Grail carved his giant wooden sculptures under the banyan trees back in the jungle

excerpt; “History of the Groove, drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved

Grail carved his giant wooden sculptures under the banyan trees back in the jungle in Coconut Grove. Main Highway cut through the heart of Coconut Grove on its way from Dixie Highway down through south Miami toward the Keys. On the north side were stores, boutiques, restaurants. On the other side were thick mangroves hiding extremely private properties covering acres of prime real estate running down to the water’s edge of Biscayne Bay. Grail and his wife lived in a small house and a big tent at the end of a rough dirt road, in the middle of one of these private estates across from the Coconut Grove playhouse. The cutting room for his commissioned sculptures could not have been more ideal; banyan canopy overhead protected them from the occasional hurricane and tropical sun that would actually keep shining through the pouring rain just as Fred Neil had described it in his song, “Everybody’s Talkin'”, no Nilsson did not write it….Thick old trees shielded Grail’s world from prying eyes. It was a green, broad leafed sanctuary outside of time just a hundred yards from the buzz of Main Highway. Parrots and love birds chirped, an occasional trade wind whispered as the vivid blue sky peeked through the upper leaves of the ancient banyan trees. The loamy earth was a plush carpet. Giant sectioned tree trunks loomed outside of his tent, changing into sculpture with each day of meditative cutting by Grail’s steady weathered hands. He was one of the good ol’ boys in Coconut Grove as well as a great artist. Contrary to what Neil Young might tell you, Southern men can be creative, sensitive and evenhanded.

Bananas would make her rounds in the grove, saying hello to friends, dropping off gifts and having tea. She was like a visiting queen and everyone would stop their daily chores and spend quality time with her. I would soak up the good vibes and try to follow the clever repartee. Grail was working on a huge piece of lignum vitae wood destined for a synagogue in Coral Gables. The grain in the rich dark wood spiraled upward over ten feet, alive like the eternal flame. I had spent time in sculpture classes but this was the real thing. Grail was authentic. It was inspiring to see the piece evolve. Grail’s wife was a lawyer and she came and went, but Grail seemed to be a part of the land. One day Bananas noticed that Grail no longer had his sweet terrier, but instead now owned a nice but huge jowled pit bull. She asked Grail why. He was a bit embarrassed but let her know the reason.

“I was walking my dog back in the woods. I had a big stick.  I’d throw it and he’d go fetch. We’d been doing this for years, in the mangroves by the water. I threw the stick and he went to get it, but there was a big guy standing back there. Man he was big. I had no idea who he was. I told him he didn’t belong back here. It was private property. He just looked at me. Then he says to me..

“It’s just you and me, man.”

“I called out to my dog ,”GIT HIM!” and I pointed to the guy. So you know what my dog did? He picked up the stick in his mouth and took it over and dropped it at the guy’s feet. And he wagged his tail! Like, throw it.”

The guy picked up the stick and started to come at me, but my wife came driving up the dirt road and he took off.” Grail shook his head in exasperation. “..I loved that dog, but I had to do something.  So I got a pit bull.”

Grail walked over to the clearing outside of his tent. There was a thick nautical rope about four inches in diameter tied to a heavy branch hanging down from the lush tropical canopy thirty feet overhead.  On the bottom end of the rope was a thick heavy spring from a Ford truck suspension. The coiled steel was about a foot long and about six inches in diameter. Hanging off the end of the spring was another section of nautical rope tied into a big knot. It hung about four feet off the ground. He called his new pit bull.

“Get the rope, Crunch!” He said eagerly to the dog.

The pit bull launched himself into the air like a cannonball. He hit the rope like Sonny Liston connecting with Cassius Clay’s ribcage. Crunch’s jaws locked on the knot. Pit Bull fighting is a Florida sport and the proud owners always have a short stubby stick in the back pocket of their overalls used to pry open their pit bull’s automatically locking jaws at the end of a match. Grail would never do that sort of thing. He just watched proudly as Crunch swung in a big arc around the clearing, growling, bouncing, whipping his head back and forth with enough ferocity to break anything’s neck. Eventually the swinging and bouncing slowed to a stop and he just hung there, suspended. He stayed that way; then he’d whip his head, sending himself into another bouncing, spiraling, growling arc around the clearing. Whenever his ride ended, he’d growl, jaws still locked on the rope, whip his head and bounce in a big soaring arc, up and down around the banyan tree clearing like a Tilt A Whirl with teeth. He was the happiest pit bull in the world.  Grail turned a pit bull on a car spring into a world class kinetic Rebel sculpture.

excerpt; “History of the Groove, drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved


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