The White Buffalo
December 14, 2010
Not much is known or written about singer-songwriter, The White Buffalo. Just finding his real name is difficult.
But to those who know his music or have heard him play, they're sold. The following isn't great, but it's growing. It's how the elusive figure likes it; an organic, word-of-mouth happening.
There was enough talk to fill Detroit Bar on Tuesday night, a venue usually reserved for the punk and indie scene, not a country-rocker built like a mountain man.
He stepped onto the low-light stage, two beers in hand: “Alright mother fuckers, I'm going to do a few by myself and then bring the boys up.”
His look is striking, like a man who stumbled out of the deepest reaches of the backwoods, with a guitar in hand. He's tall and burly, with long, greasy, brown hair and an unkempt, grizzly beard. He wore plaid, keeping with the dress code of the opening acts.
With his Eddie Vedder-like vocals, he sang of the “madman,” a man who “descended from hell”; he then dropped into his deepest baritone to tell of falling in love with his wife in “Love Song #1,” or lauded the merits of the “Bar and the Beer,” serving as salvation and therapy. The substance of his songs was varied, but struck a pleasant balance. Some were were ideal for a listen just before bed (“10 'til 2”), others better for whiskey nights when trouble is likely to ensue (“Oh Darlin' What Have I Done,” about going on a killing spree to win the affection of a woman).
While his look is indeed striking, his voice is compelling. Very much Vedder: pitch-perfect, but with range. From singing the deepest, darkest blues, to an Alice Cooper screetching scream to a drawn-out, melodious hymn. All this from a man who's music has yet to even appear on radio.
The White Buffalo (aka Jake Smith) is Oregon-born, but Orange County-raised; the majority of his upbringing coming in Huntington Beach. Despite his OC roots, he grew up listening to country (Merle Haggard and George Jones), which is apparent in the majority of his music. In high school, he was drawn to the punk scene, listening to The Descendants, Circle Jerks and Bad Religion: “I think that's where the aggressive side [in my music] comes from,” he explains–a la the racing guitar pace in “Devil is a Woman.”
“The boys” he alluded to were a bassist (Tommy Andrews) and drummer (Matt Lynott, “The Machine”), who he supposedly “found in a pawn shop,” for a bargain price. With the threesome on stage, the music took on a different layer; Lynott's Ska-like chops raising the energy, and enticing several in the crowd out of their head-swaying funk, into a foot-stomp, hand-clapping, hip-swaying swing. Even White Buffalo added a jive between lyrics and riffs.
The mysterious man known simply as “Buffalo”–which was shouted out by males in the crowd with varying degrees of emphasis put on the “o”–is no stranger to Detroit. He's played the venue on multiple occasions. The stop last night was the first on a mini California tour, promoting his new EP, “Prepare For Black N Blue,” which is his first with Ruff Shaw Records.
He'll be heading back into the studio in January to work on his second full-length album, which he expects to be out next summer.
After his set, he hung around the merchandise booth, signing CDs and the set list one of his female fans stole off the stage, and took a photo with a guy who wanted a side-by-side beard comparison.
The Weekly wasn't there when White Buffalo finally departed, but we imagine him driving off on a Harley or in an old pick-up. Either would have been fitting for the man who's far from fame, but slowly creeping toward the limelight.
Personal Bias: In this era of a cookie-cutter music scene, nice to see a different look and sound. Could probably walk into any bar or venue across the U.S. and convert a few listeners into fans within two songs.
The Crowd: In very un-Detroit Bar-like fashion, especially for a lesser-known show, it was packed early.
Overheard in the crowd: “I think the bassist works at my Vons,” referring to the bassist playing behind The White Buffalo.
Random Notebook Dump: The White Buffalo thanked the “Tuesday night drinkers” for coming out, “the working class.” He does know he's in Orange County and those are all designer hipster jeans, right?
“Into the Sun”
“Where Dirt and Water Collide”
“Oh Darlin' What Have I Done”
“10 'til 2”
“Devil Is a Woman”
“Good Ol' Day To Die”
“Hold the Line”
“Bar and the Beer”
“Love Song #1”