I was taking an extended drum solo that sounded like a Harley, and it was a really hot and humid night.
excerpt “History of the Groove, Drummer’s story”
Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved
1969. I was taking an extended drum solo on a typically hot and humid Florida night. The Bethlehem Asylum was playing to a full house of ardent fans and we were giving it our best, most intense performance. I was dripping wet. No shirt, skinny, hairless chest, ‘slight build’ as the medical draft examination described my long thin frame. My very long hair and muttonchops hung down off the sides of my baby face, salty drops of sweat falling onto my chrome Ludwig snare drum head as I pounded out a drum solo that sounded like a Harley 74 cranking up and going through all four gears. I loved playing a drum solo that sounded like a hog. My mind was on the open road, headlight tilted up for the long night highway ahead of me, shining far enough ahead to avoid any gators warming themselves on the blacktop, maybe somewhere down below Kissimmee, blasting through the everglades, wide eyed and free. “Nothins’ gonna stop the MIDNIGHT RIDER…”
The atmosphere in the club was so thick I was taking huge gulps of air as I pushed my endurance, shifting up into fourth gear, kicking hard on the bass drum pedal, tripolets around the tomtoms, snare slamming like a high powered sniper rifle, chattering like an AK, mimicking the carnage in the jungle half a world away. Cymbals bashing like lightening flashes over the sea of sawgrass somewhere beyond the safety zone of tourist Florida, out in the boonies; outside of Immockalee, where the Seminoles move like ghosts in their dugouts. Hellbent for leather. The crowd cheering, clapping, sweating, hooting, drinking, screaming as I gulped more air. My young healthy lungs inhaling so hard my wet nostrils collapsed on themselves, unable to take the air pressure. I opened my mouth wide to get more air into the engine. Chewing gum, biting down hard as I slammed ahead in a full tilt boogie meditative groove at a hundred miles an hour on the open road. Achieving “Independence’; where all arms, all feet, all hands are going as fast as possible on their own rhythms yet connected to the inner core of quiet, peace, happiness, fearlessness; at one with the survival life force; chi, soul, mojo, orgone, prana, ashe, Grace. The downbeat of the universe beating within my own heart. Arriving at the mystical communion only a drummer can know. Everyone else wanting to be there but all they could do was cheer and witness the trancendent moment.
It doesn’t get any better than this.
I gulped more air and hit it harder, twisted the deadman throttle all the way back, gutsy rumble of that four stroke Harley the only thing in my ears. Sticks dancing so fast and slick they almost launched like torpedoes out of my fierce grip. More gulps of air, more chomps on the gum. My black thick wet hair airborne around my face and shoulders like Medusa; slapping my chest and shoulders like some invisible dominitrix. Faster! Harder, baby! Wet meshed cords of hair whipped like snakes across my sweating face. I gulped more air, chomped gum and swallowed as my hair slapped into my gaping mouth. The gum, the gulp, the chomp all happened simoultaneously.. The gum, suddenly mashed into my wet hair, was sucked down my throat by the intense air pressure. It was immediately impossible for me to breath. In the blink of an eye I was choking to death. Nobody seemed to notice at first. I couldn’t stop the drum solo. This is an interesting effect of drumming either on a drumset or on a handrum like an African djembe in our meditation groups. People won’t stop drumming even if they are hurting themselves. They will continue to play as blood appears on their hands, or they strain the muscles and tendons. Primal, basic, instinctive, the groove drives us as if we are seeing an oasis in the desert and we are thirsty. I witness people who won’t stop, no matter what else is happening. I was choking to death and I wouldn’t stop drumming.
My father appeared before me. He had been mysteriously killed when I was four years old, most likely by trusted friends in the intelligence business, but he had saved my life when I was a few months old. Submerged beneath the water at a swimming quarry in Pennsylvania, he had lifted me up out of the water as I was blacking out. It had felt like God was lifting me up. That was one of only three memories I had of my father. But here he was, in this sweating, hot nightclub. I was dying; suddenly and ridiculously by my own doing. Saint Peter was standing there shaking his head with scorn, “Dumb. Really dumb, Buddy.”
“Pull the hair out of your throat..” I heard my father say in a very patient Pennsylvania Dutch accented voice.
I kept the bass drum going, my left foot on the frantically opening and closing hihat, and my right stick moving around the tom toms. With my left hand I grabbed the roots of the thick tube of hair that now disappeared into my mouth, gum enmeshed, down my throat. I pulled it up. It was long and slimy and really disgusting as it came up out of my throat. Eventually, the almost two feet of hair emerged from my gaping mouth with a giant blob of gooey gum stuck on the end like a knight’s mace. The crowed changed from cheering to: “Eeeuuughooo! That’s disgusting! Aaaahhhh!” This giant glob of gum and hair and spit hung by the side of my face as I finished the solo. The Asylum members laughing so hard they almost couldn’t finish the set. Jeanie, one of our most strong hearted fans cut the glob out of my tangled hair with scissors she always kept for such occasions. I don’t know if someone took it as a souvenier. I hope not.
excerpt “History of the Groove, drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved