Mixtape for Buddy Tabor

Posted: Thursday, February 11, 2010

I first spoke with Juneau songwriter Buddy Tabor in 2008. As a fellow musician, I found the interview inspiring, an insight into the words and melodies of a songwriter who has captured the attention of fans in Alaska and beyond.

Libby Sterling / Capital City Weekly
Libby Sterling / Capital City Weekly

Buddy told me of his admiration for great songwriters of the past - Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and John Prine are among his favorites. One fan once compared Buddy's songwriting to Dylan's. Buddy humbly denied the claim but didn't change his fan's mind.

I couldn't count how many times I've overheard locals talking about Buddy, whether on the street, in a coffee shop or at a music venue. Some have said that he's their favorite local musician, they've been going to all his concerts since he started performing and have collected all of his albums.

Buddy's public appearances have become more and more rare over the years, and now we're only lucky enough to see one or two annual performances in addition to his 15-minute set at the Alaska Folk Festival. You won't find him at the open mic or performing as background music at a bar or party. He prefers to entertain his audiences in venues with better acoustics and less clatter.

After hanging up the phone from that first interview, I compiled a list entitled "Things I wish I would have asked Buddy," not knowing when - if ever - I would have the chance to ask them. Time passed and the list got buried amongst the piles of notes and books I keep in my office.

But last week, while searching for outdated paper products that I could use to start a kindling fire in my woodstove, I came across the list.

In the past year, I have developed a musical friendship with Buddy, joining the troop of accompanists who rotate across the stage during his performances. In doing so, the wonderings from my list are no longer mysteries.

Does Buddy listen to music in the car, at home, and while cooking?

I specifically wondered about cooking because he first brought up the subject during our interview.

"I hate cooking," he told me. "I only cook because I have to."

I have since tasted Buddy's kitchen creations and they have left me pleasantly satisfied on multiple occasions. I think he's too hard on himself and his culinary abilities. However, I don't think he's too hard in his opinion on restaurants.

"The more décor, the more mediocre the food is," he said.

Given the nature of our conversation, I can't help but think that the statement, roughly translated, may be in reference to music.

The more fluff and flowery stuff, the more mediocre the songwriting is.

Buddy's taste in music intrigues me for many reasons. First, he's not afraid to share his opinion, no matter how blunt it may be. Second, he knows what he likes and he knows why he likes it. Though he generally prefers music from the past, he has revealed his admiration for contemporary mainstream icons such as Mary J. Blige, The Black Eyed Peas and The Decemberists.

One glance at Buddy's living room reveals the answer to my previous inquiry. The man has an incredible CD collection that reflects his eclectic musical taste. He has shared some of his favorites, exposing me to artists I may have never otherwise discovered. He listens to music he loves and it feeds his creativity and his spirit.

I recently made a mix CD to give to Buddy, confident that it could introduce him to some new artists that he might enjoy. I included a few tracks I was sure he'd like as well as some that pushed the envelope, eager to hear his professional opinion. Apparently, I succeeded to please; following delivery of the disc, I received a voicemail in which Buddy voiced his approval and desire to hear more.

What are the top things that brought you to where you are now musically?

I received the answer to this question during our most recent practice session. We had just eaten a marvelous meal and had run through a few tunes when Buddy stood up to step outside for a smoke.

"Do you play guitar?" he asked me.

I said yes, and he handed me his Martin to pick while he was outside.

Buddy has an assortment of guitars, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The instrument I held in my hands was his all-time favorite, and I could see why. It played easily and smoothly and it fit perfectly within my arms.

The outside door opened and Buddy reentered the house. I continued to strum some riffs at his request.

"Do you play every day?" he asked plainly.

I admitted that I don't, at which point Buddy told me what music means to him.

It's everything, he said. Every task he performs throughout his day is for music. He works, eats and sleeps so that he can wake up in the morning, sing a lyric and strum a chord. He may not please every listener, he admits. As much as he strives to please his audiences, they aren't his focus. It's the music that flows through his veins and out of his breath, and to him that's a fact that he'll never doubt.

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