Me in a Nutshell
Where to begin but in the beginning? I arrived on this earth in Ď63, September the first to be precise. In Stockton, California I was raised, the home of the largest inland seaport (at least that I know of.) My name, contrary to many assumtions, was derived from my grandpa on either sides and not from the opposing civil war generals, Grant and Lee. As for my grandpa Grant, his fatherís name was Grant as well. I never knew the latter, for he passed just a day before I was born. Iím told that he played the fiddle in church where he was also a minister. Stockton is bordered by the San Joaquin Valley Delta to the west, where an elaborate system of ancient levies hold the muddy waters from flooding on out to the east where cherries, walnuts, and people like me grow wildly.
While musicís always been in my blood, my first love was actually drawing. In fact, I still draw to this day. That passion was eclipsed for a spell however, when I stumbled on Harry Houdini. I took to card tricks and slight of hand,eventually booking myself around town as a ten year old conjuror. This flair for the footlights drew me to a strange oasis, known as the Pollardville Palace, ďHome of the Chicken in The Sky.Ē A fried chicken establishment off two lane highway 99, Pollardville boasted a mellodrama/vaudeville revival house and a gun slinginí ghost town. There, I was given a shot at most anything I desired, singing, acting, juggling, train robbing, you name it.
Approaching the age of thirteen I picked up the electric guitar and from that point on I was hooked. In music, and especially songwriting, I realized an untapped urge. I pretty much began writing songs the moment I learned a G chord. It might have not sounded like much at the time but the seeds were certainly there. I tried putting little bands together all throughout highschool, without any real luck at all. By the time I got out, I began looking for a job, all the while knowing what Iíd rather be doing. I got hired at a sheet metal shop for one summer. I wound up with all sorts of splinters at the end of the day but when the job wrapped up I had earned some unemployment benifits. This meant that I had to list all of my job skills down at the agency. I put down, drill press operator, stuntman, banjo, ventriloquist, singer, artist, impersonations and so on. None of those jobs ever came through. Maybe it was Stockton, maybe it was me but one of us had to go.
The big green metal sign for Los Angeles had hung from the main street overpass as long as I could remember. Iíd gazed up at it some three hundred times. Now I was taking that sign for itís word. LA was that-a-way. I piled every bit of showbiz apparatus I owned into the trunk and back seat of my Plymouth Satelite and set off around dusk. My parents were just getting home from work. I made it as far as Button Willow, when the Satellite over heated. Ten hours later I arrived. The Satellite got itís karma, in time, when I got rear ended by a drunk transvestite on the shoulder of the Hollywood freeway, just about three years later. Thatís a whole Ďnother story though.
Once in LA, I took a job roofing houses and slopping hot tar. This was my way of surviving while I enrolled into film school by night. The trouble was that I was just too beat to think about movies by the time I got off work. My hands were all covered in mastic and too blistered to hold a pencil. Meanwhile I was hearing about all these bands in LA like the Dream Syndicate, The Rain Parade, Tex and The Horseheads. There was clearly something going on and a part of me was drawn to it more than I was to filmmaking, me being twenty years old at the time.
I had met Jeff Clark back in Stockton, shortly before I left home. He had a band called the Torn Boys which I wound up playing guitar for briefly. We hit it off well and convinced one another to join forces as songwriters. Jeff moved to LA a year after I did. We shared a house in Newhall, California that acted as the control tower for what would become known as Shiva Burlesque. It started off as Jeff and I and a drum machine. Jeff sang and I played Guitar. Eventually, other folks began to drift in and out our little world and the drum machine died, but the whole thing kindaí congealed with the inclusion of bassist James Brenner and drummer Joey Peters. With this line-up Shiva Burlesque released itís self titled debut on Nate Starkman & Son. It was critically praised and yet it quietly disappeared into the reverb of the late nineteen eighties. The groupís follow up "Mercury Blues", featured Clark, Peters and myself with Brenner being replaced by Paul Kimble, who insisted on the alias ďDick SmackĒ in the liner notes. A cellist, Greg Adamson was also added. This particular line-up was as strong as the first but it was so fraught with tension that it fractured after only a short while. Clark and Adamson continued to collaborate, meanwhile Joey, Paul and myself were on to other pursuits.
We toyed with calling ourselves the Machine Elves for a week or so, then REX MUNDI for a period. Nothing seemed to gel. Again, frustration had begun to foster in terms of our progress and I began to book a few solo shows of my own. Being that I had so successfully taken a back seat as a singer, all throughout Shiva Burlesque, it was now an interesting challenge to step forward again. The invention of Grant Lee Buffalo was a way of creating a subtle veil, which was at once a kind of character, but a revealing one at that. The first Grant Lee Buffalo show was basically me, a guitar, and a handful of friends at a club called the Gaslight in Hollywood. What, in fact, began as an alter ego bloomed into something unexpected with the recording of several songs at the home studio of my old friend James Brenner. I had gone a month or so without talking to either Joey or Paul but I had a good feeling that I ought to, and I called on them. They had already heard half the songs anyway. We knocked out the basics in a day or two. Among those songs were ďFuzzy", "Dixie Drug Store", and "Stars and Stripes" which turned up on the album Fuzzy. Another track, "Itís the Life", wound up on our second album. Around this time our friend Julie Ritter of the band Maryís Danish had been booked to play a little club called Cafe Largo but had to bow out suddenly. She asked if the three of us might be able to fill in for her. We said ďsure, but who should we say we are?Ē "Tellí em weíre Grant Lee Buffaloí" It was already scrawled on a reel of tape. I canít remember who said it. It might have been me I guess. Itís a long, long time ago.
Eventually, Cafe Largo was sold to new ownership. The "Cafe" part was dropped but Largo remained and fortunately so did we. In the tradition of the residency we built up a sort of following. Then Joey Peters got a call to join the band Cracker and for all we knew it was the last we were apt to see of him. Drummer, David Strayer hopped aboard and for that reason, he can be seen on the back of our first limited piece of vinyl. Bob Mouldís Singles Only Label released Fuzzy, which began to garner some airplay especially on Bostonís WFNX. Over the next few months Peters began to appear in Cracker videos for songs that he, like Strayer hadnít played on either. By 1992, Grant Lee Buffalo signed to Slash records. Peters, no longer with Cracker rejoined on the eve of that signing. "Fuzzy", our debut was released in Ď93, followed by Mighty Joe Moon, Copperopolis and Jubilee. Between Ď93 and Ď99 we toured around the world again and again. We headlined from Austin to Oslo. We also supported some of the most prominent groups of the decade like REM, Pearl Jam, and The Smashing Pumpkins, to name a few. My memories of this period are vivid, sometimes pained, but for the most part it was a time spent wide-eyed and buckled up for anything goes. It was sort of running joke that wherever we played, destruction seemed to follow. Fans would come and tell us, ďRemember that club you played last year, well it caught fire the next week. You guys were the last ones to ever play there!Ē Within those six years, just about every piece of scenery had changed. The whole industry had changed. Internal tensions were mounting and by early Ď97 Paul Kimble was no longer a member of the band.
Signed to Slash/Reprise Grant Lee Buffalo observed the constant spinning of the executive turnstile at close range. In hoping for the best, GLB moved horizontally away from Reprise and over to Warner Bros. but the same obstacles remained and after a premature retreat in the promotion of Jubilee, all serious doubts about the label became galvanized.
It was apparent that Warner Bros. were beginning to scramble, seeking artists that would yield an immediate payoff while severing bonds with other career artists. We were told that they werenít sure if they were going to pick up the option yet. In my mind this was the green light to bail; I requested to be let go. Yet in a week or so I read the news on-line that the band had been dropped because of poor sales. There was no mention of the word "Mutual" and that sort of hurt. It didnít matter too much at that point however as it was time to look to the future.
I had reached a real fork in the road. In my heart I felt it was my duty to challenge myself. As an artist I had to create a new approach. While I had put everthing into the band I couldnít help feeling it was time for both Joey and I to explore other horizons. It was either that or else fall into telling the same old stories and the same old songs. Itís a hard thing to release your grasp of something beautiful, while itís still looking back at you so beautifully. The touring band had grown into such a mighty four peice with the addition of bassist Bill Bonk and keyboardist Phil Parlapiano yet without tour support there wouldnít be any tours. I could have hung on tight until it withered away, but I made a decision not to do that. You never know, this Buffalo may not be extinct forever and if and when it comes back around it will be just a sacred as always. Thatís the way I remember it.
Amidst the rubble, I looked
around and really began to take inventory. I was ready for a fresh start.
In keeping with that spirit of rejuvenation I also parted ways with manager
Peter Leak who had guided GLB over the course of the last three albums.
Now that Iíve been chiseling away on my own, Iím beginning to like
it. I work when the inspiration strikes me, in the wee hours of the morning.
This new found freedom coincides with a desire do take on all things, even
beyond the boundaries of music. Over the course of the last year Iíve thrown
myself back into doing other kinds of theater, comedy, writing, and more
visual art. Meanwhile, Iíve penned around thirty new songs in the last
five months. The new material marks a shift in my musical approach, but
fortunately those who Iíve played it for say it still sounds and feels
like me. Itís a weird thing to think about. I donít go out of my way not
to be me but I donít try real hard to be me either. The bottom line is
that Iím proud of the progress and Iím anxious to share it. Although Iíve
yet to decide who to entrust this child with, in terms of a label, I hope
to resolve that issue down the road. For now, I invite those who support
my music to join me at Largo in Hollywood (My old stomping grounds). Iím
currently playing new songs and older songs as well. Drop in and say ďHelloĒ.
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