He was a harmonica virtuoso born in Oakland California. His father was a harmonica player and his mother sang in San Francisco nightclubs in the 1940s. His great uncle was Herbert Stothart who was a composer for MGM throughout the 1930s and ’40s and won an Academy Award for his contribution to the music of The Wizard of Oz.
He began playing music with the tuition of his father when he was seven and after winning a talent competition in the sixth grade he would later play in several bands while in high school as well as singing in the church choir. He entered college as a psychology major and worked in a bank as well as continuing to play in bands. He left the area after leaving college and moved further North in California to perform in the Bay Area with The Chaos Chorus, which he had co-founded.
He moved from writing predominantly rock and roll to many other genres of music including Reggae, Country, Bluegrass, Latin and R&B and formed a successful collaboration with John McFee, who would later become a member of the Doobie Brothers. He was a member of The Moonlighters, The Stampede, High Noon, The Knockouts, the Steve Miller Band , who he performed with for thirty three years and the duo Norton & Roy who were nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance for “Song for Jessica”.
Other artists he performed with are Elvin Bishop, The Marshall Tucker Band, Johnny Cash, Kenny Loggins, Bonny Raitt, Olivia Newton John and The Doobie Brothers, with whom he performed on their Grammy Award winning “Minute by Minute”.
He released several solo albums including Desert Horizon and Lovin’ In the Valley of the Moon. Making several film and television performances he acted and played on The Rose with Bette Midler and Heaven’s Gate, wrote the scores for Eddie Macon’s Run and Stacy’s Knights, performed the harmonica on Dogpound Shuffle, Blood Beach, 68 and The Doors and made a guest appearance on the TV series Starsky & Hutch. He was also known for singing the first theme song to the cartoon series Garfield & Friends as well as playing the harmonica in several of the Peanuts and Garfield cartoons.
On 2nd September 2009 he was diagnosed with lung cancer which he found out on the 3rd had spread to his brain. He passed away several week later on 30th October 2009 in Feather Lake Hospital, Paradise, California.
A Celebration of Life: Tribute to Norton Buffalo was held in Oakland, California, to honour his life and career. It was headlined by the Steve Miller Band with other acts he worked with also taking part.
Steve Miller Band Recordings
Abracadabra (Steve Miller )
Never Say No (John Massaro/Gary Mallaber/Kenny Lee Lewis )
Here’s Norton and his harmonica and Roy Rogers and their “Ain’t No Bread in the Bread Box”…