Norton Buffalo’s album Lovin’ in the Valley of the Moon is fantastic, showcasing harp outside of blues.
Although Norton’s work seems impossible, notice the majority of the album is cross harp. Spend time with the blues scale and the major pentatonic scale and watch your ear begin to pick out what he is doing.
Why don’t you grab your harmonicas and play along! All the correct key harmonicas are listed below so you can jam with Norton!
1. Lovin’ in the Valley of the Moon
Key G, C chromatic harp, 2nd position
2. One Kiss to Say Goodbye
Key of G, no harp, try C harp second position
3. Ghetto Hotel
Key Ab, Db Harp, 2nd position
4. Nobody Wants Me
Key E, A harp, 2nd position
2nd solo A chromatic, 2nd position
5. Puerto De Azul
Key E minor, C chromatic harp, 5th position
6. Hangin’ Tree
Key Dm, Non standard diatonic, possibly tuned similar to Lee Oskar’s D harmonic minor. Try C harp, 3rd position.
7. Another Day
Key F, Bb harp, 2nd position
Key F, Bb chromatic harp, 2nd
9. The Jig is Up
Key A, D harp, 2nd position
10. Eighteen Wheels
Key E, A harp, 2nd position
11. Sea of Key
Key C, no harp, try F harp, 2nd position
When I was in college at Sonoma State University I got to hear Norton Buffalo at the Cotati Cabaret countless times. I remember telling a friend he was the best harmonica player in the world.
I befriended his backup band and when Norton was on the road backing up famous players, I was often called up for the majority of the night. So I was the backup harp player for the backup band for the backup harp player for Steve Miller.
Just before Norton, it came full circle as I taught side by side with him at the Kerrville Folk Festival Harmonica Workshop, a 3 day, 5 hours a day event.
I think Norton was aware of his impending death. He had lunch with one of the students, who was a private student of mine and Buffalo discussed living every day to the fullest.
Whatever the case, he was a great guy, good teacher and unbelievable harp player.
On diatonic, Buffalo was a master of chugging. Check out tracks 9 and 10.
He’s using the shake to great effect at the start of Ghetto Hotel.
Innovatively using a pedal, he created a harmony part. Listen to tracks 1, 4 and 7.
A reverse slide is when you begin on a hole, say 3 draw, move one hole to the right in the same breath direction, say 4 draw, then quickly slide left using 3 draw a quick passing tone and landing on 2 draw. A great example is Ghetto Hotel at 1:49.
Most blues players play chromatic in 3rd position. Norton played in 2nd, the key of G on a C harp. Without pressing the button every note sounds good for blues and most sounds good for major music. He used multiple keyed chromatics but physically played them the same way.
When you play in one hole in one breath direction and both notes sound good, you can rapidly push the button in and out for a beautiful sound, exemplified in Puerto De Azul.
It is worth noting that except for chords, Norton was 100% U-blocking, proving that the embouchure can play anything puckering can with a unique tone.
This album brought back lots of memories, as does its companion Desert Horizon. But importantly, listening to it for this blog, I continue to be floored at Buffalo’s virtuosity. RIP.