The Norcal folk-rock band that could have and should have broken out.
The comedian Martin Mull said, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." This is especially true of live music, but despite that, I'm going to try to do a little heartfelt tribute to Buckwheat - a crowd-pleasing band I saw play live numerous times in the early 70s that always gave their audiences a good time.
Buckwheat opened for Sonny and Cher in 1971 at the UOP football stadium and the audience waiting for Cher seemed reluctant to let them go and for good reason - they sounded cool and genuine.
Fortunately, there are a few early recordings that capture some of the feeling of Buckwheat's live performances. But nothing can capture the experience of their live sets. I remember that their song choices, both covers and originals, seemed to build up from a romantic mood to a rolling uplifting jam with surprising instrumentation.
One night I saw them play at Delta College. The large space was crammed with people loving the performance. In the middle of one of their songs, a long fiddle note suddenly cut through the air like an angelic soprano. The people around me looked at each other. What was that? The multi-instrumentalist James Renney had turned sideways to the crowd, picked up his violin, and lifted the song to a new level with an incredible solo. Pat, George, and Tom did not hesitate to rise with him and their improvised jam rocked the room. When Buckwheat was good, they were very good.
Tom Munoz and George Gibson were working at Canepa's Car Wash in Stockton, California when they decided they could make more money and have more fun playing guitar and singing.
Their first regular music job was playing at Boyce's Pizza Parlor downtown where their playing would sometimes be interrupted by a waiter announcing through a distorted PA speaker that a customer's pizza was ready. George's name wouldn't fit on the small sign (which was just about the size of their makeshift stage immediately adjacent to the pool cue rack) so they were called "Tom and Geo".
The bassist Pat Campbell heard them play, asked if he could sit in, and they became a threesome. Not long after that, the three of them landed a job at UOP's Covell College in the "underground" space where an up-and-coming band regularly played, Stuart Little. Pat asked George and Tom if James Renney could sit in that night to add flute and acoustic guitar. The improvised sound from that mix became Buckwheat.
Here is a taste:
THE BUCKWHEAT SOUND
What was their signature sound and why did it work? Pat Campbell wrote that it was the blend of Tom and George's voices, the acoustic guitar foundation, and his style of strong rhythmic bass serving almost as a drum kit in addition to providing a strong melodic bottom line. When you added the multi-instrumentalist James Renney with his flute, country-style electric guitar, acoustic guitar, violin, and backup vocals there was a variety and versatility to their folk-rock sound. They played covers of songs by Dylan, CSN&Y, Van Morrison, and other current releases in their own style as well as original compositions by George and Tom.
There was something special in the way these four guys listened to each other, played off each other, and made the music work. They were never perfect and that was part of their appeal. They were clearly having fun on stage making music.
Here is another Buckwheat tune from those times:
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
To say Buckwheat was a young band is an understatement. Since Buckwheat these musicians have had amazing careers and are living their best lives.
Pat Campbell played with Mike Bloomfield & Mark Naftalin (Paul Butterfield alums) backing up Big Joe Turner. He was the bassist on three releases with Jerry Garcia & David Nelson including the highly praised live bluegrass recording of Good Old Boys "Drink Up & Go Home" with Jerry Garcia, David Nelson, Frank Wakefield, and Brantley Kearns currently available in a two-CD set and on vinyl. Search amazon for Good Old Boys Live "Drink Up and Go Home. Here is a taste of one of the cuts:
George Gibson packed his guitar away after college and graduated from law school. 40 years later, he is back playing live again with his group Georgetowne. You can follow him or the group (George K Gibson or 4GeorgetowneMusic) on Facebook or Instagram.
Tom Munoz formed the band Hobo with James Renney after Buckwheat broke up. He later played solo on the Union Street club scene in SF and then in a trio called Windstream & a duo called Hysom & Muñoz that played clubs up & down the peninsula during the middle to late 70’s early 80’s. He is still writing & recording his original songs and has an active YouTube channel: search for (Tom Muñoz Buckwheat).
James Renney built & operated Audios Amigos recording studio in San Francisco in the 70s. In the early 80s, he started Studioworks in Sydney, Australia. In the late 80s, he was the Technical Engineer at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, working with many top groups. His transition to engineering continued working with a silicon valley start-up, designing and building hundreds of AV systems for Fortune 500 companies, and designing AV controls systems. He still plays music for his family's and his enjoyment.
THE REUNION CONCERT
In 2017 Tom called up his bandmates suggesting that they get together for a reunion. Pat Campbell organized the 2017 Hopmonk Tavern performance pictured below.
The 2017 reunion resulted in the song "Leonardo", an original composition by Tom, being recorded in James Renney's home studio in 2017 in one take with some atmospheric touches added later by James. The drummer on that recording is Roy Blumenfeld of The Blues Project fame. This song clearly shows the evolution of their musical talent and what might have been had things turned out a little different.
Good stuff. Thank you Buckwheat.
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