Little Buster - Looking For A Home (Jubilee 5491)
Looking For A Home
This is a hard one for me to write.
Edward "Little Buster" Forehand passed away this past Thursday, May 11th, of complications from diabetes and a series of strokes. He was in a nursing home in Nassau County here on Long Island.
For the better part of four decades, Little Buster and his excellent band, The Soul Brothers, worked the bars from one end of "the island" to the other. I first saw them at some joint called the "Mystic Lounge", or something, in like 1973. I loved it, and went to see them every chance I got after that... at places like the gutbucket Right Track Inn in Freeport, or Sundays at the notorious (Save The) Oak Beach Inn, where he held down a standing gig for over 25 years! As luck would have it, The Soul Brothers also played every Wednesday night at The Dakota Rose, a joint in my old hometown. I went every week. Many's the night my friends and I would call "The Buster Hotline" (actually his wife, Mary), to find out where they were playing...
Anyway, the point is, that I've seen Little Buster perform more times than anyone else, ever.
Looking back, I realize that he was the one who taught me the true meaning of "soul"... that all the other music I would ever listen to would have to be judged against the measure of Buster's raw and real emotion...
Edward Forehand was born in Hertford, North Carolina in 1942, and by the age of 3, was diagnosed with glaucoma. His musical ability was also evident by this time, and he played everything from piano and guitar to saxophone with his local Baptist congregation. His vision worsened continually however, and at age 9 he moved to Philadelphia with his father to undergo medical treatment. When this failed, he was sent to the North Carolina School For The Deaf And Blind, where he lived until he was 16.
As legend has it, that's when he took off for Philadelphia on a Greyhound Bus with his friend Melvin Taylor and 25 cents in his pocket. When the record deal they were looking for fell through, the pair hitch-hiked to Buster's sister's home on Long Island, where he settled down.
He began playing local black clubs on the island, and within a year he was working in the back-up band for Alan Freed's rock & roll extravaganzas at the Brooklyn Paramount. In 1964, Buster and his group "The Heartbreakers" won an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater up in Harlem. Bobby Robinson offered to record them, but he wanted them to pay for the studio time.
Steve Blaine offered them a better deal at his dad's record company, Jubilee. The incredible selection we have up here today was written by Buster in 1961, and comes from his first session with Blaine in August of 1964. That's his running partner Melvin Taylor on the brushes, and Val Thomas on bass. It is just SO good, man. Although the record failed to chart, it sold enough in the local New York market to justify keeping Forehand on the label.
Jubilee would release six more singles on him throughout the sixties (most notably the definitive version of Young Boy Blues, the Doc Pomus tune, in 1967), and was ready to release an album that collected all his singles along with some unreleased material in 1969 when the company went out of business. [Sequel Records in the UK put together an excellent package that included the original artwork as well as Buster's complete Jubilee/Josie sessions, Looking For A Home (with liner notes by the great John Ridley), in 1996, that is now out of print.]
One more single would be released on the Minit label, "City Of Blues".
Buster married his wonderful wife Mary in 1968, while he continued to dominate the local soul "circuit" at high end places like The Celebrity Club and the Highway Inn. By the early 70s, he began playing the "white" bars as well, and began his long tenure as our very own 'Frat Band' hero (the scene in Animal House with Otis Day and the Knights kinda sums it up...).
He began being viewed as more of a "blues" man (by the white people anyway), and it was none other than B.B. King who declared that he was "the only musician who can fill my shoes". His years in the clubs taught him how to keep the crowd happy, and he always welcomed people 'sitting in' with him whenever he could. The list of Long Island musicians he's played with is just incredible (who could forget "Roast Beef" Joe?), but through it all, his tenor man Jerry Harshaw has stayed by his side.
By the 1990's The Soul Brothers also included Frank Antiss on drums, Bob Schlesinger on keyboards, and Alan Levy on bass. They began playing the legendary Manny's Car Wash in NYC, and that's where they were noticed by the folks at Bullseye Blues. Their 1995 release, Right On Time, just rocks the house, and showcases Buster's chops, not only as a guitarist, but as one of the most soulful vocalists (and songwriters) of his generation. It's now apparently out of print as well, but there are copies out there. Buy one.
The Soul Brothers appeared on Letterman and Conan O'Brien around this time, and started getting some better booking. My friend Nathan Williams opened for him at this show at good ol' Tramps in 1997, and paid Buster the highest compliment one musician can offer another; he actually stayed around to watch his smokin' set.
We used to have this big New Year's Eve party every year, and it was around this time that we started thinking about the "millenium"... (remember that?). What better way, we thought, to ring in a new one than with Little Buster and the Soul Brothers? So we booked the band, about two years in advance. As the time grew nearer, it became apparent that most of our usual suspects were spooked by the whole "Y2K" scenario, and were planning on staying home... grandiose plans of hiring a hall, and promoting the biggest bash yet kinda fell apart...
A good friend (with a lot more money than yours truly), came through, and we were able to hire the band to play for about 20 of us at his house on New Year's Eve 1999. Alan Levy couldn't make it, and so Buster's original bassist, Val Thomas came instead. Watching them perform "Looking For A Home" is a moment I will never, ever forget.
In 2000, Buster released the excellent Work Your Show, which captured him at his 'human jukebox' best. Many's the night he would sit with his unplugged guitar in his hand, while the band packed up the equipment, and play requests like "Oh Girl" or "Misty Blue" for us drunken white boys...
He was an absolute treasure.
I think the last time I saw him was at a Mardi Gras benefit show at Big Daddy's in 2001. He was his usual gracious self, allowing various knuckleheads from the audience to play harmonica and sing with him. When I heard he had suffered a stroke soon after that, I didn't really believe it.
I heard he was in Arizona, working with Ayanna Hobson, on their label, Little Buster Records. Finally, I saw confirmation just this past year on their site that Buster's playing days were over, and that he had indeed had several strokes... but I never realized he was in a nursing home right here on Long Island.
In the Newsday Obituary, his wife Mary was quoted as saying that despite the strokes he "refused to put down his guitar", and that he was an "extraordinary man who never considered himself handicapped".
His wake will be held this Thursday, May 18th from 6-9 p.m. at the Hempstead Funeral Home on Peninsula Boulevard. The memorial service will be on May 19 at the Massapequa Full Gospel Tabernacle on Jerusalem Avenue, to be followed by burial at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale.
My heart is broken. I can't even begin to explain to you how important Little Buster was to me. Without him, I would never have understood the power of this music... never have felt it resonate in my own soul. He was my idol, man.
I'm gonna miss him.
Well, folks, Buster had some sendoff!
His open white casket surrounded by flowers with his trademark red guitar leaning against it stood as the centerpiece at the Full Gospel Tabernacle last night. The regular church choir was joined by a veritable "who's who" of Long Island musicians, as Soul Brothers past and present took the stage and paid tribute to this great man.
Sam "Bluzman" Taylor just burned up the place, while Philadelphia's own Junior Mack's slide guitar on "People Get Ready" was simply transcendent. It was a highly emotional and fitting outpouring of love from a community enriched by Buster's inspirational life within it.
I consider myself blessed to have been a part of it.
A benefit concert honoring Little Buster will be held at Mirelle's Blues Club in Westbury, NY on June 21st. Proceeds will benefit the American Diabetes Association. For more information, please visit their site.
Long Live Little Buster!
Sorry it took me a while to post this, but...
The "Get Busterized" tribute and benefit held last week at The High Note was a huge success! Just about every band that matters on the Long Island Blues scene made an appearance, honoring the man that gave most of them their first chance to perform on stage.
After midnight, the Soul Brothers cranked it up behind surprise guests Gary U.S. Bonds and soul legend J.D. Bryant, accompanied by the Funk Philharmonik Horns with 'Crispy Chicken' on tenor sax. Totally amazing. The highlight of the evening was still to come, however, as Long Island Soul legend Henry Henderson took the stage and just rocked da house! Henry was the MC and leader of the house band at the fabled Highway Inn in Roosevelt back in the day. Living History, man.
An experience I'll never forget.