Every time the yearly Buffalo Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony rolls around, I get all existentially weirded-out. The source of my angst has to do with unavoidable meditations on the "fame" part of the equation. I can't get my head around it. What is it? More significantly, does it really have anything to do with choosing a life in music? Should it?
I get little comfort from a simple Google search, which gives me this definition of fame: "The state or quality of being widely honored and acclaimed." All this does is set me to pondering the implications of "acclaimed." Does this mean financially well-rewarded? Able to pick up girls (or guys) easily in the post-performance glow? Known enough to be a quiz topic on "Jeopardy"?
Let's be honest with each other and admit that, proportionally speaking, there are not many famous musicians from Buffalo. Not as many as New York City or Los Angeles, certainly, but by my count, not even as many as have emerged from Cleveland. Or Athens, Ga., for that matter.
If you leave out Ani DiFranco, Rick James, Billy Sheehan, the Goo Goo Dolls, Stan Szelest, Spyro Gyra, Grover Washington Jr., and a few others, you're not left with much. Which brings me to the conclusion that, given the abundance of musicians who've been making music in Buffalo for decades, and the constant influx of eager young musicians willing to throw their hat into the ring (of fire), "fame" can't really be what it's all about. There must be something else.
Bands and artists who are in it to get famous either: A) Get famous, forget about where they came from, and play the game like they mean it; or B) Don't get famous, so they break up, retire or get a real job on Wall Street. (Ahem.)
The ones who are in it for the right reasons -- a genuine love for, and a need to play, music; the belief that doing as much is at the very least, worthwhile, at the most, noble -- stick around for the proverbial gold watch at the end of X-amount of years served. It might seem small pittance. But then again, if you got into this whole mess for the above-stated "right" reasons, then such acknowledgment probably feels like being given an unexpected, gratis extra dish of au jus to dip your beef on weck into.
The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame has, for 25 years now, been honoring in equal measure those musicians who've made it out, so to speak, to do their good work in the greater world community, and those who've never really left, continued their faithful relationship with the muse right here in town. From the organization's manifesto, the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame was "founded in 1983 to recognize groups and individuals who have had a significant impact on the WNY music scene and/or achieved success in the music industry on a national and often an international scale."
On Thursday, these fine BMHOF folks -- and they are believers, all of them, I know from experience -- will gather once again to honor some of our finest, brightest, most far-reaching and most humbly dogged alike, this time inside the Tralf (622 Main St.), beginning at 7 p.m.
A brief scan of this year's list of inductees is telling. The only common trait is a high level of musicianship. Higher than you'll find in most cities five times our size. (Again, I speak from experience, not out of a desire to blow smoke.) A few of these people are "famous." Most of them are not. All of them deserve our plaudits.
*Ed Bentley is already a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and is a guitarist of the first order in that idiom.
*Bob James is a songwriter, guitarist and singer who has spent his time since nearly striking gold with Terry Sullivan and the Restless in the '80s as a producer, chronicler of the Buffalo punk and garage-rock heyday of the late '70s/early '80s, and educator.
*Richard Kermode is gone now, but he will be honored at the induction ceremony for, among other projects, his work as keyboardist with Janis Joplin.
*Jerry Livingston is well known as collaborator on Rick James' finest work, and he's also gigged and/or recorded with the likes of Stephanie Mills, Miki Howard and Billy Phillips, among others.
*Tom Reinhardt is a bassist with a deep pedigree in the blues and progressive rock. He's also one of the nicest, most humble cats you'll meet in town, particularly when you consider the level of virtuosity he has attained.
*Joe Rozler fits the "genius for hire" tag to a T. He plays with everybody, can play a variety of instruments more than well, and always brings a fresh, interesting feel and unique slant to the music he plays, whatever style it might end up being. (He also tours Europe regularly as keyboardist with metal legends Manowar. Dude, seriously -- Google it and check it out.)
*The Schulz family -- that's Gretchen, Dave and Robert -- are for my money Buffalo's first family of rock, funk, blues and soul and whatever else they might deem to play. Gretchen's singing has broken my heart many times, whether she was fronting the Pine Dogs, singing "Use Me" with the Morvels, or flanking guitarist Doug Morgano on a lazy, boozy Saturday afternoon at the Sportsmen's Tavern. Her voice is a force of nature. Dave was in Marvelous Sauce, founded C.O. Jones, toured the world as keyboardist with the Goo Goo Dolls, then did the same with the English Beat, and now makes his home in Los Angeles, where he leads various ensembles and does studio work. Robert is a revered percussionist whose credits are estimable.
Many more will be honored and celebrated -- a full list can be found at www.buffalomusic.org -- and most of the above will perform during the ceremonies.
When they do, my doubts about the meaning of fame will be completely assuaged. Yeah, it's about the music.