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  Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Sunday, 29 November, 2020

Vaya Con Dios Norton

Date: 15 November, 2009

By: Chief

Imageorton Buffalo, without any doubt, the undisputed King of the 'Mississippi Saxophone' died 30 October, 2009 from cancer of the lung and brain. He was 58 years young.

I can't believe it. I just can't. It seems like only yesterday my wife and I were watching him perform. How wonderful those concerts were.

The entire world is now a bit sadder place to be. One thing is for sure — it shall never be the same. It cannot ever be the same, because there was only one — Maestro Buffalo.

And he truly was a maestro. A title rarely given to 'pop' musicians — but one which he had earned in spades and so richly deserved. Quoting SF Gate:

"Norton Buffalo, harmonica virtuoso, one-of-a-kind performer and consummate accompanist to the stars, died Friday night from cancer in Feather River Hospital, near his home in Paradise (Butte County)" [California].

Not only was he the finest at what he did — he was fun. Indeed he was a joy. And let me tell y'all something — he loved what he did. You could actually see it. Moreover, because of his positive attitude, his positive energy, his love of music and life — he would lift your spirit as well. I don't think he could help it. It was just him being him.

My wife and I had the privilege of watching him perform live several times. To say his concerts were 'awesome' would be an insult to him and to his memory. I sincerely believe there is no word in the English language which can accurately describe him or his music. Perhaps some things are beyond mere words.

His vocal power and presence was enormous. His vocal range was three plus octaves. Incredible. And his voice was clear and clean throughout. Amazing. To be sure he made singing look effortless.

But it was Norton's mastery of his chosen instrument — the harmonic which made him "King of the Highway." Oh my God! I kid you not, he could do things with a harmonica that God herself never intended a harmonica to do.

One of the times we saw the Maestro perform, at a club called Moe's Alley, in Santa Cruz, California, Norton and his band — "The Knockouts" did a magnificent rendition of "Mercury Blues." Now to describe what he did with his harmonica — I simply cannot do. I can still hear it coming through loud and clear in my mind but I would have a better chance attempting to describe the taste of salt to you. You just had to hear it. It cannot be described. By anyone.

Norton also played with just about, if not, all the great musicians. Steve "Guitar" Miller, Bonnie Riatt, George Thorogood, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, the Doobie Brothers and Roy Rogers. To name a very, very few. I have albums ... er ... CD's from them all. But if you really and truly want to hear something absolutely unique, you need go no further than to Norton and Roy playing together. Just the two of 'em. There is nothing finer. So here, ladies and gentlemen, for your listening and viewing pleasure is Maestro Norton Buffalo and Maestro Roy Rogers performing "Long Hard Road." Enjoy.

Can mere words adequately describe what you just heard and watched? I think not.

Let me take you back to December, 1998, for a moment. It was getting along toward Yule. My wife and I had not gotten anything for our youngest two sons (their ages were 9 and 11 at the time). Oh no, anything but that. Then somehow, I don't remember how, we heard that Norton and Roy would be appearing in Santa Cruz, California and it was at a place where we could take the boys with us. Yessire Bob, our Yule prayers were answered and in the Nick of time to boot (pun intended). The four of us piled into the car and off we went. We arrived a little early and got front row seats. Wow! About 15 later it was show time.

You may not believe this and I don't care if you don't but Norton and Roy played to our two kids throughout the entire show. Seriously. It was as though there was nobody else in the audience. It was unbelievable. And God almighty did those two play. Then after the show we took the boys and went around to the side entrance of the stage and were able to talk to Norton and Roy for several minutes. It was so cool. At one point during the conversation (Roy talking to our older son):

Roy Rogers: "So, you like our music?"

Older son: "No." (Followed by about a 5 second pause.)

Older son: "We love your music."

To say that 5 second pause lasted an eternity would be similar to calling the mighty Mississippi river a 'fair sized creek'. We all laughed and everything was fine and good and as it should be (I coulda killed the little blighter). Norton and Roy then graciously autographed the CD covers we had brought with us, hand shakes were exchanged all a round and we went home.

To this very day those two kids still remember that concert, the music and the two maestros behind the music. The impact Norton Buffalo and Roy Rogers had on two young boys was both profound and positive.

Both of the boys, now adults and on their own, called us over the last few days. They were shocked and sadden to learn of his passing. Again, it just couldn't be. Not him.

Maestro Buffalo was the best. That cannot be argued. And, like Maestro Pavarotti, Maestro Buffalo as well possessed that illusive 'something else'. That 'something else' which mere mortals cannot define, let alone understand (it is akin to trying to catch smoke with your bare hands). That 'something else' which so very few humans possess and tend to be envious of.

Norton has moved on. He is now performing upon the greatest stage of them all — the universe. If you wish to hear him just step away from your T.V. and your Earthly worries then stand outside for a few minutes. Take in the the beauty of the stars in the sky and you shall hear him, playing his harmonica, singing with effortless power, clarity and grace and having fun.

Thank you Norton for giving unto us your music, your time and your presence. But most of all thank you for being what you were — a human being without peer.

That is his legacy.

[Ed. Note: The Steve Miller Band and the Doobie Brothers have announced a benefit concert to be held Saturday, 23 January, 2010 at The Fox Theater in Oakland, California, honoring Norton Buffalo. All net proceeds from this concert benefit the Buffalo family. Tickets are a non-deductible contribution. Ticket information is available here and at the above linked websites.]

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