Buffalo is regarded as one of the most versatile and talented harmonica
players in the music business. In rock, R&B, and blues circles, as well
as in new age, country, and jazz circles, he is widely acclaimed as the
finest multi-genre harmonica player of our time.
His new release, King
of the Highway, on Blind Pig Records, is surprisingly, his
first solo release since his late-70's albums on Capitol. But Buffalo
has hardly been idle during that time. For the last twenty-five years
Buffalo has been a highly celebrated member of The Steve Miller Band,
recorded and toured with some of the top names in music, worked in
movies and television, and performed with his own band, the Knockouts.
In addition to his work on record and on stage with Steve Miller, who
spotlights Norton's playing at shows and introduces him as "my partner
in harmony," Buffalo has also been highly sought after as a recording
artist, having played on over 100 albums by artists as diverse as Bonnie
Raitt (he did that searing harmonica solo on "Runaway"), Johnny Cash,
The Doobie Brothers (including the Grammy Award-winning "Minute By
Minute"), Kenny Loggins, The Marshall Tucker Band, David Grisman, Juice
Newton, Laurie Lewis, and Elvin Bishop.
While Buffalo has performed live before millions of Steve Miller fans
over the last quarter century, his musical talents are also in demand by
notable musicians such as Kenny Loggins and Olivia Newton-John, who have
enlisted the harmonica ace for their U.S. touring bands.
Buffalo was born in Oakland, California into a musical family - his
father was a harmonica player and his mother a jazz singer. Buffalo's
great uncle won an Academy Award for his contribution to the music of
"The Wizard of Oz", and worked as a film composer for MGM for a few
decades, composing many well-known hits and scoring many of their
classics of that golden cinematic era.
Norton grew up in the post-war housing of Richmond, California, a
blue-collar, industrial town on the San Francisco Bay, giving him a
culturally mixed and musically diverse background. When he was seven
Norton started learning harp from his father, and won his first talent
contest in the sixth grade.
In high school he began playing in rock and roll and soul bands as
well as in the school symphonic band, marching band, jazz band and pep
band on both trombone and harmonica. In his later school years he began
listening to jazz day and night. Though he continued playing primarily
in rock and roll bands his musical mistress was jazz. Norton was writing
complex horn charts and having a ball fitting his harp into all types of
off-beat musical arrangements and jazz-rock compositions. While in
college in San Francisco, Norton was performing in bands as well as
working a full time graveyard shift at a bank.
By 1972 Norton had decided to quit college and his job and devote his
life to playing music. He migrated north to Sonoma, in the heart of
California' wine country. Although he was still playing mostly rock and
roll, he started expanding his musical horizons by getting into
bluegrass, western swing and country music, all the while working on his
songwriting skills and honing his vocal and harmonica chops.
Buffalo recorded several songs in 1973 with Grateful Dead drummer
Mickey Hart and future Doobie Brother John McFee. In early 1975, with
the idea of shopping these tapes, Buffalo moved to Los Angeles, and made
a living playing talent contests, performing solo, and even acting in a
play. After eight months he moved to back to the Valley of the Moon and
soon after, started playing in an off-shoot of the Commander Cody Band,
the Moonlighters. Later that year he started playing with Commander
Cody, which led to an early 1976 tour of Europe and a live album from
that tour entitled We've
Got A Live One Here.
It was during this same time that Norton met Steve Miller during the
recording of Fly Like An Eagle. Their musical friendship
grew and after the release of that album, Norton joined Steve out on the
road for his 1976 summer tour. In 1977 Buffalo released the first of two
well-received solo albums for Capitol Records. His first, Lovin'
in the Valley of the Moon, not
only highlighted his skills on the harp, but also his talents as a
songwriter, producer, and a powerful new talent. He continued to tour
with Steve Miller that year, this time opening all of Miller's shows at
arenas and stadiums around the country with his own group, The Stampede.
In early 1978 Norton went to Hollywood to act and play music in Bette
Midler's successful screen debut, The
Rose. The fall of that year brought the release of Buffalo's second
outstanding Capitol LP, Desert
Horizon, which featured some experimental electric harmonica as
well as the celebrated Tower of Power horns.
In the early 80's Buffalo started a band with Mickey Hart and
keyboardist Merl Saunders called High Noon, which performed throughout
California for about a year and a half, including several shows with the
Jerry Garcia Band and often featuring the stellar vocals of Joan Baez as
a guest performer.
In 1987 Norton teamed up with legendary Bay Area slide guitar player
Roy Rogers to form a powerful performing duet. The special magic between
these two virtuosos was captured on two albums for Blind Pig Records. In
1991 they released the all-acoustic R&B.
One of the tracks from that CD, "Song for Jessica," was honored with a
Grammy Nomination as Best Country Instrumental Performance, and the
video of another track, "Ain't No Bread In the Breadbox," got airplay on
TNN. Downbeat said
of the album, "All it takes is a sampling of the slide guitar/harmonica
dialog on any one of these songs to comprehend how potent -and exciting
-the chemistry is between Rogers and Buffalo."
The following year the pair released Travellin'
Tracks, which included some live tracks as well as some studio
tracks on which they were joined by a rhythm section. People magazine
called the recording "an album with more bounce than a book of bad
checks...a spirited mix of souped-up slide guitar and blustery blues
The movie industry has also recognized Norton's special magnetism,
resulting in several noteworthy film accomplishments. Norton has many
movies to his credit, including his acting and musical role in The
Rose, as well as a small part in Michael Cimino's epic western Heaven's
Gate. Norton composed and produced all of the music for two feature
films, Eddie Macon's Run starring
Kirk Douglas and John Schneider, and Stacy's
Knights, one of Kevin Costner's first films. Other films he
contributed his harmonica mastery to include Dogpound
Shuffle (with David
Soul), Oliver Stone's The
Doors (with Val Kilmer), 68 (featuring
Norton is no stranger to television either, with numerous TV
performances down through the years with such notables as Bonnie Raitt,
Steve Miller, America, Steven Stills, Graham Nash, Lacy J. Dalton, Kris
Kristofferson, Roy Rogers, and Willie Dixon, even a guest appearance on Starsky
& Hutch. As part of the Steve Miller Band he's appeared on The
Tonight Show with Jay Leno The
Arsenio Hall Show, as well as The
David Letterman Show. Buffalo and his band had a full hour special
on Austin City Limits,
and Norton was recently featured on a segment of San Francisco's Bay
Other television work included writing the music scores for two
episodes ofUnsolved Mysteries and
playing harmonica on several episodes for both The
Twilight Zone and Unsolved
Mysteries. In addition, his harmonica graces several Garfield and
Peanuts cartoons. Norton also sang the first theme song for the
"Garfield and Friends" cartoon series. In 1994 and 1995 Buffalo released
two highly acclaimed instructional videos for the harmonica on Homespun
At home in the Valley of the Moon, when he's not touring with Steve
Miller or the Knockouts, Buffalo continues to stay involved with
environmental causes, community programs, as well as bringing harmonica
instruction and inspiration to many California state prisons.
Buffalo's new Blind Pig CD, King
Of The Highway, was recorded with his long-time band, The
Knockouts, a dynamic and diverse R&B-blues-rock unit that frames the
incredible depths of Buffalo's harmonica, vocal, keyboard, songwriting,
and performance talents. It also features such stellar musical cohorts
as Steve Miller, Elvin Bishop, and Merl Saunders. Though he's adept at
many styles of music, King
Of The Highway finds
Buffalo standing firmly and comfortably on the blues side of town.
Taking the harp from a whisper to a scream, he gives a master class of
many blues harmonica stylings, all infused with his originality and
truly phenomenal brand of harmonica musicianship. And his deep, soulful
and penetrating vocals, though unique, also reflect the many jazz,
country, rock and blues singers from whom he honed his vocal style. On
this new recording, Norton Buffalo becomes the king of the blues
highway, and his many fans will be thrilled to be along for the ride.