A Fallen Star

jim_gordon_rolling_stoneThere is a fascinating video posted over on YouTube titled “MI College of Contemporary Music: Jeff Porcaro Throwback Thursday from the MI Vault.” In it Jeff Porcaro speaks to a group of students about his experiences as a session and stage drummer. At one point Porcaro discusses who he believes to be the “best drummer ever,” Jim Gordon. Specifically citing his groove and feel Porcaro invites the audience to seek out his recordings. Second to only Hal Blaine, Gordon played on a very long list of hits for some of the biggest names in music. This included The Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Neil Diamond, BB King and many-many others. You can view a complete list of his tracks over on Wikipedia.

Very tall and muscular, Gordon was a strong presence on-stage. He played with a power and stamina that made him a top choice among percussionists. After fellow studio phenom Jim Keltner pulled out ahead of a tour with the band Delaney & Bonnie, Gordon took over and backed the act for two years. After that, he continued to do sessions whenever possible. Unfortunately his life would take a very dark turn.

There was a dangerous side to Gordon’s personality. This included schizophrenia and other aspects of mental illness that began to take over his psyche. Starting in 1969 he would disappear for days at a time and exhibit bizarre, self-destructive behavior. As his illness progressed he often heard voices inside of his head that directed him at various times to act out violently. While on tour Gordon punched his girlfriend (soon to be ex-girlfriend) in the face in the corridor of a hotel.

By 1981, he was unable to continue in music. In 1983, the voice told Gordon to kill his mother, which he did. He was sentenced in 1984 to a term of 16 years to life, and remains at a psychiatric prison as of 2017. Gordon explained his feelings in a 1994 interview, “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.” Ironically, thanks to his composer’s credit and the continued sales in which he is entitled to royalties, Gordon is likely the richest white felon in the California (psychiatric) penal system.

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