excerpt “History of the Groove, Drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved
1986. ‘Dallas’, ‘Falconcrest’, ‘Knots Landing’, ‘Hunter’, were just some of my shows I had to put out the fires on, every day. I was Supervisor of Master Tape Services at Lorimar/Telepictures in Culver City, California, located on the MGM lot where we used every sound stage for our weekly episodic shows. We were the biggest, most successful production company in the film and television industry. I had to make sure all these shows and others got finished, and on air, worldwide. There was a huge map of the world in my office, twenty feet long and ten feet tall. We shipped television shows to countries I had never heard of. My only consolation was that when our shows aired in hot spots like Beirut, Belfast, Joberg, people stopped shooting each other and watched Americans shooting and stabbing each other in the back.
No one knew me as Buddy Helm, no one knew I was a drummer. The marquee outside my office door simply read: ‘Russell Helm’; soon to be the youngest vice president at Lorimar. I was miserable. A colleague suggested that I put a radio in my huge grey office and listen to music while I argued with producers and post houses on the phone. I couldn’t listen to music; it hurt too much.
The front secretary called me, “Excuse Mr. Helm, but we have had several phone calls asking for a ‘Buddy Helm’. Since you are the only Helm on our list, I thought you might know who that is? We have no record of a…”
“That is me.” I said with as much control as I could muster, I didn’t want to sob it out to the front desk. “Rather..that WAS me… Who is trying to reach me?” The secretary responded apologetically, “They didn’t say, Sir.”
“If they call again, just connect them to Dawn, my personal secretary. Thank you for letting me know.” I felt a twinge of the old magic. Who was it? Someone was trying to reach me; calling from my distant past, another lifetime. Someone from the Grove? Someone else?
I called John Herron, Tim Buckley’s last piano player. He had stayed in touch through my change of identity; “Judy Buckley is trying to reach you.” She had tried to call the switchboard at Lorimar and had asked for ‘Buddy Helm’. They had no idea who she was talking about.
She received bootlegs of all the live Tim Buckley shows from Europe. “Warners is distributing under the table. Since you’re a suit now, she wants you to help get royalties.”
I looked at the articles from Europe, “Tim Buckley, Godfather of New Wave.” I looked at the bootleg albums. I read the heated cult articles about how Tim had defined the new music; how singers like Johnny Rotten and Chrissie Hynde had been influenced by his courageous vocals. My heart broke all over again when I listened to the live recordings from the Starwood we had made when I rejoined Tim’s band. I took the cassette tapes and albums home with me, driving up into Laurel Canyon, shutting the door so that I would not disturb my wife or her two children. I listened and I realized it was good. It was really good. It was great.
Judy ran it down to me, “I get a hand written note once a year, from Tim’s ex manager, saying how much I didn’t get because of expenses. When Tim died, I got a bill from the record company for six figures. I paid it off little by little, with my sewing business. Taylor, Tim’s adopted son had nothing. Judy, Tim’s widow, had nothing.
I called Lucy, VP of film at Warners, she had been the partner of Peter Ivers. She undertstood. “I need a sympathetic ear in your music division and a sit down with your music lawyers.”
“Sure.” she replied. I never could have done that when I was a drummer.
Getting onto the Burbank Warner lot is harder than getting into Fort Knox. They waved my nineteen sixty six Mercury Parklane with the reversed back window breezeway right on through and gave me a VIP parking space. I walked down the hall in a daze, remembering the first time I had met Tim. Someone reached out and gave me the iconic cut off denim jacket worn by Bruce Springsteen, the boss. As I walked down the hallway, I looked at it, wondering who had just handed it to me. I was wearing a Barney’s white raw silk suit; picked out for me in New York by Rose, the Polaroid TV commercial producer at the DDB Ad agency; it was designed to impress anyone. I put Bruce’s denim cut off jacket on over my Barney’s white raw silk suit and walked into the conference room. Maybe Bruce’s jacket scared the music lawyers sitting at the huge mahogany conference table more than my Barney’s suit, or maybe I scared them just by being that crazy. I don’t know. I was on terra incognita.
“You all know who this jacket belongs to…”
The six lawyers nodded silently. They had instructions to give me as much credibility as they could. “He used to sit and listen to Tim Buckley at Max’s Kansas City in New York…taking notes.”
“There isn’t enough money to get concerned about here…” One of them chimed in.
“It isn’t about money.” I said, locked into my mission. “You owe…you owe the widow…You owe me, but I’m not going there…” They were uncomprehending. “Its about ethics…I know you don’t know about that but I am here to explain it to you…”
Survival grooves are what distinguishes tribes from one another. When George Washington created the Continental Army, he instructed the military drum teachers to create unique drum beats to use in the field of battle, that would not be confused with the traditional British drum tatooes used to signal maneuvers to the foot soldiers in the din of battle. That’s when Rock and Roll was created. The drum teachers in Williamsburg, Virginia listened to the slaves, the Indians, the Spanish, The Irish, the few Orientals and anyone else keeping a groove and came up with the Thirteen American Drum Rudiments that have since become the worldwide foundation for modern rudimental drumming. Slave ships crossing the Atlantic realized that more souls survived if there was a djembe on board playing their tribal survival rhythms. When the slave ships arrived in Savanna, Georgia and the other East Coast slave ports, the drum was taken away because it was non Christian; a tool of the devil. And worse: it was a tool of insurrection; the djembe revolution. The plantation slaves had drummed to each other, organizing a rebellion, down to the minute, where the slaves broke free of their plantations all along the Eastern Seaboard, communicated by the drum, just like they had back in mother Africa; only there was no place for them to escape to.
New Orleans was a completely different story. The slaves were allowed to mingle, and bring their drums on shore with them and play with people of other races in what came to be known as ‘Congo Square’. This was the birthplace of one of the most important social tools in the modern world; Jazz.
The six beat pattern is the foundation for almost every culture’s power grooves. Slowly play back and forth with both hands and count to six. Each time you hit the ‘one’ hit the downbeat in the middle of the drumhead and keep going. Six beats will get you anywhere you want to go. Saladin used it to defeat the Crusaders, John Philip Sousa used it to inspire generations of U.S. Marines. Every Christian soldier sings to the six beat. Every blues player in the South sings to it because it came from the African Rumba. Every Irish man can dance a jig to it. Every Muslim can put themselves into trance and call to Allah with it. The six beat rhythm knows no doctrine. It is the ultimate survival groove for anyone who wants to use it. What it does to the brain is what got me interested in drumming as a therapy tool. I had played it on Tim Buckley’s version of Fred Neil’s ‘Dolphin’ song.
exerpt “History of the Groove, Drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved