At first glance you might think George Damron and Buffalo Ridge are a rock n’ roll band pure and simple Most of the guys have rock n’ roll backgrounds to complement their long hair and black clothes, but don’t be fooled: these musicians’ commitment to country comes through, too, and they plan to fully utilize to the fullest their unique blend of twang and rock n’ roll.The group is headed by frontman George Damron who hails from Michigan and lives in Hamilton. Tom Leahy (bass) and Graig Smith (guitar) complete the trio of original band members who came together in July 2008. Kim Scott (keyboards) joined them that July, and there are also two new additions: Ron Stump of Leo on guitar (formally of Relentless and Outlaw Cowboys), and Curt Snow of Auburn on drums (formerly of ButtonHead). Chad Elvington also serves the group as “roadie/sound guy/background vocal/comic relief.”
Damron is a long-time musician, having done his time in Nashville and elsewhere. Much of his musical career was spent in Michigan where he lived and worked for years. He started out as a heavy metal musician but soon became the lead singer for a country band called Rik-A-Shay.
“When I lived in Michigan, music was all I was doing,” he said, “but places started to shut down and I went from four to five nights a week to barely two nights a week. When it gets rough, entertainment seems to take the first hit. I loved it up there, but I had to move on.”
The many pieces that make up Buffalo Ridge came together in puzzle-like fashion. First there was Leahy, who began playing the guitar at age nine but switched to bass in high school. His bands have opened for such national acts as Buckcherry, Stir, Cowboy Mouth and Jennifer Nettles. Next was Smith, an assistant manager at Guitar Center where he met Damron and Leahy when they came in to buy some equipment. As the story goes, Smith asked if he could help them find anything, and they asked for a guitar player. Smith volunteered for the band without knowing if the request was made in jest. Scott, Buffalo Ridge’s fourth member, got his music business start at the tender age of 17 when he joined a progressive rock band influenced by the likes of Genesis, Yes and Kansas. He has since played with classic rockers Tempest and recorded some tracks with Monterey. Stump was heavily recruited by Buffalo Ridge but was too busy touring to stay local until recently. His former bands have played at the Grand Ole Opry and opened for Tommy Cash and David Allen Coe. Snow is somewhat new to the country scene, having been influenced by bands like Tower of Power and “funky blues,” but said he is excited to be part of Buffalo Ridge.
Damron and Buffalo Ridge can add to their musical resumés the recently recorded Sure Looked Good, an album of all-original songs penned by veteran Nashville songwriter Ken Pulley. Damron met Pulley through a mutual acquaintance in Angola, and a beautiful, symbiotic friendship was born.
“He needed a singer and we needed songs,” said Damron.
The relationship has allowed Buffalo Ridge to record songs without a fee. “He (Pulley) knows we can’t pay him unless we sell a million records,” Damron said.
All of the guys save Scott are transplants, having relocated to northeastern Indiana from other states and cities. One poor soul even came to Fort Wayne “for a girl,” but we’ll leave him unnamed. As transplants, some of the band members have found it tough to break into the local scene.
“There tends to be an existing popularity for local groups in a smaller city like Fort Wayne, which makes it hard to be seen at first. It’s great when the venues put band names in their advertising, but we often need to do our own advertising,” said Smith.
The goal? Damron put it clearly: “To be a star.”
He went on to say, “I wanted to move to Nashville, but everyone told me not to move down there and instead to be a star in the local scene. With everything being online, you don’t have to be [in Nashville] to be heard in Nashville.”
That means Fort Wayne and the surrounding area get to benefit from the talent of these dedicated musicians whose next gig is a two-nighter at a Gas City campground.
“We just love to play at campgrounds,” Damron said. “The people love live music. They’ll feed you and give you a place to sleep or drinks or whatever. At one place we didn’t have a drummer, and some guy who hadn’t played in nine years came up and filled in. You don’t get anywhere without fans. They are the greatest resource for any band.”
Damron, Leahy and Stump will go wireless during each show, and their goal is to make every performance entertaining and forthright.
“We don’t just get up and play in one spot,” said Scott, “although I can’t do headstands on my keyboard like Steve Walsh, so don’t ask for that.”
Going forward, the group has plans to participate in a video shoot for Mediacom doing one of their tunes from Sure Looked Good. They have a couple upcoming festivals to play and are still actively looking both for reliable management and any upcoming show times. In the meantime, be on the lookout.
“We still have something to prove,” Smith said, “and we prove it all the time.”
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