked a whole slew of problems including addiction, mental illness, violence, and sexual predation.

    The scene was just as much about Kenneth Anger as it was Joni Mitchell.

    And I can’t help but feel terrible for Jim Gordon.

  3. Patrick H. Moore says:

    The dichotomy between the alleged “peaceful, easy feeling” and the dark side of the scene is very disconcerting. Even at the distance of four decades, it’s hard to get an accurate take on the scene. It was a momentous time in the lives of millions of young Americans. One can’t help but think that they were, in many ways, being led down the river by older, unscrupulous characters basking in the trust and adulation of their young followers. Zappa may be a great example of this — a genius musician who generally claimed to be drug-free yet held court right in the middle of the decadent Laurel Canyon scene. Although Dave McGowan undoubtedly overstates the case in his Laurel Canyon conspiracy series, there was bad stuff going on without a doubt. Robert Stone captures this brilliantly in the Canyon scenes in “Dog Soldiers.” And Stone, of course, was always a bit of a cynic which is probably valuable in cases like this.

  4. Doug Barisone says:

    I remember hearing about this back in the 80′s, but never knew the grisly details. Interesting and sad. I’d say the speed-balls probably didn’t help and perhaps served to intensify the madness.

    • Patrick H. Moore says:

      The crazy thing is I never heard about this until a few days ago when I was talking to a lawyer who remembered it and told me about it. That’s pretty incredible that poor Jim wrote the coda to Layla. The coda in a way is more memorable than E.C.’s guitar part. or at least the coda stuck in my mind long before Clapton’s guitar part did.

      And Jim could have been doing speedballs earlier with Derek and the Dominoes. Clapton was a noted user of various dangerous substances until he had the vision of the Lord, or so he tells the story.

  5. Frank says:

    I remember him and his music well…his name was on the credits of a lot of albums… many with english connections…As to the the unscathed and the unscrupulus…a rather good name for a rock and roll group, wouldnt you say…. both terms I find rather presumptuos in the application of these critiques…I believe it just was what happened to a generation lost in space…we were pioneers…no evil intentions, just plain old naivette..unchanged is much more palatable then unscathed…does anyone from any generation come “unscathed?” from the trials and tribulations of their times…hopefully not because it is part of the maturation process…and artists, as is their wont, have frquented the outer fringes since before God was born…some make it and some dont…all however come through it changed…

  6. Patrick H. Moore says:

    It is a good name for a rock band and Jim Gordon played for a lot of good rock bands. But the scene took him out, the maturation process eluded him (the madness got in the way), and now he is mostly forgotten. But now every time “Layla” comes on I’ll think, “Wow! Jim Gordon wrote this and now he’s putting in time at The Men’s Colony. He’s a good example of a guy who “burnt out” and then “faded away” except for the occasional brief resurrection like here in this story. (Fine writing, by the way, very poetic. Please let us now if you’d be interested in contributing a Post or two to the Blog…)

  7. N4 says:

    I’ve been studying all this….


    Speculating that Jim Gordon was among the military brats that became rock royalty, my search for his father’s name and occupation hit a complete dead end. Not so unusual for a sideman, but with such a special case you’d think they’d supply it e.g. in Wikipedia. I’ve found numerous people’s family trees in seconds thanks to sites like ancestry.com et al using middle names a birth or death year or whatever — nothing this time.

    Something else is odd at least. In some pictures from his heyday (like the above) he looks like a dark-haired rat, in others completely different — a curly-haired blond hunk or “California golden boy” as (IIRC) Rolling Stone put it in first reporting the murder. Same guy after a makeover??

    No doubt Jim’s father was somebody ordinary, I’d just like to know authoritatively one way or another…. His fondest wish is to play with Clapton and the gang one more time. Have they ever come to play at his prison?

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      I don’t believe they have come to play there and I don’t believe they will, though I suspect you’re asking the question rhetorically or facetiously. Are you also implying that there may have been a little clandestine conditioning going on with poor Gentleman Jim that caused him to undergo some unearthly metamorphosis?

      • N4 says:

        Merely wondering wonder whether they made a mind control subject or whatever of him. Of course, so many counterculture heroes have wrecked their heads with substance abuse (and inspired fans to do so) a push isn’t always needed into something bizarre.

        Wasn’t asking rhetorically, no.

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