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Out of the Mouth of a Babe: Heavenly Music : Artistry: Brody Buster is only 10, but B.B. King calls him ‘one of the greatest harmonica players of all time.’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Janet Buster understood that things would never be the same for her son after that night last fall at the Universal Amphitheatre. She and 9-year-old Brody were given backstage passes to a concert by blues great B.B. King, and the two found a spot at the side of the stage, hoping for a chance to say hello to King when the show ended.

That’s when King saw the boy, raised his hand to stop the concert and directed the spotlight to fall on young Brody. “Ladies and gentlemen,” King announced, “I’d like to introduce to you one of the greatest harmonica players of our time, despite his age, believe it or not.”

That from a man who should know what he’s talking about. Here was the great B.B. King, who has led the charge on more than one blues revival, landing this towheaded child squarely within some esteemed company. Howlin’ Wolf. Sonny Boy Williamson. Shakey Horton. Brody Buster?

This surely has not been some passing fancy, either, since Brody Buster performs every other weekend at B.B. King’s Blues Club on the Universal CityWalk. At the club’s grand opening last June, the boy was even invited onstage to blow his harp alongside King himself.

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“You see your 9-year-old stand up there and play with B.B. King and the crowd goes wild, you take notice,” his mother says now. “I could never have dreamed of such a thing happening.”

Buster and his new group, the nine-piece B.W.B. Band, make two Orange County appearances this week, the first tonight at Music City in Fountain Valley, then Friday at the Huntington Beach Pierfest.

Buster’s career has been an unexpected detour in the life of this family from rural Paola, Kan. What began as a nice hobby has in two years exploded with unexpected consequences. There was his appearance on ABC-TV’s “Full House,” and another guest spot on the hit series “Baywatch"--and all within a year of the family’s arrival in Southern California.

But Buster, who turns 11 next week, seems the least surprised of anyone. Even before he first picked up a harmonica, Buster would watch the Grammy Awards telecast with his parents and practice his own acceptance speeches, thanking Mom and Dad.

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On one recent Friday night, Buster stomped to the stage in a purple double-breasted suit and with a case full of harmonicas, ready to blow through the standard blues repertoire. Among those songs was Willie Dixon’s "(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man,” where the kid was most convincing as both player and singer, actually finding a grinding edge in his voice, and blowing his harp with real force.

“It’s a novelty to a lot of people,” said Vincent Labauve, guitarist for the group that backed Buster before the B.W.B. Band. “But what’s so cool about it is that he delivers. He’s not just ‘Oh, how cute!’ He’s actually playing. That puts a whole other slant on things.”

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Asked to name his favorite musician, Buster doesn’t hesitate. “B.B. King,” he said, his blond hair neatly combed. “I also like Eric Clapton.”

It was his mother’s collection of old blues, country and R&B; records that first fascinated Buster. His father, Curtis, one day brought home an acoustic guitar from a garage sale. Then his mother brought out her old harmonicas for Buster to try.

Suddenly, Buster was playing the thing everywhere, in the car, in the grocery store, on the porch, in the tree house. “I quit playing,” his mother said. “Brody put me to shame. In a couple of months he could do everything I could do. He has the music in him.”

Buster’s guitar teacher soon recommended that Buster try out his blues-harp chops at the various jam sessions and talent contests in nearby Kansas City, Mo.

“He never had any stage fright,” said his mother. “I didn’t know what would happen the first time he got up. I didn’t know if he would start crying and run and sit down. I was really nervous about it. I didn’t want him to have a bad experience. But he just really enjoyed it.”

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It was eventually decided that the family would spend its spring vacation in Memphis, where Buster could find audiences among the euphoric atmosphere of Beale Street. There, he blew his harp on street corners and in the occasional club, while other kids danced.

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Spring break ultimately stretched into summer, with Buster’s father commuting on weekends from his car dealership back in Paola. Fans were throwing money at the boy, who earned several hundred dollars a night, enough to buy himself a fine electric guitar at the end of the summer.

The family’s extended vacation from their old life finally led to Los Angeles, where Buster was soon booked at B.B. King’s Club. He prepares for his late-night schedule by taking afternoon naps. And when he’s not playing, Buster insists, “I get straight A’s and Bs,” which his parents make clear is a prerequisite for continuing his music career.

His parents say they have also been careful to have Buster perform only in the least rowdy of clubs. (So far, the most unpleasant thing has been Buster’s arm growing tired from too many autographs.) Only venues that serve food (as opposed to bars that just serve alcohol) are considered.

“I think it holds no glamour for him,” said Janet Buster. “When he’s 16 and his peers are cruising and out drinking, I don’t think that will hold any attraction for him because he’s seen what it really does. We always point out the artists who ended their careers sadly and too soon by overdosing or drinking too much.”

* Harmonica player Brody Buster & the B.W.B. Band play tonight at Music City, 18774 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley. 7:30 p.m. $7.50. (714) 963-2366. Also Friday at Pierfest, Huntington Beach. 5 p.m. $5. (714) 960-3378.


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