It’s time to share my 1982 interview with drummer later convicted of murder

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This week I received an email from a stranger. “I’m a producer/film director based in NYC. I would like to talk [with] you about…your interview with Jim Gordon.”

If you’re a pop music fan, chances are you’ve heard Jim Gordon playing drums as a band member with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, with Derek and the Dominoes, and Traffic. You’ve also likely heard Jim as a studio drummer on a long list of hit records by Gordon Lightfoot, George Harrison, and others.

When drummer Jim Keltner called me in 1982 wondering if Modern Drummer might be interested in interviewing his friend, Jim Gordon, my instant answer, as MD’s managing editor, was yes. Jim Gordon’s music credentials alone warranted a feature interview. But in 1982, with his music career in a slump, Jim Gordon was dispirited. Keltner thought a MD interview might also lift Gordon’s spirits.

Keltner said there was no guarantee Jim Gordon would say yes. But if MD was interested, then Keltner would float the interview idea with Gordon.

Some time later, at night, after normal work hours, alone in my room at the rooming house where I lived, my phone rang. It was Jim Gordon. I wasn’t expecting his call, but talking with musicians at odd hours wasn’t unusual. In my mind, Gordon’s was an introductory phone call for us both. My goal was to gain Gordon’s confidence in me, in MD, and if all went well, to schedule a later day/time for a feature interview.

I would first want time to better study Gordon’s musical career, listening as much as possible to his music, reading up on him, preparing interview questions/topics. That was standard procedure.

So after several minutes of getting to know each other on the phone, I was caught completely off-guard when Jim said he was ready to be interviewed that night.

I scrambled, worried that if I said I wasn’t ready, and insisted on rescheduling the interview, Jim might change his mind. Fortunately I had with me a small cassette recorder, a land line telephone, a Radio Shack suction cup mic, and a couple of cassettes.

I asked Jim Gordon a first question. Then, as I like to do, I listened, letting Jim talk while the tape rolled. I asked questions based on what I knew about Jim Gordon, and new questions came to mind from stories Jim was telling me about recording with Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Mike Post, Larry Bunker, and other music people and events.

Modern Drummer ran Jim Gordon’s interview in January 1983. Five months later, in an episode of what has since been described as misdiagnosed schizophrenia, Gordon murdered his mother. He was sentenced to prison for 16 years to life.

Jim’s interview with me is his only interview. I’ve always said no to a few media requests to use the recorded interview — including, around the time of Jim’s imprisonment — one request from a major tv network.

Time passed — 34 years to be exact — and I began posting audio excerpts from Jim’s interview on my blog. They were well-received. The blog is a place for me to transfer historical drum memorabilia and memories to the public square. If I was a young music researcher and I discovered Scott K Fish’s memorabilia was composted, I’d think, “What a waste. What a jerk.”

So, I am following up with the producer/film director. If he can bring Jim Gordon’s interview to a wider audience, increase help for people with mental illness, then maybe it’s time to let others help share these stories. And in the process, perhaps lift Jim’s spirits after all.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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