Buffalo Killers: Let It Ride

By: Martin Halo

Buffalo Killers by John Curley
American rock ‘n’ roll has retreated to the depths of the underground. For the bands that continue the time-honored tradition of smooth talking swagger and stiff lipped cool, they exist only in the eyes of the people who have discovered their clandestine reverberations.

Cincinnati, Ohio’s native Buffalo Killers struts with the moan of a blues-laden trio who mix vintage tone with growling guitars to formulate passionate testimonials of lost love, desperate aggression and reckless endangerment. It is the underbelly of American rock ‘n’ roll, and with the release of their sophomore album, Let It Ride (released July 8 on Alive Records), the Buffalo Killers have been hatched upon the age in a time of desperate need.

Sleek in a tattered way and possessing a ferocious assault, the Brothers Gabbard (Zachary – bass and vocals, Andrew – guitar and vocals, joined by Joseph Sebaali – drums) have channeled a wrinkled, raspy-toned muse who was too purposely intoxicated to catch the train of trend. This is a story about defiance and destiny, the snarling moan of a scene crawling beneath the bustling avenues.


I’m a traveling man just a pushing ahead
We’re a traveling band looking for a bed
We’re not trying to bite you, we’re just starving to death

Joseph Sebaali – Buffalo Killers by John Peets
“We recorded five songs and I sent the pressing out in a blank jacket with nothing more than the band’s name and my home phone number on it,” says Zach in reference to the band’s debut LP. “A phone call came from Burbank, California two days later. It was Alive Records founder Patrick Boissel. We really didn’t expect to be making a record at the time. When Alive Records called me back, it came as a shock. We were just looking to catch our bearings and the next thing you know I am telling someone, ‘Yes, we do have the rest of the material prepared. Go ahead and send us a check and we will finish the album. It was a scramble to book additional studio time and do whatever the fuck we needed to do to finish that first record.”

For Andrew and Zach Gabbard their musical explorations started not with the Buffalo Killers but with another Ohio-based trio, Thee Shams. Consisting of Zach, Andrew, Sebaali, Max Bender and Keith Fox, the band earned the attention of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys as a local garage band contemporary. When Thee Shams disbanded, according to both parties, Auerbach was never told.

“Dan didn’t know we formed a new group until he heard the first Buffalo Killers record and realized it was us. He called me wanting to know why I hadn’t got in contact to tell him about it,” Zach explains. “It was just a thing where we started over and didn’t want to approach audiences as a band rising out of the ashes of another.”

“Things started to happen for us when we went to L.A. in support of the first album,” Zach continues. “A drummer friend of mine came that night and told me that Chris Robinson [The Black Crowes] had told him about the show. I was kind of taken aback. All I could think was, ‘Chris Robinson heard our record!’ We were just going out to California to play some shows in support of the first record and we were fully under the impression no one was going to show up. We thought we were going to make some rounds, play to a few people and then upon returning we might have a cool thing going on.”

“It was a big fucking deal to me when The Black Crowes asked us to go on the road with them. I grew up listening to them. For us, it was like touring with The Beatles,” Zach offers.

The Grooming

Buffalo Killers
“My brother and I grew up in a musical household because my dad played guitar. We grew up listening to Neil Young, The Grateful Dead, CSNY and New Riders of the Purple Sage from as long back as I can remember. They, along with my father, taught us how to play music. As a kid you think, ‘What does your father know?’ but looking back, if I wanted to hear something new all I had to do was go downstairs and rummage through his record collection. It was all right there. If we wanted to play an instrument, the amps were already in the house. We were groomed to do this,” Zach says.

“There were a lot of good groups stemming from Cincinnati. The Greenhorns were natives as well as The Afghan Wigs. I was really into The Afghan Wigs when I was younger. As a matter of fact, we actually recorded the first record with [Afghan bassist] John Curley, who has a studio here. There are lots of places to play. It’s a good home base.”

“When we would go out on tour, we would come home and it felt like every town in Ohio embraced us. There was no pressure, like playing in New York, for us,” Zach explains. “For us, it is about the music we play not how we look. Playing here in Cincinnati, there was no pressure. We could go fuck off and completely bomb here. It really didn’t matter. We could always just start over. The spotlight wasn’t as bright as it might have been in New York. [Though] we were playing to our friends and family, the people we grew up with [and] sometimes that might hold more pressure than playing to a bunch of strangers.”

Continue reading for more on Buffalo Killers…

We are living what we do. We are not in it for money; we are in it because we want to say something. We want to do what we love. There is no other ambition I have in life.

Zach Gabbard

Photo of Buffalo Killers by John Curley

The Let It Ride Sessions

Buffalo Killers by EvilWren
“We recorded it in two weekend sessions with Dan Auerbach. We were focused but it was a very relaxed situation,” says Zach, while sprawled across his bed in Cincinnati just off a tour leg supporting The Black Keys.

“The atmosphere surrounding this record was completely different from the debut. We knew what we were doing, what we wanted to do, and half of the songs were already fleshed out on the road while supporting The Black Crowes. When we got off the road we went right into the studio for the sessions that would become Let It Ride.”

“I got involved with the project simply because I was a fan of the band,” says Dan Auerbach. “I invited them up to my studio in Akron. Zach called and basically said the band was ready to record and plans were made.”

The recording sessions for Let It Ride were born from a meeting of longtime friends to create a testament of expression that unearths the primal endorphins buried deep within the souls of men.

“I have been into those guys for a long time. Back when they were in Thee Shams I brought them on the road with The Black Keys. I didn’t hear anything from them for a while after Thee Shams disbanded until the next thing I know the Buffalo Killers first record is coming out. I bought a copy of it and was stunned, like ‘Holy shit.’ They transformed from a good garage rock band to light years ahead of what they were doing in terms of songwriting, arrangement, and harmonies,” expresses Auerbach. “Not to mention, Joseph Sebaali is an animal behind the drum set. The entire conception was particularly impressive.”

Auerbach’s studio is as much of a refined gem as the recordings that have propelled The Black Keys’ catalog into vinyl necessity. Custom built from the ground up with a simple design, accented with classic flashback d├ęcor and baked-in vintage cool.

Andrew Gabbard – Buffalo Killers by John Peets
“It only took a few days to record Let It Ride. They were practiced,” says Auerbach. “As a producer I was there as someone for those guys to bounce ideas off of. These are the kind of guys that don’t need a lot of help when it comes to making records or sparking their imagination. These guys just don’t need it. They have so much natural ability and talent that all I could do was just be there to answer any questions they might have. Occasionally, I would give some input but I knew the most important task was capturing their sound; the raw live sound of this band.”

“I think anytime you get talented musicians together who are writing original music it is important. They may not be important to MTV, but apparently they don’t like to see real musicians playing instruments,” continues Auerbach. “I’m partial to people who have an idea of the past and the related sounds, because that is what I like – the sounds from the late ’50s through the ’70s. Not necessarily the songs, but the tone. The way things were recorded back then sounded better in my opinion. When the ’80s came around things just seemed to go to shit. Engineers and producers took liberties with editing devices and really screwed up a lot of band’s recordings. Recordings became so clean it was nauseating. The pops and hiss are as much of a part of the music as the songs themselves. People might refer to the sound as vintage, but to me it is just simply rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Ideology

Let it ride, don’t you hide
Cause tomorrow might never come, so won’t you let it ride
Don’t you lie or wait one minute
Just hold up your hand and make a stand

Buffalo Killers by John Curley
“It is beyond the point of faking it these days,” says Zach on the philosophy of the band. “You can’t fake it because there is so much fake stuff out there; people see right through it. Artists like Devendra Banhart and Vetiver aren’t faking it. They are living what they do, as we are living what we do. We are not in it for money; we are in it because we want to say something. We want to do what we love. There is no other ambition I have in life.”

“I think it is great how rock ‘n’ roll has gone back underground. You can have a group that tours the United States, puts out their own records and nobody in the mall knows they exist,” continues Zach. “That is how rock ‘n’ roll should be, not on MTV. As a fan you want it to be yours and that is what it is again.”

“We put out records [and] we don’t worry about if we are going to get reviewed by the papers. We set out to sell records to people at shows. We make a recording and we hit the road. We don’t stop until the next album is ready to be recorded,” says Zach. “Playing music onstage is one of the greatest joys I have ever experienced besides having a child or being in love. Nothing compares to people connecting with something you are creating for them. That is why I cannot stop. It is better than any drug you will ever take.”

“I want people to cherish the song,” Zach states. “We write songs about our families and being in love rather than telling you everything is bad and the world as gone to shit. It has but you don’t have to believe that. You have your friends and your family. As stupid as it might sound all you need is love. Cherish what you have because it might not be here tomorrow. ‘Let it Ride.’ That is what it is. There might not be a tomorrow so you might as well let it ride.”

Buffalo Killers – “Get Together Now Today”

Buffalo Killers will be on tour with The Black Crowes soon, dates available here.

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