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Sounds of Buffalo: Joseph Michael Mahfoud

Joe-Mahfoud-Buffalo-NY-8What is the name of your group?

Joseph Michael Mahfoud  (pronounced Ma-Food)

List your band members and the instruments that they play. 

For this evening’s Pan American Grill gig at The Hotel Lafayette (Wed, July 17, 2013 – 7-10pm) I will be working with Hugh Arthur on drums, and Russell Clark on bass.  I frequently work with a variety of musicians, so my line up is subject to change from week to week.

How did the name of the band come about? When did it form?

When I play with Hugh and Russ we call the band “The Stevie Project.”  We started Jan 2, 2009.  Initially a guy named Larry Denef started the Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute band.  Larry sang, and the wonderful late Jimi Wozniak was on organ.  Within a short time Jimi passed on, and Larry decided that performing wasn’t for him.  Me, Russ, and Hugh remained close friends and continued.

Where are you from originally? If not from Buffalo, why are you here? 

I’m from 6 Nations Indian Reservation.  I moved to Buffalo when I was very young.

What’s it like to perform in front of a crowd? Give me three words.

Authentic, vulnerable, one-chance

When and why did you start playing? Did music come naturally to you?  Or were you driven to learn and play/sing? What sparked the passion? Do you come from a musical family?

I started playing as a young boy around 9-10 years old.

As a toddler my cousin Joey Fambo worked the road as a guitarist for a traveling bar band.  When Joey would come home, the family would pressure him to take out his guitar and sing a few songs.  He never wanted to do it, because he felt embarrassed to play in the house.  I thought it was the coolest thing going, and I was always glad that he performed.  I remember that I used to peek in on his gold top Les Paul and Martin guitars laid out on the bed.  I used to cut out the pictures of Les Paul copies from the Spiegel catalog and hang them on my bedroom wall.

For kindergarten I moved to the Riverside area to live with my other grandmother.  It was a rough-cut neighborhood, and I lived in a tough household, but there were perks.  For starters Duane Hall’s Stone Country Band used to practice in our attic.  Many locals know Duane because he owns the Sportsmen’s Tavern on Amherst.  I give him credit for single handedly resurrecting that Blackrock area.  Duane’s brother Dave was an accomplished folk singer.  When the bikers would whoop up a party, Dave would sit around and sing tunes all night.  He would show me chords and progressions.  As an easily influenced youngster I could have easily got caught up in the booze and drugs all around me.  Dave would just block all that out and jam with me.  As an adult, I realize what a great service he provided me with his patience and interest.

That was not all the live influence to be had in the area.  Talas had an attic practice space in the house behind me.  My Aunt down the street had the band Parousia practicing in her basement.  Spyro-Gyra used to play at the Odyssey at the corner of the street on Wednesday’s.  All the musicians were welcoming to me, that was the beauty of the area.

Then there were the personal musical behavioral influences.  My Aunt April would party and crank her massive vinyl collection of rock music every day.  Our cousin Junior was a professional thief (he called it “his job”) and he went and bought April a state of the art sound system.  We had laser discs when they were the size of records.  At that time I didn’t like Lionel Ritchey but he had one of the few laser discs in print.  I couldn’t believe the clarity of the sound.  I still remember Carlos Rios playing that killer guitar solo on the hit track, “Hello.”

April would run out of steam and hit the bed.  That’s when my Grandmother would crack open the beers and crank up her big band collection by night.  While my Aunt April was tone deaf, my grandmother on the other hand was supremely musical.  She would sing in harmony to the great old melodies.  Then she would break out the chromatic harmonica and play along.  She would make me sing a part with her.  People complained about her drinking but I didn’t mind.  We would jam all night, and then she would cook a kick ass meal at 2:00am.  It unfortunately turned me into a teenage night owl but that seems to fit my current profession.

My youth was uniquely shaped by music.  I never took time to reflect and appreciate until later in life.  All things in their cycle I suppose.

Joe-Mahfoud-Buffalo-NY-7What was the first tune that you remember “really” playing well, when you knew that you would be a musician?

I vividly remember the first time that I picked up the guitar.  My father took me to see Walter Scott perform a gig at the Playboy Club 747.  He took me to the guitarist’s hotel room and the guy handed me his Travis guitar with the aluminum neck.  It was heavy, and the fingerboard was greasy because he had just played a set on it.  I could smell a combination of cigarettes and beer reeking off the instrument.  I picked it up and started playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” right off the bat.  The guitar was such a natural occurrence in my environment that making music on the instrument was simply a logical progression.  The guitarist said to my father, “He has a knack for it, how long has he been playing.”  I told them that this was my first time ever.  He told my Dad to get me a guitar right away.  My father did just that.  Soon after he took me to Edwin’s Music Store on Broadway Ave.  My cousin Joey picked out a Hondo II white Fender Strat copy.  I still have that guitar (painted reflective purple during my teen years) hanging on my Son’s bedroom wall.

Describe your voice/instrument. If you were to name your instrument (maybe you have) what would its name be?

I hate to spoil the mood on this one.  I love all guitars.  I love all the tones and styles that the guitar is capable of.  I have several guitars.  They are the tools of my profession.  I use the instrument that best suits the needs for the given performance.  That can range from a classical guitar, to an acoustic guitar, to a Gibson 335, to a Fender Strat.  It all depends on what type of job I’m working, rock, blues, classical, acoustic duo, reggae, ect.  So how about of we name them “Random citizen’s.”

Are you schooled in music? From where? 

I studied guitar both privately and formally all of my life.  I first started privately with a guy named Al Meyers who’s name I found on the wall at a Super Duper Food Mart in Riverside.

My elementary music teacher from public school #60, Sandra Holland, became a life long friend who was very supportive in my musical development.  I attended Buffalo Performing Arts for high school and began formal training.  During this period I studied privately with local jazz legend Rick Strauss.  Buffalo schools used to offer summer courses in music theory, which I took.  I also attended summer courses at several colleges.  This included Fredonia St, Cincinnati conservatory.

Immediately after high school, I briefly attended UB as a music student but left college to take a chance backing up Bobby Brown.  It never panned out, so I was in limbo for a few years.  I enrolled at Villa Maria for one year to study with another local legend Jim Kurzdorfer.  During which I also studied classical with Jeremy Sparks.  I then enrolled at UB to earn a formal degree in classical guitar and music education.  Joanne Castelanni was my classical instructor.  She was a great technique teacher, and she taught me excellent practice discipline.

During college I studied privately with jazz great Frank Gerrard.  It was mostly an effort to keep college from stifling my creativity, but I ended up really enjoying the style.  As I musically mature, I can see myself playing some jazz in the future.

Which famous musician(s) do you admire? 

Danny Gatton.  He was a monster player and a very kind and gentle man.  If your car broke down on the side of the road, he would pull over and help you out.  You would never get the sense that he was one of the most incredible voices in guitar history.  I’m almost overwhelmed to thing what a little known talent he was.  It definitely reshaped my values about what was important in music.  Pretty much, right after meeting Danny my dreams of being famous started with “yea but I’ve got to play like he does too.”  Other wise the success would seem hollow.  I guess I admired him for “not being famous.”

Where is your favorite place to play/sing in Buffalo? Where would you most like to play/sing in Buffalo? 

As long as the vibe is cool, I’m into the room.  I really just love to do it.  I couldn’t select a top place.  There are several clubs that I enjoy in Buffalo.  I am fortunate in that many of the clubs treat me and my fellow musicians like family.  I am thankful for those relationships.  My prerequisites are that the club ownership embraces the multi-ethnicity of the musicians that I hire, and the subsequent culturally pluralistic clientele that follows my music, that the regular clientele is accepting to additional guests that will follow me.

Joe-Mahfoud-Buffalo-NY-6What’s your day job? 

I am an Inner-city music teacher at Tapestry Charter School.  It’s a tough gig.

I was a schoolteacher 15 years ago in Lakeshore.  I loved the kids; we had a large Seneca population.  To be honest, that was the only reason I took the job.  During that time, I cut the “Full Circle” cd with the Pappy Johns Band.  Out of no-where it took off.  Next followed tour offers all over the world.  So I enjoyed a 15-year vacation in my prime.

When Jim Kursdorfer passed a few years back, we played many gigs while he was ill.  I asked him, if he were me, what would he do.  He lifted his weary head off of his bass guitar, which was supporting him in his chair, and he said, “Teach!”  He put his head back down and waited for the second set to begin.

Jim was both a gifted educator and a magnificent musician.  I say “musician” in lieu of “bass player” because it was evident during his waning days that he no longer possessed the coveted “monster chops.”  He was stripped to his musical essence.  I was astounded how he could reduce his part to the most fundamental essential elements and still drive the band.  Mind you, Jim was known for his jazz chops.  I’m an aggressive dance blues player.  I need my rhythm section to pound out the grooves.  To his last breath the old dog still had quite a set of teeth.

I took his playing to heart, and his words followed me.  Soon after I decided to go back to the inner city where I was raised.  I remember how musical shielded me from a difficult environment.  I remember all those people who were so kind to me while I was a very difficult young man.  I played all over the world, and have done hundreds of recording sessions.  I have been an avid student of the instrument all of my life.  I’ve attended master classes with everyone from Segovia to Mike Stern.  Upon returning to college I became fascinated with Dr. Edwin Gordon’s, “Music Learning Sequence.”  I’ve used it to refine my playing, and I’ve watched both private and public students display steady musical growth.  It is now my duty to set the path for the next generation and share what I am able.

Joe-Mahfoud-Buffalo-NY-1How would you describe your music style? Influences?

I am eclectic.  In a 30 song random playlist from my ipod you might hear Segovia, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sly and the Family Stone, Bach, Frank Ruiz, and a polka.  There are after all only 12 notes in the musical scale.  It is amazing how many variations there are of this finite collection.

What was the last live music performance that you caught?

Doug Yeomans was killin’ some bluegrass the other Thursday.  I see that Doug just put out a Facebook post saying that Hardware canceled his series.  I can’t believe that.  Doug is a Buffalo treasure.  What a truly gifted musician.  There should be a taxpayer bailout for guys like him.  I certainly don’t feel great about my tax dollar supporting a billion dollar football team.  They don’t need the money.  Why not give it to a guy who adds culture and credibility to the community?

As I’m writing this I’m in Nashville waiting to hear Vince Gill.

What was the best show you ever caught?

Prince at Shays.  But Pink Floyd in the 80’s at the CNE Toronto was pretty amazing.

What was the show that got away – the one that you never got to see? 

Ray Charles

Do you play/sing covers or all originals? Or a combination of both? 


Joe-Mahfoud-Buffalo-NY-2What are your strengths?

I’m blues musician by passion.  (That’s probably the Indian in me).  However, I’m stylistically versatile because of all the training I was fortunate to receive during high school and college.  This helped me develop good ears and strong chart reading skills.  As result, I can work a variety of musical events in a single day from several genres.

What are your weaknesses?

I took one lesson with Dizzy Gillespie as a kid.  I had the balls to ask him, “Hey man can you read?”  I never heard of him and had no idea who he was.  He slowly reached down and raised his bent bow horn, and blew a line that went from here to heaven.  Then he said, “Kid, not well enough to interfere with my playing.”

The moral to his lesson is a demon that all musicians must fight, phrase after phrase, and song and after song.  “Play what is required by the music.  Nothing more, nothing less.”  I have found myself burning licks up and down the neck trying to “get over” on a crowd.  I never felt too good about myself the next day.  I try very hard to be musically appropriate these days.

Do you have a label? A recording studio? Have you recorded a CD? 

I have recorded 9 cd’s of my own material.  I’d love to guess how many cd’s I’ve played on for other people over the course of my life.

Where and when is your next gig(s) in the city? 

I play a lot of gigs on Indian Reservations across the continent.  Still, I try to keep a reasonable festival/club presence in WNY. Come check out the gig at the Hotel Lafayette this evening at the Pan American Grill and Brewery from 7-10pm for the Jazz, Rhythm and Blue series – Wednesday, July 17, 2013.

My website is


If you play in a group/band (or solo) here in Buffalo, and have an upcoming gig at a venue(s) in the city, consider sending buffalo rising an email requesting to be emailed a Q&A interview that we can then post, along with concert dates. It’s a fun and easy way to get your name in front of another audience that is interested in learning about the local music scene. The requirements are:

-You must be living in the Greater Buffalo region… or you must be plotting your return
-You must have a public show coming up in the city of Buffalo, as our focus is the urban landscape
-You must have a photo of the band
-Solo acts are also welcome
-Video is a plus
-CD/Album/poster art is welcome
-Links to Social Media sites are a bonus
-Ability to take accept both praise and/or criticism is a must
It is up to the discretion of Buffalo Rising whether or not to publish the interviews depending on nature of content submitted, or lack thereof. 
Please send requests here. Include “Sounds of Buffalo” in the subject box of the email.

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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