Bobby's One Hit Wonders: Volume 16: The Buffalo Club - IF She Don't Love You
By: Bobby Peacock
Yep, it's another band. One even shorter-lived than Cole "How many more Cole Deggs & the Lonesome jokes can I make" Deggs & the Lonesome. One whose entire existence was confined to a single year. One whose entire label was a one-hit wonder. If you haven't guessed yet that I'm talking about The Buffalo Club, then… well, I'm not surprised.
The Buffalo Club was a trio of semi-famous musicians: John Dittrich, then two years removed from his role as drummer of Restless Heart; lead singer Ron Hemby, formerly of Christian group The Imperials; and Charlie Kelley (not to be confused with Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum), who was once Doug Stone's guitarist. Hemby and Dittrich had first met when the former showed interest in writing a song for Restless Heart. They signed with Rising Tide Records, an oddity of a label founded in 1995. While the pop division quickly renamed itself Universal Records and went on to bigger and better things, the country division remained its own entity. Rising Tide Nashville's roster included some names of note: Matraca Berg, in the middle of her peak songwriting period; Scotty Emerick, fresh off co-writing two hits for Sawyer Brown, but several years from his stint at Toby Keith's right-hand man; blues singer Delbert McClinton; Jack Ingram back in his rowdy Texas days; and even Dolly Parton.
As I said in my James Bonamy article, 1996 was a bland year in country music. But a look at the February 22, 1997 chart — the week that The Buffalo Club broke Top 40 with their debut single "If She Don't Love You" — showed that the blandness of 1996 was being swept away. The smart Deana Carter, two singles into her far-too-short hit-making streak, had the spunky "We Danced Anyway". Trace Adkins worked his way towards #1 (who knew it'd take him a whole decade to repeat the feat?) with the tight, tuneful minor-key "(This Ain't) No Thinkin' Thing". Diamond Rio added some pop sheen without sacrificing their bluegrass roots on "Holdin'". Travis Tritt was in full-on rootsy mode with "Where Corn Don't Grow", and pulling double duty on "Here's Your Sign", which contained snippets of comedian Bill Engvall's eponymous tales of human stupidity. Clearly, change was afoot.
The band thing had been done in 1996 to moderate success: Lonestar was firmly entrenched with their smash "No News", and Ricochet netted three Top 10 hits, thus taking Little Texas's place as the band with a lot of energy but little to say. With their tight, Eagles-esque harmonies and tight production from Barry Beckett, The Buffalo Club recalled a grittier Restless Heart. And radio clearly liked the song, and its message of how love is more important than gifts, as it went straight to #9. But they weren't the only new act that year composed of semi-famous people. The other was Burnin' Daylight, which consisted of Sonny LeMaire of Exile, Kurt Howell of Southern Pacific, and Marc Beeson, whose writing credits included Restless Heart's "When She Cries" (a personal favorite) and coincidentally, "If She Don't Love You". But Burnin' Daylight managed a mere #37 at their best. (Moral of the story? Don't sign with Curb Records.)
The Buffalo Club's next single choice was "Nothin' Less than Love", co-written by Rusty Young of Poco and previously found on Bryan White's 1994 debut. Every bit as tuneful and tight as its predecessor, it nonetheless stalled at #26. And mere weeks after it hit the charts, Dittrich resigned; according to Billboard, he said that he was "no longer able to continue to do the things deemed necessary to break a new artist in this format." Still, member changes aren't always detrimental, so Hemby and Kelley carried on as a duo with their third single, "Heart Hold On". Blackhawk lead singer Henry Paul co-wrote the song with Mike Lawler and Vicky McGehee, who would later go on to write for Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson. This song, though easily their catchiest offering, fizzled out at #53. The Club was closed, and a few months later, so was Rising Tide. Dittrich went back to Restless Heart to cut a few sides for a 1998 Greatest Hits package, one of which was ironically titled "No End to This Road", only for the once-mighty band to reunite for good in 2002. (Go seek out their excellent 2004 album Still Restless, which got a raw deal due to the closure of Audium.) Kelley now plays polka with Lynn Marie in the duo The Boxhounds, and Hemby is now a worship leader at River of Life in Smyrna, TN.
The Buffalo Club came out an odd time in music — a brief resurgence of more traditional country before the extremely pop leanings of 1998 through the early 2000s. I feel that, with the backing of a more established label, they could've survived the loss of Dittrich and tweaked themselves into bona fide hit makers. After all, Lonestar only became much, much bigger after shedding John Rich. On the other hand, they also could've followed Lonestar's path into sappy, over-sung pop mush about the joys of fatherhood. So maybe it's for the best that The Buffalo Club remains a lost treasure.