Buffalo interview with Dave Tice

August 15, 2011

Buffalo interview with Dave Tice

Buffalo was an Australian rock band formed in August 1971 by founding mainstay Dave Tice on lead vocals (ex-Head).

Dave, thank you so much for taking your time to answer questions about Buffalo. Who were your major influences?

My pleasure Klemen. I migrated to Australia from England with my family in 1964 and we ended up in a migrant hostel in Queensland for about 18 months, during that period I met guys of similar age who were all interested in the new music that was happening, we talked our parents into buying instruments for us and started trying to play songs by the Beatles, The Rolling Stones etc. Personally I preferred the Stones and discovered that a lot of their early stuff was old Blues songs; I researched their influences and found a real love of that old Blues music; the passion and raw humanity of it. By the time we were able to leave the hostel most of the guys I started with had gotten ‘real’ jobs and no longer played music so I hooked up with some Aussie guys and we started practicing in a garage. Soon after that we met Pete Wells and he joined on Bass. Over the next couple of years we played all around Queensland through various line-up changes until we formed ‘Head’ which headlined every venue in Brisbane and Qld. Eventually it became obvious that if we wanted to carry on we needed to relocate to Sydney where there were more opportunities to make ‘the big time’.
Buffalo was born from a band called ‘Head’. What bands were you a member of prior to the formation of Buffalo?
Correct, when we got to Sydney it was very hard to get gigs because we were unknown there, eventually we found an agent willing to book us but he insisted we change the name because he thought it carried unpleasant connotations. His suggestion was that bands with names beginning with ‘B’ were successful, see Beatles and Beach Boys. So stuck a pin in a map of Australia and the nearest name beginning with ‘B’ was ‘Buffalo’. After a few months in Sydney half the band quit and went back to Brisbane so Pete and I recruited some Sydney musicians, including John Baxter on guitar, and that was the real start of Buffalo. Prior to this we’d all played in various little bands but had done no recording.
What was the local scene back then?
In the early days there were no ‘pub’ gigs it was all school dances and community halls and as much about fashion as anything. We played to people the same age as we were. It was pretty vibrant and a lot of fun. Australia had no real recording scene to speak of, the record companies were of the opinion that Aussie acts couldn’t hope to compete with the overseas acts so it would be a waste of money, thankfully we proved them wrong on that one.

How did you guys get together to form Head?
Good question Klemen, I don’t recall how we settled on ‘Head’ but it just seemed appropriate at the time, we probably thought it would stir up some controversy and get us some attention, which it did. We were always interested in stirring people up. It came together rather naturally due to line-up changes, John Baxter came to us via an advertisement in a music magazine. Initially we weren’t too sure about John because his playing took us away from our Blues roots but it turned out to be a good decision because it led us into a more heavy sound and helped define the Buffalo sound.
You recorded and released ‘Hobo’ / ‘Sad Song’. 
The deal with Phillips came about through our self belief, we walked into Phillips and asked to speak to their A&R man; surprisingly he agreed to see us and offered 2 days in the studio to record a couple of songs, it was released as a single and surprised them by selling more than they expected. After that they offered us a contract for 3 albums with an option on 2 more. I’m sure this sort of thing would be much more difficult nowadays but we were quite naive and had a lot of faith in what we were doing.
At what point did you transform to Buffalo?
The name change coincided with our signing up with Phillips.

How do you remember some of the early sessions you had as Buffalo?
By the time we started recording with Buffalo the band was well road hardened and we’d written a lot of songs so we were well prepared for the first album and it went down quite easily. The first two albums were recorded at a studio called ‘United Sounds’ with Spencer Lee producing and for the most part went down almost live, we just went in and played like normal. Most of the songs evolved out of our live shows which consisted of a lot of jamming. By the second album we’d used up most of those ideas and wrote new songs in the studio as we went along, one or the other of the band would present an idea for a riff and we’d jam on it until we had a song, I’d be sitting in the control room feverishly writing lyrics while the guys banged away in the main room. Spencer was a funny guy, when we were recording Volcanic Rock he brought a young lady in to the studio and had me tickling her in front of a microphone so we could get the sound of her giggling on one of the songs, must say I enjoyed that.

Around 1971 you signed up with Vertigo.
The Vertigo deal came about because it was one of the Phillips subsidiary labels, and had Black Sabbath on it. Some of our recordings were sent to Vertigo and they saw it as fitting the label’s image. This all made sense to us and of course meant that those fans of ‘Heavy Rock’ would become aware of what we did. As far as I know we were the only non-English band to ever be released on Vertigo.

Dead Forever debut was released in 1972. I would love if you could share some of the strongest memories from producing and recording it.
Dead Forever was quite a learning experience for us, we learned a lot of stuff from working with Spencer which stood us in good stead. To be honest it’s not easy to recall too much about it, it was all a whirl. We were gigging constantly and hitting the studio between shows, often arriving in the early hours of the morning straight from gigging and working through until the sun came up. We usually managed to be pretty stoned by the time recording started too. Sleep was hard to come by and often we’d only have time for a couple of hours before we’d be off to the next show. In those days we did a lot of lunch time concerts at schools and then go off to sometimes 2 shows the same night at venues around Sydney.

What gear did you use?
I used my throat, ha,ha. John and Pete had Australian made ‘Strauss’ amplifiers which were the loudest we could get in Australia at that time, 200 watts, John used a Gibson SG and Pete had an Epiphone Bass, if my memory serves me correctly Jimi had a Ludwig kit.

What can you tell me about the cover artwork?
The cover art for the first two albums was done by Nick Van der Lay a photographer/artist who did a lot of work for Phillips, he was a talented man who unfortunately was killed soon after completing the Volcanic Rock cover in a motorcycle accident. The idea for Dead Forever came from a drunken seance we had in Surfers Paradise, when the oija board answered one of our questions it said Dead Forever which we thought was pretty cool. Nick developed the idea from that, he took us to Rookwood cemetery at 5 am to get the shots for the inside artwork, it was pretty creepy setting up all our gear in a fog shrouded cemetery. The front cover photo is of one of Nick’s assistants with makeup.

What can you say about song writing?
Initially writing our own songs wasn’t something we considered, like every other young band we tried to emulate the artists we liked. Pete and I were Blues fans and I recall many sweaty days working our way through the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s albums in a garage near Inala (a Brisbane satellite suburb). At some point we realized that if we seriously wanted to have a career in music we had to write our own, it was obvious that there was no other way to develop our own sound and have the chance to record. In the main the writing tended to happen quite organically, we’d just jam on riffs for hours, usually stoned, and I’d sing whatever was in my mind (if anything); often I’d just initially have a chorus line and we’d call the jam Number whatever and include it in our live gigs until it took some sort of shape, at the same time I’d be editing and finalizing lyrics from night to night on stage. Once we got our recording deal we started to have get togethers at John Baxter’s house specifically to write. The lyrical themes were based loosely on books I happened to be reading at the time, often science fiction stuff and history, which I tried to relate to the social and cultural upheavels that were going on around us. I think there was a certain amount of anger about the way the world was being run, the Vietnam War, erosion of freedoms etc. Things haven’t changed much have they.
I continue to write today but usually it’s by myself now; I try to capture some sort of truth in my songs, something universal hopefully. When we started out we knew nothing about formats, arrangement etc, we were primitive and a bit feral. As time passes you learn this stuff without really trying to and it becomes possible to work to a plan, of course it also means that it’s no longer possible to be completely primitive which is a bit of a shame really. Some doors close but others open.

A year later you released Volcanic Rock.
By the time we recorded Volcanic Rock, the band had found its sound and the line-up was settled after Alan Milano left, we were determined to be the heaviest band in Australia and had been on the road almost constantly for over a year. We played the songs from Dead Forever of course but every gig would feature one or two out and out jams, these jams formed the basis of the songs on Volcanic Rock although very few of them would have been finished songs by the time we entered the studio to record the album. We’d gather up riffs and ideas from the jams and bang away until we had things kicking and then do a quick arrangement, while I sat in the back room scribbling lyrics on scraps of paper. Once again Spencer Lee was producing and his approach matched our ideas very well, like us he wanted to push the boundaries and make people take notice. This album was made in the thick of the ‘hippie’ era and I reckon we had our fair share of pot too. The main thing about that album was the band’s focus, we were committed and tight and had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve. Only Want You For Your Body was really Volcanic Rock take 2 but soon after that the band started to splinter and although I like Mother’s Choice and Average Rock and Roller I don’t think they match up to the others. We were being pressured to be more ‘commercial’ by management and record company and not everyone agreed with that, personally I found it boring and frustrating and when I was invited to join the Count Bishops in England I jumped at the new challenge.
England was an eye opener to me and I learned a lot being there, the Count Bishops played a lot of Blues and R & B stuff and it reminded me of what it was that originally drew me to music, after the preceding couple of years of frustration and disillusionment it rekindled my passion.
These days I perform and record with my friend Mark Evans in our acoustic Blues duo ‘Tice & Evans’ along with the odd show as the ‘Dave Tice Band’. Mark and I have a new CD out now; Brothers In Arms features 3 of my songs along with some Blues classics, just 2 guitars and 2 voices with a bit of harmonica from me, the official launch will be in October and we’ll be touring to support it. Mark has a book just now in the shops and I’m about to head over to England to do a couple of gigs with some old friends.
How ‘big’ was Buffalo in Australia?
In Australia we were very well known, constant gigging and touring got the name around and we were the only band playing the sort of stuff we did. I think we were considered the best live rock act around at that time although it didn’t translate into radio airplay because we were too heavy for them, frankly we didn’t give a shit about that, we weren’t interested in being a ‘Pop’ band. I doubt anyone in the rest of the world was aware of us, although at one stage we were getting regular airplay in New York. It would have made sense for us to go to America then but once again our record company reckoned an Australian band would be wasting their time trying to compete with the yanks, stupid but Australia in those days suffered from what we called the ‘cultural cringe’.

How about touring?
We toured constantly usually headlining our own shows. The Black Sabbath shows we did were 2 gigs at the Horden Pavilion here in Sydney, in fact they saved Buffalo, we were considering splitting up but our record company convinced us to carry on to do the shows due to the appropriateness of the two acts and being on the same label. The shows went very well indeed and we decided to keep going after that. Other tours we did include with Status Quo, Slade, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Lindisfarne, and Caravan. Those shows were all big outdoor events and took us all over the country. We did many festivals too, although I can’t say I recall what they were called, usually they were one-off events backed by one or another of the local radio stations, strange really because they wouldn’t play our records but had to have us on their shows!!!

Any crazy stories?
To be frank those days tend to be a blur, it all get’s jumbled up together. It was all crazy in those days, stick 4 crazy musicians in a Ford Transit van and send them on the road where there’s lots of girls throwing themselves at you, add in various exhilarating condiments and you’ve got a circus. Buffalo earned a reputation for being BAD BOYS and it was quite appropriate.

Only Want You for Your Body was released in 1974.
Only Want You For Your Body was the last real Buffalo album in my opinion, by that time we were very focused on what we were about and had perfected our approach to writing and recording, once again the songs were the result of constant live work which we translated into the studio. In our live gigs we always included a bit of jamming beside our set songs and those jams formed the basis of what we recorded. After that album the line-up started to change and although we recorded 2 more albums the original sound of the band became diluted. Pete decided he wanted to start Rose Tattoo about then so he left and John also left, Jimi and I kept it going and added Chris Turner on guitar and for a short time Karl Taylor and Norm Roue on guitar and slide. On bass we had Ross Simms, all good players but not like John and Pete.

What happened next? You released two more albums. 
Mother’s Choice was the last album Pete played on and actually he only did part of it before leaving, I recall it being a bit scattered due to the changing line-up and our management’s insistence that we try to make some radio friendly music, fat chance of that. Looking back I think it’s a pretty good record but it doesn’t compare to the other 3.

What happened in the 1980s?

By the time we recorded Average Rock and Roller I was pretty much over trying to keep it going and I’d had an offer to join the Count Bishops in London; I needed a new challenge and the Bishops offer was well timed. We completed the album and I left for England before even seeing the artwork. I spent 7 years in England, 3 gigging and recording with the Bishops (3 albums) and making top 40 with a single ‘I Want Candy’, appearing on ‘Top of the Pops’ before our rhythm guitarist was killed in a car accident. This finished the Bishops, we never recovered from Zen’s loss. For the next 4 years I performed with a Blues / R&B band called the ‘Cobras’, a loose line-up of musicians from the London R&B scene which included Gypie Mayo from Dr Feelgood and various other ‘name’ players. After 4 years of this I decided I wanted to see some sunshine again so I went back to Australia. Mick Cocks from Rose Tattoo and Mark Evans from AC/DC arrived back in Oz around the same time and we formed the Headhunters, more touring with this band and eventually we recorded ‘Outlaw Boogie’ which is something of a collectors item now.

Like all bands the Headhunters eventually went their seperate ways but Mark and I have continued our partnership and play together to this day in our acoustic Blues duo ‘Tice & Evans’. We have a new CD coming out in October called Brothers in Arms which has 3 of my new songs along side some Blues classics. We will be touring in October/November to promote this. Mark has written a book about his time in AC/DC which has been published by Allen & Unwin here in Oz and has just hit the shops, he’s currently on the promo trail around Australia. I’m getting ready to head over to England in late September to do 2 gigs with some of the guys I used to play with over there before, then 2 weeks holiday in Europe and visiting an old friend in Budapest where we may do a gig together. When I get back to Oz mid/late October Mark and I hit the road to tour and promote our new CD.

Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
You’re welcome Klemen, I think I’ve pretty much said all I need to for now mate, anything you need clarified or expanded on let me know.

– Klemen Breznikar
© Copyright http://www.psychedelicbabymag.com/2011

  1. Heavypsychmanblog

    Great interview, Ticey is a great bloke!

  2. Anonymous

    Great to read this - I saw the Count Bishops and The Cobras quite a few times in the late 70s / early 80s in London. Both brilliant bands.

  3. Anonymous

    Dave Tice is a legend. What a band Buffalo were - heavy rock royalty. John Baxter was Australia's riff master answer to Tony Iommi.

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