Shawn Rohlf & the Buskers

Shawn P. Rohlf: Keyboards | Alex Watts: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Vocals | Jef Kmak: Bass guitar, Vocals | T-Bone: Drums, Percussion | Dave Berzansky: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric) | John-Michael Brooks: Fiddle, Violin

Genre: Acoustic, Bluegrass & Roots, Blues & Soul, Country, Rock

Sound description: Americana acoustic folk music, kind of like if the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were fronted by Tom Waits.

RIYL: Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, John Hartford, Bruce Springsteen, The Replacements, Comedian Harmonists, Ice Cube, John Stewart, Peter Sprague, Roger Miller, Billy Midnight, David Gates/Bread, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Bruce Hornsby and the Range, Norman Greenbaum/Dr. West's Medicine Show

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Inception: San Diego, 1997

Influences: Tom Waits, Steve Earle, Hank Williams, Frank Zappa, Lucinda Williams, Louis Armstrong, Joni Mitchell, Public Enemy, John Hartford, Cafe Tacuba, Johnny Cash, Johnny Hodges, Iz, Folk Uke, Ramones, Bill Monroe, Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Mike Watt, Doc Watson, Wilco, Steve White, Rolling Stones, Clancy Brothers, Leonard Cohen, Replacements, Edward Abbey, Beck, Clash, Waylon Jennings, Neil Young, Husker Du, Funkadelic, Mississippi John Hurt, Robin Henkel


"Busking is a European term for performing on city streets, subways, and at outdoor markets for tips," reads the inside cover of the 7th Day Buskers CD Long Live the Caboose. "We do this on Sundays."

Shawn P. Rohlf founded the band in 1997 while playing guitar, banjo, and harmonica with a rotating roster of players on Sundays at the Hillcrest farmers' market. The former Minnesota farm boy says, "Before I moved here, I spent two years in Amsterdam and Ireland as a street musician, playing for tips. I stood out a lot in both places, since I was probably one of only two or three banjo players in the whole country."

Performing acoustic originals and traditional roots music (folk, blues, bluegrass, alternative country, and thanks to that European jaunt, Irish), the Buskers still occasionally play the market (10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday in the DMV parking lot near Park and Washington). The band won a 2004 San Diego Music Award for "Best Americana."

The band released the album Fool's Grass in 2004, with a lineup consisting of Rohlf (also a whitewater river-rafting guide), Dobro player Robin Henkel (who, years ago, gave Rohlf guitar lessons), fiddler Melissa Harley, and upright bassist Ken Dow.

In 2010, the group changed their name to Shawn Rohlf & the Buskers, with a new album Tiny Xs released on Rohlf's own indie label Shubzu. “When the original Buskers scattered all over the country, we formed this version and tried calling it Gunplay Maxwell. Well, it didn’t seem to matter because everyone still just called it the Buskers. Plus, we’re still busking at the Market every Sunday morning, like I’ve been doing for the past 13 years. So, we just decided to go with what people were calling us anyway.”

Tiny Xs was released on Rohlf’s own label, Shubzu. “I recorded and mixed the thing at my studio, House of Burlap, with some engineering help on the bed tracks from Alan Sanderson [Rolling Stones, Weezer, Elvis Costello]. Paul Abbot of ZenMastering did the mastering, and photos were taken by Dennis Andersen, who shot everything from National Geographic to the Olympics.

“We made two attempts to record at other studios, and it just wasn’t working. The final straw was when the two-inch tape machine we were recording on actually caught fire and almost burned down the entire studio. At this point, we felt like the project was cursed, so we set up in my studio and cranked out 20 songs in two days. We narrowed it down to 11 songs and had to leave some great tracks on the cutting-room floor.”

The lineup for that album includes Rohlf (acoustic 6 and 12 string guitars, vocals, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, electric guitar and percussion), singer/guitarist Alex Watts (Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash), singer/bassist Jef Kmak (Joey Harris & the Mentals), singer/drummer T Bone (Lady Dottie & the Diamonds), and pedal steel player Dave Berzansky (Hacienda Brothers).

The band's violinist John-Michael Brooks passed away in early 2018.

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