Sad news about Norton Buffalo
Paradise’s most famous musician hit by lung cancer
Norton Buffalo missed a gig last weekend, a show up in Eureka with his band, the Knockouts. That’s the first show he’s missed in a long career. For more than three decades, he’s made all his dates, playing sick and well, keeping faith with the mantra of keepin’ on. He’s traveled millions of miles, bringing music and joy to people all over the planet.
He just came off a long summer tour with the Steve Miller Band, playing sick through the last half-dozen or so of those shows, pushing himself hard to overcome the negative effects of what he thought was pneumonia.
He’s having a birthday this month. On the 28th, he’ll be 58 years old.
If he makes it.
There’s a chance he won’t. The illness he first thought was the flu, and then was told was pneumonia, turned out to be lung cancer, a most ironic affliction for a man who has made his living with lungs that are now diseased.
A few years ago, I wrote a cover story for this paper, a piece about Norton Buffalo called “Soul Man Moves to Paradise.” At the time, I had yet to learn what a large soul that soul man possessed, but since then I’ve come to know just what a vibrant and generous spirit inhabits the body of Norton Buffalo. This is one very good and decent man.
The joy he’s given to legions of fans is but one manifestation of his decency.
Since he became a Butte County resident a few years back, Buffalo has been lavishly generous with his time and his talent, staging a series of benefits at the Paradise Performing Arts Center for a range of good causes, and showing up on occasional Friday nights to play songs from the Sicilian heritage he and his wife, Lisa, share with their friend, Angelo Lucido, the owner and head chef at Angelo’s Cucina Trinacria in Chico.
Long before I ever met Norton Buffalo, I knew something of his heart, a knowledge gleaned from hearing the contributions he made to albums by a range of other artists. He played, for instance, beautiful harmonica accompaniment for Kate Wolf on her Close to You album from 1981, a collection issued just five years before the world lost her to leukemia.
As harp players and fans of the instrument know, the sounds a harmonica makes are created by sucking in the breath, or blowing it out across the reeds held in the palm of one’s hand.
This sad news about Norton Buffalo? It sucks and it blows.
For the past several months, Norton has been engaged in efforts to save the Paradise Performing Arts Center from going dark. I, too, would love to see that terrific venue saved as a showcase for good music and other arts in Paradise. I’d also like to see it re-named. The Norton Buffalo Performing Arts Center would be a good name for the place.