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Inspired by Johnny Cash, Ted Williams - Hip-Hopper Returns to Roots - Still Able to Fire 90 mph

(Originally posted on

Sept. 22, 2003

Buck 65

A Toronto rapper named Jelleestone once told me, "a lot of the smartest things come from little towns because people have time to think." True to those words lies Mount Uniacke situated comfortably in the center of Nova Scotia. Best known for its 1865 gold rush, it lies quaintly nestled between the hustle and bustle of Halifax and "the birthplace of hockey", Windsor. From there, an hour's drive will land you in small town museums for country legends like Hank Snow or Anne Murray. There's no denying that life is simple in Mount Uniacke, but hometown hick, Rich Terfry aka Buck 65, is well on the road to livening things up and making it home to yet another music museum.

In 1971, a child was born into a home on a quiet road in the middle of the woods in Mount Uniacke. Being named Rich could only have been a metaphor for the prosperous life he's now living. Having been signed to Warner in 2002, and now a resident of Paris, he's still able to reminisce about his childhood.

"When I was a little kid, I was surrounded by folk and country music. I have fond memories of just running around in the woods with my friends singing folk songs. But, once I discovered hip-hop music in the early eighties that was it for me for a long time."

A local resident, Fudd Green, took notice of this young buck's similarity to his 65 Buick Riviera. He was smooth, dependable, hard working and rode that fine line between power and finesse. And so the story goes of how Buck 65 came to be.

In 1992, Rich Terfry released his first EP, entitled 'Chin Music.' Since then he's procured well over a dozen releases while recording under the name Buck 65, Stinkin Rich, as one half of the Sebutones with Sixtoo and as a member of the 1200 Hobos. For 20 years, Buck 65 lived and breathed hip-hop music as a breaker, emcee, turntabalist champion (Halifax DJ Olympics) and radio show host.

As an independent, Buck 65 was often bogged with business and administration, which he confesses, "felt like pulling teeth to get anything done". Regardless, he built a huge following, which ultimately led to his major label deal with Warner in 2002. Thus, his latest album, 'Talkin Honky Blues,' represents his first true major label release because he's had the creative freedom to just focus on writing songs. This creative freedom has also brought with it a new sound and image for this road warrior.

"The original title of the album was going to be 'The Talkin Honky Dirt Road Break Beat Blues'. You see, the more I got involved with hip-hop music, especially from a sampling and production standpoint, I was forced to start listening to different forms of music. Over time my appreciation for those other forms of music grew and grew. So naturally, I became very curious about where the distant origins of hip-hop music."

"As I looked further and further back, I found this form called the talking blues where early examples date back to before the turn of the century. When you listen to that music, it's almost exactly the same as hip-hop - these guys are definitely rapping, but over a repetitive motif usually played on guitar or banjo. Having explored this kind of music, I found I was able to relate to it a lot more than today's hip-hop."

The result is an album bordering on a diverse range of musical genres making it an experimental masterpiece for those with an open mind. However, those enthralled with his typical hip-hop stylings may be taken aback with his new hip-hop roots sound, which boldly walks the plank between country and hip-hop.

"Hip-hop music used to be about fighting against the status quo. Now it is the status quo, so I felt I needed to find music that appealed to me and made some kind of sense to me. The point is this: for as strange as my music may sound to your average young hip-hop head, for me it's just exploring the folk and blues traditions of hip-hop as deep as I can possibly go. My curiosity from the music has brought me back full circle, which to me is pretty fascinating."

Most distinctive about 'Talkin Honky Blues,' is its storytelling. Buck 65 is often able to paint a captivating picture of stories ranging from the simplicity of shoe-shining ('Craftmanship'), to dark tales of near drownings ('Riverbed Part 4') or river-dwelling drunks who "don't die, they evaporate slowly" ('Riverbed Part 3').

The strength of his stories lie within the fact that they are all pretty much based on real people and real experiences. The main exception being the melodramatic 'Tired Out' in which Buck tells a tall tale filled with raw emotion of having cheated on a girl named Sarah.

"With the Sarah song, it was one of the rare cases where I was writing to a specific piece of music, because I almost always start with lyrics first. So, I was listening to the music and tried to pin down the emotion. Also, when I was writing it, the last Johnny Cash record had just come out and I'd been listening to the song 'Give my love to Rose.' The song was so personal and emotional that I decided I wanted to try to do something similar."

Buck 65 also pays tribute to Johnny Cash on his lead single, 'Wicked & Weird,' and isn't hesitant to admit that he was an inspiration. "When I got the news of Johnny Cash's passing, I don't mind admitting to you that I cried a bit. I always really admired the guy. In fact, he's something I felt close to and to whom I attached a lot of importance."

His only other such inspiration is Ted Williams - the last baseball player to hit .400. "When I was a kid studying baseball, the same way I now study hip-hop music, I didn't have to look far before I realized Ted Williams was widely regarded as the greatest hitter who ever was. So I picked up his books, read them and felt like I learned a lot from the guy. It's funny you should mention him so shortly after Johnny Cash because he's the only other person I can think of who's passing affected me so much, in terms of people I don't know personally. So, I'd say he's been a huge influence on my life based on his books, what he had to say, and even just the way he conducted his life. In a lot of ways, I've modeled myself after that guy."

It may come as a surprise that the Yankees scouted Buck 65 back in 1987. At the time, he was a shortstop and pitcher, and admits that in the shooting of his recent promo video, 'A Walk in the Woods,' he used a Radioshack baseball with built-in radar to prove he's still able to throw 90 mph. Obviously a hard-working man of many talents, a knee injury left him to dabble at his big league dreams through innumerable references to baseball in his songs. Such is the wisdom behind the upbeat and cunningly titled, '463', which Buck admits may be the next single.

"The wisdom behind '463' is that it is the scorekeeping for a double play in baseball that goes from the second baseman to the shortstop to the first baseman, which to me is just one of the most beautiful things to watch. I recently worked out a new version of '463' with the band that kicks an incredible amount of ass. So, I'm thinking about maybe using it as the next single."

Another story telling gem is the emotional 'Roses and Blue Jays,' which deals with his Dad's heartache after losing his wife. The song became of particular interest due to its ingenious snow removal solution.

"My Dad was kind of obsessed with the idea of snow removal. So one day he experimented by just dumping a lot of gasoline onto the driveway and lighting it on fire. Then that sparked the idea of a flamethrower, so he shopped around a bit and was able to find one. You can clear an average driveway in about 30 seconds. People think it's strange, but I think the idea might catch on. My Dad's a genius for that one."

The lead single 'Wicked & Weird' is an upbeat thrill ride complete with background banjo. The video, directed by Shawn Michael Terrell, is brilliantly fresh and fits the song to a tee. It includes Buck 65's road dogs - two puppets - and the longest piss in music video history. It's nothing short of "bananas" says Buck.

Warner has also shown they are just as capable of looking to the future as Buck 65, with their Buck-a-Month (BAM!) initiative. After completing the album, Buck had a ton of leftover material that they didn't want to sit on. So, in looking toward the future, they decided to use the Internet to their advantage by providing one new free Buck 65 song per month accessible by placing his c.d. in your computer's CD Rom.

As Buck 65's French continues to improve, he admits he's making music for himself, true hip-hop fans and also hopes to appeal to an older generation. His latest album, 'Talkin Honky Blues' is an eclectic mix of his hip-hop knowledge embedded with its blues, folk and storytelling ancestry. Unlike most, he's not on a mission to change the hip-hop game; he's simply trying to take it back to its roots.

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