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Today's entry in the series on influential drummers is a rather tragic one, and it definitely features a drummer that many of you will not know by name.  But I assure you that you have heard Jim Gordon unless you have never listened to any popular music recorded between 1963 and 1983.

Jim Gordon was born on this day in 1945.  Perhaps it's fitting that he was born on Bastille Day, since that's where he's been for the last 25 years.


Notice that Jim has both a Camco and a Rogers tom in that picture.  When I think of Jim Gordon's playing, I think toms.  He reportedly used 15 different toms on the recording of the 5th Dimension's "Stone Soul Picnic."

The other thing that always distinguished Jim Gordon's sound for me was not so much the notes he played, but the spaces between those notes.  There is always this distinct silence between one stroke and the next, whether it's the hi-hat, snare or those toms.  Every note had an importance to play, and he made sure that each note's effect was not diminished by something else.

As to the songs and artists, it would probably be easier to tell you whom he didn't play with, but here is a partial list.

George Harrison
Derek and the Dominoes
Eric Clapton
Harry Nilsson
Tthe Mothers of Invention
The Byrds
The Beach Boys
Yoko Ono
the Monkees
Gordon Lightfoot
Thelma Houston
Andy Williams
Seals & Crofts
Barbara Streisand
Hall & Oates
Merle Haggard
Glen Campbell
Carly Simon
Carole King
B.B. King
Alice Cooper
Steely Dan
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

and, he's not just playing on some B-side, or obscure album track with those people.  He played on "Pet Sounds" with the Beach Boys.  He played the drums on Mason Williams' "Classical Gas."  He is the drum sound on Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose That Number."  And of course, he is not only the drummer on "Layla," but also the piano player on the instrumental coda.

Last week, I mentioned how the way to get work as a drummer was to "play like Ringo."  You could also just say "play like Jim Gordon" and it would be the same thing, but then nobody outside the business would know what you were talking about.  In the business, though, everyone knew, and if you didn't have Hal Blaine on your recording, you probably had Jim Gordon.  He had it all in the 1970s; a great career playing drums, and he didn't have to go on the road unless he wanted to.

Here he is with Eric Clapton and Carl Perkins on the Johnny Cash show.

Then came the tragic part.  Around 1978, Jim Gordon began to hear voices.  He went to doctors, and was treated for alcohol abuse.  Unfortunately, while he may have been an alcoholic, that wasn't what caused the voices.

Turns out Jim Gordon was severely schizophrenic, and on June 3, 1983, he killed his mother by striking her repeatedly with a hammer (and no, the irony is not lost on me).  He was sentenced to sixteen years to life and remanded to the custody of the California Department of Corrections.

He's still in there.  Unfortunately for Jim, in the early 80s, California had taken a decidedly harsh stance on the insanity defense, after the Harvey Milk killing.  In 1982, the voters passed Proposition 8, which virtually eliminated the "diminished capacity" defense, and limited insanity under the criminal law to the strict confines of the "M'Naughton Rule."  A defendant must show either that he was so incapacitated he either didn't know what he was doing, or didn't know it was wrong.  Jim didn't fit into either category, so the defense was unavailable to him.

I don't know how much difference it would have made.  California, since the time of Ronald Reagan, has been on a mission to undo all of the enlightened things that help people in need that had developed in the previous 40 years.  The state hospitals were shut and the inmates were given SSI and put on the streets.  The only state mental hospital left is the Atascadero State Hospital, run by the Department of Corrections.As far as I know, that's where Jim Gordon is now, and it's likely where he'll stay.

(Please note, I have been given consent to disclose the following information.)

I have a client who also heard voices (likely brought on by a series of concussions sustained in successive automobile accidents).  He shot a deputy sheriff, and although the deputy wasn't badly hurt, and it was my client's first offense for anything ever, he got 29 years in prison.  He was precluded from using a mental defense too.

He was put in maximum security at Corcoran (an extremely nasty place, even among prisons), and eventually Donovan (much nicer).  It became obvious that he was in need of serious mental health treatment, because he was put in the Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP), an intensive regime that is supposed to last no more than 90 days, for seven years.  Eventually, he spent about six months at Atascadero himself.

I met with him just before he went to Atascadero, told him about Jim Gordon, and mentioned some of the records Jim Had played on that I knew he liked.  When he got back, I asked him if he'd met Jim, and he said, yes, Jim was in the same unit with him.  Jim Gordon lives a pleasant life at Atascadero, and is supposedly well institutionalized, and receives appropriate medication for his schizophrenia.  As far as I know, he does not play drums there.

My client had to come back to Donovan.  He was rather happy at Atascadero, and would be o.k. staying for what is probably a life sentence for him, since he'll not be eligible for parole until he's 72 (that's an effect of California's "three strikes" law).  To me, it's a ridiculous waste of resources to keep him there when he has never been in any trouble in the prison system, and really needs treatment.

Oh well, things aren't likely to change, unless California's budget woes finally knocks some sense into everyone and we can stop getting so tough on crime that we make it tough on everyone.

Happy birthday Jim.  Here's hoping you can deal with the demons.

Originally posted to greggp on Tue Jul 14, 2009 at 10:46 AM PDT.

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