excerpt: “History of the Groove, drummer’s tale” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved
2001. “Look..I’m Rick Allen, the famous one armed drummer with Def Leppard.” He said firmly, with a bit of pique. I had not recognized him when he came into our shop with his entourage, and started banging on the djembes.
“You don’t have to hit it so hard. They have a big sound.”" I said walking up to him as he was kneeling, in a tweed sport coat; very unrock star like. I was waging a one man battle with compulsive bangers hitting djembes too hard. I noticed then that he had one arm.
“Oh. I write about a one armed drummer in my second book…” I said but he ignored me.
Nineteen sixty six in Ft. Meyers, Florida on A.J. Perry’s Tour of the South; a circus promoter crossed over to rock n roll, ‘Those Five’, opened for the Barbarians. “Are you a boy or are you a girl?” was their hit. They had huge hairy African drums as part of their act. Mouldy, the drummer could snag a passing groupies’s arm and pull her in. His drumstick fit between the shiny hooks where his left hand would have been. He was a great drummer. They looked like bikers playing good rock n roll. My black suit, white shirt, skinny black tie and sneakers was Patty Smith’s look only about ten years too early and I was dissed by the guys in Those Five for not being a Carnaby street clone.
The tweed coat guy didn’t respond to my one armed drummer story so I returned to the counter at the back of our shop. He got up and steamed back to me, explaining exactly, who he was. Def Leppard was not on my listening list. No one introduced themselves as ‘famous’, but he had to have something going for him if he was still drumming with one wing.
“My girlfriend bought your book for me up in Malibu; ‘Way of the Drum’, . I want to..uhh.. .study…..the healing drums.”
A rock star in the workshops might be a challenge for regular people focusing on the subtle grooves for healing. The most difficult part of my transition from rock drummer to healing drummer was becoming invisible; submerging my ego, so as not to intimidate the wounded souls using rhythm to reintegrate. He obviously had the shit knocked out of him but he was still swinging, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
He kept his mouth shut and learned to play an African bass drum, a djun djun, with one hand and not push the beat. That was the hardest thing for him; he was used to relentlessly driving the beat forward. He was well behaved and no one else in the workshops knew who he was.
“I would like you to come up to my house in Malibu and give a demonstration of the healing drums and meet a master drummer, Edward Tuduri.” He said formally, after a few sessions.
“You know Eddie Tuduri?” We had competed for gigs on numerous occasions. He worked a lot; toured and drummed on a number of hit songs. Our styles of drumming were apples and oranges; he pushed the beat, which was good for pop songs. I was laid back which was the tradition of Rhythm and Blues. He was commercial. I was funky. He was from New York. I was from the South. He had a pit bull, I was a writer. Back in nineteen seventy seven, I remember entering John’s apartment. a keyboard player that used both Eddie and me on various projects, “Buddy writes a lot.” I heard John tell Eddie as I entered, “But it’s about the wrong things!” There was an uncomfortable embarrassing moment. John noticed the album under my arm and changed the subject. “What’s the album?”
“You wouldn’t like it.” I told them. That got John’s goat.
“Put it on the turntable.” He said in no uncertain terms. So I did. It was the Sex Pistols. “God Save the Queen!” ripped through John’s suburban Sherman Oaks apartment, wilting their mullets.
“If I had my gun, I’d shoot that record!!!” He screamed in his good ol’ boy Oklahoma accent. “I hate it!”
“You sound like your parents.” I said and walked out.
I wasn’t cut out to be their kind of anonymous session drummer. There was too much mental activity going on inside me; my style was too identifiable. One producer summed it up;
“Who is the drummer? He’s too good. We’re selling the girl singer here, not the drummer. Get another drummer that doesn’t stand out so much.”
I was spoiled living in Coconut Grove where musicians were literate and capable of conversation. These LA session guys really didn’t go in for compound sentences. I knew I was in the wrong world, but there was nothing yet on the horizon signalling the approach of healing meditation drumming. The only kind of drumming was for musical accompaniment in pop music. John pasted a note on his front door: “Wanted: drummer with a sense of humor.” I left the session music scene and went into the film business. George Lucas had me writing the Star Wars comic strips. ‘New Wave’ and punk music had been inspired by Tim Buckley and this was only three years after his murder but I was not moving on. I was not aware that my own father’s death had been a tough experience and was something I would have to deal with eventually.
Thirty years later, I arrive at Rick’s Malibu rock mansion, walk in and see Eddie. He is now walking with a cane. His long hair is snow white; the same hawkish handsome features and sly smile, but there were a few more miles on him. I remembered that I liked him, despite our competition for gigs. He tried to return my hug, which was difficult, then introduced me to his girlfriend from Brazil. She was no doubt one of the reasons he was succeeding; she had a lot of heart. Rick’s friends; good looking, young, affluent Malibu types watched a video of Eddie working with head trauma survivors in a hospital, using conga drums. Eddie was getting them to hit the drum one note at a time, then two notes, then three notes. It was a heartening video. I wanted to suggest using the constant flow of the downbeat grooves with the deep healing tones of the African djembe instead of hitting one note at a time on a high pitched, difficult to play conga, but Rick was managing the show.
“Edward, would you allow Buddy to lead us in one of his healing drumming seminars?”
“Sure.” He said in a subdued voice.
They were trying to flatter me. I had certain keys to drumming therapy and years of success stories. These guys wanted the details. This was not about stealing a hit song; it was about teaching healing drums; even if it was teaching it to a couple of drum hustlers. Eddie was at the top of the list to call for sessions, then he broke his neck surfing and it was all over. He came back from being a quadriplegic. Rick was missing an arm. They were both successful rock star drummers surviving debilitating calamities who were now wanting to do healing drumming. My wounds were different and also deep but I had managed to write two books about it and create a teachable protocol. I had seen amateur beginning drummers try to ‘appropriate’ my methods but they didn’t have the technique and experience. These guys could more easily take what I had so earnestly developed over the last two decades, run with it, and become the avatars of healing drums. There was a part of me that said, “No. Don’t give it away. You’ve been ripped off enough.”
I decided to go ahead and teach them. I doubted that either of these guys had read Robert Bly’s, “Iron John”, but they should.
Drummers are hustlers by nature, it goes with the turf. I instinctively knew I was being hustled but now my job was teaching healing drums, not competing for gigs. We went down into Rick’s brand new recording studio with his group of fashionable friends, lit some candles and set up hand drums.
One girl was very shy, introverted and in emotional pain. She had a hard time hitting the downbeat, so I do what I always do; I slowed the tempo down until she was able to play along with us. This is very important in balancing the healing energy in a group. The downbeat is the great leveler of ability. I could care less if the two hot drummers got bored with the slow tempo. This girl held the key to the night’s healing. She was the common denominator. If she was involved then everyone would be involved. We sang and chanted affirmations, created a safe space, shared the groove and had a transcendental event. Eddie bought my books and CDs. That’s the last I heard from him but I heard about him. His name became well known in the hospital healing drum circles. Rick had me come up and give another free drumming workshop which was not a very pleasant experience for me. He didn’t pay me for bringing drums, setting up and doing a two hour session with a bunch of his friends and groupies, plus the sweat lodge afterward almost killed me. I would not recommend going into a sweat lodge after an intense drumming session.
He recorded my whole healing drumming session and went on to become a high profile drum healer. In the music business, plagiarism is endemic. George Harrison got popped for lifting ‘He’s so Fine’ for ‘My Sweet Lord’, Stevie Wonder had to give back his grammy for “I just called to say I love you.”. ‘Ghostbusters’ was also a lift. Willie Dixon’s daughter finally got royalties for all the lyrics and music Led Zeppelin took from her father. Folk singers have copyrighted public domain traditional songs to collect royalties. A certain guitar player copyrighted all the songs cowritten by Levon. One of the cowriters credited on Otis Redding’s first single, “These Arms” is the wife of the DJ that first played it on Georgia radio.
Healing drumming is not a ‘song’ per se. Is there intellectual property? Yes. Is the downbeat a copyrightable commodity? I don’t know. This is a healing process and rhythm has existed since the beginning of time. I knew that it was a good idea and it would get ripped off. I had to watch that line of thinking so as not to become bitter; although getting paid is an important part of being an artist. If Chuck Berry had a copyright on every guitar lick he invented, he would be richer than Bill Gates.
Energy workers, lay people, even celebrity drummers get what they can from what I teach, and some go on to make healing drums a going commodity for themselves, even using their celebrity status. Others have used my books, attended my twenty five years of traveling and teaching across the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan, and also studied the one hundred fifty youtube videos of me teaching.. Such is life. One therapist took one short drumming workshop in Georgia with me then moved to Humboldt County, California and offered ‘Downbeat Therapy’. Locals busted him and insisted that he email me and tell me that he was using my protocols. I love the people in Humboldt…
I created a certification program called ‘HelmTone Healing Drum Protocols’ to distinguish my methods from the others so people would know there is a difference. The process I teach actually works. I refused to endorse a big drum company, so they copyrighted the term, “Healing drums” and sell plastic drums. One drummer used my work during a Deepok Chopra event in Sedona, and denied having ever heard of me when he was confronted until he was forced to confess to lifting my work. It’s all part of the evolution of healing drums. I suppose I will continue.
The real and most interesting note was concerning the shy girl who was in pain at Rick’s sourie. He later mentioned in an off handed manner, that the day after our drumming event at his mansion, she decided to do what she had always wanted to do. She changed her name and went to India. That piece of news made my day.
excerpt: “History of the Groove, drummer’s tale” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved