BootLeg Betty

Music legend Norton Buffalo (“The Rose”) dies

Music legend Norton Buffalo dies
Former Valley musician Norton Buffalo died Friday after a short illness.
Harmonica virtuoso
By James Marshall Berry
SPECIAL TO THE INDEX-TRIBUNE
Published: Mon 11/2 6 PM

Sonoma Valley lost one of its favorite sons on Friday, Oct. 30, when music legend and harmonica virtuoso Norton Buffalo passed away after a brief bout with cancer. According to Michael Hinton, a friend and music associate since 1973, Buffalo was surrounded by family and friends when he slipped into a coma and passed away, with his wife, Lisa Flores, by his side.

Born in Oakland on Sept. 28, 1951, Buffalo spent a good portion of his life living in Sonoma Valley, where he wrote and recorded his first album for Capitol Records in the mid-1970s, “Loving in the Valley of the Moon.”

Buffalo was a music legend in Sonoma Valley and in the world beyond, spending 32 years as the harmonica player for the Steve Miller Band, his own band, the Knockouts, and with a wide range of musicians, including Roy Rogers, Bonnie Raitt, members of the Grateful Dead, Doobie Brothers and Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. Buffalo also acted and was the harmonica player for Bette Midler in the film “The Rose.”

Most recently he recorded with Kenny Loggins and Hawaiian slack key guitarist George Kahumoku Jr.

Four years ago, Buffalo put together an acoustic trio with his wife. Lisa, and local guitarist Dave Aguilar. Numerous musicians in the Valley cite Buffalo as the reason and inspiration for their musical careers.

Buffalo had a unique style of playing the harmonica that made him recognizable on any of the tracks he played, and was sought after by many musicians. He appeared on as many as 180 albums as a session musician.

As much as he was a music legend, Buffalo was also a star in the lives of his children, some of whom attended Dunbar Elementary School in Glen Ellen where he was, at times, a familiar parent. On the road, he would call his children several times a night to wish them sweet dreams, even – friends said – as the backstage noise boomed all around him. Buffalo was active in local community affairs and was a supporter of global environmental causes.

Buffalo had recently moved to Paradise (Butte County) where he spent his final days.

The date and time of services are pending, but a benefit is being planned for Nov. 22, at the Paradise Performing Arts Center, and musician friends say they are planning a special musical remembrance in the Sonoma Valley at a time and date to be announced.

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