ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 16, 1996
The members of London, Ontario, rock quartet Buffalo Brothers come from all over the largest of the Canuck provinces. Drummer Glen Gamble grew up in Brantford, bassist Jeff Fountain hails from North Bay, keyboardist Michael Bonnell calls Sault Sainte Marie home, and singer-guitarist Shaun Sanders is from Wallaceburg.
Wallaceburg? Where the hell (in Ontario) is that?
“That’s what everybody says,” notes Sanders from his London apartment. “It’s a real small town, like 11,000 people, that’s basically across the river from Port Huron, Michigan. It’s really weird, because there’s not any kind of music scene there, per se, but I know a lot of people who come from that city who happen to be musicians. I think that everybody in the band got into it for the same reason: you grow up in a small town, there’s not a helluva lot to do, so you listen to records and figure out how to play ’em.”
As a kid, Sanders used to play—originally on tennis racket, before graduating to guitar—tunes by the Beatles, the Stones, and, like any red-blooded Ontarian, Neil Young. He first met the other members of Buffalo Brothers seven years ago, and they played around in different incarnations before coming together as Paleface and settling in London “because it was the last place we played when we came off the road”.
The group got its first big break when “go-getter” Gamble organized London Calling, a one-night, five-band showcase at a London bar called the Office. The gig was designed to get a dozen invited Toronto music-industry folk off their butts and into their cars for the two-hour trip to London. “Lo and behold, the majority of them showed up,” says Sanders, and it wasn’t even a promise of unlimited beer that did the trick.
“I think they were genuinely interested in the bands that were playing,” he says, “because we had sent them tapes and all the bios and stuff in advance, so they knew what they were coming to see.”
The showcase led to the band getting signed by Attic Records and recording its debut CD, Magic Incinerator, which is one of the most impressive Canadian rock debuts this year. Sanders’s robust vocals and reliable guitar work power a southern-tinged sound that is not far from that of Alabama’s Brother Cane, so fans of that multiplatinum act are urged to check out the promising Buffalo Brothers at the band’s first B.C. gigs, opening for L.A.’s Four Horsemen at Studebakers next Friday (May 24) and the Boo Pub next Saturday (May 25).
One thing that Buffalo Brothers have over Brother Cane—whom they opened for a few times last month—is the potent organ-playing of Bonnell, which adds a rootsy, Allman Brothers–style warmth to the band’s rugged sound. But touring with the hard-to-find Hammond B-3 has its price.
“You have to be nuts to carry one around from gig to gig,” says the 29-year-old Sanders. “It’s at least 400 pounds, and then you’ve got a Leslie speaker cabinet that goes with it, too. A lot of times when you’re opening, you don’t have a lot of stage room to begin with, and havin’ this thing around makes it twice as hard. Sometimes we’re almost riding each other’s shoulders, but it’s kinda neat. And, fortunately, we’re nuts, so…”