Tim Buckley paid Phil Ochs’ rent

Tim Buckley paid Phil Ochs’ rent

excerpt “Drummer’s History” Russell Buddy Helm copyright 2013 all rights reserved

Phil Ochs’ rent was paid by Tim Buckley as well as rent for the guy that murdered Tim. We had just finished a short tour in Houston. I left Tim and the rest of the band at LAX and flew up to Santa Cruz.  “See you later, babe.” he said to me with a wave. We were all in good spirits. Art Institute teachers came down to our ranch by Santa Cruz for a picnic at our victory garden. Tony, head of the art department at San Jose State picked me up at the airport. Tim had gotten rave reviews. They referred to his band members by name. He was respected as a musician, composer, arranger, bandleader and unique singer. Next week we would meet in Aspen for a fun week of playing, then we would start principal photography on the feature movie, ‘Bound for Glory’, the Woodie Guthrie story with Tim in the lead and me playing a minor role as Cisco Pike. We had been in Wally Heider’s and the Record Plant in L.A. cutting new tracks for the upcoming album. I was getting song co writing credit with Tim. That meant a lot to me. It’s great being a drummer, but seldom do drummers get recognition for what they bring to a song’s arrangement. So as a result, they get no royalties.

The horses were curiously watching Katherine set up red checkered picnic tables along the corral, everyone was encouraged to pull their own ear of corn from the victory garden. There was every vegetable, fresh and ready to eat, including okra in honor of Mizz Hudson back down in Macon, Georgia.

“What happens if the bubble pops?” Chris, the sculpture/conceptual performance teacher at San Francisco Art Institute asked thoughtfully.

“There is no bubble.” I answered in what I thought were pragmatic tones, “It is just more work.”

In less than an hour, everything changed. Katherine said Joe was on the line.

“Did you give Tim any drugs in Houston?” he asked.

“Of course not. Why? What happened?”

“He’s in a coma. Nobody knows why. They dropped his body off at the  apartment in Venice. Judy called the paramedics, They don’t know…”

“Who dropped his body off?”

“JR and his girlfriend…” An acquaintance of Tim’s from the days before I was around. Jeff, the bass player had dropped him off there when he couldn’t reach his wife at home, assuming she might be there. I didn’t really like the guy. He claimed to be an ethnomusicologist from UCLA. He was a flake. Tim had paid his rent on several occasions as well as the rent for a troubled Phil Ochs.

Tim was so healthy that his heart refused to stop beating even though he was mysteriously brain dead. In the years that I had worked with him, I never saw him do drugs. His four octave vocal range was the most critical part of his creativity and he protected it. He had a beer when there were a few days off. He was a professional and I respected that. His old pals were not so sober. The news stories claimed he had overdosed and he had committed suicide. I knew it was murder and so did Joe. The news stories were being manipulated.

JR had disappeared. We staked out his place, finally locating him on Muscle Beach in Venice. The police considered it an overdose/ suicide. Joe insisted that it was murder. There was a trial. The culprit got one year in prison for third degree manslaughter. The judgement was a legal maneuver orchestrated by the lawyers calling it, ‘Death by misadventure’ a term that enabled the ex manager to collect on a hefty insurance policy that we had been paying the premiums on for years with the ex manager as beneficiary. He had power of attorney over all of Tim’s affairs and had bought the insurance policy without anyone’s knowledge.

Judy called me, close to tears. “They’re taking everything…the tapes, all the masters. They’re taking everything right out of the house!”

I got a strange call decades later at our store in Santa Monica from the old road manager that had been fired for stealing money from us. “You want to know how Tim was killed?” he offered. “A combination of orange juice, vodka, valium and cleaning fluid.” He hung up and I never heard from him again.


excerpt “Drummer’s History” Russell Buddy Helm copyright 2013 all rights reserved


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