The Mutaytor (by Pete Roberts)

I have been inexcusably lazy as of late. I was sent out on assignment over a month ago to track down a former Norfolk scenester and I have had more luck tracking down trouble.

Nonetheless, I escaped a near death experience and by some stroke of luck, I found Buck AE Down. Most of you will remember him as Brian Pafumi, front man and guitar player from the likes of Trailer Park, Fool's Holiday and Combine back in the '80s and '90s. The last thing I heard was they (Combine) had two records out on Caroline, the same label as Bad Brains at the time, and had a few successful tours of the U.S. After that, he seemed to vanish, but I have found him.

Buck, as he is now legally named, has been hanging out in the City of Angels out west. I caught him long enough to ask a few questions so you Nahfuk folk could stop wondering "hey, what's he doing now?"

Pete Roberts: So Buck, I could start anywhere, but here is a three part-er: whatever happened to Combine? What made you decide to change your name, and while signed to Caroline, did HR ever accost you and beg to play his crappy trumpet on any of your records? Feel free to elaborate and even embellish a little where applicable, nobody is checking my facts here.

Buck: I will qualify all of this that most of this stuff happened almost 20 years ago, and memory has a way of moving the furniture around a little bit. There’s a lot of stuff left out for brevity, but probably just as much from the erosion of time. If you have any other questions, or follow up questions - feel free to hit me up. There’s a thousand or so recent photos on my Facebook page if you need want to check them out.

Whatever happened to Combine? I suppose the short answer would be drugs. The longer explanation goes like this:

When we first started, we were an amazingly disciplined band. John [Corbett], Darryl [Lewis] and I used to practice 7 days a week. At worst, we'd put away a 12 pack between the 3 of us (occasionally more) at rehearsal, and then we went home. During the days, Darryl and I worked at a screen printing factory, and John did something or other with the gas company. This was our whole life for the first 2 years or so leading up to recording our first record, Norfolk, VA, and you can really hear it on that record. The only overdubsare on the vocals and a guitar "solo" or two. Other than that, it’s the 3 of us playing together in real time, long before the days of pro tools, digital editing and quantization. I think we may have tracked that whole record in 2 or 3 days. But at the end of the day, almost 20 years later, the record still sounds good. It sounds like a super tight band playing at the height of their game, which it was.

The end result of that was that once we finished that record things started happening fairly quickly. In retrospect it seemed like almost overnight we had great management and a big time lawyer in New York. Next thing you know Caroline records is flying people down to Friar Tucks to watch us and we get a deal and a van and we're marauding around the country, blowing out dingy punk clubs for $100 a night, while Caroline is giving us thousands of dollars in tour support on top of it. We'd hit the road for weeks, if not months at a time, come home for a couple of weeks, turn around and do it all over again. By that point, of the 3 of us, Darryl was the only one that had a job that would put up with that. This left me and John with a little bit of money in our pockets and a lot of free time on our hands, surrounded by bad influences.

Like a lot of other small seaport towns in the 90's, Norfolk was awash in cheap, hard drugs that were starting to spill over into the hipster community. John and I fairly quickly went from recreational heroin users to very serious professional heroin users. Looking back on it now, you can really hear a massive difference in between the first and second records. While the songs were definitely more ambitious and evolved on History of American Rock and Roll, the looseness of the performances was practically a harbinger of the drifting apart that was just beginning. By that time, John and I would get strung out when we were at home, kick about a week before tour started, hit the road, and fall off the wagon as soon as we got back. But then things started getting worse, particularly for John. He became elusive, started disappearing for days at a time, and finally missing rehearsals. The final straw was when he kept pawning his drums to get money for dope, and we'd have to go get them out for him just to do tours. Eventually, this practice started including property that wasn't his, and forced Darryl and I into the very painful decision to have to fire john.

While this was happening, Caroline records was getting slowly absorbed by its parent label, Virgin, leading up to all our champions at the label being replaced with new staff, with a different "vision" for the label. We, along with just about every other live rock band on the label were pretty unceremoniously dropped. To cap it off, we managed to total the tour van Caroline had bought for us, ironically on a hometown show at Cogan’s.

For normal people, the combination of all of those things would be a pretty good indicator that it might be time to move on to something else, but I think neither Darryl or I was emotionally ready to do that. We ended up hiring Danny Magee to replace John, who by all rights was a pretty good drummer, but it never quite got to those visceral musical highs that were what got us signed in the first place. We eventually got around to making a record with that lineup at Paul Tiers' (Waxing Poetics) studio up in Brooklyn, but it never saw the light of day. John, Darryl and I had been closer than brothers, and the music came largely from the foundation of that relationship. Even when shit was spiraling out of control, or we had been cooped up together in the van for months at a time on tour, the 3 of us NEVER argued, never judged each other, and generally made decisions as a unanimous vote.

Poor Danny could never quite get around the "new guy" stigma, and at that point, I started slipping. Without John, and the structure that having a professional team pushing us, I started getting more and more strung out, to the point of just not being able to function normally in even rock and roll society. Being a junky is a full time job, and without tours or recordings to have to get my shit together for, Combine (along with just about every other non-junk related pursuit) became impossible for me to manage. I was starting to pawn off my guitars one at a time and my personal life was a pure disaster. In a way I felt like Norfolk was swallowing me alive, and I became convinced that if I didn't leave soon, it just be a matter of time before I ended up dead.

At one point I went up to New York to kick (and yes, I do see the irony in that), and managed to score a tour managing gig off some connections our old producer Wharton Tiers (Paul’s uncle) had. It got me out of Norfolk for a whole summer and paid pretty good scratch. While we were out, I got a job offer to run sound at the Roxy in LA for the back half of the summer after the tour ended. Knowing that if I went back to Norfolk for any amount of time I’d probably end up killing myself with drugs, I took it.

Fourteen years and a lot of other stuff later, I’m still in LA.

When I heard about Witt Katherman’s and later Matt Odietus’ deaths, it really sank in that it would have been me, too. I may be the only indie rock junkie that left a small town to move to LA to kick a drug habit and succeeded.

PR: What made you decide to change your name?

BD: At one point, I was playing in this side band in Norfolk called the Thrillbillys (later know as Marty Jones and the Tin Top Boys) with Rob and Witt Katherman, Marty Jones, Peter Pittman, Gordon Bradley and a few other folks here and there. It was actually a pretty bitchin' project for a while. We Buck! were doing this really stomping country and bluegrass music. At some point, either Marty or Peter had the idea that we would all take stage names a' la the Ramones, only we would all have the same first name: Buck (Buck Down, Buck Wild, Buck Naked, etc. etc.). The band didn't last much longer and we never ran with the idea, but I liked it, and held on to the name Buck Down.

When I moved out to LA, I knew NO ONE here, and more importantly, no one really knew me. Like a lot of people before me, I ended up totally reinventing myself in LA., mainly from a self centered junky into something significantly less self destructive. When people asked me my name I just said "Buck Down" and it stuck. Recently I had it legally changed.

The farther away I got from my old life, the more disgusted I became with who I was. I feel like I really squandered a golden opportunity, and more importantly I feel like I really let Darryl down, who of all people deserved it least. (By the way, Darryl, if you are reading this: I don't ever think I ever properly apologized; I’M FUCKING SORRY. I was a total selfish dick. I should have gotten my shit together).

Last week, I blew through Norfolk for about 16 hours or so. It was the first time I’d been back since I left. Darryl and I got together and ran up a pretty staggering bar tab at the Taphouse. One of the things we realized is that we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the release of Norfolk VA. given the renewed interest in that era of Norfolk bands with the Hardcore Norfolk movie, we toyed with the idea of doing some sort of reunion show, although I don't think we'd do it without John. So, if any of you know about the whereabouts of John Corbett: tell him to get a hold of one of us if he's got his shit reasonably together enough to do a one off show sometime next year.

PR: Are you still making that nice rock and roll music?

BD: Absolutely; for the last 10 years or so, I’ve been touring pretty extensively with a giant multimedia circus/band called THE MUTAYTOR (www.mutaytor.com). It would be an entire other interview, but suffice to say it has kept me out of a day job. I’m also working up a psychedelic soul band that's in the pretty early stages.

Other than that I am wonderfully boring now. I have a 10 month old son that's the love of my life and an incredible wife who seems to be completely immune to my more annoying qualities. We live in a little craftsman house in the hills above east LA and we get up VERY early in the morning. I’ve been working for the Burning Man festival for the last 6 years or so during the summer and touring a lot of the rest of the time. It’s a good life, and there aren't a lot of days that go by that I don't count myself as completely lucky. I’m not certain if any of the people I shot dope with back in the day ever got past it, and more than a few are dead, including 2 of Norfolk’s greatest rock n roll guitarists. I have no idea why I was spared, other than just having the good sense to get out when I did.

PR: Wow man, that covers quite a bit. I guess trying to sum up twenty years for some brat interviewer requires such, but you really strung it together eloquently. You and I are lost brothers it would seem. This is about you, but I just want to add, being that we both played with Matt, Darryl, and John that I really feel the pain that all of that must have caused. Pain is caused by a great many things, from dope sickness to cultivating the feelings of having let a brother down. I remember well the stink and love of that practice space at 3510.

I myself was swept up by heroin in Asheville. I was hanging out with a great songwriter named Fisher, and his band Drug Money. He and Paul Conrad formed the band just to play for whatever the door would bring, and spent it all on drugs. They got picked up by Hybrid recordings in New York, and Wharton, Paul’s uncle, tracked their record. Same story, I followed him from Asheville to Jersey hoping to get signed myself, and did not. I got a call one night from an old friend telling me about his girlfriend’s death. She had blown into town, everyone ended up drinking, heroin walks in, and she had some. Hours later, everyone had left the little apartment beside Vincent’s Ear, and the resident woke up at 4 in the morning, having passed out with her head on his shoulder during a movie hours before, only she didn’t wake up. The call I got about it was a frantic voice who was just thanking God that it wasn’t me dead. Many saw me going down that path. I am now better as well; two daughters aged 2 and 4, and a wonderful wife. I must add an apology as well; while chasing the New York groove, I was living with John Finney in Jersey, and he tried his best to make me normal and responsible, but I went to New York in hopes of either “making it” or dying. I was an ungrateful ass to John, and JOHN I AM FUCKING SORRY.

I hate to include so much about me here, as that isn’t the point, but the similarities in path and shared friends make it nearly impossible not to share with you. I feel like I have just met you. Hell, I hooked Darryl and John up. I was jamming with him and Randy Felton a bit, around the time Fool’s Holiday was morphing into Combine. I bet I can find him; we are from the same hole, P-Town.

So, I am stoked to hear about THE MUTAYTOR and that it keeps you from a “day job.” To be a touring or even working musician right now would be a dream come true for me. I would love to hear a little about the line-up, releases, how you would describe the sound and what not. And do you have any video or audio links featuring material that you might share with all the folks back home? Lastly, do you ever foresee THE MUTAYTOR coming back to Norfolk for a show, and if I can get John, would you and Darryl do a Combine show? I would make it up for either event, and sober!

BD: ok, Mutaytor…..there is no way to make this brief, but I'll try.

Shortly after I moved to LA in the late 90's a curious thing was happening. For all intents, rock and roll was almost dead here. Recently signed local acts were barely pulling 50 to 60 people a night in clubs that used to be among the most prestigious in the country. However, while this was happening, there was an explosion of underground dance music parties, being thrown illegally in most cases, that were drawing hundreds, if not thousands of people even on weeknights. Kids were paying upwards of 30 to 50 bucks at the door to watch guys in baggy jeans in t shirts just play records of music they didn't even write.

This is also about the time I discovered Burning Man, a giant social experiment and week long party in the northern Nevada desert that was starting to swell to almost 20,000 people. It would take volumes of books to accurately describe what burning man is, but suffice to say, if you are not familiar, go to their website, burningman.com, and spend a half hour or so.

While at Burning Man, I was participating, along with a handful of other folks, in this sort of open source, improvisational drum project, that just performed on the ground (no stage), and invited whatever passersby to play along, either with an instrument, or some sort of performance art (fire spinning, hula hooping, etc etc). There really were no arranged pieces, no plan, and these performances could literally go on for hours, involved dozens of performers, and almost always ended in sheer rapturous pandemonium. We started cluing in that there might be more here than just a loose pick up jam that occurred once a year in the desert.

After some plotting we arrived at the conclusion that the first band that figured out a way to fit in and perform at these electronic music parties and raves would have a tremendous advantage, as (a) you'd be playing for exponentially more people than you could in conventional rock and roll and (b) you would be playing for a whole generation of kids that had only seen DJs, and never really went out to see a live band before.

So, we refined the idea. We added live electronic music elements to 6-10 drummers, along with a host of different aerialists, fire performers, pyrotechnics, dancers, etc. etc, until we had built this giant post modern vaudeville circus. We would find promoters putting together raves, and basically volunteer to play for free. All we asked for was space. We would provide EVERYTHING - lights, staging, PA, rigging, pyro and a shit-ton of drums. Between these raves, along with massive performances at Burning Man, we became VERY big VERY fast. We skipped the entire music industry altogether. Within a year or so we were attracting crowds in the thousands that we were reaching mainly through the very earliest of social media, email lists and list-servs.They would follow us out to remote desert kill zones, where we would throw these weekend long camping and art parties. It was pretty magic.

Eventually, we got to the point where our giant following gave us pretty massive leverage. We were able to book at the biggest theaters in Los Angeles without a label, a video, management or even a booking agent. A whole culture was developing around us, mainly spilling off of the fashion and art of Burning Man, which was growing right alongside us. Burning Man participants, eager to extend their week long annual party in the desert into a year round culture, were organizing into regional groups all over the country. This gave us all we needed to start touring. Based on our enormous popularity at the Burning Man event, we could send one email to the listserv for each regional group, tell them we were playing some place in their town, and next thing you know, there would be a line of costumed freaks around the corner in towns we'd never even been before.

After a while, the music industry started taking notice. While none of them understood the first fucking thing about what a "burning man" was or even how to categorize the music we were playing, they at least understood there was a great deal of commotion around us, and that a lot of money was changing hands that they had nothing to do with. And just like Combine (and really every other time a band gets scooped up) within a short period of time we had a real manager, and were being represented by CAA - the largest talent agency in the country (think bands like Radiohead and Sting, and actors like George Clooney and Robert Di Niro)

Suddenly EVERYONE wanted to play with us. Not just sharing a bill, but actually sit in with the band. Bona fide rock stars, too, Angelo Moore from Fishbone and Steve Perkins from Jane's Addiction. Eventually John Avail from Oingo Boingo became our full time bass player, we added a horn section, and shit was going nuts. We were playing massive festivals all over the country, collaborating with folks from Phish, the Grateful Dead, Richie Havens, Baba Mall, Angelique Kidjo, and on and on. At that point the show was massive, and the band topped out at almost 30 people. We independently released 2 records during this time period, The Island of Misfit Pscience and The Family Business, both of which managed to place songs in film and television that are still paying royalties to this day, without ever having to share a dime with any record label. And then disaster struck.

One of our founding members (in some ways THE founding member) got busted on NBC's television show To Catch a Predator, supposedly trying to solicit sex with a minor online. No one in the band knew he had such a dark side, and it hit us and our whole operation like a ton of bricks. None of us even knew about the arrest (he had bailed out) until it aired on national TV 3 or 4 months later.

Despite our immediately firing and distancing ourselves from him, we became radioactive. Within 72 hours we lost our agent, lawyer, manager and probably $100,000 worth of gigs on the books for the next 2 to 3 months. It was a fucking nightmare. Despite the fact that the other 29 of us had nothing to do with what happened, and the name of the band was never even mentioned on the bust show, it didn't matter. At that point we were famous enough for it to be in half the newspapers in the state of California, and dozens of other media outlets.

We got a publicist, and pushed back though, at least trying to get the rest of the band's side of the story out, which helped. We were able to slowly recover over time, and in reality, the band got much better. The album we released with the revised line up Yelling Young Brian at Debra and Denise's annual Christmas party in 1991.Theatre in a Crowded Fire was light years past what we were doing before. The size of the band also contracted, and not a moment too soon. The financial crash of 2008 hit, and it practically destroyed the touring world. Huge festivals were shutting down left and right.

We went back to our roots, playing at Burning Man and all its related events, consolidating what was left of our fan base.

As time went on, we got some distance from the whole bad noise and had created enough of a new scene to have gotten out of the shadow of the scandal. We picked up a new agency and trimmed the show down to 12 - 15 people and spent the next few years playing smaller venues, but longer tours at a much better profit margin.

We recorded one more record Unconditional Love at a fairly famous mansion in San Francisco before we finally started slowing down. We opened up a massive 100,000 square foot art space in downtown LA with a couple of collaborators that currently hosts over 60 artists in residence.

Which brings us to the present moment: The Mutaytor theoretically still exists, although we have no touring on the books for the immediate future. There's a couple of maybes, including a possible inaugural ball in DC next January, but at this point we're taking a much needed break. Twelve years is a long time to hump it as hard as we have been, and everyone is sort of enjoying starting smaller side projects at the moment that aren't so labor intensive.

The internet is swollen with stuff on The Mutaytor, and a simple Google search on us produces over 654,000 results. My advice would be to start with our website (mutaytor.com) go to the video page, scroll down and you can watch quite a bit of material. All of our recorded output is hosted on the site, along with literally thousands of photos spanning the last decade or two.

PR: Damn! That is an assload of coolness mixed with craziness and with a Jerry Lee Lewis “The Killer Himself” twist. Thanks for sharing so very much. I almost want to ask your birthday, as we seem to have traveled similar paths, only the people I played with all got signed, and I am the HC ORF brat. I exist as the proverbial fly on the wall. This has been a very thought provoking and full exchange, so I thank you. I am hip to the “burning man,” and I’m glad you found roots therein. As usual, I just see the floats on the beach. If you ever want to find me, just find a map of nowhere, and put your finger in the middle. That’s where I’ll be, hustling tourists for dollars. You keep on Buckin’ Down.

If’n it ain’t too damned corny, I would like to “livicate” this piece to all of our shared brothers who have succumbed to the pressures of the modern drinking hole, the home-triage, or the morgue. Hopefully, some young hipster will read this and think, “nah, I guess I’ll leave the boy alone” –if you get me. I issue you a sincere thank you Buck Down, for sharing from your heart, gut, and mind. I am sure there is something inspirational herein for many folks, as far as this “do-it-yourself” site reaches. Peace and Love.

Peter Graves Roberts

 

I live and work on a migratory sandbar system just my side of the Virginia/North Carolina border, slightly southeast of Norfolk. For almost half of the year I work as a historian and guide, the rest of my time is spent musing and dreaming about the current nature of the human race. I find that my mind, when free to roam, is split between general passing thoughts of running for local political office and/or blowing up some local fast food chain restaurant. Nonetheless, most nights you can find me alone in my front yard, right on the side of highway 12, smoking cigarettes and standing watch against the impending flood that will someday wipe my island home from the face of this Earth. In a nutshell, until that day arrives, I use words in coded combination to transfer perceptions, my illustrations.