Interesting article on drummer Jim Gordon... Feb 13, 2008 0:04:15 GMT -5
Post by Rick Henry on Feb 13, 2008 0:04:15 GMT -5
Here's an interesting article on Jim Gordon written in 1985 for Rolling Stone Magazine.
Jim Gordon played drums on several Carpenters albums. He was a longtime associate of Carpenters. he was very fond of Karen Carpenter.
Karen is mentioned in this article about 3/4 of the way into it.
This article is somewhat gruesome... if you have a weak stomach you may want to skip this one.
By Barry Rehfeld
Rolling Stone- June 6th, 1985
She wanted him to kill her. The voices - her voice - has said so.
It was her voice that helped him pick out the eight-and-a-quarter-inch
butcher knife, and had him sharpen it. And he would do what the voices
told him to do because he always listened to them, even though they had
ruined his life.
It was some life.
James Beck Gordon had been, quite simply, one of the greatest
drummers of his time. In the Sixties and Seventies he had played with
John Lennon, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, the Everly Brothers, the Beach
Boys, Judy Collins, Joe Cocker, Frank Zappa, Duane Allman, Carly Simon,
Jackson Browne and Joan Baez. But the gigs had long since come to an end,
and on June 3rd, 1983, there was nothing on his mind except killing his
The voices told him what to do next. One said to hit her with a
hammer first, so she would not suffer when he stabbed her with the knife.
He would obey. He packed the hammer and the knife in a small leather
attach case and that afternoon drove his white Datsun 200SX the five miles
from his Van Nuys condominium to his mother's small North Hollywood
apartment. When he got there, she was not in, so he went home and waited.
At about 11:30 that evening he returned. A light was on inside, and when
he knocked on the door, he could hear Osa Marie Gordon shuffling across
the floor in her slippers.
When his mother opened the door, the six-foot-three Gordon stared
down at the heavyset seventy-two-year-old gray-haired woman for only an
instant. "Jim", she said, in that eternally irretrievable moment before
he hit her. As she screamed, he struck her with the hammer three more
times, then as she fell to the floor he plunged the knife into her chest
three times, and left it there - dead center.
At his trial in Los Angeles last spring, James Beck Gordon was found
guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to sixteen years to life.
The defense had argued insanity - but a tough new California law makes it
almost impossible to prove that anyone is legally insane. Still, noone -
neither the prosecution nor the presiding judge - disagreed with the
diagnosis of the five defense psychiatrists that Gordon was an acute
schizophrenic. No one, that is, except Gordon.
"They call everybody that", he said last August in a heavily secured
prison meeting room at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo.
While talking, Gordon, 39, had trouble getting the hang of rolling a
cigarette, and he smiled at his frustration. It was a warm, ingratiating
smile that was as much a part of his being as the fact that he had
brutally murdered his mother.
"I really don't feel that crazy", he added. "I get along with
people. I think I'm pretty normal."
Gordon spoke softly and calmly. He was taking a powerful
antipsychotic drug daily, and it seemed to help him feel better about
himself, but he also appeared to believe what he said. It was, of course,
all part of the delusion. So much had happened that it spilled out in
great torrents from fellow musicians, friends, doctors, and Gordon
himself. The murder of his mother was only the final act of madness.
Throughout his life there had been a series of disturbing eruptions that
gave clear signs of the psychosis destroying his mind. And yet many of
them were minimized or overlooked by those around him. The business of
making music had much to do with it. In that maddeningly creative,
nomadic world where geniuses, superstars, impresarios, fakers, freaks and
free spirits vie for the spotlight, Gordon's was just another act. That
no one cried out before the disaster was just one of the many tragedies in
a life that was, for a long time, "pretty normal."
With his curly blond hair and beefy build, James Beck Gordon was a
California golden hunk in an Ozzie and Harriet family. Home was a small
house in Sherman Oaks, a quiet bedroom community in Los Angeles' San
Fernando Valley. It was a neighborhood where boys like James and his
older brother, John, mowed the lawn, shined their father's shoes and
minded their manners. When either brother spoke, it was always "Please,"
"Thank You" and, on the phone, "Gordon residence."
When the decorum was shattered, it was in gentle Fifties sitcom
fashion. At age eight, Gordon made a set of drums out of trash cans and
held his musical debut in the room he shared with his brother. But,
instead of throwing the cans out, his parents paid for music lessons.
Both parents were solid breadwinners. His father was an accountant, while
his mother was a nurse in the maternity ward of a local hospital. By
twelve, 'Gordon had his own set of drums, and after additions to the
house, a room of his own to play them in.
There was only one stain on this picture-perfect scene from suburbia,
and it was hidden from view. When Gordon was a boy, his father was an
alcoholic. It was his mother's strength that held the family together
until the children reached adolescence and her husband joined Alcoholics
Anonymous, stopped drinking and became a full-time father again, happily
managing his sons' Little League team and playing the role of neighborhood
"They were good parents", Gordon says simply.
Yet, even within the relative tranquillity of his family circle,
there were warnings of the nightmares to come. Although he played
frequently with his brother and was treated as the baby of the family by
his parents, he says he felt left out. Eating made him feel better, but
it only added to his insecurity; he was heavy, and sensitive about his
weight. There was only once comfort to which he could turn; the voices.
He seemed to need them. They were his friends, a child's companions -
someone to talk to - safe, loyal, kind.
"Those voices were totally within the realm of reality for a small
boy", says Dr. William Vicary, one of the defense psychologists, "but they
were also indicative of the paranoiac insecurities he would fall prey to
Whatever insecurities he felt as a child, they were not easily
justifiable for the teenage Gordon. Tall, husky, handsome and winsomely
shy, he was elected class president in junior high school. His rising
popularity paralleled his increasing devotion to music.
While in high school, he played with the Burbank Symphony, toured
Europe one summer and performed in the Tournament of Roses Parade with a
youth band. With a fake ID, so he could work as an adult, he took on jobs
at weddings, bar mitzvahs and small clubs. Soon he was working weekends
as part of a group called Frankie Knight and the Jesters. They played the
clubs in Hollywood and West Los Angeles for five or ten dollars a night.
It was barely spending money, but Gordon got more out of it than cash.
The insecurities and the voices receded as though overwhelmed by the beat
of the music.
His parents wanted him to go to college, and he considered becoming a
music teacher. UCLA offered him a music scholarship, but he turned it
down. Too much was happening in the industry for him to spend four more
years in school.
The Los Angeles studio scene was the place to be for a talented young
musician in the early Sixties. It was where the best and highest-paid
sidemen came to do their most creative work, laying down track after track
until they had the perfect sound. Producer Phil Spector, with his Wall of
Sound, was a one-man hit factory, rolling out gold records for the
Crystals, the Ronettes, and the Righteous Brothers. Keeping time with
Spector was surf music, as epitomized by the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.
Gordon pounced on whatever work he could get. A friend who played
saxophone for Duane Eddy heard Gordon play with the Jesters and
recommended him for a demo, the raw recording of a basic song. It was the
lowest-paying work, but for Gordon it was a great start. That and his
Jester gigs were the best ways to get himself noticed. Everyone was
hunting for talent, and the clubs Gordon played were crawling with scouts.
One who spotted him was a bass player with the Everly Brothers.
Rock's premier duo was gearing up for a summer tour of England in
1963, and after Gordon auditioned, the Everly Brothers wanted him to be
their drummer. Although his parents disapproved, his pay would be low and
his toehold in the studios would be lost, it was one spectacular
graduation present, and Gordon jumped at the opportunity.
The tour was a success (he joined them for another the following
year). When Gordon returned home, he was excited about making performing
his career. It was slow going at first. He even had enough time on his
hands to attend Los Angeles Valley College. Yet, if Gordon was learning
anything that school year, it was not in junior college but in the A&B
Corned Beef restaurant. There the great studio musicians hung out during
their breaks, talking music and industry gossip. Gordon's club dates,
demo work and Everly Brothers credit made him an accepted member of the
club. Whenever he could, he grabbed a sandwich and picked up some
impromptu lessons by watching the great sidemen play. He was a quick
study. Within a year, his formal education was over, and he was headed
for a class by himself as a drummer.
At thirty-five, Hal Blaine was the most respected session drummer in
Los Angeles, with more work than he could handle, when Gordon arrived on
the scene. Blaine says, "His name was on everybody's lips." Including
Blaine's = and that was better than a meal ticket.
"When I didn't have the time", he says, "I recommended Jim. He was
one hell of a drummer. I thought he was one of the real comers."
Word spread that there was a hot new drummer around. Gordon was the
"only living metronome" and had a "knack for hitting the sweet spot."
Soon, like Blaine, he was handling two or three recording sessions a day,
sometimes six, seven days a week and charging double time for it,
something only the best could do. At that price, producers were also
getting the drummer's own set, instead of jack-of-all-beats student skins.
The meticulous care Gordon gave his own kits made producers eager not only
for his talent but for his sound. The big Gordon beat was soon a
record-industry standard. From a session with the Righteous Brothers, he
and a set of his drums might travel to a date with Judy Collins while
another set was being shipped to the day's final session with Bobby Darin,
Gordon Lightfoot, Glen Campbell or Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. Almost
overnight the money was rolling in, and he handled it well. After all,
his father was an accountant, and proud of it, too.
In 1964 Gordon married an attractive, vivacious dancer whom his
mother had liked ever since he had begun going with her during his
youth-band days. In many ways, Jim and Jill Gordon were an ideal couple.
Music continued to be a bond in marriage, as both landed jobs on the
prime-time-television rock show "Shindig". Together they bought a
Mercedes 220S and a Spanish-style two-bedroom house in North Hollywood.
It was not far from Gordon's parents' house, and they dined there
As the Sixties raced along, the times-they-are-a-changin' energy made
Gordon restless. He tried to break with his routine by forming his own
group, but they made only one album before splitting up. He then grew
closer to Leon Russell and Rita Coolidge, who had recorded a popular album
with the white soul duo Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett.
Delaney and Bonnie were getting set to tour England in 1969 and had a
drummer, Jim Keltner, but Gordon wanted to go. "He traded me some studio
gigs for a chance with Delaney and Bonnie", recalls Keltner, who worked
with John Lennon, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Randy Newman. "He became
the main guy because he was better."
Shortly before Jim left for England, Jim and Jill were divorced.
Their marriage had lasted five years and produced one child, a daughter.
True to his paternal roots, Gordon made sure he was paid more than any of
the sidemen. But Delaney and Bonnie could afford to pay him a little
extra. The tour was almost guaranteed to be a success. The duo was far
more popular in England than in the States, and with the addition of a
couple of unemployed guitarists named Eric Clapton and George Harrison,
the tour took on superstar trappings.
"He was gentle", says Bonnie Bramlett about Gordon, "sincere,
considerate, brutally handsome, charming as a snake, and could he play!
He was right on the money. I could do whatever I wanted. I was really
enjoying myself. We all were. And it showed."
Audiences everywhere caught the spirit. The tour sold out, and a
live album was a critical and financial success. Delaney and Bonnie
thought they had the makings of a long and fruitful collaboration, but
they were wrong.
Nearly everyone from the Delaney and Bonnie ensemble left to join
Leon Russell for Joe Cocker's soon-to-be infamous Mad Dogs and Englishmen
tour. "When they left", says Bramlett in a bittersweet voice, "we were
the last to know, and it broke our hearts."
The tour had been Leon Russell's idea, with a little help from a
canine friend named Canina. The show had everything: not only Canina but
booze and drugs, a menage of groupies, wives and children, a live-record
contract and a film crew taking it all in for a feature-length movie.
Sheer genius, total decadence, utter madness and knockout showmanship
mixed in equal measure. Cocker led by example. Alternating between
performing brilliantly and forgetting the words to his songs, he could be
an inspiration on the tour one day, then throw up in public the next. All
the while, drink and drugs were the red and green lights directing the
action onstage and off: heroin, mescaline, speed, MDA, cocaine, acid.
"The real decrepit things went on", says Keltner, who came along to
play double drums with Gordon. "Sharing girls. Screwing every chick in
sight. Most were there for that purpose. The drugs were just as easy to
get. I wasn't a stranger to them myself. Now I feel like I'm lucky to
have survived them."
Gordon seemed to more than survive drugs then. He was a superman.
For a young man who had never before done anything stronger than grass,
Gordon did drugs prodigiously. Before one concert in Seattle, Gordon got
Keltner to drop acid with him. During a rendition of "Bird on the Wire",
Keltner was unable to continue. Gordon tried to coach him, to no avail.
Keltner left in tears, while Gordon powered on.
It went that way the whole tour: Gordon playing at the top of his
stroke while he swallowed, smoked and snorted anything he could get his
hands on. He was trying to keep the demons at bay.
"I had a feeling I was being watched", he says, "but it was all in
The voices were pattering - they did not like the drug business - but
there were mere murmurs then, perhaps no more than childhood memories or
his conscience. Gordon ignored them. Everything was going along so
smoothly. He avoided the groupie scene in favor of a steady relationship
with Rita Coolidge. They spent nearly all their spare time together. He
bought her a fox-fur coat. They collaborated in writing music and laughed
over who was the poorer piano player. But it all came to an abrupt end
one afternoon in a room at the Warwick Hotel, in New York, where the band
was hanging out.
"He asked me to step out into the hall", Coolidge says, "I thought he
wanted to talk; instead he hit me."
The blow sent her sprawling and left her with a black eye for the
rest of the tour. It was then, as now, inexplicable. It appeared simply
to be the first chapter of a paranoid madness. Gordon is sheepish about
it now. He was apologetic then. He left books of poetry for Coolidge,
but she would no longer have anything to do with him. In a madmen's tour,
the incident was quickly buried by others, and Gordon continued on a roll.
When the tour ended, Gordon got a call from George Harrison in
London. He wanted Gordon to join him as well as Clapton and Phil Spector
in making his first solo album, the landmark "All Things Must Pass".
After they finished, Clapton asked Gordon if he wanted to form a band.
Gordon said yes, settled in a Chelsea flat and bought a Ferrari. Together
with Bobby Whitlock, Carl Randle and Duane Allman, he and Clapton formed
Derek and the Dominos.
It was an unparalleled combination of creativity and star-crossed
lives. Clapton was the Mozart of rock, a man of seemingly limitless
talent nearing ruin. He was not alone: heroin was a favorite drug in the
group. Still, the music fell into place. Gordon and Clapton wrote the
classic "Layla", the title cut of the group's only studio album. Clapton
wrote the driving first half, and Gordon added the inspired piano melody
on the haunting second half, one of the products of his work with
The group broke up acrimoniously after its only tour in 1972, citing
differences over money and artistic direction, but the drugs had had much
to do with it, too.
"The producers wouldn't pay me for Layla", Gordon recalls, "because
they said I would be dead in six months anyway."
As sobering as that may have been - especially given the drug-related
deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin as well as Duane Allman's later
fatal motorcycle accident - Gordon kept doing drugs, graduating from
snorting to mainlining heroin. And he kept up his feverish work pace.
John Lennon brought Gordon aboard for his solo album "Imagine". (They had
played together when Gordon, Clapton and Harrison joined Lennon's Plastic
Ono Band for a UNICEF concert in London in 1969.) Next he took over the
drumming for Traffic on "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" and the tour
that followed. When he returned to London, he did studio sessions for
producer Richard Perry, including Carly Simon's "You're So Vain." Then he
was ready to go home to California. He was tiring of the cycle of drugs
and work, and he had just received his own warning of the damage they
could do. Driving on a rain-soaked road, his mind had drifted and he had
totaled his Ferrari.
Word of how he had changed - the drugs and alcohol, the accident and
his treatment of Coolidge - preceded Gordon to L.A. He was labeled
another drugged-out superstar casualty, unable to deal with the pressure,
the work and the drugs. Yet, when he got back, it was as if he had never
left. Gordon was in such demand that he could pick and choose his
The music industry was booming. There was a feeling that the
impossible could be done every day, and new groups and sounds were being
tried out everywhere. Although the risks of failure were high, so were
the payoffs. The record companies made sure they had a safety net. When
a band got in the studio, a new range of high-tech equipment as well as
sidemen like Gordon were waiting there to prevent any bad recording cuts.
"In most cases", says producer Michael Omartian, "drummers in a group
had to get used to the fact that when they got into the studio, they were
going to be replaced by Jim."
He never let up. He was working in studios constantly, with Steely
Dan ("Rikki Don't Lose That Number"), Johnny Rivers (L.A. Reggae), Maria
Muldaur ("Midnight at the Oasis") and many others. Any doubts about the
staying power of his talents quickly disappeared. He had gotten away with
Excepting his father's death in 1973, Gordon remembers the period
following his return from England as one of the best in his life. He
bought a house in Sherman Oaks and a new Mercedes 450SLC, saw his daughter
again and married singer and songwriter Renee Armand. For a time, he also
stayed away from drugs. Still, he was not entirely clean.
"I guess I was an alcoholic", he says now, contemplating the slide
from drugs too booze. "Before, I was drinking every night, but I wasn't
getting up in the morning for a drink; I would put a needle in my arm.
When I stopped taking the heroin, I began to drink all day."
He didn't stop doing drugs for long. Speedballs - cocaine mixed with
heroin - became his passion. Still, he was always there when a record
producer needed him, and he was one sideman who never excused himself
during a session to do a line. His reputation was so solid that even
those who took no part in the drug and alcohol culture, like the Osmonds,
were glad to have him play with them. Nevertheless, there was something
churning up Gordon's insides.
It was as if there was a struggle for control over him - and he was
slowly losing. He went from warm to polite; from friendly to pleasant;
from quiet to uncommunicative. During session breaks, he would stand
alone in the corner mumbling to himself. He told a friend not to give out
his telephone number - he didn't want to talk to anyone.
"He was always a quiet guy", says bass player Max Bennett, "but the
quiet became very loud, and everybody left him alone."
Gordon gradually retreated, like someone with a terrible secret.
Sometimes he would disappear for days, isolating himself in some
out-of-the-way hotel. His old childhood insecurities returned, but they
were grown up now, into full-blown paranoia. He felt unwanted and unsure
of himself. Life atop the drummer's pedestal was shaky. He had an
irrational fear of the latest crop of drummers who were swarming all over
Los Angeles. When the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band was forming in 1973,
Gordon surprised Chris Hillman by quietly asking for an audition when the
job was his without question.
This was not the Jim Gordon anyone knew, and few knew who or what was
taking his place. In a business where so many had an intimate
relationship with drugs and booze, there was an unquiet feeling that
whatever was wrong with Gordon, it bore little resemblance to anything
they had ever seen at the end of a needle or at the bottom of a bottle.
"The paranoia", explains Dr. Vicary, "was just one symptom of his
illness. It is often one of the earliest signs of schizophrenia. 'I'm
okay', he might say. 'They're all just out to get me.' The 'they' are
often real people in the beginning. When more advanced symptoms turn up,
delusions and hallucinations, they can become imaginary voices and
Gordon's wife Renee was perhaps the first to glimpse the otherworldly
horror in his soul. Theirs had always been a mercurial relationship,
certified by an overnight trip to Las Vegas and held together by their
mutual love of music. Gordon played the drums, guitar and piano on her
solo album, The Rain Book, and arranged and wrote some of the music. But
whatever the difficulties that arose in their marriage, Armand was not
prepared for the violence.
She was just coming home from shopping one afternoon, hadn't even put
the groceries down, when Gordon confronted her. He looked down at her
with a menacing stare, his eyes narrowing. It was a look that would chill
many over the next decade.
"I know what you're doing," he said.
Continued in the next post...