The Herd: Get to know Witty Tarbox, a five-piece band capturing Buffalo’s spirit through surf rock, funk, jazz fusion


Witty Tarbox in action. (Photo by Zach Todtenhagen)

Zachary Lewis, Music Writer

If you’re craving the melodic manifestation of Buffalo’s spirit, there is a band that comes to mind: Witty Tarbox. Five talented musicians come together, harmonizing the grit and soul of Western New York through a fusion of surf rock, blues, funk and jazz with whimsical stage presence. Their music consists of malleable licks to create versatile hits. Witty fans would agree, they’re one of the best local acts you can see.

Frontman Bryan Williams hammers out intense vocal leads accompanied with smooth rhythmic guitar playing. Bryan grew up surrounded with music through friends and school band. He sang in choirs and in college. “I was a band geek in high school,” said Bryan. He gained a lot of experience in high school and playing in bands. He made the craft his own at SUNY Fredonia.

Lead guitarist and vocals, Alex Khoury, displays a high-level of showmanship and raw talent. He is an inspiration to watch. Alex is Lebanese and grew up listening to his father, a well-versed musician of Arabic music. He wanted Alex to learn proficiently on an acoustic guitar. After stumbling across AC/DC he quickly realized rock’n’roll and the electric guitar was calling his name. First starting off, he would jam with his brother who played the drums. A friend of theirs came over to play with them and blew Alex out of the water… and those two proceeded to start a band without him. Infuriated, Alex practiced every day until he was able to trump the guy who stole his brother. He later went on to study at SUNY Fredonia where he met Bryan.

Bassist, Cody Tarbox is the backbone of this group. Laying down God-given grooves, Cody also writes a lot of the lyrics for their songs. He grew up playing guitar and drums but lost a coin flip with his brother when deciding who would play bass on their jams at home. He fell in love with the bass guitar and decided to study music at Villa Maria. It was at Villa where he was introduced to Jerry Livingston, an admiral mentor. “He changed my life as a bass player and made me a better person. Don’t be shocked when I get his name tattooed on my chest!” he said. Cody is a great person and modest bassist. Don’t be alarmed when he goes in for the hug when you meet him after a show.

Colin Gray, “The Professor” is an innovative beat machine humbly owning the title as the drummer in Witty Tarbox. Since he was a child, he has been driven to be the best. Once he found a drum kit, it was game over. There is nothing greater than seeing a drummer of his caliber perform so intricately with his fellow bandmates. “You can just call us a performance art group,” said Colin. He really knows how to control band dynamic and lay down the most proper grooves.

Saxophonist Seth Bykowski is the newest addition to the group. His professional stylings add tremendous versatility are a good fit for the band’s music. He has played for over 22 years and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He picked up the saxophone in fourth grade because of a requirement. Knowing it was his mother’s favorite instrument, that’s what he chose.

The name Witty Tarbox was chosen because Cody had the coolest last name.

Many lyrics are composed of metaphors which delineate past and present experiences of each member. They will record jam sessions to figure out new riff and song ideas. Oftentimes, the members will have written a piece of their own and bring it to practice to work on. Bryan likes to practice acoustically to see if their song structures are cohesive. They overwrite for live performances which allows them to jam on a song for extended periods of time or narrow a song down for studio editing.

The band has created a persona of sorts named Schmitty. It was a concept which evolved into a personality, a fallacy, a living embodiment of every human vice”, a person who does all wrong with zero repercussion. “Just blame it on Schmitty”, “Quit being such a Schmitty”, “there’s a Schmitty in all of us” are quotes you’ll often pick up when hanging around the band. “Schmitty is what you become after a night at the pink”, said Alex. Pabst Blue Rhythm is the first song to be paired with a music video and introduces the character Schmitty.

Witty Tarbox has been together since Feb. 8, 2016, and is held together vigorous practice. They get together three days a week and play for four or more hours each night. A full-length album is hard in the works and will be available soon. Witty has toured many local cities with sights on larger tours once an album is complete. They have songs which are played live but not recorded. The guys were talking about recording a live album with these older songs. These songs were written in a different state of mind and to record that would rehash those feelings. “It’s a point that we passed and we wanna move on,” said Alex.

They gig most frequently at Nietzsche’s and have played Buffalo Iron Works, the 9th Ward at Babeville, Thin Man Brewery and many other venues in and around Buffalo. Nietzsche’s held there CD release show on April 28th, 2018. The band had opened with a circus styled introduction coordinated with hype man and occasional costume organizer Brandon Kempisty.

If they were given the opportunity to collaborate with any musicians anywhere in the world, it would unanimously be Red Rocks Amphitheater with Aqueous’ Mike Gantzer. Cody wants to jam with Bill Murray at his house. Colin would love to play with Erykah Badu at Red Rocks and Bryan chose Allen Stone.

Witty Tarbox has played over 50 gigs in the past 2 years. Though they don’t think they’re in a position to give advice, they left us with this: Don’t play songs that are out of your band’s soundscape. Practice often especially before a gig. “Make the members work together, one person can’t do everything and view your band as a business,” Bryan said. “Take criticism to heart and learn from it,” Colin said.

These are experiences they have gone through and grown from. They are independent of a label by choice, expressing creative control. Their first EP “The Adventure of Schmitty: Issue #1 V. Rare” was recorded with After Glow Studios with Cody Morse aka “Mustache Studios” said Witty. 85% of their gigs are booked by agent Tim Merrill, their manager. The band holds Tim in high regard. “He keeps us in check,” said Bryan. The largest shows they have performed were with the bands Magic Beans, Too Many Zoos and Consider the Source. The guys wanted to give a shout out to all those who have helped the band: Zach Todtenhaghen, Lisa Tarbox, Josh Holtzman, Ellen Pieroni, Cody Morse and Brandon Kempisty.

We, the fans, can find Witty Tarbox on Spotify, Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and their own website. You can catch a Witty show almost any week.

“The Herd” is a new column by Zachary Lewis dedicated to exposing as many bands as possible. Read his last column about “THIS.”