Phillip Jackson (September 28, 1951[1] – October 30, 2009)[2] was an American singer-songwriter, country and blues harmonica player, record producer, bandleader and recording artist best known as Norton Buffalo, a versatile exponent of the harmonica, including chromatic[3] and diatonic.[4]

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Career[edit]

Buffalo, the son of a harmonica player, was born in Oakland, California and raised in Richmond, California. At John F. Kennedy High School he performed in a series of bands. By the early 1970s he gained renown as a San Francisco Bay Area musician, playing with such Bay Area groups as Clover, The Moonlighters led by Bill Kirchen, and Elvin Bishop.

In early 1976 Buffalo joined the "farewell" European tour of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, and was recorded on the band's final live album We've Got A Live One Here!,[5] which included Buffalo's song Eighteen Wheels. After the tour, Buffalo returned to California, briefly played with a number of local bands, and later in 1976 he joined the Steve Miller Band's Fly Like an Eagle national tour. He also played harmonica on the band's hit follow-up album Book of Dreams, released in May 1977. Buffalo appeared on the tracks Winter Time and The Stake.

By the late 1970s Buffalo had formed his own band, The Stampede, and recorded two Capitol Records albums: Lovin' in the Valley of the Moon and Desert Horizon. In 1977 his harmonica work appeared on Bonnie Raitt's Sweet Forgiveness and The Doobie Brothers' Livin' On The Fault Line albums. Not long after the release of his second album in 1979, Buffalo and his band were featured on the PBS music television program Austin City Limits.[6] In 1981 he produced an album for the popular Northwest band Wheatfield. He was a member of the Mickey Hart band High Noon in the late 70s and early 80s with Merl Saunders, Mike Hinton, Jim McPhearson, Vicki Randle, and Bobby Vega, and played with Saunders on the Rainforest Band album It's in the Air in 1993.

Buffalo is legendary among harpists (harmonicists) for his solo on Bonnie Raitt's treatment of Del Shannon's "Runaway", in which he switches quickly between four different harps (F, Eb, Db, and C) to play across the chord changes in the song (Cm, Bb, Ab, G).

Buffalo also appeared in and worked on several films. He did a cameo appearance in the rock movie, The Rose starring Bette Midler, where he was a member of the band (on harmonica and trombone) and spoke a line or two. He had another cameo in Michael Cimino's 1979 film Heaven's Gate starring Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Sam Waterston and Jeff Bridges. He also co-wrote the music for the films Stacy's Knights and Eddie Macon's Run with guitarist Mike Hinton.

Norton performed and recorded as a member of The Steve Miller Band for over 32 years. He often performed and recorded music as a session musician, and appeared on 180 albums. A cover of Buffalo's song Ain't No Bread In The Breadbox was in heavy rotation at Jerry Garcia Band concerts from 1991 until Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, and appeared on the live release Shining Star.

On September 2, 2009 Buffalo was diagnosed with stage 4 adenocarcinoma of the lower right lobe of the lung. The next day, he found out that it had spread to his brain. Norton retired to his home in Paradise, California, where he sought treatment at Feather River Hospital.[7] He died on October 30, 2009 in Feather River Hospital.[2]

In honor of his life and career (over 180 album appearances), friends of Buffalo threw "A Celebration of Life: Tribute To Norton Buffalo." Two events occurred, one at the Fox Theater in Oakland, California and the other at the Paradise Performing Arts Center in Paradise, CA.  The latter venue was one where Norten often played for local charities.  Acts and performers included, The Doobie Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Huey Lewis, George Thorogood, Elvin Bishop, Carlos Reyes, and Buffalo's home band the Steve Miller Band, which Buffalo was a member of for 33 years, headlined the show. The show was a benefit concert for the Buffalo family.[dated info]

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