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Working-Class Heroes

Buffalo Killers channel their classic rock past

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Sociologists will tell you that upbringing often determines personality. Of course, they're usually interested in looking at issues like class, race, and gender. But that notion of naturalism certainly applies to brothers Zachary and Andrew Gabbard, who head up Cincinnati retro-rockers the Buffalo Killers. Steeped in '70s classic rock, their terrific new album Dig. Sow. Love. Grow. features harmonies clearly culled from their past.

The Gabbards' father was a musician who taught Andrew to play guitar when the boy was eight; he taught Zachary the bass when he was 10. The siblings have been in bands together ever since.

"I wanted to play guitar, and my dad told me guitar players are a dime a dozen," recalls Zachary. "So he went and bought me a bass. I don't know how he decided he'd teach my brother to play guitar and me to play bass. I think he just needed a bass player in his own band."

Gabbard started playing with his father's group, which he says wasn't a "real band" but just "working-class guys who would get together on the weekends.

"He and some guys from work would get together and play Neil Young songs and stuff like that," says Gabbard, who grew up in Lebanon, between Cincinnati and Dayton. "All I ever wanted to do after that was put my own band together."

The brothers started the ramshackle garage-rock group Thee Shams in 1999. They picked up a pretty sizable following among fans of that kind of music. In fact, one of their first out-of-town gigs was at the Beachland Tavern. But by 2005, the group started to disintegrate, and they soon called it quits.

"I'm proud of what we did," says Gabbard. "There just came a time when it was time to put the nail in the coffin and start something new."

So the Gabbards recruited drummer Joseph Sebaali and started the Buffalo Killers in 2006.

"We just wanted to be more of a group with three people who really care about each other and care about doing it," says Zachary. "Not that we didn't care about it before. But let's trim the fat and get down to business. We're more serious about the songwriting. With Thee Shams, it was more about getting drunk."

Buffalo Killers' self-titled debut caught the attention of the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson, who recruited the group to open for the Crowes on their 2007 tour. The Black Keys were also fans, and singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach ended up producing their 2008 album Let It Ride at his Akron studio.

"We would hang out and get hyped on coffee and do it," recalls Gabbard. "We didn't do much production. It was more about him capturing the sound. It was us going in and him liking it."

You can trace the Neil Young influence on the Buffalo Killers' albums going all the way back to their debut. But that influence is even more prominent on Dig. Sow. Love. Grow, which sounds like the classic rowdy albums Young recorded with Crazy Horse in the '70s. The band took a looser approach this time, compared to last year's more mellow 3.

"For half of this record, we didn't rehearse before going in the studio," says Gabbard. "We just went in and worked out the songs right there. We had never done that before, so this album is more in your face."

Gabbard says the band, which has pumped out two albums in the course of 24 months, is now in a good place.

"We just want to keep making records, because that's what we've always wanted to do," he says. "We want to keep touring and doing what we love doing.

"That's what it's all about."

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