“No, Mr. Friedman. This is not a joke.” The lawyer spoke over the hooting rednecks

“No, Mr. Friedman. This is not a joke.” The lawyer stood up and spoke over the hoots from the rowdy redneck audience.

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

1978. Van Dyke Parks called out of the blue, “Do want to play with Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys at the Palomino?”

“Okay.” I said. Wow a paying gig.

The first thing I said to Kinky as we were setting up was, “Danny Finley (Panama Red), was in the Bethlehem Asylum with me back in the early Seventies”. That elicited a mixed response from Kinky; which was understandable considering Danny’s peripatetic avuncularisms. Kinky obviously liked Danny but as in any band, the members share a love/hate relationship based on music versus money, and being in most bands is like being married to four or five dysfunctional people.

Kinky was known for offending everyone. “Is there anyone I missed?” he would ask. His music was funny, topical, clever and Texas country. The fact that he was a Jewish Texan made it even more dramatic. “They ain’t making Jews like Jesus anymore.” and “Get yer biscuits in the oven and yer buns in the bed” were two of his popular ditties. Tonight at the world famous country bar, he was in his element; cigar in his hand, Stetson on his head, perched on a stool at the edge of the stage and strumming his guitar. Behind him was his cracker jack band with Van Dyke on Piano. He launched into song after song lampooning everything from Beaver Cleaver to the Texas tower shootings and his big hit, “Sold American”. The other acts were watching; Father Guido Sarducci, the gangster cardinal from Saturday Night Live, dressed in clerical robes and bishop’s hat was smoking a cigarette and laughing. David Allan Coe, the intimidating country ex con who used to drive a hearse around Nashville, was sporting his rhinestone demims and loomed menacingly. Everyone was getting their drink on. Business as usual at the Palomino.

Kinky joked and sang his way through his polished show, naming everyone and group he could think of in a funny mildly insulting delivery. He was better than Don Rickles. When Kinky got to the part of his show where he mentioned the “Village People Retirement Home”, a blond young man in a beige suit stood up directly in front of Kinky. He handed Kinky an official looking document right in front of the packed rowdy house full of Texas redneck wannabe’s. The show suddenly ground to a halt.

“This is some kind of joke, right?” Kinky said looking at the official document with a perplexed expression forming around the cigar in his mouth. The lawyer assured him it was not a joke. The Village People did not like being made fun of by Kinky Friedman; even if it was just a passing remark. It was not really an insult; a charmingly funny image of retired Village People dressed in their stage garb sitting around in rocking chairs. The Jewish Defense League was in attendance at the Palomino and they heckled the guy.

“Kick his ass, Kinky!” they yelled.

The blond in the blond suit looked determined, and not the least bit intimidated, even though David Allan Coe was capable of extreme behavior at the drop of a ten gallon hat. Kinky weighed his options, considered lampooning this barrister, but thought better of it. He was capable of blistering off the cuff remarks but he also knew what a law suit was. We finished the show on a slightly off key note. I don’t know what happened. I figure Kinky finessed things and came out on top. He is good at that. He managed to run for Governor of Texas while writing a few really good books about Willie, Jesus and Coca cola. Hell, he had even played music with Danny Finley so he’s got to be alright.

Drumming for country is pretty easy if you don’t do it right. It’s just boom chak, boom chak, boom chak, boom chak. But there is great subtlety in the original country beats; they combine swing ala Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys with cooking Rock a Billy train tempos. There are little upbeats that the drummer can put in if they are fast enough. Most of the time, they go unnoticed. But once I was playing with Billie and his father Dorsey Burnett, of the original Rock n Roll Trio, Dorsey was impressed that I knew the little secret up beat Rock a Billy notes. He complimented me on hitting those subtle extra back beats in the right place. Kinky probably noticed too but getting a compliment from him was like a cab driver in New York expecting a good tip. If a drummer is doing it right, they are usually ignored by the other players. But if the drummer makes a mistake, everyone glares at them.  But I might have overstepped my boundaries when I added some rimshots to his quips ala borscht belt comedy. I couldn’t help it. Kinky was a comedian and it was a drummer’s typical reflex action after a cornball remark. I felt like a reincarnated vaudeville drummer. I might have even miscalculated the impact my resume had on him when I told him that Danny Finley had been in the Bethlehem Asylum with me.  They played and cowrote together for some time. But after I mentioned that, Kinky sort of mistrusted me in some existential way. He even named a state trooper character ‘Buddy’ in  one of his books that wasn’t too flattering. I feel so special. I remember the day that Danny called me and told me that he was joining Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, and what did I think of him changing his name to ‘Panama Red.’
“Just don’t take yourself too seriously.” I advised. I couldn’t think of anything more constructive to tell him. It was sort of a payback since he had described me in the early Bethlehem Asylum promotional material as, “Heaviest when light.” I don’t think I could ever forgive Danny for that description of me which maybe scarred me for life.

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

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