For Buffalo Bryan Marr, performing as a Western artist is about more than just the music. It almost feels like it is built into his DNA, something pushing him to make a positive difference in the world and always do the right thing.
“I think everybody feels this way, but doesn’t know how to do it. I want to leave the world a little better than I found it,” Buffalo Bryan said. “Western music makes you want to be a good guy and do the right thing.”
By day, Buffalo Bryan runs the failure analysis lab for ITT Aerospace, a job he loves and has held for nearly 12 years. However on the weekends, Buffalo Bryan takes on a different role as a cowboy musician and performer.
The singer-songwriter lives in Acton and is active in the Santa Clarita Western music scene, performing at ranches, universities, coffee houses, festivals and charities throughout the valley.
This year, he is nominated for “Best Western Performer of 2016” by the Academy of Western Artists, a national organization that promotes the arts of the Western community.
But, before, he was a performer with several bands and countless songs under his boots, Buffalo Bryan was a rock musician playing the bass guitar.
From a young age, Buffalo Bryan knew he wanted to play the guitar and follow in the footsteps of one of heroes, Gene Autry.
He first fell in love with cowboy culture when he visited his dad’s best friend’s horse ranch in Tujunga in the 1960s.
“That’s where I started loving being around horses and the Western lifestyle,” he said.
In sixth grade, Buffalo Bryan picked up his first guitar after he traded for it from a friend. However it wasn’t until junior high school that Buffalo Bryan first learned to play an instrument in music class.
“You could pick your instrument, but they didn’t teach guitar,” Buffalo Bryan said. “I knew enough about music to know the first four strings on a guitar are the same as they are on a bass, only an octave lower. So I thought ‘I’ll learn the bass and then changeover to guitar.’”
A feat he later learned was more difficult than his adolescent-self realized.
In junior high school, Buffalo Bryan and a few friends would sit outside of Mulholland Junior High School during lunch hour and practice playing Western songs on the stand-up bass and the guitar.
“I knew some fellows who played guitar and we started playing together,” Buffalo Bryan said. “One had a Gene Autry and Roy Rogers song that we would play.”
In 1968, the boys had a run-in with a legend while rehearsing outside.
The group was trying to develop harmonies for “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” when a big blue van with the letters RR on it pulled up in front of them and a man in a plaid shirt with smiley pockets hopped out of the car.
“He had a big smile on his face and had this twinkle in his eye and he looked at us and said ‘Sounds pretty good boys. Keep it up, but only do it while it’s fun,’” Buffalo Bill said. “That man was Roy Rogers.”
With a new fire under them, the boys continued practicing each day, but they “could not get gigs or girls to save their lives,” according to Buffalo Bryan.
“Then the following Christmas one of our guys got a Beatles book and we were playing parties all the time,” Buffalo Bryan said.
For many years, Buffalo Bryan played rock ‘n’ roll music in a band before he lost his passion for the style of music.
“I got to a point in my life when I realized the music I was playing meant absolutely nothing to me,” he said.
He walked away from music for five years following a lengthy legal battle over an album with a record label company. It wasn’t until he heard Sourdough Slim perform the Santa Clarita Cowboy Poetry Festival that he found his enthusiasm for Western music and cowboy culture again.
“I was listening to Sourdough and I was really loving it,” Buffalo Bryan said, holding back tears. “Roy’s words came back to me then and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. That music meant something to me.”
After the festival, Buffalo Bryan went out, bought a guitar and began learning the chords of the new instrument. Not too long after, he formed Western band the Lost Canyon Rangers and later the Cross Town Cowboys.
Buffalo Bryan said he’s willing to perform anywhere there is Western music, which includes venues across Santa Clarita and in other states like Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada.
“When I go out there to play, I’m out there to entertain. I’m there to be who I am and perform. I have to give all that I am, all the time,” he said. “I owe my audience everything I’ve got.”
Last year, Buffalo Bryan estimates that he performed at 40 parties and ranch event, with 50 percent of them being for charity.
“I’ve been doing a lot of ranch parties around the area,” he said. “I’ll play for a charity at the drop of a hat if I believe in it.”
Among all of his gigs at venues large and small, his favorite performance is also the most personal: a memorial service at the Autry for his friend, confidant and fellow musician, John Locke.
“The most important gig that I did was being allowed to play at his memorial service and play some of his songs,” Buffalo Bryan said. “I felt like that was the most important job I had to do was share what Jon meant to me.”
When creating his own music, Buffalo Bryan finds inspiration from anything and everything.
“Your mind has to be open to it,” he said. “I’ve written some of my best songs shoveling horse poop.”
His song “Lasso My Soul” was inspired by a sermon he heard at a cowboy church in Agua Dulce, where the deacon described people as calves and God as the cowboy roping the strays back into his herd.
“After that sermon, me and a friend ran down to the Denny’s and scribbled down the words to the first cowboy song I really ever written,” he said. “It took me a couple years to finish it and get the music for it.”
Above all us, what Buffalo Bryan enjoys most about Western music and cowboy culture is the people he meets through it.
“The people in Western music are the best people you will ever meet. There unlike anyone else in any genre,” he said. “They’re all rooting for you and they’re all in your corner and you’re rooting for them too.”
At the top of a hat, Buffalo Bryan could list the names and places of every prominent Western musician, cowboy poet, performance hall and concert venue in the Santa Clarita Valley.
“We have a tremendous pool of Western music and cowboy poetry right here in Santa Clarita,” he said. “This is really the center of where Western music survives and thrives.”
Buffalo Bryan calls Santa Clarita “a hub” for Western music and cowboy poetry because of the support throughout the city.
“We have this tremendous wealth of talent here and that has been part of my success because the Western music is so intertwined around here,” he said.
Seeing and listening to fellow Western artists perform, reminds Buffalo Bryan of the first time he fell in love with cowboy culture again: watching Sourdough Slim perform at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Poetry Festival.
“I rely on this people and we’re all intertwined and I get so much inspiration from them,” he said.
By the “Cowboy Code”
Buffalo Bryan follows the advice of Roy Rogers, who told him two guiding principles for his work.
“First was that being a good cowboy isn’t about guns or hats or boots. It’s about what you carry in your heart and how you live your life,” he said. “The other thing he said is ‘don’t ever forget who you work for’ and that’s the public.”
He also follows Gene Autry’s “Cowboy Code” which promotes high moral character and inspires them to be stand-up individuals.
But, Buffalo Bryan believes that anyone can be inspired by the world around them and experience the motivation to do the right thing and discover their highest potential.
“Once you get away from all that stuff is holding you back, your potential is endless,” he said. “That’s one of the things about western music; it reminds us of a time when your potential was what you could make of yourself. There was nothing there to stop you.”