Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert was the first live rock n roll TV show.
excerpt “Drummer’s History” Russell Buddy Helm copyright 2013 all rights reserved
1977. Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert was the first live rock n roll TV show. I had it with pop musicians working on their good hair moves instead of good music. LA is the great xerox machine: good copies but not original. Wolfman Jack’s art director was in television. “Tommy, get me a job. I’ve had it with idiot musicians.” He and I had worked on a rock opera called ‘The Last Rock n Roll show’ where I had done all the composing, writing the libretto and recorded all the parts with the lead singer, a Bowie look alike. It was a good piece of work, the producer was Peter Brown from Apple Records in London. But the show did not go because the LA partners didn’t want to make the effort to sign their names. So I had to start all over again. I was getting pretty sad. I was still smarting from Tim Buckley’s murder and the Asylum’s failure to lift off, and many other music projects that foundered. “You want to work on Don kircshner’s Rock Concert?” Tommy asked me. “Sure.” “What do you want to do?” “Anything…” So I became a stage manager/prop assistant, general Production Assistant. Tommy lied and said I was in the New York local. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing. Everybody knew I was green but they let me work. Bay City Rollers, Cheap Trick, Pheobe Snow, Link Wray, Brothers Johnson, Quincy Jones orchestra, Ray Charles, Four Seasons, Natalie Cole, etc…every band that was on the charts. Some of it was good, most of it was forgettable. My contribution to rock n roll occured when I talked with the soundman mixing the live bands. The sound of the bass drum was terrible. The speakers in television were so primitive that the low frequencies sounded like a rasberry. I stood on the stage and looked at the drummers. They would play like they were at a live concert, hard and loud, unless it was a jazz drummer like Phoebe Snow’s. I saw that most of the drummers were now sporting a hole in the front of their bass drum head to get more sound out. I looked around for something to muffle the booming bass drum. A lighting technician was standing by his light stands, being very territorial. I noticed that he used small sandbags to anchor his top heavy light stands. The sand bags were seamed down the middle to hang neatly over each leg of the light stand. It was a union regulation that each light stand had to have three sandbags, one on each leg. “Can I borrow one of your sand bags?” The union light man sneered at me, “Why?” “I want to put it in the bass drum….to muffle the sound a little.” He laughed at me. “You’re full of sh……” But he let me have an extra sand bag. I asked the drummer nicely but he didn’t agree to it. His sound was ‘pure’. So I pretended to pull rank, and said, “This is the way we do it in Television..’ Reaching into the hole, I placed the sandbag inside his bass drum. “Now hit it.” I walked over to the soundman who was wearing big headphones. He lit up with a big smile. “It works!” History was made. That was the first sandbag in a bass drum and from then on, it has become standard equipment for every drummer in the world.