How fitting that, on the night of June 14 at Hi-Tones, just as Cryin’ D.T. Buffkin & The Bad Breath were about to present their brand-new Tattooed Rose album, Francois Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player was showing on the TV set above the bar. It was pure chance, but jumping from Charles Aznavour on the screen to bandleader Travis Buffkin behind the piano reminded me of something I’ve suspected for a while—if I were Buffkin’s manager, Buffkin would be a dead man. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t have one.
“No, we don’t have [a manager],” he tells me in early July, while we’re both sitting in my car in front of The Filling Station, the Southtown eatery where he works. “But if anyone is up for the task, man, we’ll fucking take them on. Especially if they want to take 10 percent of the measly money we make. I mean, shit…”
My advice to potential candidates: think it over carefully.
To make a long story short, let’s just say public relations is not Buffkin’s favorite part of the musician’s job. Depending on how he feels, he’ll say anything at anytime, or will say nothing at all. Just getting photos of the band large enough for print required a seemingly never-ending email exchange. Buffkin reluctantly uses the internet and automatically loses respect for any band who requests you “like” them on Facebook. It even took some time to convince Buffkin that we, in fact, needed to talk about Saturday’s gig at Nightrocker Live (the band will also play at the Current’s Cocktail party on Friday, July 26).
He’s not the most media-savvy band leader out there, but few are more honest.
“I’m not going to promote [the Saturday show] because I don’t feel comfortable promoting a show for $13 to people,” Buffkin said. “I’ll never pay 13 bucks to see any local band, especially when you can see that same band for free the next day.”
In spite of this couldn’t-care-less approach to the marketing aspects of his career, he constantly gets away with murder because he does care—about the music. Current contributor J.D. Swerzenski chose Tattooed Rose as the best local album of the year so far. It was recorded with the tightest Bad Breath lineup ever and produced by new guitarist Roland Delacruz (Masters of Love). Swerzenski praised the band’s “old-fashioned act mixing equal parts Tin Pan Alley songcraft and juke-joint blues, with a splash of New Orleans Dixieland to make it all go down easy,” but stressed the fact that it is the songs themselves, not merely the style, that resonates on Tattooed Rose.
Yet, the comparisons to Louis Armstrong (the growling) and Tom Waits (the piano and the booze, and the growling) are inevitable, even though Buffkin insists he found “his own voice” on the record. Really?
“Yeah, haven’t you heard?” he asks.
We engage in a long dialectical discussion on what “finding your own voice” means and whether “taste” is the only thing that defines what good or bad music is. We disagree on both. He thinks sounding like someone else can still be you, and that the “good vs. bad” always simply comes down to “taste.”
I share with him the story of Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine genius (and inspiration for the Austin Piazzolla Quintet) who revolutionized tango and came up with his own sound. Before Piazzolla created the New Tango, in the mid-1950s he went to Paris to study under composer Nadia Boulanger and showed her his classical compositions. She was unimpressed and found them derivative. “Where’s Piazzolla?” she kept asking. He then showed her his New Tango pieces, and she exclaimed: “Now, that’s Piazzolla!” thus changing his life.
So I ask, “Where’s Travis Buffkin?”
“It’s there [on Tattooed Rose],” Buffkin said. “You just have to listen. I can sing any way I want, but I’m not bullshitting when I growl. But I never sound better than when I just sit at home and play the piano or guitar by myself. Honestly, that’s when I sound best.”
And that’s what I want to hear.
“Just send me some songs, demos you record at home with ‘your own voice,’” I request. Days later, he delivers three wonderful new songs his band is incorporating into their live set, just his voice and guitar on the recordings: “Honey Bee,” “Today Was a Liquor Store” and “Tie One On,” three unclassifiable songs that sound folky but could be easily turned into a Cryin’ D.T. Buffkin format. In them, what he calls his “own voice,” really is apparent: Satchmo is still there, but it is Travis Buffkin that strikes the listener most.
“I’ll take Louie Armstrong but I won’t take Tom Waits anymore,” he said. “Now I’ve found my voice and I feel like Billie Holiday.”
Whatever the voice, and whatever the future holds for his band, first things first: there’s a show on Saturday, and, heck, Buffkin decided to give promoting it a shot. So he posted the following on the band’s Facebook (yes, FB) page:
“We, Cryin’ D.T. Buffkin & the Bad Breath, are playing a show at Nightrocker that will cost $13 at the door. Clearly, $13 is an outrageous amount of money to pay to see even the best band in town, which, clearly, we are. However, if you use this promo shit posted below, it will only cost $8. [the coupon was only good until July 13]. $8 is too much to pay to see us too...BUT, wouldn’t it be funny if you did pay $8 to see us. I mean, you like us (or you don’t), or you’ve certainly heard we’re good. Maybe you haven’t seen us in a while. Or you know us. Hmm. The gig is July 27th at Nightrocker.
If it makes you feel any better, Girl in a Coma tickets cost like 19 bucks. Us. Them.”
If less than 20 people show up, the organizers (Afton Shows) will cut the band’s set short, accordinf to Buffkin. The future of Cryin’ D.T. Buffkin is in your hands. If you don’t go, this is what’s going to happen:
“We’ll show up with three or four guys, play for about 20 minutes and they’ll say, ‘You didn’t sell any tickets, so you won’t make any money and it was all for nothing,” Buffkin said. “It’ll be like, ‘Fuck you! We never want to work with [your band] again!’”
Deep down, though, he still has faith in San Antonio.
“It’s easy to make a name here, to be a big fish in a small pond” he said. “SA’s taste is so blue collar, which is what I love. I love people that are good, humble, that work hard and drink shitty beer and can tell heart when they see it. That’s why they like our band 90 percent of the time.”
If those fans can’t afford this week’s tickets, they won’t have to wait long for a cheaper Cryin’ show; the group plays Main Plaza for free Aug. 3.
Read the long, long Q & A here. Like them on Facebook, just to piss him off.
Cryin’ D.T. Buffkin & The Bad Breath feat. Timothy Israel, AsFlamesFall and more
6:30pm Sat, July 27
605 San Pedro