Jimmy Page said, “We broke the first cardinal rule of music, which is, ‘Don’t Speed Up!’
I personally had to break the second commandment of music which might be, ‘Don’t Slow Down.’
For the last six months I have been deaf. It started with me working out at the Y, getting in shape, dropping weight, feeling pretty good, running for a few miles. But then my ears started shutting down and there was no one who could help.
The acupuncturist treated me with Chinese herbs, UCLA put me on antibiotics which made it worse. Nothing helped. It was getting worse. To the point where I could only watch mouths moving and not get any voice.
The irony was that I could still carry on the drumming meditation groups. It was loud enough to get through. The mystery deepened and also my depression. Randy, one curious fellow who dropped in for a demo of the drum healing returned many times with his partner Cecily. They were getting a lot of personal energetic benefits from our drumming meditations. Randy, a chiropractor, explained that it was probably my Eustachian tubes blocked, or infected. Another round with herbalists. Nothing. But Randy’s mention of eustachian tubes was a clue. I googled, nothing of consequence. Wacked out operations on eustachian tubes.
All I could do was sit silently and watch movies that I had checked out at Santa Monica Public Library. “Redwood Highway” sounded like a movie at least nice to look at. I read the dialogue at the bottom of the screen. A grandmother did not approve of her granddaughter’s marriage to a drummer. But in the end she hiked across the Redwood Highway, 80 miles, to the wedding. In the woods, she met Tom Skerrit, who was the owner of a Redwood burl crafts store. He looked a the old woman’s feet and said,
“If you are going to walk the Redwood Highway, you are going to need a lot of potassium. Fish, bananas…” When I read the word potassium, it lit up like a neon sign on the television screen.
I googled, “Eustachian tubes clearing with potassium.” And I got a wikipedia hit. I had just donated ten dollars to wikipedia the month before.
PET is a new condition. Eustachian tubes are not clogged, they are jammed in the open position, because they are dried out from caffeine, stress, heavy exercise and losing weight. Wikipedia explained all the symptoms; Head in a barrel, hearing internal body sounds and not able to hear outside sounds. The condition has no known cure, Wiki explained, and most people are so depressed they commit suicide. But some people have tried a potassium saturate to “induce edema”. That meant potassium could maybe put moisture back into the dried out mucous valves in the Eustachian tubes.
I had my doubts. Then Cecily came in with a bag full of ripe bananas. They occasionally bring us fruit from the Buddhist temple after it has been blessed on the alter. She apologized.
“I’m sorry but all we haver are bananas this time.”
I took that as an endorsement from the Universe, “Eat the friggin bananas!”
I went to the Co-op and bought a bottle of potassium capsules, took two hundred milligrams every few hours. I went to the drumming therapy and half way through my ears opened up. What had been a dull distant thudding for the last six months suddenly became a loud group of drummers having a great time. The open ears shut right down again, thank goodness. It was really loud.
I continued my dosage of bananas and potassium and my ears opened up and stayed open, as long as I take potassium. The wikipedia site also had a link to a Japanese firm who put together a concoction of about twenty herbs. They work too.
The Wikipedia entry on Patulous Eustachian Tube also stated that this condition is always misdiagnosed. I had to learn for myself what was happening in my own body.
The last time I saw Eric Hord
The last time I saw Eric Hord, the guitar player for the Mama’s and Papa’s, he was hitch hiking up Laurel Canyon Boulevard just above Sunset Strip. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was returning from my first national tour with Tim Buckley. I was riding back to where ever I was going to stay as dictated by my self appointed crazy ass manager, Peggy from Coconut Grove. I’m feeling guilty that I’m riding in the back of this limo she had scammed. Suddenly, she needlessly yells at the driver sitting right next to her up in front of the glass partition.
“Pull over! Pick this guy up. I know him!”
The stretch limo sighed up to the curb, frustrating all the VW micro busses, having to gear down behind us before their climb up into “The Canyon”. The door opens, the LA sun pours relentlessly into the cool darkness and a shadow slides smoothly in. Our eyes adjust. It is Eric Hord. He looks at me and smiles then glances around the stretch. His gaze comes back to meet my eyes with a penetrating, questioning amusement.
“So, It looks like you’re doing pretty good, Buddy.”
I jumped to correct his assumption. I had not become a stupid ass idiot rock star.
“No Eric. This is not what it seems.”
He put his finger gently to his lips. Then he smiled.
“It never is.”
He leaned up to the glass partition and tapped.
“You can let me out here.”
Melding of the Grooves
Like tributaries coming together to feed the Big Muddy, the grooves in the fertile delta around New Orleans as well as the rest of the US blended, making a soul moving music that was a little bit of a lot of different cultures. Eric Hord was a moving target if anyone tried to pin him down to style of playing. He could play anything. But in the early sixties, Rock Grooves and Folk Grooves did not coexist pleasantly. Folk musicians were tempted to pick up the beat a little bit to get some excitement going, but if they got too aggressive there was always some critic in the audience who wanted their traditional folk singer to behave,
They would shout at the troubadour if he stepped out of his designated mellow mode to try something in a more raucous groove.
This happened once with Tim Buckley in San Francisco at the Boarding House on the first night of my first tour with him. It hurt Tim immensely. But he continued to develop a style that changed music. Eric Hord came from folk music and his stint with the Mamas and Papas was pivotal in introducing folk music to the wider audience of pop music. For the Folkies to play a folk song without a group was based on certain rhythmic grooves strummed or picked on folk guitar; four or three beat patterns that did not have too much syncopation. There were lilting three quarter waltz patterns that were part of every culture, slow six beat patterns that came to be called the Blues. These had worked for centuries in the traditional folk ballads from Europe and Africa, South America, and Native American. But by changing the writing style from their traditional acoustical folk grooves and using an electric guitar, the M’s and P’s invented Folk Rock along with a bunch of other pickers from the Folkie world.
The back up musicians had to make it work. Eric and the armies of backup players had to come up with grooves, tempos, signature licks, hooks and intros for this new form of music that had not only great lyrics and melodies but also had a political impact. Good stuff. The anonymous players on the records in all the studios from LA to New York and London were melding grooves from different ethnicities like tributaries in a great flow of consciousness bringing everyone into a state of heightened egalite.
Not much to say when the groove says it all. This holiday is full of stress, just like all the holidays. But it can be fun too. Drumming with people is an intense experience. It blends psyches and souls. I get to know people, even if I don’t want to. That was the essence of being in a band. A local older woman came into the shop,
“Are you still drumming?”
“Twenty eight years, three times a week.” I said.
She told me her daughter was going to bring in her father to drum.
“He’s visiting from Allentown, Pennsylvania.” She explained.
“I was born in Allentown.” I told the mother.
That blew our minds. He is also a drummer. He had been drumming since college when his buddies went out and the band in the bar did not have a drummer.
“Is there a drummer in the house?” The lead singer intoned over the PA in Allentown.
“Yeah!” He can play!” All his friends got him to go up and suddenly he had a gig. His first gig was drumming for an exotic dancer. He even got paid.
“I wanna do THIS!” He told me, still enthusiastically.
He drummed within a 250 mile radius of Allentown, so that he would get back to his kids every night. He did not tour in order to be a father. He’s about my age. We had a good time family drumming with some regulars also. An eclectic mix that always gels into something good, just keeping the downbeat steady and laid back in the pocket. That’s where you can dump the holiday blues and feel better. He could play, so I kicked up the tempos just for fun. Strange to see someone from what I call, what? My roots? Okay. Thanks Billie Joel for making my hometown famous, even though I was there for only a few minutes, kickstarting my groove.
First Chair violin, MidWestern City Philharmonic orchestra. Child prodigy from a village in Scotland. Trained classically from an early age at the national institute of music. She excelled. Now midlife and anxious about her yearning to play her village folk tunes but unable to because of the traumatizing classical musical training. She could only play what she could read in front of her on a music stand. I know this condition. I had it too when I was a preteen drummer. I was amazed at a friend in the sixth grade who could improvise on the drums. And the girls really liked it. I needed to do that. Only I could not understand how somebody could just start tapping with drumsticks and make it sound good. I could only read what was on the paper on the music stand. I could sightread any difficult percussion music with ease while also playing to a metronome. But I could not swing. The next few decades I spent in the Deep South. There I learned to get out of my head and into my heart, and feel the music. That saved my life. So now with this virtuoso, I was being asked to open up a new inroad into her creativity. Her husband had brought her in and she had accepted his invitation after witnessing his shifts and improvements in his condition using the drum in this specific healing way.
“Just hit the downbeat. Steady and relaxed.” I intoned,
We got a groove going that was slow. Although her intellect wanted to interfere and judge, I stated simply,
“Don’t judge. Just follow the groove. Single note in the middle of the drumhead, like a heartbeat.”
Soon she sunk into a deeper state of relaxation which was safe for her, because she was creating it herself. Her husband sat at the back of the room and enjoyed what he was sure would be a positive outcome.
“Okay, Now while you’re hitting the drum, make a sound. Any sound. Just open your mouth and make a sound while you are hitting the drum.”
She was torn between her critical mind forbidding her to do such a thing and her childhood desire to sing her cultural folksongs.
“It’s not a note. It’s not music. It’s just a sound.” I reassured her.
“Nothing to get worried about…”
Her mind was trying to regain control over her heart, so I reminded her gently,
“Keep the downbeat going, nice and laid back.”
Soon her groove settled in again and she was stable enough in her heart to open her mouth and make a sound while she hit the drum in a steady relaxed pulse. Her husband lit up like a christmas tree.
“Good. Keep the groove going…” I waited until I sensed that she was ready.
“Now, do it again.” I asked her.
She made a vocal sound again. It was slightly stronger and not so suppressed. The downbeat groove was keeping her critical mind occupied. She sensed an opening in her belief system. There was suddenly hope. Her breathing deepened. She smiled.
Soon we had her singing a phrase that she made up of several tones. Not notes, just tones while she kept the groove going at a safe tempo for her. This was her first improvisation, maybe in her whole adult life. It is terra incognito for many classically trained musicians. But it is also the way music has always been handed down through the aural tradition of hearing it and learning how to play it. Her belief system saw that it was safe to explore musically, even make mistakes, that are not really mistakes but clues. So it shifted it’s survival agenda to include improvisation. The steady laid back pulse of the downbeat played by her, kept the critical mind in check, in stasis, while the realization could take place and the belief system could realign itself. It only takes a moment sometimes.
She was then able to give herself permission to sing and play her favorite folksongs on her violin, by ear, not by reading off of sheet music. To explore music again safely.
This protocol creates a new belief pathway that does not go through the Judgmental Forest. When we learn, we also remember the emotional charge of that lesson. It will interfere if it is not from a place of joy.
excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm©2015