King Of The Highway

Norton Buffalo

(Norton and Huey)

During February 2001 I left a note in the guest book on Norton Buffalo's web site (link can be found on the 'Related Links' page) asking if anyone could tell me more about Norton and Clover. One day later (!) Norton sent me an email sharing some memories. I used this opportunity to ask him a few questions which he answered all - although he had hands full and time consumed by preparing for a tour with his band. Special thanks goes to Norton for his contribution!

- email from Norton Buffalo -

 So what is it that you wish to know? So much musical fun was had in them good ol' days .... after returning from England having recorded some new stuff over there ... They were not making any dough and not getting anywhere (don't ask me why ... I dug Clover big time!!!) ... Three of their members, John Ciambotti, John McFee, and Kevin Wells came out to do a tour with my band the Stampede in the fall of 78 (which included a great one hour special on Austin City Limit!) ... as far as I know that was the demise of Clover as it had been ...after that I don't think that they played again.

In the Spring of 79 I went to Montana to work on Michael Cimino's epic western, Heaven's Gate. When I arrived at the airport in Kalispell Montana, the porducer mentioned that the upright bass player was unable to do the movie and asked if there was anybody that knew someone that could do that part and be in the movie .... I went to a payphone right there at the airport and called Sean Hopper who answered and said yes ... so Sean and I got to spend a bunch of time in Montana together making a movie ... rollerskating, riding horses, shooting guns and having an incredible time in a very beautiful place ... Sean had to go back to California early to begin rehearsals for what later became Huey Lewis and the News ... so when he had to leave they had to kill him in the film ... so Sean got a "Kill" scene (not sure if you actually see it in the movie.) It was a total gas!!!

Writing songs together with John McFee was magic .. we had such a beautiful musical chemistry together ... John introduced me to Mickey Hart when he was working on some tunes out at Mickey's ranch/studio in Novato. After this John and I recorded some tunes together out there, a couple of which ended up on my Capitol Records releases.

We all used to play music on the streets of San Francisco ... that was another cool thing we did together ...

What else can I say ... they were a big and fun part of my musical past...

Thanks for the note



From your web page one can see that you started playing/songwriting with John McFee in 1973. How come? Did you plan to write songs together or was it just by luck?

I first met John McFee in 1972 when I was living in Sonoma. We jammed a few times and immediately hit it off quite well ... we started writing together almost immediately with both instrumental pieces and lyrical songs. It was a wonderful musical time .. John is an incredible instrumentalist and our musical connection seemed almost magical.

When did you first meet the guys from Clover?

Through John I met the rest of the band. He was living on a ranch in Sonoma with John Ciambotti at the time.

Did you play with Clover on a regular basis or just from time to time?

When I first saw Clover I felt a connection ... our musical tastes and diversity were very similar. I was in a band at the time but would go to many of their local shows and watch them and dance to them ... and sit in with them. It was lots of fun for me because they were such talented cats. I love Alex Call's Lyrical writing as well as his voice. We also had an off shoot group that we used to get together with and play on the streets of San Francisco ... Their vocal harmonies were also a big part of what I liked about them ... I can remember lots of accapella vocal jams! It was only from time to time ... but what a time we had!

Being one of the greatest harp players around how would you 'judge' Huey Lewis' harmonica playing? Many people just see the singer Huey Lewis. What about his harp style?

I think Huey is highly underrated as a harmonica player ... we played a lot together ... he used to introduce me as his "harmonica teacher" ... but we were more just jamming budies ... we played together on everything from fiddle tunes, Irish jigs to blues and funk tunes ... he is a great player. When the News hit big he got best known for his singing and for leading the band ... but his chops are great ... he drove that band to a higher height with his charisma and his positive attitude.

You mentioned that John McFee, Johnny Ciambotti and Kevin Wells joined your own group 'The Stampede' in 1978. From one live concert I have, I can hear that it was a lot of fun - McFee even played some of his own songs. Nevertheless I always thought that people like Kirk Harwood (former Clover drummer), Dave Shapiro ... were 'The Stampede'. Why didn't they join you on this tour?

In 1978 I left northern California to work on "The Rose" with Bette Midler. While I was in Los Angeles doing that, many of the members of the original Stampede headed off to do their thing ... I was in the mood to make a change ... I did a "Day On The Green" at the Oakland Coliseum and put a band together that had the original members of the Stampede along with some of the Clover guys ... Mc Fee was doing double fiddle with my violinist as well as double pedal steel and guitars with the Stampede members ... that fall when my second Capitol record came out, I put a band together that included those three cats ... the Austin City Limits that captured that band in performance showed just how great a band it was!!

Do you have any contact these days with anyone from Clover?

I run in to John about once a year or so at Doobie Brothers gigs ... we jammed last October ... it was great. Other than that I haven't talked to any of them. Alex is in Nashville, Ciambotti was a chiropractor in LA last I heard ... Sean and Huey are still around ... its time for a reunion don't you think???

Your new album 'King Of The Highway' has been released recently. Do you plan to make a tour - USA and/or Europe?

I am doing some touring ... mostly still on the West Coast of the US ... I am going to Argentina in May ... hope to get to Europe sometime next year .... let me know if you have any good connections in Germany or the countries nearby.

Hope this gives you some answers to your questions. Harmonically, Norton B.


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