Post-rock, hip-hop, and electronica may dominate much of the music conversation these days, but Great Buffalo Blues are working to bring it back to the basics. Comprised of American guitarist and singer Kamau Rucker, Burundian bassist, guitarist, and vocalist Dooder, and Hong Kong drummer and vocalist Elliot Zon, the Beijing expat trio have been steadily building a name for themselves as would-be esteemed bluesmen. Dabbling in a wide assortment of genres to give their music funky and fresh twist, Rucker tells us more about their bluesy vision ahead of back-to-back gigs at 69 Café and Blue Stream Bar this weekend (he also hosts the weekly open mic at Caravan).
How did Great Buffalo Blues get its start?
Dooder and I knew each other from around the music scene since early on. Then one day at Caravan we started penning lyrics to a song Dooder was working out, what is now "If I Told You I Loved You", and that song started a wave of writing songs about all the stories that could be told and re-told with songs like that.
We played a lot as a duo at first – some covers and some originals, about 50/50. And then last year we found Orville – one of many lost expat Beijing musical talents – who really helped bring our acoustic blues into a soulful funky electric blues, and the electric trio was off and running. That's where our songs like "7th Floor" came from – a little soul, a little reggae, a little funk, and a lot of blues. It was tough seeing Orville go back to the UK, and it was hard to fill the ginormous shoes he left behind, but Elliot has really stepped in and taken it up a notch by also adding vocals from behind the drums – which is really hard to do. And now we can even play around with three-part harmonies on the songs. It's really fun stuff.
Who are your biggest influences?
At the heart of it, I think we are all into songs that tell a good story and have a groove – songs that leave you feeling like you want to take the extended tour with them, that leave you thinking and wanting to hit the replay button over and over again. Joan Baez playing "Wayfaring Stranger", Twenty One Pilots singing "Truce", Sharon Jones doing her cover of "This Land is Your Land", imagining what kind of songs Reverend Al Green and Bob Dylan could write together. Those kinds of songs.
Tell us about some of the stories behind your best songs.
Maybe it's better to think: "What kinds of questions can a song answer or solve?" For our song "If I Told You I Loved You" we thought: "What would happen if a person just said what they have to say, opened up and told it, were ready to face the good or bad, the acceptance or the loss."
Aside from your upcoming show at 69 Café, you also host Caravan's open mic nights. How do each fulfill you in different ways?
The Caravan open mic is more of an open stage than a show, where musicians, poets, comedians, and so on can work out ideas in a welcoming space. More like a music crafting think tank where no one person is really the show. And some really great collaborations happen there every week.
Our show at 69 Café on Mar 2, and our show at Blue Stream on Mar 3 – depending what side of town people are on – are where people can expect a mix of songs from many different genres like rock, folk, blues, soul, and rhythm and blues stitched together and converted to soul, funk, blues and maybe even a little reggae stylings.
Tell us about the importance of dabbling in so many genres.
The blues don't have to be sad all the time. Better to be happy about getting over the blues and with some music to carry you through your weekend!
Photos courtesy of Great Buffalo Blues
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