Norton Buffalo roams the blues side of town
Long time Steve Miller side man in town
By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer
Esteemed harmonica player Norton Buffalo has released his
first solo album, since his 1978 LP Desert Horizon, with his
longtime band the Knockouts, called King of the Highway. It was
released by the small San Francisco label Blind Pig.
Buffalo, his harp and the Knockouts will be in town to
play his mean version of harp blues, at the Roosevelt Tavern this Friday
Buffalo has been around forever it seems. Just to rattle
off a few, the names of those he has accompanied include; Bonnie Raitt,
Commander Cody, the late great folkie Kate Wolf, the Marshall Tucker Band,
Kenny Loggins; Elvin Bishop, "a dear friend;" slide guitarist
Roy Rogers (with whom he still plays as a duo); The Doobie Brothers,
Johnny Cash, Bette Midler, with whom he played in the movie The Rose,
and on three other of her albums; Laurie Lewis and most significantly the
Steve Miller Band. Indeed, he has accompanied sometime Ketchum local Steve
Miller on harmonica for more than 25 years.
For this reason, Buffalo considers Ketchum another of his
expanded home bases.
"I spent a lot of time there, even before Steve moved
to Sun Valley. Weíve done a lot of recording up there. Being there gives
me a chance to be with my other extended family," he said recently by
"I played Creekside, [a defunct bar at the base of
Baldy in Warm Springs], for years and years, when Tom Nickel owned it.
(Nickel is now owner of the Roosevelt.) Itís great to have a place to
come up and play. The Rooseveltís a good place---had some good shows---I
like Ketchum. Itís a wild, crazy crowd, ya know."
As for the new CD. Itís a blues tinged album with plenty
of soul and more than a modicum of serious rock Ďní roll heat.
"Itís with a small label; weíre not hitting the
charts like Madonna. Itís put together to be a blues album. I feel like
I really made a great record."
Buffalo wrote all the songs but one, on the new CD. He is
accompanied by drummer Tyler Eng, whoís been with him eight years, John
Vernazzo on guitar whoís been a Knockout for close to 20, and David
Brown on bass, who been in the band for 15 years.
"The band is a solid group. Iím blessed to have
great people playing with me."
Steve Miller, Merl Saunders and Elvin Bishop all turn up
as guest players on King of the Highway, and one cut, The Monkey
and The Man, gives writing credit to both Buffalo and his son Aisah.
"I have a lot of other material. This is the tip of
the ice berg."
He began blowing the harmonica, when he was only 7 years
old, to old Stephen Foster tunes with his father, who was also a harmonica
Young Norton spent his youth in California, playing jug
band, rock `ní roll, country, in his high school jazz band and marching
band, folk, and even classical.
When asked to recall highlights of his career, he said
"itís really a blink of an eye. Truth is Iíve been playing with
Steve for 25 years---wonderful singing and playing together on stage, thatís
of course been fun."
After he made The Rose in 1979, he went to Montana
to work on the movie Heavenís Gate, a notorious artistic
and financial bomb.
For Buffalo, however, it was a very positive "career
"I had a spectacular time living in Montana, went
from the hustle-bustle of touring, The Rose, Los Angeles rock `ní
roll scene to Montana---being up there, roller-skating, riding, fishing. I
became a resident up there. And to this day some of my best friends are
people I met there doing that movie. [Life] said slow down, and I
Meanwhile, he kept playing and making music. He got
married, raised kids, and continued to write.
"The places I played were Ketchum, Salt Lake City,
Boise, Pocatello, out of the way places, holes in the wall. Peopleíd say
whyíd you play there?"
Heís toured almost exclusively in the Northwest for the
past 20 years.
"I just got into this groove in the Northwest, rivers
running in the spring, fish jumping, colors changing in the fall. Instead
of going for the big time, I spoiled myself by not going for the big
thing. My heart and my head were filled instead by doing this."
But his kids are 16 and 17, now. They learned to play at
the knees of Steve Miller and their Dad; "Music was in their ears all
their life, an important part of their life whether they wanted it or
not," he said.
The time and the distance from the heavy duty music scene
of the 1970s are far behind him now, and a very kind and blessed man
stands ready to "get out and let the rest of the world know what Iím