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Cryin' D.T. Buffkin and the Bad Breath Don't Want Your $13

Photo: Photos by VENESSA HILL SHAHAN, License: N/A

Photos by VENESSA HILL SHAHAN

Cryin’ D.T. Buffkin and the Bad Breath belting out the blues at Hi-Tones

Photo: , License: N/A

Travis Buffkin channeling Satchmo at Hi-Tones. Or is it Billie Holiday?


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.”

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