Bedowin Buddah not your average 72-year-old bar musician

Bedowin Buddah performs June 11 at The Cellar. The 72-year-old musician says he’s performed throughout the country. These days, he plays for tips at bars in Idaho Falls. Pat Sutphin /

Bedowin Buddah is not your average bar musician.

When performing, he wears dark sunglasses and a suit, no matter the time of day or temperature. He’s bald on top but swoops the sides of his hair up in spikes, giving him a devilish appearance. He wears a one-quarter karat diamond stud in each ear.

He plays many instruments — keyboard, melodica, and harmonica — and knows “thousands of songs,” most of which he’ll play on request.

Local concert promoter and Snake River All Stars producer Tony Deschamps said Buddah puts his soul into every one of those songs.

“You can’t find someone with his level of talent who also plays with such soul,” Deschamps said. “It always comes out in his performance.”

By the way, Bedowin Buddah is not his real name, but it’s the name he’s most known by and the one he prefers. The Post Register knows his real name but agreed to use his preferred name.

At 72, the same age as Paul McCartney and a year older than Mick Jagger, the performer is old enough to be a father or grandfather of most of the people in his audiences.

It doesn’t matter whether the audience is paying attention, his performance is the same. He whips his head back and forth, slams his feet on the ground and wails the lyrics to countless blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll tunes.

The man plays as though he was born with a piano in his crib, but he didn’t get that way overnight. From his beginnings as a young street musician to his years as a dueling pianist on world-famous Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn., Bedowin Buddah Bedowin for short has come a long way.

The nomad

True to his assumed name, Bedowin is a nomad. He said he was born in Miami Beach, Fla., and grew up in New York City. It was there, at age 4, he started taking piano lessons.

“My parents wanted me to be a concert musician,” he said.

But that changed when he first heard the great rock ‘n’ rollers of the time.

“I wanted to play what I heard on the radio,” Bedowin said.

After seeing Elvis Presley perform live in New Jersey in the ’50s, he decided to become a rock ’n’ roll musician. He went on to play small clubs throughout the country in his 20s. In his 30s, he was skilled enough to tour with The Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose after they released their 1972 hit single, “Too Late To Turn Back Now,” which climbed to No. 2 in the Billboard Hot 100.

Eventually, he wound up in Memphis, playing at the various Beale Street blues and rock clubs, where the likes of Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters and B. B. King plied their trade.

After moving to Memphis in 1996, Bedowin said he met Yeshe Nyima, a Tibetan Buddhism guru. That led him to start practicing Buddhism and take on his current name. “Bedowin” comes from his nomadic nature and tendency to always “be doing” things.

From 2001 to 2007, he had a gig as a dueling pianist at the now-defunct Pat O’Brien’s Pub.

Efforts this week to verify the highlights of Bedowin’s resume were unsuccessful.

But local blues musician John Morgan, who plays with Bedowin in the band, Nine Below Zero (not the well-known British blues group of the same name), said Bedowin’s experience and talent shows in his playing.

“Here’s the thing, he could be bluffing about his past,” Morgan said. “But it wouldn’t matter, because he has the skills to back it up.”

Rockin’ in Idaho

After spending more than 10 years as a studio musician and album producer in Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee, Bedowin said he headed West in 2011, settling in Idaho Falls. Bedowin and a partner planned to open a recording studio, with space to give music lessons, in Idaho Falls. But he said his business partner ran out on him, and the studio never happened.

Bedowin found an apartment downtown and started playing requests at bars for tip money.

“He knows just about anything you want him to play,” said Sam Alessi, who often sees Bedowin perform.

Bedowin frequently performs Wednesday nights at The Cellar and Friday nights at Idaho Brewing Company. He also performs once a month or so at The Celt. He typically plays to rooms of people eating dinner or chatting over drinks. Often, they barely notice him, which is evidenced in his sparse tip jars.

The tip money he receives barely pays the bills.

“I live on tips,” he said. “I make about $400 a month, which covers rent … most of the places I play at give me food, but I get by and have fun.”

He continued: “… Yeah it can be discouraging sometimes, but I have to keep playing. Give me somewhere to play and I’ll make a living out of it. … The only thing I care about is playing. The more I play, the happier I am.”