The man in the music

Buddy Tabor performs at Resurrection Lutheran Church in January 2009. Albert McDonnell and his daughter Hazel are shown at left.

Juneau musicians and music fans were asked to respond to the frustratingly limiting question: What song always makes you think strongly of Buddy Tabor? Here are the responses. (updated Friday, Nov. 11)



"My all-time favorite (Buddy Tabor song) is 'She Walks in Beauty.' Not only is the song pulsatingly rich, but how tender is it that Buddy wrote it for his mother-in-law?

I love the imagery of 'Cannery Lights,' it takes the listener right there to the slime line, iron retort doors — and it feels genuinely joyful. How crazy is that? The ode to the White Pass, with the refrain of 'she...eee ain't coming back / on the tracks ... clickety-clatt.' Buddy's words literally slammed shut the Klondike era once and for all. ('Dividing the Muktuk' 'The Muddy Yukon.')" -- Linda Sylvester


"Buddy Tabor's songs resonate with so many because they tell the stories of our lives (or at least parts of them) with rich, evocative images. 'Beat Up Old Truck' is a great example. The opening line: 'There's a beat up old truck, with the fenders smashed in / don't know where I'm going, but I know where I've been.' I imagine the truck in the song sitting in the dry, sun-parched and rust-colored landscape of New Mexico, perhaps the national capital (with the exception of Alaska) of beat up old trucks.

My husband used to pick me up from college in San Francisco in a shiny brand-new Ford Ranger. That rig took us to New Mexico, back to California and up to Southeast Alaska along with our two small children and a black lab. Twenty-five years later, it sat neglected and aging in our front drveway in Douglas until one morning this past summer. We awoke to a wall of orange and our truck engulfed in flames, the apparent victim of arson. All that remained in the driveway was its hulking, fast-rusting carcass.

I accepted it as a symbol of our lives moving from one significant chapter to the next; until Buddy Tabor's last concert in August. He sang 'Beat Up Old Truck' and I wept through the whole song. Through the image of the shell of an old truck, the lyrics span the scope of many relationships; intital falling in love, getting mixed up and at times lost over the years, then arriving at a new, albeit ambiguous place.

'I heard a song on the radio, won't you play it again. Don't know where I'm going, but I know where I've been.'" -- Katie Bausler


My 'Buddy moment' was when he first sang 'Mr. Basketball Shoes' at the Alaska Folk Festival. I had been telling friends, both in person and online, to stop buying Nike athetic shoes and gear, as well as those from other manufacturers who had moved their production out of the US to overseas sweatshops in Vietnam and Cambodia. Buddy's song just ripped my heart out. It said everything I had been telling folks, but so directly, and with so much more impact. I stopped haranguing folks, and just sent them the song, asking them to listen. Looking online, I see that it's one of his most downloaded songs, and with good reason." — Dennis Harris


‘Abandoned Cars and Broken Hearts.’ When Buddy wrote “‘Abandoned Cars and Broken Hearts,’ I was still living out in Bethel and was grieving my way through the sad unexpected end of a relationship. Buddy called and wanted to sing me his new song, not knowing of my sadness. ‘Abandoned Cars’ went straight through my ears and right to my heart, and in that moment, I knew that Buddy was my friend and fellow human being on a deep, unexplainable level. I’ve always felt that Buddy unknowingly wrote that song just for me, and it helped me out of a dark place and back into life. Thank God for Buddy Tabor.” – Martha Scott


“I think my favorite Buddy song is ‘Barefoot Boy,’ it is such a beautiful song, and such a great example of Buddy’s talent for dealing with painful subjects, with love and beauty in this case, or with humor in others... dark humor such as ‘Mr. Basketball Shoes’ and ‘Brand New Jesus.’ And of course I love ‘If Not the Dress You Wore,’ because though it’s not about me, it’s my dress that is featured! I once argued with someone because I called Buddy the poet laureate of Juneau. I still say he is worthy of that title. He has created such amazing poetry over the years, and made it accessible to everyone through his musical gift. I’m sure many more people have listened to Buddy than have ever opened a book of poetry.”— Jane Roodenburg


“There are so many of Buddy’s songs that I love. But the one that stunned me when the most when I first heard it is ‘Brand New Jesus.’ It is such a sad, beautiful, powerful song. I think that in this one Buddy found the perfect expression for the way he feels and thinks about these times — and gave it to us in a way that is so stark and arresting that you have to think about what he has to say. It belongs in the company of the best works of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.” – Justin Smith


“As far as songs Buddy’s written, it is impossible to choose one, but I can narrow it down to three: ‘Scratchin’ Fleas,’ his evocative ode to futile, seemingly endless, southern days (‘Help me Jesus, I’m sinkin’ down, won’t you plant my feet on southern ground? I stand before you a humble, broken man. Years of my life are slidin’, right through my hands’); the perfect ironic righteousness of ‘Jesus Loves Me More Than He Loves You’; and — in my opinion — the finest song he’s written, ‘Wait For Me.

But I can never hear Bob Dylan without thinking of Buddy, in particular the song ‘Only A Pawn In Their Game,’ which he says slapped him in the face as a teenager the first time he heard these lines: “A South politician preaches to the poor white man, / You got more than the blacks, don’t complain. / You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,’ they explain. / And the Negro’s name / Is used it is plain / For the politician’s gain / As he rises to fame / And the poor white remains / On the caboose of the train / But it ain’t him to blame / He’s only a pawn in their game.” — Collette Costa


“At first when I thought about the question ‘What song always makes you think of Buddy,’ I was thinking along the lines of one by Townes Van Zandt, or something from ‘Diamonds in the Rough,’ the favorite John Prine record for both Buddy and myself ... but then I thought, now it would have to be ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ Who cannot think of Buddy now, hearing that traditional song, after what he did for us with it?! Otherwise, a deep fave of mine in Buddy’s large canon of great songs is ‘Barefoot Boy.’ It’s in my sacred pile of redemption songs. The last lines always get smoke in my eyes — “ ‘Sometimes the light burns a hole in the dark, and through that hole flies a Meadowlark.’” — Tony Tengs


“Other than the 200 or 300 songs that Buddy wrote and sings, one song by Townes Van Zandt that he sings a lot is ‘Snowing’ on Raton.’ I think that he feels a real musical kinship with Van Zandt, and he loves to take road trips ... it’s kind of a road song. It also serves as a good example of the kind of poetry and lyrics he likes. He is such a poetry fan — he likes to think of music as poetry or as poetry set to music. Also, Kim Barlow in Whitehorse wrote a song about Buddy (‘Child of America’). It was kind of rock and roll song, and it was a great character interpretation.” — Albert McDonnell


“One song that reminds me forcibly of Buddy is his ‘Miles to Go,’ where the recurring line is: ‘Between the Earth and the Sky and the moment we die, we still have miles to go.’ Always gives me chills. — Elva Bontrager


“The tunes of Buddy’s that stop me for a second are numerous, but two that stand out are ‘She Walked in Beauty’ and ‘Get up Dogs.’ ‘Get up Dogs’ drives with the single mindedness I associate with dogs and dog mushing. I get such great images from the song and it always reminds me of my times spent up north. The Iditarod race organizers missed the boat by not adopting the song as the race anthem. As for, ‘She Walked in Beauty,’ I do not possess the skill to define in words the reason or reasons the song has captured me..maybe the Navajo prayer ‘Walk in Beauty’ and the similar timelessness of Buddy’s piece. I have not really questioned the connection until now... I think many would agree that Buddy has the skill as a songwriter to craft a tune that stays in the moment, which in turn gives his work its ability to reach you each time you listen.” —Bob Banghart


“A song that makes me think of Buddy? I was trying to think of my favorite ‘Buddy’ song. And had to say that it’s whatever he’s singing at the moment. But I love ‘Canyon DeChelly’ for the sheer poetry. ‘Wild Horses’ touches me because I’ve seen them in the same part of the country he wrote about. My favorite CD is ‘Earth & the Sky.’ Buddy’s music touches us all. He takes our thoughts, our soul, and puts them to words and music. He is a true poet.” — Sandy Warner


“One of my favorite Buddy songs is ‘If Not the Dress That You Wore’ but the first time I heard it Jane Roodenberg was singing it with the Bobbs. I hadn’t met or maybe even heard of Buddy yet as I was still new in town. The tune got stuck in my head right away and I always looked forward to hearing Jane perform it. I can’t remember when, sometime later though, I went to Buddy concert and he sang the song and I was like wow – that Buddy Tabor is singing a Bobbs song! Well of course I soon learned it was his song, I think he wrote it about Jane (not totally sure on that!), and it is still one of my favorites. Since then I’ve come to have many favorite Buddy songs and been fortunate enough to have sung with him in concert and on his albums. He’s an amazing singer and songwriter and I always look forward to his new releases. And, he even painted my house once!” — Maridon Boario


“I guess the song that comes most strongly to mind is ‘I Am a Pilgrim,’ done by many artists; my favorite version is by the Byrds. It’s a sweet old country spiritual and a classic ‘wayfaring stranger/gospel tune.’ When I think of Buddy I think of his good heart, sincere and beautiful music, inquiring mind and restless, searching nature. This song for me brings it all together. As Buddy spent some time as a traveler spreading the Gospel , this tune to me speaks to the many facets of Buddy’s life and work. — Rob Cohen


“To tell the truth, I was never a fan of Buddy’s, even with all his CDs of songs, his practicing in the living room, on the front porch, back porch and garden, with his quirky sense of humor. I wasn’t a fan until years later in 2007(?) when I walked into my kitchen and he was sitting on a high stool playing this song: “Box of Pain.” He had his eyes closed; the lyrics, tune and guitar picking bowled me over. I was stunned. I burst into tears. I’ve been bowled over since. How is it that it took almost 30 years of hearing his music that I couldn’t really HEAR his music? — Clarissa Rizal (used with permission from


“I have this incredibly strong memory of having Buddy as a guest musician on my morning radio show in the 80’s. He calmly sat down with his guitar and when the microphone came on, Buddy started singing ‘Barefoot Boy’ with more power and clarity than anyone should possess at that hour of the morning. More than anything else, that inner strength helps define Buddy’s strength of conviction, whether Buddy’s singing about Texas radio, love or basketball shoes.”— Jeff Brown



“‘Water Over Stones’ is my favorite Buddy Tabor song!” — John Unzicker


“‘New Fallen Snow,’ ‘Get Up Dogs,’ ‘Ice Is Too Thin’ are songs we think of right off the bat. — Paul Zahasky and family


“Buddy often writes about specific people, and he evokes them vividly. ‘Wait for Me’ is a favorite, and although that’s first person, he wrote it about someone else. ‘Meadowlark’ is the song that always makes me think of Buddy himself.” --  Riley Woodford


“Buddy’s song ‘Meadowlark’ is the one that I’d choose. Buddy’s songs are usually quite dark, but they’re never without hope. It’s not a bubbly or jolly sort of hope—it’s not even always a feel-good hope. It’s bruised and rough around the edges, but it endures.” — Kathy Hocker


“I have two answers: 1. Any Buddy song because he fills each with his pure self. 2. Kim Barlow’s ‘Child of America,’ which I think she wrote for Buddy, though I may have made that up. A quote from it might explain why, ‘He is a little bit of cowboy, brought his blues all the way from Texas to Alaska, stopped along the way proved that cowboys and indians can love one another.’”— Jason Caputo


“‘VooDoo Doll’ - I think of how passionate Buddy is about the political events in our country and in the world. The song is about fighting the power of hatred by leaving room for love (at least that’s what I hear!). Buddy (and everyone else) describes his writing as depressing, but I think it takes a lot of -dare I say-optimism and faith in our ability to change to care that much.” — Terry Hoskinson


“As a singer, Buddy is better than average and as a musician and guitarist, he’s pretty good- but so are many others. As a songwriter, I think he’s in the top group nationally. He’s written over a hundred songs, most of which appeal to me in a way that other favorite, well known writers just can’t match. If a have to select one of them, it would be ‘Temple of Mass Consumption.’ There are alot of famous singers who would be doing well if they covered Buddy’s music.— Frederick Hoskinson


“‘If Not the Dress You Wore’: ‘Stained glass shatters in mid-air; Falling colors everywhere. Ah, it’s the way she wore that dress.... and a whole lot more.’ At an early performance of the Bobb Family Band, our singer, Jane Roodenburg, high-stepped across the stage in a stunning dress custom made for gig by a beloved friend. Dazzling in its design, festooned with bold geometric colors and sequins, the dress was a thing of beauty, made only more lovely by the way Jane wore the dress and pranced about the stage. The spectacle didn’t go unnoticed by Buddy as he captured the scene in his song. And ever since, the Bobb Family Band has performed the song at every gig alongside every Patsy Kline, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Bob Wills tune in our book. That’s how good Buddy Tabor is. That’s how lucky we are.” – Clay Good


“(We) enjoy all of Buddy’s music however our favorite album is ‘Meadowlark’ and the special song is ‘She Walks in Beauty.’— Sherrie Chrysler and Dale Lanegan


“I don’t know that I could identify a single song that makes me think of Buddy, but I do have something to say about many of his songs - they contain messages about life, injustice, destruction of our natural world and our mistreatment of fellow human beings that effectively caused me to pause and ‘listen to an inner voice.’” — Eldon Dennis


“I think of all my songs Buddy always asks for ‘Your still gonna die’ by Shel Silverstein.” — Mike Truax


“One song which always makes me think of Buddy? So many songs do... ‘Earth and The Sky,’ ‘Father’s Grave,’ ‘She Walked in Beauty,’ ‘Texas Blues Radio,’ ‘Corporate Domination,’ ‘Jesus Loves Me More Than You’... ‘Cold Dark Eyes,’ ‘Fetal Position,’ ‘New Fallen Snow,’ the song for Nils ... We talked recently about whether there are any dangerous (effective) poets left in America. We decided Adrian C. Louis is dangerous. Buddy didn’t want to hear it but I think he’s dangerous too. Sometimes very dangerous.” — Terry Toon


“‘Waiting on a Miracle’!” — Sally Donaldson


“When I first interviewed Buddy for a story in 2008, I never imagined that I would eventually get the chance to play music with him on many occasions. His dedication to correctly delivering songs to his audience was something that struck me initially and continued to impress me as I got to know him better. He told me many times that he wouldn’t play a gig in a noisy bar even if someone paid him a million dollars. People wouldn’t listen to the words, he said. Now he could really use a million dollars, but I don’t think he’d do his songs wrong to get it.” — LIbby (Sterling) Stringer


“Buddy’s song ‘Jesus Loves me more than he loves you’. The last lines give you a pretty good idea of the core of the song: ‘And you surely cannot punish my success, Just because my way of life has been so blessed. And The reason why you ain’t got no food or any shoes, It’s cause Jesus Loves me more than he loves you’. Love that Buddy’esque irony...” — Kari Groven


“My first memory of Buddy is sitting at the Orphieum Theatre on South Franklin Street in the 1980s. Buddy came in a lot and we would talk sometimes — usually about music. He was inspired and spoke with passion about lyrics and bands and songs he was working on. He gave me one of his cassettes and I listened to it and got inspired. In those days I was traveling around Alaska singing and teaching music. On one trip to the North northwest I took a bunch of Buddy’s cassettes and people got real excited about his music. He sang about bush pilots, dog mushers, and Inupiat whale hunters — and all this resonated with people. ‘Dividing the Muktuk’ is probably my favorite. It describes the tradition of dividing and sharing the whale meat and blubber with everyone in the village after a hunt. It still makes me smile. — Teri Tibbett

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