The Tim Buckley Archives


Buddy Helms - Part Two

I heard Tim say once in an interview, during a promotion tour for the album "Sefronia", that there was a long musical interlude in the middle of the song Sefronia when he first recorded it. Did you play drums on the missing instrumental portion?

We did the Sefronia sessions in Paramount Studios on Santa Monica Blvd. We also did some other tracks in New York at Record Factory, I think Kenny Randal produced? (It was Denny Randell - Ed.) I wasn't impressed with the various songs, but the tone poem Sefronia intrigued me because it was outside the mold of pop songs.

Tim always wanted to be free enough to try stuff outside the mold. I don't recall the session note for note. It would be great if I could. As far as an extended instrumental section that was cut out; that was just cold-blooded commercial editing, I think. The energy that we were generating on the road was what we were about.

Tim tried to capture that feeling of inventiveness in the studio by just playing the groove and seeing what came up. Budget anxiety from managers makes that kind of jamming very precious. Plus the pressure from producer and manager to force Tim into what they thought would be a commercial sound made jamming unlikely.

On stage, we could and did play around the arrangements of some of the songs or a new idea. Tim kept it interesting that way. I think it was a real breath of fresh air for Tim to have that freedom to improvise in the studio. If he mentioned it, it was because he enjoyed being a part of the musical band, not just the front man. It was odd for him though. He was being forced to be a star.

The same crap happened to Jeff Buckley, from what I gathered from some of his people; the label just got more and more pushy and insistent on forcing the artist into doing what the bean counters think is commercial. It's why corporate music never works as a form of art. It may sell tampons but it's not worth remembering.

The album "Sefronia" seemed to be an attempt by Tim to record some music for the masses. Do you think that he might have felt restricted in any way?

Sefronia? Commercial? Yes. It was a blatant attempt by management to force Tim into doing some boring tripe that Herb and his henchmen thought would sell. It was a bozo time for radio airplay. Disco was almost hitting and arena rock already sucked. Nobody was sure what the "next big thing" was going to be. So, instead of just letting the artist do what they do, the manager has to tell the artist what NOT to do.

The tunes for Sefronia were a version of Tim succumbing to the managers of bad taste. He was committed to doing it because he was an honorable man and he wanted to provide for his family. I know that sounds weird, but the family that I knew of Tim's was his adopted family, Judy and her son Taylor. Tim legally adopted Taylor after his real father was killed in a car crash that nearly killed Judy and Taylor also.

© Judy Buckley Llewellyn
Tim - with adopted son Taylor - wondering how far it is the the nearest patch of concrete
Judy and Tim made a good couple and Taylor was a good kid. Tim was going on the road to pay for his school. He showed me pics of Taylor happy and child-like in some country school with horses. I know that Jeff had a lot of anger about Tim's missing presence in his life, but I only saw Jeff once and I don't think mommy and daddy got along too well.

If Tim had his own way, he would have been even more of an experimental songwriter. He was a rat in a cage in some respects. He had to do what he was told. The fat guy was paying his rent.

Larry Beckett had a hand in writing two of the album's songs. Did you meet Larry at all, and if so how would you describe his personality? Did he come around to visit a lot or rarely or never?

Beckett was like some visiting saint that I never got the permission to see. I'm sure I met him but nothing sticks. I had met a lot of pretentious bohos in the Village and Coconut Grove. He was also reputed to be living in Seattle, which was a big point against him in my mind. I could be wrong though.

I'm sorry, I'm sounding like Kinky Friedman or something.... Larry was an interesting person although I don't recall ever talking to him, seeing him, or getting fucked up with him. This is not to mean that Larry might not remember something. I hope I didn't offend him. I had a tendency to do that.

Do you know what the lyrics to "Pleasant Street" mean?

Sorry. Pleasant Street wasn't explained to me, but it was a mix of different relationships I think and he did live on a pleasant street, or something? I can't remember. He did show me where he lived on top of the merry-go-round carousel on the Santa Monica Boardwalk.

I understand that you were only 21 when you went to work for Tim; what kind of an impression did he make on you when you watched him in action for the first time as a member of the band?

I was 21 and full of beans. I had just come from listening to Duane play live almost every night. Nothing could impress me. But I was intimidated by everyone I met. There was a kind of music that I wanted to play and Tim was doing it. I decided to work with him because he had heart in his music.

He was struggling with it. For other guys I could have worked with, the energy was more manipulated and thought out. Tim was balls to the wall, let's just take off. When I first played with him, he didn't tell me what to play. That was a relief. He preferred what I played over what was on his albums. That was a great vote of confidence to me, a paranoid from a small town.

Tim had a professional calmness that came from years of already dealing with the "biz." I wanted a singer and he was the best I could find. I knew that to make it in the biz, for me as a drummer, I had to have a good singer in front of me. The heavens brought me to Tim.

I wasn't impressed with his homework though in the blues area. He had a snobbishness that was a cover up for his own insecurities about not being a "trained" musician. That bothered him. He was sensitive about his own writing and musical ability. He had complete confidence in his own voice.

I wanted him to write songs, himself. I wanted to read his poetry. His writing was in a book that he didn't let anyone read, but was lost when his guitar was stolen at an airport. He was more upset about losing his novel than his guitar. The fact that Beckett was writing words for Tim wasn't any of my business.

I was treated like the hired help by most of the old-school gang Tim had around him. Only when we got on the road and all those old hippies were gone, did Tim really start to open up as a real artist, not just a performer. The road was where he could sing and create right on stage with the band messing around behind him. I supported him on that kind of song writing all the way.

If we were in some low-key gig, he would whip out a lick and I would settle in behind him to make it sound like a song. The rest of the band had to come along or look like a chickenshit. Many times we bullshitted our way through some pretty interesting creations right in front of an adoring audience. Just the way it should be... Of course, word would get back to the manager, and Tim would be suitably restrained for the next "upscale" gig. Although he wasn't above pulling a tantrum and just wailing weird at some big operation where record industry types were drinking off of his royalties.

Were you shocked at all by Tim's personality or his lifestyle, or were you impressed?

Impressed? Sure I was. When I came into Frank's rehearsal, I was impressed. Zappa had a whole army of butt-kissers, as well as great mercenary musicians and every toy in the world. All I could think of was that this was what it was like to have a perfect Christmas. He had the red wagon and it was full of every kind of musical toy available.

When I worked with Tim in the same soundstage, he played through a Fender Twin Reverb and his twelve-string Fender. The same kind of monster guitar that Johnny Winter was playing. It had a log for a neck and it was heavy plus it was a bitch to tune. But it had a full sound that Tim felt comfortable with. As a single folk singer, the twelve-string is great. It gives lots of overtones and filling sounds that aren't there with a six-string acoustical.

But when you get a band behind an electric twelve-string then there is a lot of conflicting sounds going out. It was a different sound and I wanted Tim to play less with a band than what he would play by himself. When he would stop in the middle of a set and do a ballad just by himself, you could see the tears in the eyes of the people.

That was his strong suit. I enjoyed just playing softly behind him that way, because what he did to the audience was very special. His voice was like a big acoustical vibrator. He would go low and then go high. But, it was something only he could do. I was surprised and pleased at how clean Tim was when it came to drugs. On the road he was a pro. He didn't even drink a beer unless he had a two-day break to recover. At one point, he was having tonsil problems and I got him biosalts from a-then-rare health food store. He took them all at the same time.

We laughed about it but it was a great respect he had for his former tendencies. When I worked with him, I never saw him stoned or fucked up. When I spent time with him not working, I only saw him get a little tight on a few beers on a special occasion. The heavy drug user did not exist. Tim did not do drugs when I was working with him up until the end of his life.


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