Johnny Appleseed of the Downbeat

Johnny Appleseed of the downbeat.

excerpt “History of the Groove, drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm

©2012 all rights reserved


As I signed my books at the New Age Trade Show conventions each year, the lines grew longer, each person I asked, “Do you have a store?” Most of them said yes. “Give me  your card. I will come and set up a drumming group.”

“Be of Service” Cathy had responded to my equivocation about not knowing what to do after leaving the shark infested water of film production. I had taken off my suit and tie and did not have an identity, but I had a gift. It was a gift that had given me great joy and solace. It was an identity that compensated for many perceived shortcomings in my life. So teaching drums became an avenue for me to rebuild my personal goals and self esteem. There was not the stigma of drug and alcohol related problems which I was grateful for, I had steered clear of that, but the emotional stress of mysterious deaths had been a recurring theme. Impending doom. I was afraid to work with any singer/songwriters for fear that my bad luck would visit them. I did not want to have any more partners mysteriously dying while we were creating music. So I decided that drumming; solo drumming; drumming with total strangers, would be the safest path. I used Chuck Berry’s strategy; go on the road alone and have the promoter provide the band. If the beats I play as so simple, then everyone could play them; like Chuck’s songs.

The goal here was not musical hegemony, it was higher consciousness and the key was women playing the drum and women safely dancing in sacred trance.

I took it on the road after initial success in Santa Monica and it worked, but in most places I was so far ahead of the wave that people didn’t get it. The ones that did, picked up the concept and the lesson of the downbeat and it grew like a little tree sapling, in places all over the country. Some places like Asheville, already had drumming groups but they were usually boisterous affairs with young men banging mercilessly, creating a good excuse for the local police to shut them down. I introduced the concept of the downbeat and moderate tempos to as many as would listen. The women were always the first to understand because they wanted to dance; and you can’t dance if the tempo speeds up and the guys are banging too hard. I was giving these guys the benefit of my many years hitting the groove all through the South in the Sixties and on into the Seventies when the drummer’s job was to get people to dance. Most of the youngbloods  were so caught up in the drama of modern culture that they had difficulty holding a steady beat, let alone slowing down to a danceable tempo .. But when I hit the groove, the girls danced. That was always the the litmus test. This obviously frustrated some of the youngbloods who had spent so much time growing their dreadlocks. The girls wouldn’t look at me while they were in the ecstatic trance of dance, I was old, but they danced anyway. Whenever possible I encouraged women to drum. They drum for different reasons then the men; for community, cooperation instead of competition and fear. I knew it would be a long and thankless activity but I didn’t mind. I knew it was important. Our culture needed this. It was going to be a healthy and necessary addition to our consciousness. We needed sacred drumming. I just planted the seeds of the soulful drumming and moved on. I was told one of my spirit guides was ‘Chief Many Horns’ who was a real traveling mystic back in the eighteen forties. He had done the same thing after trying to explain to Congress the efficacy of treating the native population honorably then eventually participated at Little Big Horn; so much for reasonable discussions. But I knew that I was planting seeds of the life force itself; I was not confronting any power structure this was an addition. Orgone was being generated, Chi was being spread around, Reiki energy was healing people through the groove. Soul was being nurtured in brains and hearts of people who did not have it in their make up but who needed it. We were making a matrix of connectivity on the superconscious level. It would pay off sometime in the future, I was sure of it. When the local connections grew to the point of mass consciousness, we would have nation world earth consciousness and the drum would be the conduit. We as a species would be able to make group decisions that would be life affirming, not based solely on profit but on well being; stewardship. It was just a matter of time; keeping time, sharing the groove and making conscious connections all across the country and the world. When everyone would be finally playing these simple basic patterns using the downbeat, we would be a tribe, a family of one mind. It would not be soon, but it would happen.

An unmistakable destiny appeared in my own identity; starting with the death of my father, then Aileen Trafford, my first drum teacher at the age of eight, a remarkable woman, then a musical heritage nurtured by my mother. Even the futility of the Bethlehem Asylum and tragic murder’s of Tim Buckley and Peter Ivers took on new meaning. There were so many clues from the universe that I was doing the right thing, I had to continue; just to see how it would turn out if for no other reason.

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