On the road again

78. On the Road again


The decision to go out back on the road was not taken lightly. Decades had passed since I knew the touring life. But for some unexplainable reasons, I had no fear about doing this. I felt as if something were pulling me along by my nose, in the right direction, to manifest something that was needed in our culture; Sacred Drumming.

In a sense it was the “Blues Man” tradition. When I had traveled with Chuck Berry back in the early Seventies, the individual promoters would supply musicians along the way. I would have to do the same thing now- in nineteen ninety one.

Every town, every New Age store, every festival, yoga center, healing center, beach drumming group, and individual one-on-one drumming therapy sessions, all would be my band. But as with Chuck Berry, there would be no time for rehearsal. Chuck assumed, rightly so, that any musician who walked on the stage with him should know Chuck Berry’s catalog of songs, and there were a lot of them. Lots of hits; Maybeline, Memphis, Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Roll over Beethoven, Ce la Vie Say the Old Folks, many more, plus his last hit- My Dingaling, which we had to sing.

I did not have a catalog of hits songs, but I had the grooves that made up those songs. And those grooves were universal. If you grew up listening to rock n roll, Rhythm and Blues, Soul music, you knew these grooves. We didn’t need a guitar or melody for lyrics, although I often heard the lyrics of many a great song running through my head while I grooved and jammed with people all over the world; Japan, Australia, Kansas, Brewster in Cape Cod, Treasure Island in Florida, Coconut Grove, Austin, Asheville. Twenty five years of touring with a djembe, a tambourine on my foot, and my custom djembe stand. No one was doing it…yet. There were some drumming groups who were purists and played only African drum songs, and they were often adamant about not allowing any other kind of djembe drumming. This had been inherited from their African master  drum teachers who played from a place of great cultural identity. But I kept teaching the downbeat method using Rhythm and Blues grooves, and it always worked. People got into a groove and they felt much, much better.

I was watching the expenses as best I could.A record company or management agency was not paying the bills. There was no tour support except for Cathy holding down the store, and giving me a place to come back to after these culture wars. Sometimes I was out for seven or eight weeks. I stayed in people’s homes. No motels. I do not like hotels and motels; too many bad associations, plus there was no money for that luxury. I preferred the hospitality of strangers, who soon became close friends. I learned about people’s lives in places like Bisbee, Arizona, Adrian, Michigan(drumming with 1,000 nuns), Austin, with a lawyer who got his wife to dance by playing the drum. Rosie, the sound healer in Sarasota, Martial Arts masters who were husband and wife in Nagoya, Japan, and a cattle rancher in Bendigo, Australia. All these people wanted to drum. I saw the huge impact this was having. I couldn’t stop doing this.

Occasionally I would talk to Charlie, who was still out with Hall and Oates for thirty years, and we would cross paths often. He would come to a fire dance and play his flute, then go back out on a first class worldwide tour and play with Daryl and John, Mick Jagger, all the top groups. He was a good friend and encouraged me although the healing aspects of the drumming were not something he was particularly interested in. He liked to play over my grooves. He always liked to do that.

excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm, 2015 copyright buddyhelm.com

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