Warren Buttler: Secret Agent Man

Warren Buttler is a man with a unique past. How many musicians can claim to have a previous life in police work and counter-terrorism? During his 18 years of law enforcement, he neglected his musical passion, waiting until his muse called him to a secluded island off the coast of Georgia. Now, he concentrates his creative efforts through his songwriting, weaving beautiful instrumental melodies with his collection of guitars. With his second album, Cultivation of Grace, Buttler continues his musical journey through life with music that touches on everything from early folk to medieval blues (more on that later). In a special two part interview with MISH MASH, Buttler shares snippets of his past and how it shapes his present.

You've got an interesting history for a musician. Tell us about your background and how it relates to your music today.

I've had a pretty unique situation in so far as my background is concerned---I was hired as a cop at 20 and worked in the city jail until I turned 21 and could legally go to the police academy. I worked as a patrolman and Sergeant for about nine years. To tell you the truth my father nearly disowned me, he hated cops.

I did originally want to be a full time musician, I had tried to make a living playing the guitar in various bar bands and pickup groups and couldn't make a go of it. So I made a 180 degree flip--for nine years I was the guy following you in the black and white, showing up at bar fights and domestic disturbances. I wound up seeing a part of the world that people usually never see and the biggest thing that regular police work taught me was the fallibility of all human beings. Everybody makes mistakes, Every human being can get overwhelmed and do things that they later regret.

In 1985 Regan enacted the first counter-terrorism Act and I was recruited by the Federal Air Marshal service. I worked from 1985 to 1992 overseas on 12 person teams which were responsible to protect American assets, ranging from aviation to evacuations and ground assets pretty much around the world.

All of this relates to my music in the fact that when I finally picked the guitar up again in 1995 after a lapse of many years I discovered that the world I had inhabited, had built some type of soundtrack in my head, literally without me realizing it. I had simply absorbed the "new" (for me) music that I had been exposed to around the world; the instruments, the tastes of various cultures, not that I had even focused on it or studied it, but I believe that just being exposed the way I had been widened my musical sight. The work that I had done had given me experiences, very unique and unusual experiences that could be almost in a way had to be translated into music, especially the feelings, the textures.

You live on an island off the coast of Georgia. That must provide plenty of inspiration for your work.

My wife Priscilla is my first joy, then music followed by the island I live on, followed by my house and studio, and finally although this is probably going to sound incredibly strange, the ability to go about my daily existence unarmed. I spent almost half of my life armed. I was 21 years old when I had to first carry a gun constantly until I stopped at 45. I think you have had to have done this to know how much of a relief you experience when it is over. I live on Saint Simons Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. The island is about 12 miles long and 5 miles wide at it's maximum. It's a residential community connected to the mainland by a causeway and has been growing for the past several years. There are no water slides or funlands that unfortunately many beach front communities suffer with, but like everywhere else we face constant growth.

Living on an island is different. The people who live here are willing, for the most part, to allow for your eccentricities, appreciate artists, and understand that you are here for your reasons be they what may. I believe that subconsciously I may have sought out a place near the ocean. The Ocean has a strong and powerful healing effect on human beings and I feel that may be why we as a species are drawn to it. I think that here in this place on this island I was able to recover from the past, and begin anew with music, so it is not simply a source of inspiration but rather the enabler. I met my wife while I was practicing my classical guitar technique on my front steps. Without my wife and my island nothing I've done would have been possible.

Do get a chance to play your songs live? I know you play with a group called Local Fourcast

I simply love playing live. When I returned to the guitar after such a long absence I spent a considerable period of time practicing. Then I started working solo gigs and did quite a bit of classical and New Flamenco background jobs. It was a great method of building back my confidence and finding my own voice with the guitar again. I actually began work on my first CD due to people asking at these solo gigs if I had one available to purchase and before I ever began working again with a band I actually was developing my skills at digital recording. My plan was to complete my first CD of original material as simply something to sell at my solo engagements. I started recording alone, and everything on my CDs is done alone. I use only stringed instruments, and the synthesizers, piano, violins, accordions and other special effects are played on the guitar through Roland Gr30 and Gr33 guitar synthesizers. I do all the bass, mandolin, everything by myself in the studio. Honestly, I've been really surprised at the success that I've had with my CDs. I've gotten radio airplay in multiple markets on both of my CDs, the reviews are beyond anything I ever expected.

Local Fourcast is an entirely separate entity. I enjoy my work with them and we do some very interesting acoustic/electric work but the band has a separate agenda. I've performed several of my works solo but have never had the opportunity to work with a crew doing my material. There just seems to be a limited number of musicians, which I have access to who wish to go where I go with my music. I believe that with the right group of people the music I create would transfer extremely well to a live performance, group situation and I'd love to do it.

Next month: Warren discusses Robert Johnson and the medieval blues...

Warren Buttler Website

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