The Tim Buckley Archives

Interviews

Buddy Helm Interview

Buddy Helm - long time drummer and friend of Tim’s - was interviewed by Room 109 founder Jack Brolly in November 1999

As 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.

I 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 a time.

One 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.

Jack Brolly


The first five questions were as follows:

1) 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 with Tim?

2) Were you a fan of Tim's before you began playing drums in the band?

3) Can you tell me which album or albums of Tim's, that you liked to listen to the most?

4) How and when did you become a member of Tim's band?

5)What 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.


© buddyhelm.com
Russell 'Buddy' Helm

The 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.

It 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 establishment guests.

I 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.

After 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 biz.

When 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.

I 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 to me.

I 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.

I 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.

He 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."

We 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.

Tim 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.

It 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.

Sometimes 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.

Our 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.

Herb 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.

He 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.


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