Chicago Music Scene Report

●Text & Photo/ Shoko Nagano

<Vol.6> Carlos Johnson in Aomori 〜Japan Blues Festival 2014 〜 

 Japan Blues Festival (JBF) started in 2004 as a civic exchange between the city of Chicago and Aomori, a small, northern city on the main island of Japan. It is organized by the Young Entrepreneurs Group of the Aomori Chamber of Commerce to cheer up the old local shopping street with the “blues.” This year’s JBF was held on July 25th and 26th in Namioka and Aomori.

 The main event of the JBF features special guests from Chicago blues legends. Past guests included Bonnie Lee, Jimmy Dorkins, Carey Bell, Willie Kent, and Magic Slim. (Sadly, all of them passed away over the past 10 years, so JBF audiences were lucky to have seen them perform in person.)

 JBF is a free event in Aomori (but not in Namioka). Expenses are covered by several local companies and food tickets sales, as they are in the Chicago Blues Festival. Free entry is one of the reasons JBF attracts diverse audiences. Unlike other music festivals in Japan that draw hardcore fans, JBF’s audiences are not primarily blues enthusiasts but ordinary citizen of all ages.

“Can’t wait to see the Japanese fans”
 This year’s guest was Carlos Johnson and his band. Carlos is one of the most passionate guitarists and vocalists in Chicago. Demetria Taylor, a promising female singer was invited as a special guest. This was her second JBF since 2011.
 Carlos’s last performance in Japan was his solo tour in 2009. He had already built a core fan base in Japan when he performed as a supporting guitarist for the blues legend, Otis Rush, who unfortunately was unable to play the guitar after suffering a stroke in 2004. “After my first visit to Japan, I couldn’t wait to return again,” Carlos said.
 On July 24th, just after Carlos landed in Japan from Belgium where he was touring with another band, he surprised Japanese fans by sitting in with Shun, a Japanese blues guitarist and Demetria. Demetria came to Japan a few days before Carlos, and played several gigs with Shun in Tokyo, where she was a big hit with audiences.

Carlos’s guitar with “Otis Rush” name engraved on it.(Photo by Yasuo Ochiai)

Best of the Best “Team Carlos”

At Haneda Airport with Shun (left ). Shun has performed at JBF for the past five consecutive years.
(Photo/ Shun Kikuta)

Carlos Johnson Band (from right)
Bill “The Buddha” Dickens: Bass
Piotr Swietoniowski : Keyboard
Carlos Johnson :Guitar & Vocal
Demetria Taylor : Vocal
Pooky Styx : Drums

 Bill Dickens and Pooky Styx are members of Carlos’ house band in Chicago, “The Serious Band”.
 Bill Dickens with his seven-string bass guitar affectionately known by the title “The Buddha.” He is one of the most prestigious bassists in the world. Bill penned the multi-platinum selling record, “In Case You Forgot” for Aretha Franklin, and also produced in multiple genres, including jazz, pop, rock, blues and R&B. Most recently Buddha has been playing with Stevie Wonder and Dr. John.
 Pooky Styx has been a professional drummer for the last 35 years, and he is one of the busiest drummers in Chicago area. His powerful and delicate drumming and deep understanding of the songs are highly respected by his fellow musicians. This is his first visit to Japan. 
 Piotr Swietoniowski (Peter) is a Polish pianist, composer, arranger, and a member of “Hoodoo Band,” one of the most popular blues bands in Poland. He is a keyboard player in Carlos Johnson’s house band in Poland. This was his first visit to Japan and his first meeting with other Chicago band members, which shows Carlos’s trust in Peter and respect for his talents. Probably, Carlos wanted to give him the experience of performing in Japan. When Peter first got the offer from Carlos, he didn’t believe it. “Hahaha, that’s funny,” he replied. “Are you kidding me?” After hearing that Carlos was serious, Peter said, “It was unbelievable. I was totally thrilled.”

Demetria and Carlos (Jun 25th at “Namioka” stage)

 Demetria Taylor grew up surrounded by noted blues musicians. Her father is the blues legend, Eddy Taylor and her mother was a singer, so it was natural for her to become a blues singer. A Delmark recording artist, she released her debut CD titled ''Bad Girl," which was nominated for a Blues Music Award for "Best New Artist Debut" in 2012. Carlos has known her since she was four years old and thinks of her as his daughter. Demetria was extremely grateful to Carlos for bringing her to Japan.  

 “Team Carlos” shares a firm connection and strong sense of professionalism. During the tour, they were punctual, polite, generous, and always cheerful. They all clearly respect the moral code of their “boss,” Carlos.

July 26th. The Marina Stage on Fire
 After The Carlos Band crazed the audiences at Namioka on July 25th, the band moved to another stage in Aomori, “Ocean side Stage” on July 26th. About 8,000 people were waiting for him there.
 “Nacomi Band,” Elena Kato & Hiroshi Eguchi Duo, and “B.B Heads” opened the stage.

At the opening ceremony, Carlos Johnson handed over the letter from Chicago mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, to Aomori mayor, Shikanai.(Photo by Hisao Dekasue Suzuki)


 Something special obviously happened with Carlos tonight. Maybe it was the excitement of coming back with his band to the country he loves after five years that made him so emotional. The strong and soulful guitar sounds grabbed people’s hearts.
 “My guitar is a part of my body,” he said. “She gave me a life, a house, and took me to the world. I don’t use a pick because I always want to feel her directly.” I thought of those words listening to his passionate performance. I had never seen such a radiant Carlos. He sang from blues, soul, R&B, and jazz over an hour. Walking around on the stage, he made eye contact with band members, and Pooky, Bill, and Peter responded to him with all their body and soul. What a groove! That was the moment the fans were waiting for. A guy standing in front of me uttered with an ecstatic expression, “What a man, Carlos…”

 Fans rushing to Carlos just after he opened the stage

His Over-five-minute solo performance overwhelmed the audiences. Magical sound from his 7 strings. This is no longer “a bass.”

Pooky leads the band, keeping eye contact with Bill and Peter. He plays an important role in this band, including as a “mood maker” too.

Peter never shows off, but his wide range of knowledge of jazz, soul and blues is amazing.

 After Carlos finished his set, Demetria Taylor appeared on the stage. She immediately got the audience dancing. “I don’t prepare a set list. I decide what to sing on the spot by looking at the audience,” she said. Her confidence has grown and her music has evolved since her performance here three years ago. As she said, “As I’m getting older, I clearly feel myself improving.”

This set reached its climax with Shun sitting in with the band.
Shun enjoyed communicating with his “big brother,” Carlos.

This is Carlos Johnson
 Carlos was really emotional during this tour. He laughed, got mad and was deeply touched. All of his emotions came from his quest to play his best and to support his band members. His fighting spirit is always there. “We have a moral attachment," he said of his band. “I wanted to come back to Japan with them, and they understood my passion. The condition (fee) was not good enough for us, but they followed me”.
 “Three hours and 15 minutes was the longest show of my career, but I still wanted to keep going. I couldn’t stop myself from looking at the fans just in front of the stage from the beginning until the end. I had goose bumps and still get them remembering it. I looked at every single face and sang for every one of them. I saw a woman crying,” Carlos recalled with tears in his own eyes.
 This is Carlos Johnson, a lovable and charming “boss” with a strong sense of justice, and, maybe, a little stubbornness.

Curtain call from left, Peter, Pooky, Elena Kato, Shun, Demetria, Carlos, Bill, Hiroshi Eguchi

Demetria smiles with her father’s record presented from a fan.

Peter surrounded by his boss, Carlos, and Bill. He is a polite, humble and cool man. He went drinking with Carlos every night.

JBF’s Value
 The JBF was a huge success again this year, but it couldn't have happened without all of the hard work behind-the-scenes. Thanks to the Aomori Chamber of Commerce that organized JBF and to the music equipment company that made every effort to grant the musicians' requests. Thanks also to Sen Yamanaka, one of the founders of the JBF, who negotiated with the Chicago musicians in Chicago and, of course, a special thanks to all of the musicians who performed at the festival this year.
 JBF is nonprofit-oriented music event designed to be “the festival for the citizen.” JBF attracts tens of thousands of people from all over Japan and from other Asian countries, too. JBF has offered a lot of opportunities for audiences, especially the younger generation, to experience the genuine blues. Its 12-year effort has contributed to the local economies and as well as providing many invisible benefits to the cities where the festivals are held..

 “Choose Chicago,” the official destination marketing organization for City of Chicago, opened its first booth this year to appeal to Chicago area attendees. “We’d like to take advantage of this great opportunity to attract more tourists to Chicago,” said Chie Usui, Choose Chicago Media & PR director. Choose Chicago and JBF may make a tie-up in the near future, so that both will be able to create more opportunities together. The day may come soon when the blues musicians from Aomori will perform at the Chicago Blues Festival.
Many people visited the booth during the festival. (Photo by Chie Usui)
 JBF is attracting more and more public attention every year. I will be supporting JBF’s further development from “Blues Buddy” city, Chicago.
 The biggest question now is: Who is going to Aomori next year? Many Chicago blues musicians are looking for the next seat (maybe).

 Related Article : 
    Chicago Blues Swept Aomori JAPAN -10th Japan Blues Festival Three Day Report
■  "Blues Asia Network" article about Japan Blues Festival by Shun Kikuta

■ Bill Dickens HP :
  [Bill Dickens Live Information in Japan]
    October 27th,28th  7:00pm、9:30pm "Billboard TOKYO"
    October 29th     6:30pm、9:30pm "Billboard OSAKA" 
■ “HooDoo Band” (Piotr Swietoniowski)

■ Where you can see Carlos Johnson
   “B.L.U.E..S” : 2519 N. Halsted Chicago, Il. 60618
    OPEN @ 8PM./ MUSIC START @ 9:30PM.

■ CD information
Carlos Johnson

Demetria Taylor
『Bad Girl』

Bill "The Buddha" Dickens
New Solo CD 『Tha Truth』 will be released on October

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