“I once watched Norton play a blazing version of ‘Turkey in the Straw’ at a party on a piece-of-shit toy harmonica that was about one inch long,” says local musician Greg Douglass of Norton Buffalo, his friend and former bandmate in the Steve Miller Band. Buffalo died from cancer on October 30.
Buffalo was with Miller’s group for over 30 years. “I worked with him during the band’s commercial peak, from 1977 through 1980,” says Douglass. “My first impression of Norton was that he was a bit arrogant, as he certainly wasn’t shy about touting his abilities on the harmonica. As I got to know him better, I realized I was dead wrong. An arrogant person toots his own horn out of insecurity, and Norton was just being a realist.… He had the chops to do anything he wanted.”
Beginning in the early ’70s, Buffalo performed and recorded with Elvin Bishop, the Doobie Brothers, and Mickey Hart, as well as acting in films such as The Rose and Heaven’s Gate.
“One of the greatest moments of my musical life,” says Douglass, “was doing a 45-minute version of Muddy Waters’s ‘Mannish Boy’ at a great dive called Uncle Charlie’s in Corte Madera, California. The band was me on guitar, Tommy Johnston from the Doobie Brothers, Tom Fogerty from Creedence, Mario Cipollina from Huey Lewis’s band, and the Starship’s Donny Baldwin. We just killed the song, but the real stunner was Norton’s extended solo in the middle of the thing. It was the best I ever heard him play, and this is a guy who was never less than amazing.”
“It saddens me immensely to know I’ll never get another one of those ‘Hey, dude, it’s Buffalo!’ calls out of the blue.”