Goodbye to Norton Buffalo

Largely unnoted by the mainstream media, musician Norton Buffalo crossed over on Oct. 30. Norton was a Grammy-winning harmonica player known for his performances with the Steve Miller Band, Doobie Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, and Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen.

He played on two tracks of the Doobie Brothers’ Grammy-winning “Minute by Minute” and in 1992 won his own Grammy for “Song for Jessica” with guitarist Roy Rogers.

I met Norton in the early 1980s when I was getting started in pack-burro racing. Norton was a friend of Curtis Imrie and on occasion visited Buena Vista when I was there training burros.

This was a period in my life when the world seemed wide open. That’s what pack-burro racing represented to me then when I was training a jack named Moose on the roads and trails around Curtis’ place.

In addition to Norton’s actual presence, Curtis always had cassette tapes of his music in his car and home stereo. Once Curtis arranged a concert in the local bar, The Lariat, in Buenie and I got to see Norton play the harmonica in front of a rowdy crowd. His trademark harmonica riffs will always remind me of that time in my life.

There was a wild burro named Hannibal that Curtis adopted from the Bureau of Land Management. He ended up at Norton’s place out in California and was uncatchable for a long while. It was Norton who got Hannibal gentle enough to be captured and loaded, and this beast ended up here. I trained Hannibal to some in-the-money finishes in the pack-burro races. (Hannibal now lives in Cañon City.)

Youtube is loaded with video of Norton’s music. I suggest you check it out.

Sometimes you have the good fortune to meet someone, but it isn’t until after that person is gone that you wish you had taken the opportunity to learn more. For me, Norton Buffalo was one of those people. It appears he lived a short life dying of cancer at just 58, but how many people are able to do what they love to do for so many years?

4 thoughts on “Goodbye to Norton Buffalo

  1. Sad news to wake up to today. I knew about Norton Buffalo, and rated him better on the harmonica than a lot of players who managed to be more popular (John Popper, for example). It seemed to me that Buffalo didn’t care that much about publicity and even less about hype, choosing to live and play on a more personal and elemental level. I respected that, and held him in esteem for it.

  2. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I hadn’t heard Norton Buffalo’s music before, but I am a fan now. How sad that it is under these circumstances – I would of loved to have seen him live.

  3. Hal, thanks so much for this information. I knew that Hannibal had spent a while on a big ranch before he came to you, but with this new info, I will go out and get some of his music!

    By the way Hannibal is doing well. He is showing his age, but is sweet as ever.

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