“We just started jamming, doing covers,” Wales said. “ ‘Death Letter’ by Son House and really bluesy stuff like that.”
Evan Rutledge, one of the skateboarders who hung out in the funeral home parking lot, started lending vocals to these basement jam sessions. “I wasn’t afraid to stand up and start singing along with whatever they were playing,” he said.
“Evan’s always definitely had that stage-persona type thing,” Wales said.
With the addition of a bass-playing friend, Ben Stimmel, a rock band was born: White Buffalo Woman.
“Being from Minerva, it’s either play music or go out and get drunk or get in trouble,” Murphy said, maybe half-kidding.
Half a decade later, White Buffalo Woman is carving a niche for itself in the Northeast Ohio scene, with a sound that can veer from ’60s garage-rock to soul, blues to punk, R&B to psychedelic in the space of a single bar set.
The band’s live shows are reliably full-tilt, with Rutledge the obvious focus. An inspired and energetic frontman, he plays a mean tambourine, and his unbridled vocals can bring to mind Peter Wolf, Eric Burdon or some Southern-fried ’60s soul man. Murphy and second guitarist Devin Bezeredi trade leads ranging from mean to melodic, and Wales and bassist Alex Leggett (who joined the band after Stimmel’s amicable departure) are a lowdown rhythm section.
“It’s a rush like nothing else,” Wales said. “When you’re playing music with other people and you’re all on the same wavelength and it’s clicking, and then you feed into other people enjoying it, it goes to a whole other level.”
White Buffalo Woman has impeccable taste in selecting vintage songs to cover, among them “I’ll Go Crazy” by James Brown, “Season of the Witch” by Donovan,” “Shakin’ All Over” by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates and “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs.
More important is the band’s arsenal of original songs, 10 of them collected on White Buffalo Woman’s self-titled debut album, which is available from iTunes, Bandcamp and CD Baby. These range from straight-up rock ’n’ roll to full-on balladry. “Find My Love” is a dead ringer for early J. Geils Band, while “Darrell’s Blues (Wanna Fight)” evokes
“Exile”-era Rolling Stones.
Containing most of White Buffalo Woman’s songs to date, the album charts the band’s musical evolution.
“You start off playing what you listen to, really,” Rutledge said. “We all were rock ’n’ roll fans at heart. We started with blues-based rock with heavy guitar, then we experimented with soul. We like simplicity now.”
“It seems like we’re going back to the rawness, the real stuff, just rock,” said Murphy, who names Keith Richards as his biggest guitar inspiration at the moment. “I’ve gotten more confident in trying new things. I can get things from my brain to my fingers a lot easier from playing all the time.” As for his fellow guitarists, “Devin can tear it up very tastefully,” Murphy said. “Alex has a great ear. He loves to serve the song, and he fits right in.”
To date, White Buffalo Woman has played shows at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, Musica in Akron, Buzzbin and The Auricle in Canton, Cedars in Youngstown, as well as gigs in Columbus, Cincinnati, New York City and Lexington, Kentucky. The next concert is at Musica in Akron on July 15.
As for the future, “We don’t have any giant dream to be the No. 1 band in the world,” Wales said. “We’re obviously going to take it as far as we can. I can’t think of any better place than getting paid to play music for a living.”
“We just take it one day at a time,” Murphy said. “We would like to get out there and start playing outside of Northeast Ohio, get this album out there and see what happens.”