I pulled into Austin, I was feeling ’bout half past dead

excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2014 all rights reserved

2008. I pulled into Austin, I was feeling ’bout half past dead. I had just had a heart attack the week before in the north Florida backwoods. It was in a double wide trailer/recording studio complete with hysterical singer/songwriter. I thought it wiser not to see what passed for a doctor in such a medieval setting. But I recognized the signs; the throbbing chest pain, the taste of aluminum, the numb left arm, the falling to my knees in pain, the trying to get aspirin into my mouth, the hysterical young woman squeezing me around the chest as hard as she could. The drummer for the New York Dolls had been inadvertently killed by two groupies who put him into a tub full of ice in London to wake him up. I didn’t want to go out like that.

The protection of the Goddess of the Crossroads had been transferred a few months earlier from my Florida Dodge Caravan out to our California  store in Santa Monica. The donated Florida Dodge van had promptly stopped running as soon as the red Goddess statue was removed from its niche in the back. So this last tour, I had driven from California in my Chevy Astro van on Interstate 10, across Texas and the rest of the U.S. and it almost did me in. It was great.

“You’re bound and determined to kill me tonight, aren’t you?” I said through the closed bedroom door as I locked it from the inside. “Tomorrow, you are going to get up and go to work, and I am driving back to California.”

Austin was a good place for me to stop on my dash back to Santa Monica . A year earlier, the first time I had arrived here, my cel phone went off as soon as I passed the “Austin City Limits” road sign, “You want to play tonight at Gruene Hall?”; the oldest dance hall in Texas. I had a great time, even played at the Austin Airport with some of the guys in the Neville Brothers band. All the great musicians told me,
“Anytime you wanna come back and teach the local drummers how to play the djembe and tambourine on their foot, you just come on ahead. We love the way you play. We don’t miss the cymbals at all.”
But this time there were two amazing events happening in Austin the same day. The first was an interview with the author of a book about Peter Ivers, my deceased music/TV partner. This new book was coming out on Simon Schuster and he wanted some final details plus a look at the video footage of Peter interviewing people in an after hours club on Sunset Strip in nineteen eighty three. The footage was controversial. Peter, a good looking Harvard grad, scion of the New Wave scene, was also partner to one of the most influential film executives in Hollywood. She looked at the footage back then, and told me in no uncertain terms, “If you try to do anything with this footage you will never work in this town again.” Peter was standing completely naked in the middle of an illegal after hours nightclub interviewing celebrities and Beverly Hills brats. It was outrageous video and I was the one who had shot it with the help of Ron the film genius, my oldest friend from Coconut Grove. The author of the book, “In Heaven everything is fine. Peter Ivers an unsolved life, ” wanted to see it, but he could not have a copy. All this remembering of Peter was upsetting. He was a major talent and I felt responsible for his death.  I had gotten him the loft in the downtown art ghetto where he was killed in nineteen eighty three. It was never solved. I had my suspicions but I decided to let sleeping dogs lie.

The other event here in Austin, was the premier of the documentary movie on Tim Buckley. What are the odds of these two murdered great artists and my musical partners having their posthumous coming out parties on the same day, in Austin, when I had just arrived? It was a painful reunion on both events. But I had to just survive and get back to Santa Monica. I was on my own trying to get to a safe refuge. I was still having fun though. After all, I had cut my road teeth in the Bethlehem Asylum in Coconut Grove. This was a piece of cake; just par for the curse.

The pain on my heart was physical and also very emotional, but I had to roll with it. The universe was throwing this stuff at me; telling me to pay attention.

Knowing that I was making music, outside of the music industry, was heartening enough to me. The music industry had no idea this type of music existed; too cynical to believe in the true healing power of music. But the added mojo of working the conjuring grooves to help people heal was something larger than myself and it gave me the momentum I needed to keep the groove going.

excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2014 all rights reserved

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