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Arts & Culture

In Studio: D.T. Buffkin


D. T. Buffkin is too good to be bad. The self-described “non-traditionalist old-timey punk rock n’ roll” group started playing gigs a few years ago at local joints on the St. Mary’s strip. They have a pretty incredible range of influences, from Bad Religion to Howlin’ Wolf to Merle Haggard.

Guitarist Roland De La Cruz of Los Mescaleros remembers looking for something different when he signed up to play with D.T. Buffkin after hearing the band. “They weren't trying to be neo-traditional. For lack of a better phrase, they weren't as ‘good’ as the old guys; still a good band, but technically they were doing the beats wrong, which was great because I’m not a traditionalist! That made a big difference.”

Lead singer Travis Buffkin, backed by Roland de la Cruz on guitar, Ken Robinson on drums, Michael Kelly on piano and trumpet and Dylan Ilsing on bass, says he played with many different vocal styles before finally developing his distinctive baritone. “If I could do Howlin’ Wolf we would, for a couple years we tried to do Tom Waits but we couldn't do it, I couldn't do it. So we’re gonna go with what we have.” And what they have is pretty striking blend of old soul weathered tunes and growling vocals.

Referencing his early roots in punk rock, Buffkin says, “If we were bad at our instruments we’d probably seem more punk, but we’re good and we’ve been good for several years now. Bad Religion was a very important band for me. They’re so intelligent and they just have this ethos that punk rock is absolutely not about what you wear its about what's in your head. So in that way I think we’re totally punk rock.” Buffkin follows up by saying the group’s not in it for the money, and in this musical climate, that does make them pretty punk! “Once you see young pissed off white kids do it, it's really neat-o, but Howlin’ Wolf did it better and James Brown always did it better. So I just went back and said, ‘well who’s James Brown ripping off?’ and then it’s Robert Johnson, et cetera, so I kept going back… that was just the impetus for playing this kind of music.”

Despite playing scores of shows in the past few years, the band says they sometimes have a hard time getting booked. “It’s a hard sell,” Buffkin says, referring to the group’s sound. “We couldn’t really play at the punk clubs. You can’t really play rag-timey stuff at a punk club. I mean you should! But for whatever reason they wouldn’t have us.” A lot of the time they have to explain what they do to get a show booked. That’s where they came up with an all-encompassing but totally distinct way of describing their music: “Western Latin Swing Jazz.”

“People kept asking us what kind of music we played and so we couldn’t find a way to say all five things,” says drummer Ken Robinson. “But people seem to get [Western Latin Swing Jazz] because it touches on all [the] things that we touch on during a set.”

Buffkin has gotten himself a reputation in some circles as a straight-talking, yet publicity-shy frontman. After playing scores of shows around San Antonio and building a following, maybe the group isn’t worried as much about promotion. But just in case you’re looking for the best "Western Latin Swing Jazz" group in town, call on D.T. Buffkin.

"He Musta Sang a Song So Sweet" by D.T. Buffkin