Helm - long time drummer and friend of Tims - was interviewed by Room 109
founder Jack Brolly in November 1999
many of you are well aware, Buddy Helm played the drums in Tim Buckley's band
from 1972 until Tim's final performance at the Bastille Room in Houston Texas
on June 29 1975. Buddy took the time to answer some of my questions about his
relationship with Tim both professional and personal. There are seventeen questions
in all and through his answers, Buddy provides us with an overwhelming amount
of thought provoking recollections of life on the road and on the stage with Tim.
began this interview by thanking Buddy for allowing me to pick his brain. I then
asked the following five questions and Buddy decided to answer them in one long
fabulous essay. After which, he answered the remaining twelve questions one at
other question that I asked Buddy was if he would share any anecdotes or funny
stories that he could recall. What he did was weave the anecdotes into the answers
as he went along. If you decide to print out this interview, it would probably
take fifteen pages depending on the sizes of your margins.
first five questions were as follows:
Could we begin the questions with an account of the musical events that transpired
in your life just before and then leading up to your first meeting or association
Were you a fan of Tim's before you began playing drums in the band?
Can you tell me which album or albums of Tim's, that you liked to listen to the
How and when did you become a member of Tim's band?
was the musical atmosphere like in the early seventies from where you stood?
I was in Florida in '69 playing with Bethlehem
Asylum; we were touring the South and had to get a new road manager while we were
in Dothan, Alabama. Our old road manager had been Otis Redding's road
manager. Terry broke down in a coffee shop when the waitress asked him what he
wanted. He had spent all our money on cocaine and confessed to the waitress. I
had to fire him and get a new road manager. I had no idea what Cocaine was all
about. I just knew that it made people into idiots.
South was a hostile place for long hairs even though it is the home of the blues
and the source of inspiration for American music; it was still very dangerous
for us. We were an integrated band too. For some unknown reason, we were told
to pick up our new road manager at the airport in Jackson, Mississippi.
turned out to be Tim Buckley's road manager. (I forgot his name). He toured with
us for several months. He was very tall and was a real California/Woodstock kind
of Hippie. High profile and full of fun. He rolled cigarettes while driving the
car and regaled us with Tim Buckley stories. That was the first that I had heard
about Tim Buckley other than his records and one TV appearance when I saw him
on the Tonight show where he defended himself quite well against the conservative
was impressed that a young curly haired charmer with a big grin could be so confident
and articulate when confronted with angry resentful cynical mainstream TV personalities.
He was capable of defending his anti-war stand on national TV. He was the first
real "flower child" I had seen. One of our fans in St. Petersburg, Florida
had played me Goodbye and Hello before that and I was curious.
I left Coconut Grove, I lived on a landing craft houseboat in Sausalito California
offshore, writing and rowing in only to get water. The only way to reach me was
to call Shel Silverstein's boat tied up at Gate 5, then he would row out and tell
me. Doctor Hook's Medicine band was rehearsing on Shell's huge funky but lavish
houseboat. I hung out in the studio with them while they cut the gold record,
On the Cover of the Rolling Stone.
I was upset about Duane Allman being killed, and then Barry Oakley and didn't
know what I wanted to do. I didn't really fit in anywhere in the West Coast music
scene. Peggy, a crazy girlfriend of Asylum guitarist, Danny Finley (Panama Red)
from Coconut Grove, asked me to come down to L.A. and get back into the music
I arrived in L.A. in '71, the first thing Peggy did was take me to Tower Records
and made me buy Greetings from L.A.
I liked it a lot. When I finished the first sessions I did at Capitol records
that week for an old folkie friend from the Grove Vince Martin I listened to Greetings
a lot. I was staying in Brentwood at a big mansion of some movie starlet, Tiffany
Bolling, and was not impressed with the Hollywood thing.
was unsure what to do with my life. Vince is an old folkie from Greenwich Village.
He took me around to meet his friends. Maria Muldaur was playing at the Ashgrove
with the Jim Kweskin jug band, Joni Mitchell was playing at the Troubadour and
we hung out in the dressing room with her. I was very shy and she was very gracious
also met Van Dyke Parks, John Sebastian, Lowell George and Frank Zappa, all within
a few days. I had my pick of gigs. Lowell was just starting Little Feat. When
I walked out of the rehearsal with Zappa, which included the Overnight Sensation
band, George Duke, Jean Luc Ponte, Ruth Underwood, etc. I met Timmy standing outside
manager Herb Cohen's office.
didn't recognize him. He grinned at me as we waited for Herb to talk to us. He
acted like we were in high school. "What did you get sent to the principal
for?" was the first thing he said to me with a goofy grin. "I can't
work with Frank," I said.
laughed. "I need a drummer". "Who are you?" I said bluntly.
He introduced himself and I said, "You're much taller on record". He
laughed even though it was an unintentional insult. I have this habit of saying
exactly what's on my mind. We rehearsed even though I didn't know his songs. He
asked me to go on the road. I asked for copies of his albums to learn the songs.
He said, "Don't bother. Just play what you want. It sounds great."
did The Dolphins Song which is a Freddie Neil song I knew from Coconut
Grove. It has an odd 6/8 time signature that very few people could get right.
I was a snob and insisted on doing it like Freddie had done it and Tim appreciated
the effort. I decided to work with Tim because he had heart in his music and he
made me laugh. I tended to be serious a lot of the time. Plus he was very intelligent
and well read and I was trying to expand my literary horizons.
was re-entering the music biz after a couple of years sitting it out in Venice.
He was motivated and very clean and healthy. I brought my Afro-Cuban Southern-fried
soul and salsa rhythms to his poetry and we both found the sound very exciting.
Tim worked all over while disco dominated the airwaves. We worked clubs and auditoriums
all over the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
was brilliantly inspired music that was always dangerously close to falling apart
on stage but always exciting to play. Tim had a four-octave range that he yodeled
with, sang in tongues, Swahili, anything that came into him. He was a conduit
for passion and I was just pumping him along on the drum set.
Carter Collins sat in and even Lee Underwood, but this last band of Tim's was
more like rock and R & B, but with a change up into a ballad that Tim would
do in the middle of the set. He'd pull out an old song and let his baritone voice
just wash out over the adoring fans. He would screech high and then drop into
a middle bass all in a single phrase sometimes. He did have a way of making love
to the audience with his voice.
first gig was the Boarding House in San Francisco and all his old fans were waiting
to see what this new band would be like after his hiatus. It was very emotional.
People cherished Tim as their own little secret singer/songwriter/poet and didn't
want him to gain too wide of a mainstream popularity. Some folks called him a
sell-out at that first week of shows but he insisted on doing what he wanted to
do which was hotter and had more drive than what his older folkie fans expected.
He had a lot of pressure on him to pack the house.
Cohen (Tim's manager) was calling and nervously asking me "Is he yodeling?"
Herb hated Tim's experimental vocal gymnastics. I told Herb that he was. Herb
wanted Tim to do the ballads. Herb told me that Tim had "gotten confused"
by playing with a bunch of elitist jazz type players like Lee Underwood, Maury
Baker and Emmit Chapman - Starsailor stuff. At one point, Tim stopped playing
on stage at the Boarding House and went into a Lenny Bruce type of monologue,
which blew my mind.
told the people why he wanted to do this new kind of music and why he thought
they should appreciate it. I loved working with Tim. He let me play whatever I
wanted to. The encores evolved into just vocal and drums. He would go into an
ecstatic trance and just let the sounds tumble out of his mouth. I was in heaven.
The trance drumming that had so affected me in the Caribbean, as a very young
drummer was where my heart was. Tim instinctively went there. We made magic on
stage together. I am a very lucky guy.