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The Hum by Bob Doran

April 1, 2004


photo/heading Norton BuffaloSINGER/SONGWRITER/HARMONICA WIZARD Norton Buffalo [photo at right] recently returned from Brazil where he played a number of shows with a Brazilian blues band. Before that it was a swing through Japan, and another tour down under in New Zealand.

Despite the fact that he lives in a small town in Sonoma County, he finds that he's known wherever he goes. "When I went to China I found a fan over there," he says with a touch of amazement, when I call him at his home studio in the Valley of the Moon. "In part it's because with all the records I've played on -- people have heard me play on anything from Steve Miller to Bonnie Raitt to the Doobie Brothers to Johnny Cash or who knows what music they're into in these different countries.

"There are also a whole lot of people who are just harmonica fans. For instance, in Argentina, Blind Pig (his label) does not have distribution, and yet, somehow these people have my records. And people just like the harmonica. You know it's one of the only instruments that breathes both in and out the way we do."

Norton has plenty of breathing in and out coming up. "I'm going down to Texas in a week or so to play a show with the Doobie Brothers raising money for the Dallas Symphony," he told me. "But you know, as much fun as I have going out with the Doobies or playing with Steve Miller, or a couple of years ago I did a tour with Olivia Newton John and got to sing one of the songs from Grease with her, as much fun as all that can be, going out playing with my band, getting to do my own stuff is even better. I've been playing with these guys for years. My guitar player, Johnny V [Vernazza], has been with me over 20 years; David Brown, my bass player, has been in the band for 19 years come June. My drummer, Tyler Eng, has only been with us 12 years, but he and I went to high school together in Richmond. Austin Deone started with me in 1980. Truth is, we have all the debauchery and crazy stuff behind us, so it's on to being great friends and playing music together, and we have a ball onstage."

Rest assured, Norton Buffalo and the Knockouts will be having a ball at the Riverwood Inn Saturday night.

A note was bounced to me recently that came from HSU music prof Gil Kline, leader of the HSU British Brass Band, who wanted people to know about a concert by "this VERY unique music ensemble" which he suggested, "is likely not to be written up in the local media."

HSUBBB is a British-style brass band with four and twenty brass instruments and three percussion players, as seen in films such as Brassed Off and The Full Monty. "Unlike the depictions in Brassed Off," said Cline, "our HSU Brass Band is working on some serious music, concert works and contest pieces in addition to some audience pleasers: marches and other tunes. I sincerely hope you can join us on Friday evening, April 2, in Fulkerson Recital Hall. Concerts by brass bands are a genuine rarity in the U.S. and on the West Coast. Better yet, our brass band comprises some terrific musicians, among the best on the North Coast." Among them, I might add, the Journal's own Grace Kerr on E-flat tuba, who describes the music as "difficult, but fun to play."

This Saturday night is one of those nights where a music lover has to recognize the vast array of choices available in this seemingly remote area.

Where to start? Well, Saturday is Dan Giannotta's birthday. The local dance music maven, a DJ on KHSU and KRFH, is perhaps better known as DJ Receiver, aka Dub Cowboy. He'll be spinning discs at his own B-day dance party at Mazzotti's Saturday along with friends Solo, Fingers and CJ, while the artful Forest Stearns creates a spontaneous mural inspired by the music.

There's reggae that night at Humboldt Brews with John Grizzly, who are morphing into something called Rasta Survival with a new Jamaican vocalist, Mel from Ijah's Kitchen, added to the lineup.

Meanwhile the Georges Lammam Ensemble from Palestine (via Seattle) plays classical and contemporary Arabic music in HSU's Kate Buchanan Room while Shoshanna and Adalee undulate their midriffs.

The Delta Nationals are right around the corner from my house at the D Street Neighborhood Center playing classic American rockin' dance music. HSU's Lindyhop Club teaches swing dancing before the show, a benefit for the campus' Newman Center.

The Terrapin Tony Band is at the Eureka Theater offering high-energy psychedelic rock `n' roll -- for free. Next door at the Morris Graves Museum, music from the 13th through 20th centuries played on instruments from the respective eras: Viols, Recorders, Krumhorns and All. Down at CR's Forum Theatre, Humboldt Light Opera Company presents a salute to old blue eyes, Frank Sinatra (also repeated Sunday afternoon). And at Saffire Rose "Queen of the Alto" Ylonda Nickell returns for an evening of jazz accompanied by John Raczka and Sam Maez. (The trio also plays at the Rose the night before, Friday.)

Michael Campbell, aka Mikey Dread, has been an unstoppable force in reggae for over a quarter of a century, serving as DJ for the first all-reggae music show on Jamaica's national station, working with producers like Lee Scratch Perry and King Tubby and producing and performing with the seminal British punk/reggae band the Clash. Tuesday night he returns to town for a show at the new improved Six Rivers McKinleyville along with Humboldt homegrown reggae band Massagana and the One Wise Sound sound system.

It might be 40 years since the Fab Four invaded America and 38 years since the band performed live, but you're supposed to forget all that and flash back to the days of Beatlemania, when the venerable Rain (touring since 1975) present their world renowned Beatles tribute Tuesday at Cher-ae Heights Casino.

Heaviness abounds next Thursday, April 8, with stone cold rock at the Alibi by Oakland's Totimoshi and our own Dragged by Horses. Meanwhile at the Schooner it's metalmania with Manic, Locust Furnace and a new band, Cycle of Violence. (The same three bands invade Saffire Rose next Saturday, April 10.)

The 10th Annual Arcata International Folk Dance Festival begins Friday, April 2, at the Bayside Grange with a potluck dinner and folk dance party kicking off a weekend of international dance with workshops, concerts and more dance parties featuring Hungarian, Balkan, Hawaiian and Appalachian dancing. Check the Folklife website for details:

Saturday evening at Westhaven Center for the Arts, Manila's poet laureate Jerry Martien reads with multi-instrumentalist Brooks Otis providing musical accompaniment on pedal steel, etc. Jerry will touch on recent work and read "The Book of Gates," a long piece he describes as "a journey to the underworld and back in the company of Persephone, several dead poets and the Oakland A's, invariably in the American League basement in April." Jerry was perhaps prescient when he scheduled the reading and chose the piece. He couldn't have known that on Saturday afternoon he would be attending a memorial service for his friend Jack Hitt, who left us last week.

Bob Doran




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