The death was announced in a statement from his publicist, Bob Merlis. No reason was given.
Gordon’s collaborations included tracks on George Harrison’s first post-Beatles album, “All Things Must Pass” (1970); the Beach Boys’ seminal album ‘Pet Sounds’ (1966) and Steely Dan’s 1974 song ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’.
The demand for Mr. Gordon’s versatility was once so high – from bluesy backbeats to whiplashes – that he had three times the studio tempo of drummers. He spanned genres as diverse as Glen Campbell’s country-influenced odes (“Wichita Lineman”, 1968), Gordon Lightfoot’s folksy ballads (“Sundown”, 1974) and Frank Zappa’s rock-jazz fusion. Zappa nicknamed Mr. Gordon “Skippy” as a playful joke about his sunny upbringing in a California suburb.
Sitting behind his drum kit, Mr. Gordon musicians and enthusiasts as part of the Los Angeles-based Wrecking Crew, a group of largely anonymous studio players who accompanied top stars. With his athletic, 6-foot-3 frame — and his mop of wavy curly hair — he could hit the skins-and-cymbals for rockers like Joe Crocker and Tom Petty. Or he could lay down sharp rhythms that defined a song.
His work on the Incredible Bongo Band’s 1973 song “Apache” (a remake of a 1960 hit by The Shadows) was discovered by hip-hop artists and became one of the most sampled drum breaks in history. The 2012 documentary “Sample This” called the Bongo Band’s version “hip-hop’s anthem”.
Mr. Gordon, who also played keyboards, was credited with the piano-led second coda of “Layla”, which appears on the 1970 album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” by Clapton’s band, Derek and the Dominos. (Rita Coolidge, a singer and songwriter, claims she helped write the song, but credit was denied.)
Even as Mr. Gordon’s fame grew, his increasingly erratic behavior made other musicians wary. While on tour with Cocker in 1970, he was accused by Coolidge of assaulting her. “It came out of nowhere,” she said in Bill Janovitz’s 2023 biography of musician Leon Russell.
Mr Gordon sought outpatient treatment for schizophrenic episodes – he said he heard voices telling him when to eat, what to wear and when to work. Sometimes he also disappeared due to drug and alcohol abuse.
The offers and gigs ran out. In 1979, Mr. Gordon was with Paul Anka’s band in Las Vegas. After a few bars of the opening number, Mr. Gordon walked off stage.
Just before midnight on June 3, 1983, Mr. Gordon arrived at the North Hollywood home of his 71-year-old mother, Osa Marie Gordon. According to police, he hit her on the head four times with a hammer. Somehow she survived. He then repeatedly stabbed a butcher knife in her chest, police said.
At his 1984 trial, psychiatrists testified that Mr. Gordon thought his mother was controlling him by a voice in his head. He felt that the voices sometimes made it impossible for him to play the drums, according to the testimony.
“This is not a murder case,” said his attorney Scott Furstman. “This case is a tragedy.”
Mr Gordon was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 16 years in prison. A then-new California law blocked the use of insanity as a defense. But the judge, James Albracht, took note of Mr Gordon’s apparent “serious mental illness”.
Mr. Gordon was sent to inmates’ medical facilities for schizophrenia treatment. Parole was denied over the decades.
“When I remember the crime, it’s kind of like a dream,” he told The Washington Post in 1994. “I can remember going through what happened in that space and time, and it seems a little detached, like I went through it. on another plane. It didn’t seem real.”
Born in Los Angeles on July 14, 1945, James Beck Gordon grew up in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley as post-war suburbs sprang up. His father was an accountant and his mother a teacher.
He started playing drums as a child and made his first kit out of garbage cans. In his teens, he was in a local band, earning $10 a performance while also playing percussion in the Burbank Symphony. He was offered a music scholarship to the University of California Los Angeles. Instead, he joined the Everly Brothers for a UK tour shortly after graduating from high school in 1963.
His picky habits stood out. He would carefully unpack and fold his clothes in hotels, even on a one night gig. His money was carefully saved and tabulated—down to toothpaste expenses—influenced by his father’s meticulous bookkeeping. “He partied like a rock star but managed his money like a CPA,” wrote Martin Booe in a profile in The Post.
In the mid-1960s, Los Angeles’ top studio drummer, Hal Blaine, made it known that there was an emerging new talent in town. Mr. Gordon soon had his choice of artist. He worked with Carly Simon on “You’re So Vain” (1972) and John Lennon on “Power to the People,” a song on the 1971 album “Plastic Ono Band.” The list kept growing: Harry Nilsson, Nancy Sinatra , the Byrds.
Later, from behind bars, Mr. Gordon dutifully paid his ongoing royalties from “Layla” and other work that generated recurring payments, such as the “Apple Jam” session with Harrison.
Mr. Gordon’s marriages to Jill Gordon, a dancer, and Renée Armand, a singer, ended up in divorce. Survivors include a daughter, Amy, from his first marriage.
In 1993, Mr. Gordon watched on television Clapton accept the Grammy for best rock song for an acoustic version of “Layla” on his album “Unplugged” (1992). Mr. Gordon was known as a songwriter on the Grammy program, but Clapton did not mention him in his acceptance speech.
Mr Gordon did not seem to hold a grudge during an interview with The Post a year later.
“I’d still like to play with Eric,” he said.