Popeye famously said, “I am what I am.” That sentiment sums up Brody Buster and his music, whether with his One Man Band, or his Brody Buster Band. In both instances, the music is honest and plainly stated. If people think that indicates boredom, they would be seriously mistaken. The music that Brody Buster performs is authentic, engaging, lively, and real; “no artificial sweeteners added.”
Picking up a harmonica at the age of seven, Brody was already an established artist by the time he was nine years old. He had appeared on TV, toured a bit, and his extraordinary talents were acknowledged by many, including B.B. King. By the time he reached age 16, Buster had grown somewhat tired of the grind and decided he wanted to spend time enjoying the things “normal” teenagers do, so he stepped away from the music industry.
Brody has stepped back to music and performing in a big way. Realizing that he needed something to really jumpstart his career, he participated in the 2017 International Blues Challenge (IBC), where he won best harmonica player and placed second in the solo/duo category. With this triumph, Buster is in demand as a performer again and he is ever grateful.
American Blues Scene spent a wee bit of time with Buster talking about his career, his music, and the blues.
Barry Kerzner for American Blues Scene:
You picked up the harmonica at seven years old and taught yourself how to play, and at nine years old, you were already on the map. You had been on TV, and B.B. King had endorsed you. So what was all that like for you, at such a young age?
It was crazy man. I’m 32 now, so it was a LONG time ago when I first got started. I taught myself how to play the harmonica – my mom gave me one. Within a year I was playing at the Levy in Kansas City. I was backing my mom’s friends. From there, I just kind of exploded. I got on a local radio show here in Kansas City, and then after that, the phone just started ringing. I went from a small hometown kid playing harmonica to having a full band and touring the country. And yes, B.B. King saw me and said I was ‘one of the greatest harmonica players of our time.’
After that, it was pretty easy to get gigs for a while.
I kind of rode that for a while, and then about age 16 or 17, I kind of said ‘Hey, I don’t want to do this no more.’ I wanted to play rock and roll and skateboard, and date girls and all the things teenagers do. So I did that for a long time, and then I worked at a pizza place for like ten years. About four years ago, I started really getting back into music and pushing for it. I came out with a trio and we did and album. iT did really good here in Kansas City, and we play all the time.
I recently saw the IBC as a way to get doors open again. I invented the ‘One Man Band’ because the band is a little too rock and roll for the Blues Challenge. I started played every Monday night at the Westport Saloon, and I practiced. I went down to Memphis and I took home second place for Solo/Duo and got the Best Harmonica award.
Now I have a calendar full of blues festivals, throughout the country, and all over Canada.
I had read that you had actually competed in that before…
Yeah; the whole band!
And they told you that you were a bit too rock and roll.
We didn’t even make it past the Kansas City round.
One of your other comments was that Katy Guillen and The Girls made the finals, and then everything took off for them.
Yeah. And they didn’t even win!
Those ladies rock! Their Heavy Days album is off the hook!
They’re great! I love those girls. they’re from KC too.
The IBC IS a boost, even if you don’t win. It still helps you out if you get seen.
Oh yeah, for sure! Going down there was the smartest thing I ever could have done.
I hooked up with Doug Tackett at Road Dawg Touring, when I was down there and since then, I gave him the key and he’s driving the truck right now, and booking the gigs for me and such.
So, you were talking about the differences between your One Man Band, and your Brody Buster Band.
It’s a trio. The full band is me on guitar, harmonica and vocals, bass player named Jimmy, and a drummer named Colby. The difference is that … I mean, I do SOME of the same songs between both acts, but obviously, the full band versions are more rockin’.
The one man band is more stripped down. It’s me: I got a kick drum, a snare drum, and me basically. The one man band has taken off popularity-wise. I think the reason is anybody can have a trio; there’s a hundred million trios out there. The One Man Band is pretty unique. I know there are one man bands out there but they’re not doing it exactly how I do it.
It’s just too easy for me to do this One Man Band thing. I can jump in a tiny little car and tour the country, and actually, make a living. If I had a band, I wouldn’t be makin’ a living, I’d be barely getting by.
I think too, part of the aura and appeal of the One Man Band is that it is like a piece of yesterday, like from years ago. There’s a vintage, “Well, you don’t see that too often anymore!” quality about it.
That’s true, but at the same point, I feel like the One Man Band is, I mean one man bands in general, are making a comeback. It’s simply because it’s the only way we can survive, playing music. It’s the only way you can make any money. There’s a lot of one man bands out there – GOOD one man bands. You got A.J. Gaither. You got Bob Log III One Man Band. You got the Lone Wolf One Man Band.
Honestly, it’s not even in the blues scene really where you’re seeing it. It’s in this like, roots, Americana, almost-like punk rock scene that’s going on all over the country, and there’s TONS of one man bands doing it.
About your album: There are aspects of country in there, and actually punk, which is very cool. There’s rock and blues too. It’s great fun the way that you mix that all together, but you don’t stick to one aspect of it. It’s more like a blended stew: it works very well.
I’m a musician. I don’t really categorize. I’m just a musician and I play what I like. On that current album I put out, ‘One Man Band,’ I did that in eight hours. There’s no overdubs, there’s no nothing. It’s literally me, in a guy’s basement, playing music. The covers that I picked, I picked because I liked them. I probably recorded 15 songs while I was down there and I picked those ones.
What else is great about the album is that it is so intimate. It’s accessible: it’s not like there’s anything between the listener and I’m trying to figure out what you’re doing. You drop the needle and it’s all right there. It’s literally me in a basement with I think three microphones, and I’m actually not even using drums.
It’s literally me in a basement with I think three microphones, and I’m actually not even using drums. I’m used a suitcase for a kick drum, and the snare is a cookie sheet with a shaker taped to it.
That’s how I started the One Man Band, with that suitcase rig. I started playing bigger rooms and I had to go to go ahead and get a drum set. No one could really hear the suitcase, you know?
On the album though, the suitcase sounds really good!
It really does!
When I listened to the album it reminded me a lot of Canned Heat. If you go back and listen to the old Canned Heat… Ten seconds into your album, it brought that right up to my brain. It was great because it is stripped down, and it’s there.
Man, I’m not really trying to go for any sound necessarily on that album. I just go in there and do what I do. It’s gonna come out how it’s gonna come out. People are gonna like it or not. But, there was no real ‘Hey we’re gonna do it this way to make it sound this way’ or anything like that. Straight up, in a basement recorded, and all those songs we did in one take. No overdubs, no nothing. I mean, it’s basically live.
That’s another aspect that makes it so sweet is that there is no fakery, or attempt to be something you’re not.
What I’m doing is real and it’s what I do.
It’s not complicated.
There’s no special guest, no guitar player added. There’s nothing. I think that’s one of the worst things ever is when you hear someone’s album, like a country album for example. It’s a country album and they’ve got this octave pedal steel player all over the album. Then you go see them live, and they don’t even have a pedal steel player. I don’t want to do anything like that. I want the album to sound exactly like what you’re gonna go see, so there’s NO difference between the live show and the album.
Right. I hear that. That way that you interpreted the cover songs that you did, like “Nothing Compares to You,” and the Dead song, “New Speedway Boogie” was really cool.
Yeah. That’s one of my favorites; I love that tune.
What made The Dead so amazing was, like the Allman Brothers, they had a body of work and they would never play a song the same way twice.
I’m the same way. I never play a song the same way twice. The solo is gonna change based on what room I’m in, and…
That keeps things fresh for you and your fans, though.
For sure. You gotta play what ya feel. I think I get away with doing that because, I mean, I’m technically not the best guitar player. I don’t know chord names and music theory, but people come up to me all the time and say, ‘I love the way you covered that song. I’ve never heard it played like that before.’ That’s partially because I don’t know how to play the guitar like they played it on the original. It’s almost like I fake it, but in the same instance, I make it my own that way.
Sometimes that’s good though because If you’re not trying to copy The Dead, you come up with your own thing.
Yeah, like try and cover Jerry Garcia’s solos note for note. There are guys out there that can do that. I don’t do that and I can’t do that. I think it has a little more soul if ya don’t, honestly.
There’s a kind of general, unwritten rule out there that you can learn by copying your hero’s work note for note. At some point, though, you have to make the music your own and do your own thing.
That’s how I’m thinking, to the point that if I’m learning a cover song, I don’t even listen to the whole thing while I’m learning it. I’ll get the chord changes down, get the words and done.
Your version of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” is pretty crazy too. Really liked that!
Thanks, man! The only reason I learned that song is cause someone asked me to learn it for their wedding. It felt so good, it just stuck with me.
Do you have plans for another album, and what about touring?
I’m gonna be touring real heavy. I can’t release too much where I’m going because a lot of the festivals haven’t announced yet, and I have obligations. I can say I’m going up to Washington and back. I’m gonna be going all through Texas. I’m going up to Canada and back. I’m heading to Florida and back. I mean, all over! All over Colorado too, a lot.
As far as the new album, I’m getting ready to make a new album, the One Man Band, and I’m gonna try and make a trio album too.
I have a trio album out currently; it’s a little older than the One Man Band record though. No one has heard though because I’ve been sitting here in Kansas City forever, so I went to Memphis. So, no one’s ever heard the full band record really, but here in Kansas City, it gets some airplay and people know what it is here.
For the fans, what’s the name of that album, and can folks get it?
It’s out. It’s called ‘Will Die Young’ – The Brody Buster Band. It’s a pretty straight-ahead rock album. It has blues aspects obviously because that’s where I come from. Anything I do is gonna have a touch of blues in it because that’s just the way I play.
On the Will Die Young album, band members are?
You have Chris Handley on the bass and Tommy Dimmel is the drummer. We all met in Lawrence Kansas and they were going to college there. I didn’t go to school, I was just there. They went to college and moved away after college. So that was the band that did that. And then, Jimmy [Lacy – on bass] and Colby [Earleywine – on drums] replaced them, and they’ve been in the band three years now. So, they guys from the album are not the live performers [now].
We recorded the whole album for free through students at Johnson County Community College here in Kansas. They have a recording program, and we knew a kid that was going to the class. He brought us in and the teacher liked us so he let all the students record us for their final project. So that’s how we got the whole album done, with kids going to school.
That worked out well.
I know, and it actually came out really really good. It got a bunch of good reviews.
That’s really great that it worked out so well for you guys. So you do consider that more rock though? So what is your take on the blues world at the moment?
A few years ago, the blues community kind of pushed back from me a little because they thought it was too much rock and roll, and I wasn’t doing enough blues. Honestly, man, the blues world is changing. The old people are kind of dying off, and even down there in Memphis there was a new vibe, like, the blues has acknowledged that ‘Yeah, we have to accept some other things here, otherwise, the blues is gonna die.’
Honestly, people my age have a hard time with it. I’m pretty open minded because as you said, there’s only so many ways you can play Willie Dixon. Yeah, it’s great to hear a new version done a new way…
You gotta change. Anything you do is always evolving, and the blues is no different. Down there in Memphis this year, you could tell. The acts that made it to the finals, and the acts that did really well down there, they’re blues, but they’re not traditional blues. That’s where the blues has almost hurt themselves in a way. Like these people that are on top of the blues world, ‘It’s not traditional enough.’ Well, all THOSE people are dead, and no one else is starting to do it so… You have to embrace it a little bit to keep it rolling.
It WAS gonna die, but, it’s coming back, in a big way. We’ve got bands like the Black Keys, and even the White Stripes, and these blues aspects of them, and you watch interviews of these rock and roll bands, and all they do is talk about how they love real blues stuff. Without these new bands bringing… Some kid is watching the Black Keys and he loves Black Keys, and then the Black Keys sit there saying, ‘Oh, we learned this from Muddy Waters basically,’ or whoever it is. Then they go look up Muddy Waters because they never would have heard of him otherwise.
Well, think about it. That’s what Eric Clapton and Keith Richards and all those guys did. They heard the records on the radio and granted, the records were hard to get back then, so it was like a treasure hunt.
That’s how they learned. Then they would be reading the notes on the back of whatever album and it’d be like, “Oh, so and so is on backup guitar. Let me go find out who he is.” That’s how you learn.
History repeats itself in so many different ways. You watch music, and you watch trends come back and forth. Right before blues got really big, folk music was really big. Two three years ago, at least here in Kansas City, here in the Midwest, bluegrass was huge. Now, people are getting board with it. They’re taking the acoustic instruments and micing them up and electrifying them and everything. It’s like the same thing that happened a hundred years ago happening again.
It’s awesome. It’s perfect for me, because I’ve been here doing blues forever, and I’ve been waiting for this man.
We really appreciate your time and thanks so much, for talking with us.
Thank you so much man. I really appreciate you helping me out man.
We do what we can. We want to see blues thrive too!
Absolutely! We’re all pushing for the same goal here. There was a good vibe about that in Memphis too, like everybody is trying to help everybody out. everybody’s trying to help man. It’s great. I’ve seen the music industry at times when no one wants to help anybody; everybody wants to keep for themselves.
It’s not like that anymore, and everybody is trying to help everybody out, and that’s what everybody needs right now. I’m all about it.