Produced by - Stephanie Tice
Recorded At - Fukuda Studio - Osaka, Japan - May 2nd, 2019
Two Telephones - Recorded At - Delmark Records, Riverside Studio, Chicago, September 20, 2018
The 70's Japanese tours of Otis Rush, Jimmy Dawkins, Eddie Taylor and others created a small but intense Japanese blues scene that today bursts over with talent three generations and forty years later. Delmark Records presents " No Border Blues “. the first-ever American compilation of some of the best Japanese blues men and women today, with musical contributions by Johnny Burgin and production by Stephanie Tice.
After seeing an interview with Johnny Burgin and Stephanie Tice on YouTube, where " No Border Blues " and the " Underground Japanese Blues Scene “were being discussed, I was floored to learn so much. It was fascinating to learn about these small, hidden, out-of-the-way blues clubs, where players like Otis Rush, Johnny Burgin, B B King, Carey Bell, Robert Lockwood Jr; signed the walls, came to play, and triggered a small but significant blues scene. The migration to Japan spawned some incredibly talented Japanese-based musicians, many of whom have since taken residence in Chicago, becoming prominent members of the blues music community.
The Chicago blues invasion in Japan began in September, 1972 when B B King played in Osaka. The openers were the Japanese West Road Blues Band, which included guitarist Shinji Shiotsugu. Following B B King to Japan were Chicago-based musicians such as Otis Rush, Jimmy Dawkins, The Aces, Eddie Taylor, Robert Lockwood, Jr; Jimmy Johnson and Carey Bell. And the Kansai Region that includes Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka became a blues hotbed for local players including Fusanasuki Kondo, Ryuichiro " Weeping Harp " Senoh, Mitsu Yoshi Azuma and Takashi " Hotoke " Nagai.
"It's not a competitive macho boys club. If you love the blues and you can play, then you come up and play. That's just a more welcoming atmosphere".
Johnny Burgin’s first tour was in 1996 with his college friend and Tail Dragger bandmate Ken Kawashima. They played a " humbling " 6 or 7 dates in Tokyo. " I realized just how intense and dedicated both the Japanese players and audiences were. I also met several remarkable players who I still work with today including the young harpman and singer Kotez, who was already a great showman and player while still in his early 80's".
" No Border Blues “:
Kotez - Young harpman and singer burns through Mada Sukinanda (the Japanese translation of Little Walter's " I Just Keep Loving Her") and the original "Samurai Heart Attack" - Kotez, Iper Onishi, and Kaz Nogio - inspired by the 1990 Alligator Records album " Harp Attack " which featured Junior Wells, James Cotton, Billy Branch, and Carey Bell.
Yosshimi Hirata - " I really liked her bass playing so I hired her a lot that summer (2013). She was thrilled to actually be playing paying gigs in Chicago and, later that winter, she returned the favor by booking me a two-week Japanese tour in 2014".
Iper Onishi - “Iper blew my mind”, Johnny has said. " He has such an authentic blues sound. I love the fact that he listened to Carey Bell and he said my mission in life is to sound like Carey Bell. I was amazed at how seamlessly they blended (“Samurai Heart Attack “). The whole thing was totally impromptu and we did it in one take".
Yoshi Mizuno - " Plays guitar on six of the songs on " No Border Blues “. " He is a really smoking guitar player. He's got that fire and aggression and I just love him".
Takagiman - Plays drums on five of the songs and has jammed with Johnny Burgin since 1996. He runs a jam at Chicago Rock, Osaka's hub for traditional blues. " Takagima has that authentic, Chess Records, Chicago groove," Johnny has said. " It just feels like deep blues. He's world class ".
Lee Kanehira - She plays piano on six of the songs. A member of the Chicago based Cash Box Kings - ' I really love old school Chicago blues piano style like Otis Spann, Big Mace, and Pinetop Perkins”, Kanehira has said. "The only one I got to see was Pinetop at the 2008 Chicago Blues Festival".
Nacomi Tanaka - Plays lead and rhythm guitar on two songs and sings on " Hurry Up Baby “, a guitar -rockin’ track from ' No Border Blues”. "Nacomi is a band leader who makes things happen”, Johnny says. " My father was a big fan of old country music and Dixieland and he had a collection of vinyl records”, Nacomi Tanaka says, “And I would listen to American and British pop on a midnight music program”. Nacomi taught herself the acoustic guitar that her grandmother gave to her when she was 12. Nacomi bought herself an electric guitar when she was in high school and during college, she was a leader of an R&B band. " After I graduated, I couldn't find anyone to play with. I became an English teacher and married and had two children. I didn't do any music for 20 years”. Tanaka nearly died due to an illness and a surgery that “didn’t go well". That is when Nacomi became " reborn “. " I realized I Had to go back to the music world”, she explains. ' Then I met my mentor, Shinji Shiotsgu (the guitarist for Japan's well - known group, " West Road Blues “)’. Nacomi began her recording career with a solo album in 2007. Nacomi leads two bands, "Nacomi and the Blues Temple " and " Naco Meters “, which plays New Orleans flavored music.
Kaz Nogio - " Kaz played harp on " Sunnyland " (an Elmore James song) which is my favorite tune on the record’, Johnny says. " He also plays a deep cut by John Brim and Little Walter, ' Rattlesnake “. It is impossible to copy that record. I wanted to challenge him".
Producer Stephanie Tice came up with the idea of " No Border Blues”, which was recorded in one marathon day and night at Fukuda Studio, Osaka. " It was fun,'' Kotez has said. " We were relaxed and were just having a good time with Johnny”. Lee Kanehira chimes in, " But I think it was tough for Johnny because he was on every session. I think he got exhausted”.
Five guitarists - four drummers - three bassists - piano - three blues harpists - and - after the sessions were over - Everyone celebrated with heaping bowls of Tankotsu ramen and plenty of Sapporo Beer.
Johnny Burgin, a bandleader who doesn't speak Japanese, and his partner, Stephanie Tice, brought together Japan's top blues players to make “No Border Blues'' - " They're so good, they didn’t need my help”, Johnny told Tahoe Onstage, " It was just like a duck in the water when it came to actual playing. They have a real purist approach. The more authentic it sounds, the more they respond to it. The spirit and enthusiasm and the seriousness they gave me, I am still on a high from it”. Johnny carried his guitar to Osaka, Japan and " No Border Blues" became the ride of his life.
Hopefully there will be more NO BORDER BLUES projects in the near future. " Japan " is fascinating, mind-blowing, and an incredible musical experience.