Glenn Campbell and Steve Goodman were cutting Dueling Banjos

Glenn Campbell and Steve Goodman were cutting Dueling Banjos

by Russell Buddy Helm all rights reserved copyright 2013

Glenn Campbell and Steve Goodman were cutting Dueling Banjos live, in the huge basement orchestral size studio A at Capitol Records, the building that looks like a stack of forty fives, just above the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. Steve missed a part on the guitar licks being traded back and forth at lightening speed with one of the best pickers in town. Glenn Campbell just laughed, “We’ll fix it in the mix!” He jokes. They were having a good time but there was a level of pressure and big money that tainted the air with stress.  They were the money players. This was the fastest track. I figured I was lucky to be here so I was sightseeing. Another night I witnessed Super Sax recording Charlie Parker solos with a full orchestra. Vince Martin’s album was going along nicely in the studio next to Glenn’s session. Much smaller and intimate. The Beatles had recorded here.

Van Dyke was adding a level of class to Vince’s session that was enjoyable. The other players were all ringers. When I arrived Vince announced that I would be replacing the drummer, who was the son of the Tonight Show drummer. This kid was very good. “Buddy’s got that island swing. I need that on this tune.”

We kicked it off, Vince sang live vocals and played the piano, the grooves settled in and we went through the chord changes, then we went through the changes again, and again. Vince was so inspired he was composing new verses as we got into the groove. That’s the way we did it in the Grove. Just let it happen. Only here, now, in the big bucks world of the music biz, this was unacceptable. The engineer waited until we had finished the improvisation with many added verses. Vince thought it was great. Everyone thought it was great. Joni’s husband was on bass. He leaned over to me and said, ” I want to have a band with you.” I nodded. I had no idea who he was.

“So,” Van Dyke cruised up to me using his Tennessee Williams kind of tone, “…You’re the new flower in town?” I had no idea what was going on. Babe in the woods. “…love the way you play.”

“The bass player wants to start a band…” I offered innocently.

“Oh, That would be dandy, but let’s not exchange vows and rings just yet.” He said walking over to listen to the engineer.

“We can’t use it.” He said exasperated. “Its too long. There are too many verses. Why did you make up verses? We had an arrangement.”

Vince defended his artistic decisions,
“It felt really good, and the inspiration came. That’s what it is. If you think it’s too long, then cut out some of the verses.”

The engineer almost blew up. “We can’t do that! The tempo varies, if we splice the tape, there will be jumps in the rhythm. It’s not possible to hold a song steady for that long.”

Vince smiled and nodded his head, “You never played with Buddy.  It’s steady.  Just check it.”

So how do you check the tempo to see if it is steady in an old school recording studio that is supposed to be state of the art? You tap your hands and watch the second hand sweep around the face on the big Bulova clock on the wall. There was no click track, no metronome. Drum machines didn’t exist. They played the song and everyone watched the clock and tapped. It stayed steady for about seven minutes. The length of the song. Nobody said much. The engineer was bummed out because  he was going to have to splice two inch recording tape using a razor blade and scotch tape. He muttered to himself,

“Hal Blaine can’t even do that.”

There was a time when drummers in our culture had an unspoken agreement that they would not discuss Mystical Drumming. It was not acknowledged. It did not exist. Magic drumming was not a part of the professional drummer’s world. There were no magazines promoting shaman drumming. There was only snare drums, Zildjian cymbals, Ludwig bass drums, but also a hint of that other spiritual world of drumming; the Drummer’s Throne. This was the place where a drummer could steer the universe.

If I didn’t have a gig, I would just sit on my drumset and play. The phone would ring. It always worked that way. I was shocked when other drummers didn’t do that. I thought all drummers knew how to talk to the universe. That’s what drumming is. But being metronome correct is not what drumming meditation is about. The tempo has be late to the downbeat. It cannot be unforgiving like a drum machine if you want people to heal and feel safe. It has to be sloppy, lazy and back in the pocket. Late to the downbeat. That is the great art form of Jazz and RnB, the drummer swings it and plays it straight at the same time, laying it back, being late to the downbeat. It is a paradox of rhythm, that is why the body can dance. The critical mind is put in neutral by the mystery of rhythm. But the body wakes up, dances and heals.




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