SHOKOのシカゴ郊外の町から


 SHOKO NAGANO

Freelance Editor, Writer & Singer
She had been working as a creative director at one of the leading publish companies in Japan. After quitting the job In 2001, she came to Berkeley, California by herself to study English and communication. In 2004, she started working as a freelance editor and writer in Japan. She came back to Berkeley in 2006, then moved to the suburb of Chicago, Illinois in 2007. Since then, she's been working as a freelance writer and editor and covering Chicago news especially music, education, culture issue to convey the beauty of Windy City.
She loves all kinds of music, especially jazz and blues, and performs jazz (piano and vocal.) Fourth degree holder of "Kendo" (Japanese martial arts.) SAKE lover.
She publised her own essay book "Tanomo America" (2006)

Web: www.ShokoChicago.com

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         Chicago Blues Swept Aomori JAPAN
       10th Japan Blues Festival Three Day Report

 The "Japan Blues Festival (JBF)" marked its 10th anniversary this year. The festival started as a civic exchange event between the city of Chicago and Aomori, Japan. To witness this big event, I flew all the way from Chicago to Aomori with the Chicago Blues musicians who were going to perform at JBF. This report is my "Blues Diary" of those three hot days.

Two representative Chicago Blues bands were invited to JBF this year. The
"Koko Taylor's Blues Machine" had supported the "Queen of Blues" Koko Taylor, who passed away three years ago. Now, after four years, it will reunite with the vocalist Chick Rodgers, who is regarded as the successor of Koko. This set will be the first revival of the Chicago Blues Festival this year.
 
"The Lurrie Bell Blues Band and Special guest Matthew Skoller": Lurrie Bell is regarded as the only guitarist and vocalist who can really sing "Gospel Blues" today. (His father, the great harmonica player, Carey Bell, was the first guest performer of JBF in 2003.) Lurrie Bell Blues Band’s special guest is Matthew Skoller, one of Chicago's most respected harmonica players. He is also the producer of Lurrie’s new CD, "Devil Ain’t Got No Music."
 We can rarely see both bands on the same stage in Chicago, so these two will be the most suitable "Dream Bands" for 10th anniversary.


◆July 19 (Day1)
 Despite their late arrival at Aomori last night, they started the day with plenty of energy. One of the members just came back from Spain and flew directly to Japan without going back to his house. Blues Men have to be tough!

(Left) Members of two bands appeared on the Aomori local morning TV program, and played "Sweet Home Chicago."
(Right) With Mayor Shikanai


  In the afternoon, they headed to the "Mountain Stage" in Namioka where today’s show will take place. Namioka is a rural and scenic area in the suburb of Aomori. Foods stands of local products, Sake, and Yakitori (BBQ chicken) in front of the special stage, created the old sweet rural summer festival atmosphere.
 I honestly couldn’t imagine that we could really hear Chicago Blues in this place. Will enough people really come here? Who cares! It looks nice and unique anyway, not like the snobbish festivals in the big city. Blues originally came from small black communities. This might be very close to the original atmosphere.

 Before the performance, Mr. Barry Dolins greeted the audience. He is the founding father of the world's biggest blues festival, "Chicago Blues Festival," and is respected by all Chicago musicians. He has been supporting this JBF from its start. Without his help, JBF would not exist today.

6pm
"The Lurrie Bell Blues Band & Special guest Matthew Skoller" kicked off the festival.
Their sounds just blew me away. This was the moment a small rural station turned into Chicago's Grant Park. No matter where they play, they produce their best sounds. Yes, they are real musicians!


Lurrie Bell(Vo,Gt)  
Willie Hayes(Ds) 
Felton Crews(B) 
Bill Sims Jr. (Key) 
Matthew Skoller(Harp) 




   

Octopus flitter stand and Chicago Blues. What a Japanese feeling!

 Next up was the "Koko Taylor's Blues Machine."
The guitar sound of Shun and Vino made a powerful explosion in the quiet woods, while Melvin and Brian kept the stable beat. All people, old or young, girls wearing Yukata (Japanese Summer Style Kimono) or food stands ladies, couldn’t stop dancing.

 The climactic moment was when "Diva" Chick Rodgers appeared on the stage. Although she looked a little exhausted from the long trip, she immediately grabbed everyone’s heart with her energetic aura. This was exactly the same powerful performance which I saw a month ago at the Chicago Blues Festival.

Shun Kikuta(Vo,Gt) 
Brian T Parker(Ds) 
Vino Louden(Vo,Gt)  
Melvin Smith(B)  
Chick Rodgers(Vo)


◆July30 (Day2)

 The Festival venue moved to "Ocean side Stage" for the last two days. The blue ocean and sky in front of the stage were easy on our eyes. Today’s temperature is about 63 degrees, but it feels cooler due to the wind from the ocean.

 Japanese female guitarist, Nacomi and her band opened the stage, followed by "The Lurrie Bell Blues Band."

 This set was the full acoustic version from his new CD, "The Devil Ain't Got No Music." Lurrie’s strong baritone voice went straight to the audience through the ocean wind.

 He learned music from his father, and started playing the guitar professionally at the age of seven. He sings "Gospel Blues." Since Blues was forbidden as "devil music" in the black community church in the early times in the U.S, he sings Gospel while playing the blues in his mind. He sings as if the feeling inside of him springs from the bottom of his body, and the power of his emotions directly come to us. This is a totally different world from yesterday’s energetic electric version, and the audiences were quietly listening, just being soaked into his world. It’s probably because Aomori people hold the same "soul" in their minds.

 After their performance, the musicians enjoyed hanging around the festival site and looking forward to the next performer. They drank the local Sake, chatted with local people, and took pictures together. Unlike other festivals in the big cities, the distance between musicians and audience was nice and close.

 The organizer, The Aomori Chamber of Commerce and Industry, focused on producing the "Summer Festival" for the local people, and created this unique atmosphere. In this sense, JBF is very similar to a local festival in America.
 Staring at the stage from the audience seat after his performance, Lurrie Bell said , "Good festival...I like this festival so much."
Bluesmen love Sake. This happy face can be seen only in JBF


 At the next performance of "Blues Machine," Japanese super guitarist, Kyoji Yamamoto, joined the band on stage. He played "the battle of guitars" with Shun and Vino with his rock’n roll flavor , and aroused the guitarists’ enthusiasm.
 Although he is a well-known guitarist in Japan, at first he was "not recognized by other Chicago members and sat alone on the corner of the back stage." He said. "It was a new experience for me, but once we played music together on the stage, we respected each other completely. This is the beauty of the music!" (Kyoji)
(Photo: Kyoji Yamamoto)


◆July 21 (Day3)
 Today is the grand finale of JBF and several music exchange programs took place.
 "Gospel Workshop" by Chick Rodgers: Chick had a gospel lecture for two amateur gospel groups and sang "Amazing Grace" at the beginning. This acappella blew away all the people. Yes, she is the genuine Gospel singer who started her career at the age of nine at the local church in a western suburb of Chicago.

 She was followed by "Blues Harmonica Lesson" by Matthew Skoller. Teacher Matthew had a harmonica lesson for five elementary school children. It was only a twenty five minute lesson, but they enjoyed the "mini session" at the end of the lesson.
 All the children were so excited, "It was fun," "This is my first experience, but I could play well." Having harmonica lesson by Grammy Award Nominee artist must have been the most unforgettable memory for them this summer.
           Some of the Aomori children who listened to real Blues will soon
           become good blues musician in the near future.



The final stage of JBF started.

"Lurrie Bell & Matthew band"
Lurrie Bell
He is truly a pure musician. Music is everything for him.
Contrary to his big smile, he is shy and likes to be alone. How did he feel being on the same stage on which his dear father once performed?
"Japanese people have a passion for the music and enjoy it so much. I can feel that."

Willie Hayes (Ds)
He is like a willow. A sociable and warm man.
Nobody can beat him when it comes to the sense of humor and intake of alcohol. He is a real blues man.

Matthew Skoller (Harp) dresses up cool on the stage. He is sincere and considerate as a musician and a human being. This is his first visit to Japan and luckily for Aomori, the perfect place for a Sashimi and Sake lover like him.

(Photo by Kazuo UTAMURA)
Bill Sims plays keyboard and guitar with finger-picking and slide technique. His guitar was featured in Lurrie’s newest CD 『The Devil Ain't Got No Music.』 His passion toward the music is extreme.

(Photo by Kazuo UTAMURA)
Playful and charming bassist, Felton Crews.
As a member of "Chicago Blues A Living History Band," he is considered to be one of the most respected bassists in Chicago. He played bass in Miles Davis’ comeback album, "The Man With The Horn (1981)" and toured all over the world. A man of big body and big heart.

Kyoji Yamamoto sits in Lurrie Band. Lurrie suggested that he join tonight’s gig after the party last night. They communicate with each other through guitars. Too many words aren’t necessary between musicians.

(photo: Kyoji Yamamoto)


 "Blues Machine" concluded JBF.

 Brian, Shun and Vino opened the stage, each singing one song. These three guys are all survivors of the horrible traffic accident that happened four years ago on the way to Koko Taylor’s tour. I can imagine how blessed they felt to be on the same stage today as "Blues Machine," especially for Shun, who moved from Chicago to Taiwan two years ago to "make roots" in Chicago Blues.

 Listening to Shun singing his original, "Queen of The Blues," dedicated to Koko, various thoughts flitted through my mind; Koko might present this revival performance for Japanese fans tonight.
 Remembering Shun’s talking the other night with Blues Machine members, I felt a lump in my throat. "Koko asked God to let us survive, and take her with him instead, didn’t she?"
 Sharing the same time with these members, I saw how humble and sincere they were. Then I understood how Koko chose her band members.
(Photo by Kazuo UTAMURA)
"Koko Taylor's Blues Machine."
(from Left)
Shun Kikuta
After moving to Taiwan two years ago, Shun is now working as a "Blues Missionary" in Taiwan. He is one of the most essential guitarists in the blues scene in Asia. He always loves fans, and is sincere in his sound.

Brian T. Parker
He's toured with various musicians regardless the genre such as Mavis Staple and Taj Mahal. He is a modest and nice guy, and one of the top three drummers in Chicago.

Vino Louden
He’d been the member of "Blues Machine" for more than 18 years. After the accident, he was in critical condition. He later recalled that Shun spoke to him, "Hey bro, wake up and let's play together again," when Shun visited Vino’s room, Vino said in his mind, "Don’t let me leave here. I want to go back with you." Then he survived. Music helped save his life.

Melvin Smith
He is the musician who Shun first met in Chicago. He also joined "Blues Machine" before Shun. A quiet and cool guy with the excellent management skills, he is indispensable to "Blues Machine."


Chick Rodgers
Koko Taylor’s "dear child." Koko discovered Chick’s talent. Lately, she's been performing all over the U.S. at Koko tribute events. Nobody can imagine that her amazingly powerful voice comes from her such a tiny body.

(Photo by Kazuo UTAMURA)
               
All members played "Sweet Home Chicago" together at the encore.
(Photo by Masaki Sasaki)     
 

◆◆

 The three day festival ended with a huge success thanks to the great support of the local people in Aomori, the blues fans from all over Japan, and all the musicians who performed. This is the most truly "handmade" event I’ve never experienced.

 All these successes were thanks to the devoted work of the organizer, the Aomori Chamber of Commerce and Industry. They focused on producing the festival "for the local people," not for the limited blues fan, and learned from mistakes of past festivals..

 We cannot forget one person who contributed to this festival, Mr. Moony, the guitar maker, popular with people in the know. He’s been producing the guitars and basses for countless musicians all over the world.
 
 
 Shun, Vino, Melvin and Felton often visited "Moony’s tent" next to the stage during the festival, and asked him to maintain their "Moony-brand" guitar/bass. His endless efforts brought the festival huge success.
Moony is maintaining Melvin’s bass. (Photo by Moony)

 
 "JBF is one of the most exceptional festivals I’ve ever experienced because of the warm hospitality and well-organized work of the Aomori people. This is why not only Chicago Blues musicians but Japanese Blues bands are eager to perform in this festival. I hope this festival continues to support all blues fans and musicians," said Shun.

 I’m sure the Japan Blues Festival will last here for as long as the 300 year traditional "Nebuta Festival" in Aomori. The city has the same latitude as Chicago.

Thank you,Aomori.
Thank you, Japan Blues Festival,
Let’s keep on bluesin' !


(PS)
 After I came back to Chicago, one of the well-known Chicago Blues Musicians told me that he wanted to come to Aomori with Lurrie’s band.
Aomori is now the "Mecca of Blues."


★CD Information

Lurrie Bell 
『The Devil Ain't Got No Music』

Matthew Skoller 
『THE MATTHEW SKOLLER BAND | THESE KIND OF BLUES!』

『CHICAGO BLUES: A LIVING HISTORY』

Heritage Blues Orchestra (Bill Sims Jr.)
『And Still I Rise』

Chick Rodgers
『Essentially Yours』

Shun Kikuta
『Rising Shun』


                       
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