It’s not the years, it’s the mileage: Bradford Helner (1971-2011)

Posted: August 23, 2011 by Windsor Zene in Band/Artist, News, Profiles

On Thursday August 18th, Windsor’s music scene lost one of it’s own. Bradford Rex Helner, one of the city’s most versatile and prolific drummers, passed away due to complications from a heart arrhythmia. He was just 39 years old.

Second from right, in a photo of one of his early Michigan bands, Velvis.

Bradford, like many musicians and community folk alike, was not originally from our city of roses. From Dearborn, this Michigan Yankee in King Harper’s Court fell into our city’s lap over a decade ago, marrying a local girl. While the marriage didn’t last, his relationship with the city – in particular, it’s various musically inclined inhabitants – flourished. Already a respected drummer from Michigan’s rockabilly ruffians The Twistin’ Tarantulas, the list of acts Bradford touched, inspired and played with is nearly as comprehensive as a list of

Bradford, far right, with Mr. Chill & The Witnesses

every act who’s played in the last few years – you could almost play the Kevin Bacon game with him instead and touch upon nearly every musician in town. While perhaps his most beloved project was the original incarnation of jazz-funk jam band Huladog (and the first year or so residency at The FM Lounge), he’s capably handled the skins (either full time, part time, or for special events) with Mr. Chill & The Witnesses, Thornetta Davis, The Hung Jury/FourJury, The Eric Welton Band, an early incarnation of The Golden Hands Before God, Train 45, The Rockafellas, The Eric Arner Project, Dennis Cantagallo (of Ten Indians), Ray’s Right Fender, NOT_Digital, (wh)y.m.e.(??), Star Trek: The Band, FourLetterWord, The Last Jazz Trio, Surdaster, The Locusts Have No King, The Greg Cox Roots Combo, The Monday Milkmen, Whoa Nelly, Vice Aerial…the list could go on for days. Not to mention the amount of acts he’s sat in with for one-offs, appearances in live theatre (such as Hedwig & The Angry Inch) and working with both the Detroit and Windsor Symphony Orchestra. There was no gig too big or too small for his love of music. It was his oxygen and he made everything sound better.

Second from left, leading the original line-up of Huladogeverything sound better.

Far right, jamming electronica with (wh)y.m.e.(??)

But despite his staggering musical resume, it was his person that left the most indelible mark on our community. He was open to jam with anyone and often encouraged musicians that others wouldn’t even acknowledge. He was a tireless encouragement to many musicians who were on the brink of retirement, pushing them to keep playing when others were telling them to stop. He couldn’t stand seeing anyone else down in the dumps and he always had a story to tell to make you feel better, about yourself, your situation or simply to take your mind off whatever it was that was bringing you down – in fact, many of his fabled tales would inevitably splinter into so many sub-stories that the original beginning story would never reach its own climax (“Tangents out of tangents” was how one friend recalled them). But he could make you listen and no matter how you entered the room and encountered him, you always left his presence with a warm feeling in your gut (although that could also be attributed to the Jagermeister shot you would always end up doing with him).

Back in the 90's, behind the kit for The Twistin' Tarantulas

His passion for life and music was equaled only by his love for cars and when he wasn’t telling tales or playing music, he was working on some sort of automobile. He had just secured a new job in an upscale auto-shop in Royal Oak weeks before his death.

Most recently, he drummed for roots rockers The FourJury

Bradford lived life like one of those classic American muscle cars. He lived it hard and he lived it fast, but he lived it. He’d patch up the wholes when they arose and throw some paint on the body, but ultimately, the engine just couldn’t keep up to the way it was driven. But, as Bradford was oft known to say, “it’s not about the years, it’s about the mileage”.

Bradford Rex Helner got a lot of mileage out of those 39 years. And we loved every mile.

At his request, Bradford was cremated. Funeral arrangements will take place in Dearborn, Michigan under supervision from his family. Details will be released as they are known. A memorial service will be held both in Dearborn and Windsor, and some sort of tribute show is being discussed.

Sitting in with The Locusts Have No King

He was one of the area's most sought after session drummers

  1. Alishia Fox says:

    Beautifully written post Jamie. Thank you for this.

  2. jeff says:

    nice. (and sad)

  3. Mike Stone says:

    Wonderful. Thanks Jamie.

  4. Aggie says:

    Very beautifully written. Thank you for that.

  5. Gary VL says:

    This is perfect.
    RIP Brother……

  6. holly says:

    so touching

  7. Kim D Elliott says:

    Very very well said and truthful to the core Jamie! I was one of those he not only encouraged verbally, as few others have – bradford was only one of two (including Tara Watts) who just short of demanded that I come to the Mic and sing to the best of my ability while he took me higher with the magic of his soulful drumming.

    Consequently I must list him among those acknowledged on my debut CD, as having a significant musical influence. I will also miss and cherish his memory as a sincere and supportive friend~

  8. jan says:

    this was good.

  9. […] the work of Windsor musicians exclusively. The album is dedicated to the memory Windsor drummer Bradford Helner. All proceeds from the sale of the CD go to Hiatus […]

  10. […] Two for the Cascade and much much more! Also, this year’s festival was dedicated to memory of Bradford Helner (who played several previous FAM festivals), the local musician who passed away suddenly and […]

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