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Hometown: Lansing, Michigan
Harmonica Buzz is J.T. Sunden, a roots and blues songwriter from Lansing, Michigan. "The sound of the harmonica hit me as a kid." says Buzz who was a drummer at first, but then took to the country rock music of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. "They were great and sounded so natural. A lot of what I try to do with my music goes back to their songwriting and sound."
After driving around with Ozark Mountain Daredevils 8 tracks in high school (and being kicked out of his Junior High School Band) he met up at college with Andy Springsteen "who I learned to play music with." Buzz tells. "We were freshmen at Michigan State and used to listen to a lot of The J. Geils Band. We have a lot of really good harmonica players in Michigan and I think a great deal of that can be attributed to how popular The Geils Band was around here and how far out and powerful their harp player, Magic Dick, was. For years, before their huge hits, they really were a blues band and so much of their arrangements were built around the harmonica."
He then moved to Washington, DC to go to school at George Washington University and it was there he first saw Cephas and Wiggins play. "I was already writing songs at that point and listening to a lot of Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Gene Vincent, The Everly Brothers along with Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Bruce Springsteen." says Buzz. "But when I saw Cephas and Wiggins play it really hit me. As a guitar/harmonica duo they were so real, so powerful and so acessable ... I just loved their sound and how naturally they played to people. It took me back to what hooked me about music in the first place."
"Blues music always sounded good to me." says Buzz. "My dad was a trumpet player and he used to play us tunes like St. Louis Blues and Swinging Sheppard Blues on his horn. I loved the way he played those songs and though I never took up trumpet, his playing is in my harp."
Buzz kept crossing paths with Andy Springsteen. "While I was in DC, Andy was in the Navy stationed just outside of the city." explains Buzz. "When I came back to Michigan, Andy was there and we just kind of kicked around tunes a bit ... nothing we took too seriously, but over years our sound and some arrangements to songs I had written began to develop." Long Way to Memphis, which would become the title song to Buzz's first CD was one of those songs.
In 1999 East Lansing hosted the National Folk Festival and it was there that Buzz met up with Phil Wiggins. "Cephas and Wiggins were great at the folk festival and seeing them there was like the first time I saw them play. They were so real and so accessable as a guitar and harmonica duo ... they just made me want to play."
It was at that festival that Phil Wiggins would mention DeFord Bailey's name at a workshop he conducted. Phil said something like "I'm going to do my train. It's nothing like DeFord Bailey's train who was very proud of his, but I'm going to do mine anyway." and after Wiggin's concluded his workshop Buzz watched as people brought up small children for him to hold. "It was amazing." says Buzz. "I remember amusingly thinking 'Since when have harmonica players been held in such high regard by society.' "
In 2000 Buzz was able to travel and learn from Phil Wiggins while he toured with The Masters of the Steel String Guitar Tour. "I learned a lot, met a lot of people and wrote The Cornbread Jinx while traveling with them." From that experience came his first CD Long Way to Memphis.
While hanging out on the sides of the Masters of String Guitar tour Buzz became friends with National Thumb Picking Champion Eddie Pennington and visited Eddie twice in the summer of 2001. Eddie set up a recording session in his house for Buzz on the second visit in August with his son Alonzo Pennington, also a National Thumb Picking Champion, providing guitar. Those sessions produced the popular instrumental "The Colin Shuffle," a minor blues groove "If I Find a Bell" and, perhaps, Buzz's most important song "DeFord's Train" which is a tribute to the little known, but legendary "Harmonica Wizard" DeFord Bailey.
Alonzo Pennington took Buzz to play The Memphis Music and Heritage Festival later that week. "That was my first festival which was pretty cool for a guy with a song called 'Long Way to Memphis.'" says Buzz. "I couldn't wait to get there and play that tune, but the funny part was when we played 'Long Way to Memphis' it was kind of like 'so what' for the people ... I mean we were already in Memphis, everybody probably played a Memphis song in Memphis and I guessed they looked at me like it was a cover. But I remember 'DeFord's Train' going over really well. In fact when we played it on the street stage Sunday there was a firetruck going by and it just kind of added to The Whole thing."
On Sunday morning of the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival Buzz go up to visit the Lorraine Motel, home of the National Civil Rights Museum, and tragically the site where Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated. The picture taken of the Lorraine would come to be used for the cover of Long Way to Memphis. "I took the photos to Michigan Mark and we started to artistically render them so that the cover would become an interpretation of the song 'DeFord's Train.' Mark cut out the letters and we reformed them to read "WELCOMES DEFORD BAILEY" on the Lorraine Motels sign. We also set the the sign agains a pefect blue sky. To me the cover art was created to say 'Somethings that have happened in history you can't make sense of, but if you could make sense out of them it would take some sort of miracle like 'The Harmonica Wizard' magically appearing out of the past driving his train and offering you a ride on."
After returning to Memphis from his visit with the Penningtons, Buzz tried to make the three tunes that he recorded in Kentucky work with the material he recorded with Michigan Mark in Grand Rapids. "I was listening to and rearranging the order of the material for days listening to these recordings seemingly hundreds fo times." says Buzz. "Finally the order of the tunes came to me and I just wanted to figure out a way to record the Ozark Mountain Daredevil's tune 'Standing on the Rock' with Phil Wiggins. That was the night of September 10th and in the morning music just wasn't important anymore.
"I did attend a vigil on Friday of that week and meditated to these words that came to me ...
Take my heart that decieves me
This I would later add
Take the ways take the means
Which would become the last song I recorded for Long Way to Memphis. To me, Long Way to Memphis, was really a journey that just kind of happened. It came from being observant, some old writings and new friends that I met along the way. Creating a CD, a writtien project like "Long Way to Memphis.' is very different from then trying to book yourself musically and play the music out. It took a long time to figure that out, and honestly I'm not that good at it, but really what I'd like to do is get back to writing and the experiences I gain through the people I meet. To me, it's been amazing who I have met and have been able to play with. My links page on my webstie I've set up to tell that ongoing story a bit."
'Peace for My Baby' became Buzz's second CD in 2004 which is a quieter and deeply personal set of songs that Buzz found difficult to promote. "I'm proud of the album and love the songs, but it's really not something I can talk much about. The disc does feature my favorite harmonica on three of the tunes ... the Hohner Special 20 Country Tuned Harmonica in the key of G. One note is changed from the standard tuning on that harp and it really produces a unique sound that fit the set of songs. I also used that harp on the instrumental 'Carol and the Keeper' which appears on 'Long Way to Memphis.'"
Primarily Buzz plays live as an acoustic duo or trio. "I've been fortunate enough to be able to play with an amazing number of great guitarist, singer and songwriters." At this point I'm really looking to find ways to collaborate and capture the music I've been able to play live with these great people I've played and met." In addition to the above mentioned the list includes Mo' Kauffey, Jen Sygit, Jacob Clyde and even Peter Case. "We'll see what happens in the future, hopefully I can get back to writing and collaborating with all of these great people."