Crystal Bay cooks up a bill of red-hot blues
Marcia Ball is finally getting together with some musicians she has intended to join many years ago.
The boogie-woogie piano player wanted be a part of San Francisco’s seminal music scene in the early 1970s, but her car broke down. Ball was headed west from her Vinton, La., home when she stalled in Austin, Texas She decided Austin was the Southern version of San Francisco, so she never left.
Harmonica master Norton Buffalo and slide guitar virtuoso Johnny “V” Vernazza didn’t need to move to San Francisco: They were both born in the Bay Area. They were part of a generation of artists that included the Doobie Brothers, Steve Miller, Santana, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
“San Francisco was very unique because it was where everyone was going in the ’60s,” Vernazza said. “It stayed that way until the end of the ’70s. It will never be the same.”
Vernazza spent most of the 1970s with Elvin Bishop’s band, while Norton Buffalo had his own group when he wasn’t playing with Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. In 1979 John McFee of the Doobie Brothers introduced Vernazza and Buffalo, and the two have played together ever since.
Norton Buffalo and the Knockouts will play with Marcia Ball Saturday, March 14 at the fourth annual Blues Summit at the Crystal Bay Casino.
Vernazza has a collection of Ball’s albums but he has never been on the same bill with her.
“She’s just fantastic,” Vernazza said. “I saw her play once in Mill Valley. I’m really looking forward to the show because I’ll get to see her, and who knows what will develop. It should be a lot of fun.”
Buffalo has reduced his time with the Knockouts the past couple of years because he has been touring with the Steve Miller Band. He also plays in a duo with Roy Rogers, another Bay Area product who now lives in Nevada City.
“Norton doesn’t play with boundaries,” Vernazza said. “He plays the whole gamut. He can play jazz. He can play classical. He’s worked everybody from Bonnie Raitt to the Doobie Brothers.”
Vernazza and Ball were in the running for a Grammy Award last month. Vernazza played on Elvin Bishop’s “The Blues Rolls On,” a Best Traditional Blues Album nominee. Ball’s “Peace, Love & BBQ” was up for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
” ‘Peace, Love & BBQ’ definitely expresses what I was trying to say in general and in specific,” Ball told Lake Tahoe Action before she headlined the third annual Blues Summit. “We need a whole lot more peace, love and barbecue.”