Aaron Michael “Buzz” Boron, singer / guitarist / songwriter and undisputed leader of one of the all-time greatest Cleveland, Ohio bands—the Duvalby Brothers—passed away on December 23, 2021, two days before Christmas.
The apparent cause of death: COVID-19. He was just 50 years old.
According to his obituary, Buzz leaves behind four children, a ton of relatives and friends and… all of us—his artistic devotees.
Buzz’s songwriting and performances with the Duvalby Bros. both define and transcend the ’90s post-Grunge time period they were created in. The Duvalbys became a mainstay of our local NE Ohio band scene that revolved around the Euclid Tavern and the Grog Shop from 1990 to 1998.
Buzz Boron created songs that are important—crucial, even—to my understanding of modern music and the place I’m from: Cleveland. The Rust Belt. Lake Erie post-industrial decay. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you feel the same way.
To give you some perspective, for nearly a decade I was part of a team that published Northeast Ohio’s #1 free underground rock magazine, U.S. Rocker. We covered literally thousands of bands.
I was a radio programmer on major FM stations WRUW and KXLU for 10+ years cumulatively. I’ve booked an additional 1000+ groups during my twenty years as an underground concert curator in Los Angeles. I’ve heard and seen it all, as they say.
Out of all the countless of bands whose music has passed through my brain pan, Buzz Boron and Duvalby Brothers are solid top five. He and they are that good.
To be honest, we didn’t love the music Buzz, Joey, Ray, Beetle and later Chuck (and Matt) were making at first. But they kept at it, writing anthem after anthem until they were undeniable. We kept listening, and the Bros. became one of our most favorite bands.
In October 1995, around the time the Duvalby Bros. released their initial Buzz-penned “hits” “Schmutz” and “Final Stand,” guest reviewer Michael Wohnseidler (in reality, Alternative Press editor Jason Pettigrew) called the Duvalbys’ songs “great” and noted that “Nothing happens save for the last minute and a half, where the Black Sabbath parts come in and the singer belts it out like he’s at a Dazzling Killmen audition.” High praise in the post-Grunge era. Buzz and the Duvalby Bros. had arrived.
U.S. Rocker‘s Ron Kretsch caught up with the band at Ambassador Lanes (how Cleveland, right?).
There’s something special about growing up with a band as they grow artistically. It becomes a bond for life. Add bowling to the mix and, well…
Our Duvalby-audience bond was tested when we all endured the hottest day of 1995 together. Power was intermittent—it was brown out conditions throughout the city (though it never turned full Cleveland steamer thank god). The Bros. opened for Trance Syndicate artists Ed Hall from Austin and the Hairy Patt band at the Euclid Tavern on July 14. We laughed, we cried, we sweated.
Let them eat Crate!
Before we go any further, let’s listen to the most monumental document Buzz and the boys left us, The Sleepytime Medicine Band album from 1996.
Buzz’s place among the artistic immortals was assured with the release of this record.
As you can imagine there was an important social component to what Buzz did as well. The Duvalby Bros. were gregarious and prolific partiers in their day, and that certainly kept music scene folks coming back for (again countless) dozens of performances.
Late, great U.S. Rocker co-founder Brenda Mullen fell in love with the group and invited them to play The Rocker’s 1996 local band showcase. Buzz & co. played third to last—the coveted prime time spot.
“The saving grace of this evening was the Duvalby Bros.,” Brenda remarked in print. Their secret was that “they effectively grabbed the listeners with random dynamics, building tension, and shifts from heavy and fast to slow, sparse and quiet. Buzz’s shakey cracked-vocal style brings a dismal air to this potent mix, reminding us that life just ain’t a box of chocolates after all.”
These past few days since Buzz’s death, I’ve been putting together my own thoughts on things. Here are a few comments about why I think Buzz’s work is so important:
The man was an absolutely electrifying singer. “Stentorian” is a word that comes to mind (adjective, “[of a person’s voice] loud and powerful” says Webster’s). In an era when nearly every singer was either gruffly shrieking or atonally talk-singing, well… Buzz could do both artfully. But he also sang in the classic sense: soulfully, tunefully, quietly, LOUDLY.
When Buzz Boron was on the mic you got the sense he was communicating an important and heart-rending message directly to you.
Buzz and the Duvalbys’ music was carefully constructed to support this voice. At turns exaggeratedly lumbering and massive and metallic, it could also be fragile and woody.
Believe you me when I tell you that is not easy to evoke such Americana without relying on established musical tropes (ie, “country influences,” “Southern Rock,” “rock ‘n roll”). Buzz’s music was refreshingly free of all such clichés. It’s the most remarkable thing.
Back in 1997 when the Duvalbys opened for U.S. Maple, I wrote that “The Bros.’ music has an earthy quality that evokes a genre of roots music that I still can’t pin down. Is it Cleveland Blues? Northeast Ohio Soul? I dunno, but I’ll figure it out someday.”
It’s 2021 and I’m still trying to put my finger on what to call it. I suppose that’s Buzz and the Bros.’ magic.
Perhaps the most uncanny thing about the music is when the clamor of the Duvalby Bros’ instrumentals drop away and you can hear the sound of the room you are listening in—the reflection of the four walls and the space around the ears as the phantom trails of the instruments and Buzz’s voice circle and chase themselves out of the room like ghosts.
That’s a neat magic trick and, you know, hair-raising at 2am after a few drinks at the bar!
Later, after I left home and made a life in L.A., Buzz was one of the few Northeast Ohio artists who regularly trekked out here to perform. It helped that his usual collaborators Joey Shipman, Mike Peffer and Ray Piller either reside in L.A. or have spent long stretches living here.
Let me tell you that there is nothing more exciting than seeing old friends totally ROCK unsuspecting new friends in Los Angeles. In his L.A. appearances, Buzz always delivered the “Wow!” just as he did back home. It was a constant. The man was a natural performer. It was impossible to look away, to not be affected.
Final thing I want to say is that despite attending so many Duvalby Bros. shows and performances of Buzz’s music—and writing, photographing and curating these documents—I would not consider myself a close friend. More a fan. Which is totally okay.
I bring this up for two reasons: First, Buzz is/was a true artist and folks like that should be approached carefully. Art-making at that elevated level is a calling. Buzz was on god’s earth to communicate certain things and he accomplished that beyond all expectations. As a listener and appreciator, I don’t really need to involve myself too deeply in non-musical stuff. Buzz’s work speaks for itself. And outside of music I’m fairly sure that there’s little that we would have agreed upon.
Final reason is that, despite not being a confidante, Buzz was always so kind and warm and present whenever we talked. Seeing him in L.A. after many years I did not know what to expect. But Buzz was charming, respectful. We had an awesome hang. It was truly a joy to reconnect and I’d like to think that those feelings were mutual. That’s the old school American way, right? Tolerance. Listening. Building a community. Coexisting with folks who have different backgrounds and experiences from you.
I’ll miss this unique Cleveland character and indelible artist. My condolences to Buzz’s family and loved ones. This virus is awful—tragic.
Safe travels in the afterlife, Buzz.
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