Mike Bloomfield was playing at McCabe’s guitar shop
excerpt “History of the Groove, Drummer’s story”
Russell Buddy Helm
©2013 all rights reserved
1976. Mike Bloomfield was playing at McCabe’s guitar shop in West LA. I was the drummer. Buell, the first bassist for the LA philharmonic and also Quincy Jone’s session bassist called me up, “Just wear your blues outfit.” He said criptically. McCabes is a famous breeding ground; Jackson Brown took guitar lessons when he was a juvenile delinquent. So many played there; Melanie, Joni, Doc Watson, U Utah Phillips, Holy Modal Rounders, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, Van Dyke Parks, John Stewart, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Tim Buckley, Spanky, Oz, Maria, Bonnie, everybody; amazing pictures on the walls. It is a high small stage at the end of a raw wood concert room with folding chairs and walls covered with vintage guitars. If you didn’t sound good here, you wouldn’t sound good anywhere else in the world. Mark Naftalin, from Paul Butterfield, was on piano. We had a good couple of sets. They recorded it and it disappeared into the archives of Rounder records.
Forty two years later, after I had become a healing drum shaman as well as a blues drummer, I was sitting with Surakaya, Jumoke’s husband from Ghana. We were transacting another deal for the sacred djembe drums handcrafted by their master carvers. We have been doing business with the same family for twenty six years. The trees are blessed before being cut down in the Volta River Basin on the east side of Ghana, then new young trees are planted. The djembe shell’s solid wood interior is carved out by masters using only a machete because the irregular contours create the warm tones needed for deep toned healing; no machined lathing. The shells are driven by truck six hours across Ghana to Accra where they are cured for a year, going through ‘Hamitan’ season; which translates as ‘Golden Dust’ where the Sahara blows in and gently pulls the moisture out of the wood, creating a djembe that sounds as beautiful as a vintage Martin Dreadnaught; especially when they are played very softly. The goats are blessed and everything is used by the village. The skins are cured, soaked and stretched wet, then shaved by hand using a naked Gillette double edged razor blade held in a curve to scrape off the goat hair in a precise ancient ritual that has not been improved upon. Old goat is better than young goat for drumheads. Each drum is blessed and cured for a year. George Kweku, the master exterior carver etches protective tribal Adinkra symbols into the rich Lenge wood then he waxes them with shea butter. They smell like Africa and they are full of spirit. This is where the Blues comes from; only in Africa, it is not called the blues. It is their eternal, sacred music. On these drums, we can play the survival rhythms that we need, even if we are not drummers. We simplified their ancient rhythms when this drum arrived in New Orleans two hundred years ago, and they are now our survival rhythms; simple, loving songs that anyone can play.
Another man was sitting quietly with Surakaya, but he started to press me for who I had played drums with. I wasn’t that interested in dwelling in the past but he insisted, so I mentioned a few names including Mike Bloomfield. He lit up, “I knew I had heard your name. I have you on that album! Your name is on it! Would you like a copy?” One more album that I made absolutely nothing on but it brought tears to my eyes none the less when I heard it. Mike was a real sweetheart and a grand soul. That kid could play the blues and he could sing the blues too.
excerpt “History of the Groove, Drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm copyright 2013 all rights reserved