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For the week of March 14 through 20, 2001

Norton Buffalo roams the blues side of town

Long time Steve Miller side man in town


By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer

Photo by Pat JohnsonEsteemed 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 night.

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 phone.

"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 player.

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 changing event."

"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 did."

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 doing."

 

 

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