Caught by the River

Caught by the Reaper: Jim Gordon

Cally Callomon | 21st March 2023

Cally Callomon on the Life and Death of the Never Late Drummer.

Drumming is a dangerous business, possibly the most precarious seat in any band, as Lee Harris of Talk Talk may testify after his perpetual non-stop beating throughout the lengthy Spirit Of Eden album recording session that nearly sent him over the top (‘by the end I was hearing angels’ he once said). The fruits were, of course, pure magic.

To call Jim Gordon, who has died at 77, a ’session drummer’ is to describe only a fraction of his talents which Steve Winwood called ‘hitting the sweet spot’. Few drummers ever find that spot. Gordon’s list of those he played with, sometimes as a hired hand but most often as a contributing band member, reads like a fairy tale.

Gordon was a true Californian and started drumming early. By 17 he was touring the UK with the Everly Brothers and had joined Hal Blaine’s session collective known as The Wrecking Crew.

That list: Bobby Darin, Judy Collins, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Righteous Brothers, The Notorious Byrd Brothers and then later he formed Derek And The Dominos after meeting Eric Clapton during the lengthy All Things Must Pass sessions. ‘Layla’, their international hit, featured Gordon on drums and on his lengthy piano coda at the end.

That list continued: Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic; Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson; Maria Muldaur’s 1974 hit ‘Midnight At The Oasis’; and albums or tours with Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper, Art Garfunkel and, for me his ultimate: Traffic during their Low Spark / Fantasy Factory era.

Anyone who sampled ‘Apache’ by The Incredible Bongo Band did so for ‘that’ drum pattern — and then he heard those angels. Voices came to him with helpful hints that turned into violent commands, some of these from his mother, which he moderated with alcohol and heroin. In 1983 he attacked his mother ‘on her command’, fatally wounding her, and he was found guilty of second-degree murder, ending his life incarcerated, never to attend his own parole hearings.

His heart has stopped but the heart of his drumming remains beating forever.