Troubled session drummer, Jim Gordon, who played for The Beach Boys, Derek and The Dominos and recorded the original Apache breakbeat, has died in prison

Jim Gordon rehearsing with Traffic, 1971
(Image credit: Brian Cooke/Redferns/Getty)

Session drummer and Wrecking Crew member, Jim Gordon, who played for The Beach Boys, Derek and The Dominos, Steely Dan, John Lennon and many, many more, has died in a medical correctional facility, aged 77.

Gordon’s death was confirmed by publicist, Bob Merlis, who states that he died of natural causes “after a long incarceration and lifelong battle with mental illness.”

The troubled session ace’s already-impressive career was cut short in 1984, when he was sentenced to 16 years in prison for brutally murdering his mother in an attack with a hammer during a schizophrenic episode, before stabbing her to death with a butchers’ knife in 1983. 

Gordon grew up in LA’s San Fernando Valley, and by the time he turned 17, was performing as a drummer for the Everly Brothers. Session drummer, Hal Blaine became Gordon’s mentor, bringing him into the Wrecking Crew collective of studio musicians, and Gordon went on to perform on huge-selling albums from The Beach Boys, The Monkees, The Byrds, and more.

In 1970, following a stint with Delaney & Bonnie alongside Eric Clapton, bassist Carl Radle and keyboard player Bobby Whitlock, Gordon and the rest of the band’s rhythm section were recruited by Clapton to form Derek and The Dominos.

Gordon recorded drums on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, with Gordon receiving a songwriting credit on Clapton’s anthem, Layla after penning the extended piano section. 

In 1972, Gordon was one of two drummers enlisted by producer, Michael Viner for his project, The Incredible Bongo Band. Included on the band’s debut album was a funked-up cover of Jerry Lorden’s Apache - versions of which had already been recorded by guitarist Bert Weedon and The Shadows, respectively.

Apache features a drum and percussion intro (King Errisson played the latter), giving DJs and producers unhindered access to the song’s groove. Apache would become one of the most prolifically-sampled breakbeats of all time after being recycled by the likes of The Sugarhill Gang, Nas, Jay Z. As of 2023, WhoSampled credits over 750 uses of the break. 

Two sessions were carried out for Apache, with Gordon cutting his takes in LA and Kat Hendrikse recording parts in Vancouver, Canada. As explained in the documentary, Sample This! it remains unconfirmed as to whether Gordon’s or Hendrikse’s version made the final release. However, it is widely believed that it’s Gordon’s part which gave birth to the famous breakbeat. 

Despite Gordon’s success as an extremely active and sought-after drummer, his story ended with a dark tragedy. Gordon’s behaviour started to change, and he began to hear voices that he claimed prevented him from being able to sleep, shut off and affected his drumming. These symptoms were reportedly attributed to, and treated for, as side effects of alcohol abuse by Gordon’s doctors. 

His mother’s murder was found to be the result of a schizophrenic episode, and Gordon's condition remained undiagnosed until after the killing took place. Gordon, who failed to attend parole hearings and refused to receive medication throughout his prison term, was re-diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2017. 

Gordon was never released from prison, at a 2014 parole hearing, an LA deputy district attorney argued that he was still “seriously psychologically incapacitated”. 

He passed away at California Medical Facility in Vacaville and is survived by his daughter, Amy. 

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.