Newspaper Articles and Critics
Brian M. Owens
American blues music touches people of all colors, creeds and nationalities. Its far reaching influence was paramount in British invasion of the 1960’s as well as American’s hippie generation, and it continues to inspire young players to this day.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Satoru Nakagawa and hi wife, singer-bassist Yukiko Fujii, better knows in Boston as The Tokyo Tramps, have consumed all things blues since reaching our shores. Their dedication to the art form is readily apparent on their outstanding new album Rollin’ Rockland Blues Hour. With a full understanding of the origins of the blues and the musical ability to convey its energy and vibe, The Tokyo Tramps are doing their part in keeping this vital American music alive...
METRONOME: Your new album Rollin’ Rockland Blues Hour is your best recording to date. Sonically and aurally it sounds great. When did you first decide to record the CD?
Satoru Nakagawa: The actual recording started in September on 2011. We recorded with Drew townson and he did a wonderful job. We met him about five years ago. We’ve been playing at this BBQ restaurant in West Bridgewater called Chili Head BBQ. The owner Paul Bello introduced us to Drew. He is a fantastic guitarist and a fantastic engineer. He has recorded a lot of heavyweight blues guys around the area.
The first time he saw us playing live, he came to me and said, :I want to record you. I really want to capture this live sound” That was the beginning of this whole project. I always kept that in my head. At the time we already had the last album out. So we started thinking what’s next, what’s next? Since Drew had brought that up, I agreed with him that I wanted to capture what we were doing live instead of tweaking a lot of stuff in the studio. We wanted to do it like an old Chess Records thing. That’s how it began.
METRONONE: Did you write the twelve songs specifically for the album or did you have some of them in the can?
Satoru: A little bit of both. I’m always writing. I always try to carry a good seven songs in my pocket.
Yukiko Fujii: One of the songs, “Bound For Glory 2012, “ was on our second album. Somehow Satoru didn’t like it...
Satoru: Over the years I guess my musical tastes have changed. The original version has a more rocking sound and I wasn’t crazy about it anymore, but I always liked the lyrics. So I started rewriting the music. I had the Memphis R&B Stax sound in my head, so I tried to write in that idiom.
METRONONE: The lyrics are the same, but the music changed?
Satoru: I also had Yukiko singing lead instead of me, so that was a big difference.
METRONONE: “Good Morning, Marietta” is a great song. What inspired that tune?
Satoru: When we won the Blues Challenge in Marietta, Ohio in 2010, we went on to the Blues Challenge in Memphis. It was a crazy thing. We literally drove from here 13 hours to Marietta, Ohio to play a 20 minute set. We ended up winning. Driving back to Boston I was thinking, What a great experience we had. People were so wonderful. I have to write a song about this. I was writing in my head as we were driving back to Boston.
The song is only about two or three years old. Originally I didn’t hear it the way it was recorded. I was hearing more like T-Bone Walker and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown type of thing. Slow blues. I think with the bad we rearranged the songs four or five times. The music on the recorded version is very much inspired by a New Orleans style.
METRONONE: How did you get involved with a Blues Challenge in Marietta, Ohio?
Satoru: In 2009, we participated in the Blues Challenge in Boston and lost.
Yukiko: we didn’t even make the finals in Boston. So I looked up on Sonic Bids and Marietta, Ohio was looking for submissions. We thought at that time, Why not?
Satoru: We had nothing to lose.
Yukiko: Even though it was thirteen hours away(laughs), we thought we would give it a shot. They asked us, “Are you really going to come to Ohio?” We said, Yes. That was the beginning of the whole thing.
METRONOME: Were the contestants all Ohio bands or were there other acts from around the country?
Yukiko: They accepted acts from everywhere.
Satoru: Every Blues Challenge has different rules. I think Boston only accepts New England bands.
METRONOME: Did you actually win that Blues Challenge?
Yukiko: We won the first prize. We came in first place. There were eighteen or nineteen other bands.
METRONOME: I dug the song “Empty Pockets.” It was comical and sounded like a page from your lives. What was that about?
Satoru: I think I had the lyrics written prior to the final arrangement. I really like the story of it. It’s really a story abut our life. Once again I was inspired by New orleans Mardi Gras Indians. I was listening to their songs and got inspired by the music. We tried to sound like them. I was happy with the outcome.
METRONOME: Did you spend time in New Orleans when you first came to America?
Satoru: I first went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1990. From baton Rouge, I moved to Thibodaux, then Lafayette and eventually to New Orleans. I spent five years in Louisiana from 1990-1995 and then came to Boston in 1996.
METRONOME: Were you playing music while you were in Louisiana?
Satoru: Yes. I was a music student when I was in Lafayette. Louisiana. I studied classical music and a little bit of jazz for two years. I was not interested in either, but at the time I thought was the best thing I could do. After two years of studying classical guitar, I felt like I had to hit the street. I wanted to do rock & roll and the blues, so I moved to New Orleans, but did not study music.
METRONOME: Yukiko, where did you meet Satoru?
Yukiko: I met Satoru in Boston.
METRONOME: What brought you to Boston?
Yukiko: At first I took some business programs and did some work in Nashville, Tennessee for three months and the came to Boston for six months. I didn’t want to go back to japan after the nine months, so I enrolled Berklee College of Music’s summer program stayed until I graduated and I’m still here.
METRONOME: Were you playing the bass guitar at that time?
Yukiko: I started to play bass when I was in junior high school in Japan. In Japan, it’s tough to keep playing music or sports because you have to study so hard to get in to a good college or to get a better job. I couldn’t play all the time but I loved to pick up the bass.
When I studied at Berklee, I was a voice major. I didn’t think about playing bass guitar, but every time I would do one of my recitals, I couldn’t find a good rock bass player. Many bass student started off playing rock or pop, but once they started going to Berklee they started playing jazz. I thought, I started playing to play bass guitar, why not again? So I started to play to play bass and sing at the same time and I just love it.
METRONOME: I noticed that Kosei Fukuyama was the drummer for this project but he’s no longer in the band. What happened to him?
Satoru: He went back to Japan. He was a Berklee student. He was much younger than us. We were not together in school. We met through somebody else.
METRONOME: Who is your current drummer?
Satoru: He is a Korean guy, which is cool. His name is Jungho Kang.
METRONOME: How did you meet Jungho?
Satoru: Berklee has an alumni website where you can go and look for band mates and that kind of stuff. Jungho answered our posting. He came to a rehearsal and we quickly learned that he studied drums at The University of New Orleans. That’s the very school I went to. He really studied that New Orleans marching band drumming. How many drummers can play that, really? We were very very lucky. The whole transition was very smooth. He’s married and he has a gig. He’s an adult. He’ very mature and his mindset is like ours. He works hard and he’s a wonderful guy and a great drummer. I’m very happy with him.
METRONOME: I noticed that you also added a horn player to the band. Who is he and how did you meet?
Satoru: His name is Junpei Fujita. Yukiko and I were playing in a wedding band and the band needed a sax player. Through a friend we found Junpei. We used to play in a wedding band.
METRONOME: What was the name of the band?
Satoru: (laughs) This band was a Vietnamese wedding band. We hooked up through another Berklee connection. A bunch of Taiwanese students were playing in this Vietnamese wedding band and somehow we joined. It’s call Hai Au.
METRONOME: What is the English translation for hai-Au?
Satoru: I think it means seagull.
METRONOME: Satoru, you played a lot of excellent slide guitar on this album. What did you use for a guitar?
Satoru: I have a 1960 Gibson reissue Les Paul Special double cutaway. Originally I bout it as a second guitar-a backup guitar. My first guitar is a’52 reissue Telecaster. I bought the Les paul and I didn’t like the guitar for two years. I tried different things, but I didn’t like anything about the guitar. I was seriously thinking about selling it and then I saw some blues player playing the guitar with a slide. It hit me immediately. I changed the strings to a heavier gauge. I raised the action and started playing the slide and finally the guitar started singing...
METRONOME: And now you’re happy.
METRONOME: Yukiko what were you playing for a bass guitar?
Yukiko: I play a Gibson EB3. I cannot live without that.
METRONOME: Did you use any special effects i the studio while you recorded Rollin’ Rockland Blues Hour?
Satoru: I used the wah-wah and a distortion. The theme was to capture a live sound, so that;s what I normally use live. Nothing unusual, really. Drew did use some vintage mics though.
METRONOME: How long id it take to record the album?
Satoru: Most of the recordings were done in two days. Then what happened was that Yukiko’s mother got sick, very sick. Eventually we lost her. That was September of 2011. We stopped the project because of that for about a year.
Yukiko: We recorded in September of 2011 and her condition got worse in October of 2011. So from October ’11 to April of 2012, I was back and forth between here and Japan. I could book shows or do projects. We lost her in April 2012, so I was busy doing legal and family things until June. At the end of June, we got back on track.
Satoru: We did the basics in two days and went back tot he studio to do very small things.
Yukiko: Yes, vocals and saxophone.
METRONOME: Were a lot of the initial tracks first takes?
Satoru: I didn’t do any overdubs.
Yukiko: Just a few.
METRONOME: What is your favorite song on the album, Satoru?
Satoru: I think “Come On Baby, Dry Your Tears” is my masterpiece. For that particular track I was inspired by this girl that I was talking to one time. She’s a struggling artist and we were exchanging conversation. She was crying and telling me how difficult it is to continue. I was inspired by that story and wrote the lyrics.
The music was inspired by another New Orleans artist Buckwheat Zydeco. I’m very happy about the music, the lyrics, my vocals and the slide work. I don’t think I could do that slide again. I really captured that spirit. I’m very happy about that particular song.
METRONOME: I noticed that you played some accordion on this record as well. Did Buckwheat inspire that?
Satoru: (laughs) I always like accordion. I love Los Lobos. They use accordion a lot. I acquire an accordion, but I struggle with it.
Yukiko: It’s not easy.
Satoru: I’d love to play accordion like those guys, it’s going to be a serious full time job. But for this particular song I could hear it in the background so all I did was press a button(laughs).
METRONOME: What is your favorite song on the album, Yukiko?
Yukiko: “Bound For Glory 2012.” I can relate to that song very well. I love the whole arrangement and it’s my favorite song to sing at live shows.
METRONOME: Have you had a CD release party for Rollin’ Rockland Blues Hour?
Yukiko: We did. It wasn’t a big production kind of thing. We did it in January before we went to Memphis. It was at Smoken’ Joe's.
METRONOME: I see you’re busy playing everywhere.
Yukiko: Yes, we’re trying.
Satoru: We’re always playing at Chili Head in West Bridgewater and we have a Gardner Ale House show coming up on July 20. We’re also playing at a new place called The Fat Cactus in Lynnfield on Route 1 on July 26.
METRONOME: Have you been back to New Orleans recently?
Satoru: Actually, yes. Since we lost Kosei last year I played the Boston Blues Challenge in the solo category. I did not win but someone saw me there and encouraged me to try the Massachusetts Blues Challenge that was coming up. I ended up trying out and winning, and going to Memphis again. After going to Memphis, we decided to visit New Orleans which was only six hour drive away. We caught the first week of Mardi Gras. That was fun.
METRONOME: You seem to have a cosmic connection with New Orleans. Have you and Yukiko ever thought about moving down there?
Satoru: As soon as I moved to Boston in 1996 it was always in my head. I was planning to go back to New Orleans as soon as I graduated from Berklee simply because I did not like Berklee, I did not like winters here...I did not like anything at that moment. I was not doing well at that time. I was an unhappy struggling musician back then. That’s why I wrote the song :Going Back To New Orleans:. Financially speaking it was not a good move to make, so I stayed, and stayed a little longer, and stayed a little longer.. then seventeen years passed.
Yukiko: He always blames me (laughs). Somehow Tokyo Tramps thing is getting around. The more we play, the more opportunity comes.
Satoru: That’s the thing. I really love our fans. They are really wonderful supporters. I really appreciate them being there for us, but the thought is always open.
METRONOME: Where can we find out more about you on the internet?
Yukiko: We try to constantly update everything on Sonicbids, FaceBook and Reverbnation.
Satoru: You can always go to our web site at www.tokyotramps.com
June 12, 2012
Tokyo Tramps / Rising blues stars from land of the rising sun
Care for a little sushi with your barbecue?
A Japanese blues band is a novelty, but the Tokyo Tramps, led by the
husband-and-wife team of Satoru Nakagawa and Yukiko Fujii on guitar,
bass and vocals, manage to combine American blues and roots music
with an Asian twist. For example, the Tramps use the polite lyric: "I am
concerned" in place of something like, say, "Damn right I got the blues!"
The Tramps, along with the Reprobates, a pop-rock band; and Roadside
Prophet, a recently reunited group that plays soul, New Orleans-style
funk, and rhythm and blues, will perform in a triple-bill split show Friday at
the Bull Run.
Fujii, who left Tokyo in the 1990s after studying law and advancing in a
lucrative career at an advertising firm, said while she has been singing
and playing piano and bass since she was young (at parties and
weddings), she could not hack the gender-inequality in her homeland,
both at her job and in the music world. A four-week vacation in New York
City sealed the deal. She quit her day job, and much to her parents'
dismay, moved to the U.S. "Every single night I went to clubs, bars and musicals. I loved it so much," she said.
Meanwhile, Nakagawa, now a virtuoso on slide guitar, was already
enamored with American music. Bruce Springsteen was one of his early
heroes, and he got the name "Tramps" from one of the Boss's songs.
The songwriter of the group, Nakagawa moved to Louisiana in 1990, just
out of high school. Figuring American music was rooted in the south, he
went in search of the "spirit of rock 'n' roll," going from town to town in that
state absorbing deep blues, gospel and rock 'n' roll. Soon, he said, it
became clear that blues was the father of rock. (A variation on the Muddy
Waters song "The blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll.")
Their drummer, Kosei Fukuyama, , from Sapporo, Japan, studied music at
Berklee in Boston, after his father encouraged him to go out and see the
world. Strongly influenced by jazz and classical music, he took up piano at
age 5 and percussion at 12. His ambition is to make it big in the U.S.
Fujii and Nakagawa met in Boston, with Fukuyama joining them in 2007.
They have played all around New England and have twice been
semi-finalists in annual Boston Blues Challenges. Two years ago - on the
road again - they represented a blues society from Ohio at the
International Blues Challenge in Memphis, driving from Ohio to Memphis
and taking in the Mississippi Delta while they were at it.
The Tramps have four CDs under their karate belts, and are set to start
recording a fifth this fall. The recent death of Fujii's mother meant several
trips back and forth to Japan during the illness. Besides taking an
emotional toll, she said, it created six months of uncertainty for the band in
scheduling shows and making the new CD. Fujii has since joined a metal
band, "Knight Storm," which performs mostly in New Hampshire.
She says she is still too sad to perform a song she wrote and dedicated to
her mother, called "Someday You Will Come Home," so on Friday, the
band will focus on New Orleans, Chicago and Delta blues.
"Reprobates, Tramps and Prophets" Tokyo Tramps will perform Friday at the Bull Run with the
Reprobates and Roadside Prophet.
When: 8 p.m. June 15
Where: Bull Run Restaurant, 215 Great Road, Shirley
How much: $10 admission. (978) 425-4311, www.bullrunrestaurant.com
Boston Blues Society
October 27, 2010
"Young, Bluesy and all the way from Japan"
It's always cool for an aging hippie like me to walk into a nightclub and be totally blown away by the music and vibe that surrounds me. And when the performers are young, well-versed in the R&B founding fathers and transplanted from Japan to conquer the American Blues scene, it becomes my honor and duty to help them spread the word. Their opening tune was a taut slide guitar version of Muddy's "Rollin' and Tumblin’" and I immediately became a fan dedicated to enlightening everyone about this trio's true talents. Just back from a visit back to the Far East to decide the best way to ship their American success back home, female bassist and vocalist, Yukiko Fujii and guitarist Satoru Nakagawa took time to impart their observations of the local blues scene to this interested writer. (Drummer Kosei Fukuyama was unavailable for this discussion.) Read on and get impressed:
BBS: What are three young Japanese musicians doing in Boston playing the blues?
TT: Somehow our paths crossed in Boston. We decided to stay in the States to play music rather than going back to Japan. We love American music and each of us has quite different musical backgrounds but we have one thing in common: we all want to make and play music for a living.
BBS: How big is American blues in Japan? Is there much chance for young musicians to hear and purchase music from blues musicians?
TT: It's not so big, but remember, Japan is the second largest market in the world. You can easily find blues recordings if you want to.
BBS: What do you see as major differences between blues in Europe and Asia compared to America? In terms of audiences, places to play and other opportunities?
TT: We don’t know much about the blues scene in Europe so we can’t quite answer about the differences there, but there IS a blues scene in Japan. We don’t know about other Asian countries.
BBS: Who are your blues influences?
Satoru: John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Taj Mahal, Elmore James, too many to mention.
Yukiko: I came to Berklee to study singing so I have influences from female singers like Bonnie Raitt and Etta James. Recently, I'm into Irma Thomas and Janiva Magness.
BBS: Is there much of a concert circuit in Japan? Can you make a living playing the blues there? Do any major blues artists go on tour through Japan?
TT: We just went back there to search for that. There is a scene in Japan and making a living playing music is as hard there as anywhere else. The common system of live music venues in Japan is "pay to play" or heavily dependent on cover charges. Restaurants and bars hire jazz musicians and there are some venues for blues in major cities like Tokyo and Yokohama where clubs normally charge a $25 or $30 cover. I believe every major blues artist has been there at one time or another: B.B. King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, and so on. I wonder how often they go to Japan. Pop/Rock and Hip Hop artists often tour through Japan and they are always welcomed - even new and young groups - but I'm not sure blues artists are treated in the same way.
BBS: What blues artists did you get to see growing up?
Satoru: Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Dr. John.
BBS: Are English blues artists better known than American blues artists in Japan?
TT: U.S. blues artists are better known.
BBS: Did you three meet and start playing in Japan or here and how did it happen?
TT: Satoru and Yukiko met while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. Kosei graduated Berklee as well but didn’t join the Tramps until much later, almost three years ago.
BBS: When was the first time you heard the blues and what did hearing it do to you?
Satoru: My first record was by John Lee Hooker. I listened to the entire album once and I put it away for a year. I was seventeen and it was the hardest sound I'd ever heard.
Yukiko: Back in the 70s and the 80s, I grew up listening to a radio station called FEN (Far East Network) in Tokyo. It was part of the American Armed Forces Network and it played American Top 40, The Wolfman Jack Show, The King Biscuit Flour Hour, etc., 24/7. So not just blues, but American music in general was the huge thing in my life. It drove me to study English, Music, History, and so on. I spent all my money buying records and going to concerts and ended up forming an all-girl band when I was 14.
BBS: Are there any blues groups that sing their lyrics in Japanese?
TT: There used to be Japanese blues bands like Yuka-Dan and the West Road Blues Band that did but they're both no longer playing together.
BBS: What's in the future for Tokyo Tramps?
TT: Our next big thing is to attend the International Blues Challenge in Memphis next February, not representing the Boston Blues Society but The Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society in Marietta, OH because we won the River City Ohio Blues Competition last February. We might be the first all-Japanese Blues band to participate in the IBC so we hope we get some recognition for being truly unique.
February 20, 2010
Boston trio wins blues contest
A Boston-based jazz trio from Japan was the winner of the 18th annual River City Ohio Blues Competition on Friday and Saturday at the Lafayette Hotel in downtown Marietta.
At the end of the two-day blues contest Saturday night, The Tokyo Tramps were chosen as the first place finisher, followed by the Akron, Ohio, duo of Bongo Joe and Little Steve-O in second and Magic Mama Latte, of Gallipolis, in third.
The competition was sponsored by the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society of Marietta. A total of 17 blues bands and solo/duo blues acts competed for cash prizes and BJFMS sponsorship to The Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge held annually in Memphis.
Article Photos - Photo courtesy of Dusty Scott
The Tokyo Tramps, a blues trio from Boston made up of Japanese musicians, was the winner of the 18th annual River City Ohio Blues Competition Saturday in Marietta.
As the winning band, The Tokyo Tramps will be able to compete in the Memphis event in 2011. Since the duo finished in the top three, Bongo Joe and Little Steve-O will also compete in Memphis.
The blues competition began Friday night and continued Saturday afternoon, with best performers from both preliminaries continuing to Saturday night's finals.
"It was really exceptional this year. We sold out Friday and Saturday," event spokesman and BJFMS member Steve Wells said of this year's competition.
"The great spirit smiled down upon the 18th annual River City Blues Competition. The break in the weather both Friday and Saturday brought out record breaking crowds that were seeking a cure for cabin fever," said BJFMS president John Bolen.
The first place winner received $1,000 cash and sponsorship to the IBC, while second place won $200 cash and third place won $100 cash.
In addition to this year's winning group from Boston, performers came from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia to compete in Marietta over the weekend.
Area blues lovers who didn't have the chance to see The Tokyo Tramps perform in the competition will have another opportunity in March. Each year's Blues Competition winner also performs at the annual River City Blues Festival, also sponsored by BJFMS, at the Lafayette Hotel in March.
This year's Blues Festival will be March 19 and 20 and will feature performances by Shaun Booker, The Kinsey Report, Lionel Young, Zac Harmon, Teeny Tucker Band and Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne.
January 10, 2010
Tokyo Tramps, Boston's Most Exotic Blues Band
In case you haven’t heard by now, The Tokyo Tramps are a blues trio made up of players from Japan. After initial recognition for their novelty, this band has become respected for their singing, playing, and songwriting. Bass player Yukiko Fujii and her husband guitarist Satoru Nakagawa were on hand one afternoon to explain the history of their ten year old band.
They did not come to the United States specifically to start an American blues band. Fujii said her husband came to the U.S. to explore all kinds of American music but he found that blues is more his style. Fujii grew up in Tokyo and became interested in American music because there was a radio station in Tokyo for American military personnel. “I listened to the 70s, 80s American Top 40 a lot.” When she came to the U.S. in 1994, she was not yet a big fan of American blues.
The couple met at Berklee and they started a band together. Nakagawa had a lot of influences from blues, so it was a natural progression. They did not fit into Berklee’s jazz program, but they learned a lot at the school.
Satoru said he became interested in American blues when he was still a kid in Japan: “Tokyo is a huge, huge, metropolitan city. You can find any kind of music. Japan is an interesting country. My favorite singer there was Bruce Springsteen. That’s where I get the term ‘Tramps.’ ‘Tramps like us baby we were born to run. But in Japan, Springsteen’s not popular at all. Madonna and Michael Jackson, they’re a lot bigger than Springsteen.”
“When I was in junior high“ Satoru continued, “I started listening to Springsteen. I discovered rock and roll came from blues, so I started listening to blues in high school. My first record was John Lee Hooker. I listened to it one time, then I put it away for like a year because he was so hard, so tough, so heavy, I couldn’t take it.”
“When I came to America,” Satoru went on, “I went to Louisiana because of that history. I was also fascinated by that American imagery, the cotton fields, the Mississippi River, Dixieland, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn. Those are my American visions. That’s how I chose to go to Louisiana.”
When he met his future wife and bass player, he had his own band going, and Yukiko had hers they had had the same drummer. That’s how they met and they soon started their own project together. But it was never the plan for either of them to form a band with their partner. “I wanted to marry an American girl, and she wanted to marry an American guy, Satoru said, laughing as she began laughing too. “So we could get the green card,” he added, and they laughed some more.
Blues audiences no longer see The Tokyo Tramps as a novelty. “I think we’re earning respect,” Satoru said. “Whenever we play a venue for the first time, and people don’t know who we are, then everybody is obviously looking at us, like, ‘What is going on? Asians?’ Once we start playing in the groove, and the song rocks the house, they’re like, ‘They’re serious. They’re serious.’ They start changing their faces, and they start dancing.”
The Tokyo Tramps recently played in Milford with The Ten Foot Polecats, and they were very well received. Louisiana was where Satoru got his blues education. He enrolled in a state university, but he did not get good grades due to distractions. “I was not a successful student. I partied a lot. I was young. I didn’t take life seriously. I was just playing music. I got suspended from college down there, and I went to Berklee. I didn’t want to come. I wanted to stay in Louisiana. As I look back, it was an important time for me. I heard the real guys down there in New Orleans and Louisianan. It was more like a life experience. I think I became a better guitarist and musician here in Boston, but those five years living in Louisiana was my treasure, actually.”
When asked who his blues inspirations are, Satoru answered with an experience. “That’s the hardest question,” he allowed. ““I saw B.B. King back in 1993 in Lafayette, Louisiana for the first time, and I cried as soon as B.B. came on stage and started playing instrumental guitar solo stuff. That was a very, very powerful experience. I still think that was the best live concert I’ve ever been too. It was so, so powerful. B.B. has always been one of my heroes, that’s for sure.”
Yukiko loves Etta James. “She’s great. She’s still powerful.” And Irma Thomas songs made an impression on her. Yukiko majored in voice at Berklee, and the voice department let her sing a lot of R&B. “I had a tough time,” she said. “So many girls used to sing in church. They were in a choir, gospel choir. All the girls sing so strong. And I’m Japanese. I’ve always had a difficult challenge to pronunciations.” Every audition for schools were tough for her.
Yukiko started listening to American music in the 1970s, mostly Top 40 and Motown. Meeting her future husband is when she started to learn blues. Yukiko took piano lessons as a child and she started playing bass in junior high in Japan, but gave up music in her high schools because Japanese students are under a lot of pressure to study hard. In college, she formed a band. So she picked up the bass again. Then she went to work for a Japanese company that let her band play its events. In her Berklee days she couldn’t find a good bass player, so she did it herself.
Her husband at one point thought her voice was too pretty to sing blues, so she focused on Etta James and Irma Thomas to learn more about blues vocal idioms.
Satoru said their new CD With These Hands is “by far the best record we’ve ever made.” The CD has been in production since last March and The Tokyo Tramps were finishing up the art work during the time of this interview. “This is the best thing I have ever done so far in my career. I’m very, very happy about it. I’ve never felt this way about my own music. I’m so excited.”
The Tokyo Tramps have two covers on the new CD. “Highway 49” by Big Joe Williams gave Satoru a chance to showcase his new passion for the slide guitar. They also included “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ by Muddy Waters because it is popular for slide players and because Muddy Waters did a lot of unique things in his songs.
Satoru went slide happy on the CD, and both Tokyo Tramps, along with their drummer, Kosei Fukuyama are excited about it. This could be a good chance for the Tramps and area blues fans to get better acquainted.
June 21, 2009
The Tokyo Tramps are an anomaly, that’s for certain – three Japanese musicians playing down-home American blues in their own unmistakable style. The Tramps are serious aficionados of old blues masters like Muddy Waters, they dip into Cajun zydeco, sprinkle in a little Latin influence and also love plain old American rock and roll. Rockers like Creedence Clearwater, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen have influenced the Tramps, who take their name from the “tramps like us” line in Springsteen’s “Born to Run.’
Guitarist/vocalist Satoru Nakagawa began a musical/spiritual quest as a young man, leaving Japan to visit Louisiana, where he experienced the blues up close and personal. He went on to study at Berklee College of Music, one of the few blues players among a sea of jazzers, and assembled the first version of the Tramps from fellow Berklee students. The current version of the band includes bassist/vocalist Yukiko Fujii (who is Nakagawa’s wife) and Kosei Fukuyama, on drums and vocals. They recently released a CD called Tokyo Gumbo, which has blues songs and tunes in a number of other styles, hence the Gumbo of the title. One of the songs, “Chicken Teriyaki,” is an instantly catchy novelty song that manages to channel both Carlos Santana and Weird Al Yankovic. It would fit perfectly in a Quentin Tarentino flick, though not his last one.
Nakagawa is a virtuoso blues guitarist who plays his Fender Telecaster with a battery of technical chops and a bluesman’s soul. His singing is more of a croon than a blues growl, but you know that he means what he sings. Fujii also sings, conjuring up the voice of a soulful Yoko Ono singing straight. They can raise the temperature of a room and get the dance floor rocking, especially during one of Nakagawa’s extended solos. They’ve played everywhere in the greater Boston area – Harpers Ferry, House of Blues, TT the Bears, Hard Rock Cafe, ChiliHead BBQ, Dodge Street Grill, Lizard Lounge, Abbey Lounge, Plough and Stars, Church, Midway Cafe, Kirkland Café. It can be safely said that they’re different than most blues bands you’ve seen. They’re always playing someplace in the area, so check ‘em out when they come to town. The band’s CD’s are available on Itunes and sold at their live shows.
The All American Approach Of The TOKYO TRAMPS
There is no guarantee for success in the music industry and certainly no telling what genre of music will take off next. Bands come and go on the local Boston scene quicker than a magazine can write about them. But if you take a relative look at success, and gauge it as musicians doing just what they want to do without compromise, then the Japanese blues-rock band Tokyo Tramps would be considered very successful. Boston's "The Noise" appreciated their enthusiasm and described them as "sounding more American than most Americans." When a mix of Delta Blues, Bruce Springsteen and The Band are what you're aiming for, then this is a good thing.
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Satoru Nakagawa came to America because it's the birthplace of rock'n'roll. Then he went a step beyond what many rockers do, he immersed in the culture of Louisiana, doing from town to town absorbing the mix of blues, rock'n'roll, country and gospel. Since 1996, Satoru has been in Boston honing his craft with a mix of all the music he loves in his band, Tokyo Tramps. His influences fall squarely in the genre of American rock, like the aforementioned bands as well as Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Japanese twist his band puts on the music makes it original. Although they sing in English, there are tell-tale hints of a cultural and musical experience from a life spent in Japan. The same would be true for say British bands that play "American" music; they put their own cultural spin however subtle.
Satoru and the band will not change the current trends, or be forced to sell out to a specific genre. This no compromise attitude can either lose or win fans over, and Satoru is hoping that it will be the latter. The road has been difficult and finding new Boston venues is challenging, and discovering local bands with like-minded ideals is difficult. The Tokyo Tramps have struck to their guns, refusing to go the easy route; no top 40 covers for them even those shows are easier to get and pay well.
Following their dreams is what this band's all about. Bass player Yukiko Fujii left a stressed-out overworked office job in Japan, and Satoru left behind gigs where you pay to play. They met their drummer Toshio Tanaka in the US; a jazz drummer by training, his amiable presence has helped them get gigs. They all enjoy the freedom of being musicians, and as difficult as the road is, it's their own journey. Satoru described the title reference to the phrase King's Road on his CD, "Lucky Jive Will Come Home On King's Road" as "the righteous road, the right path," and added that this was not meant in a religious sense, but certainly in a spiritual sense.
Their hope and optimism is catchy-"everyday is your lucky day, every road is shining gold."
May 13, 2001
An Eastern spin on the blues
Satoru Nakagawa, singer/songwriter in the Japanese blues/R&B group Tokyo Tramps feels he has as much right as anyone else to create music in the style of American greats like Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and his all-time favorite, Bruce Springsteen.
"I saw Springsteen in Japan during the 'Born In The USA' tour around 1988, and decided that I wanted to be him," said Nakagawa. "After high school I failed my college entrance exams and moves to Louisiana. I wanted to see the Mississippi River and breathe the air that Muddy Waters had breathed."
Nakagawa eventually ended up at Berklee College of Music, where he met bassisit Yukiko Fujii,. Both had to come to the college in the hopes of learning to play American music, unaware that the curriculum had such a strong jazz base.
While Nakagawa was from the small suburban town of Gunma, Fujii had grown up in Tokyo where she had listend to a lot of '80s area rock and '70s Top 40 music. They formed Tokyo Tramps with two fellow Berklee students, drummer Wataru Hirohara and lead guitarist Yoshi Hayata.
The Tramps part of the name was taken by Nakagawa from the "tramps like us" line in Springsteen's "Born To Run." Like the protagonists in the song, the members of Tokyo Tramps quickly became outcasts among the jazz technicians at their school, and although they found fans among some of their Japanese, Asian, Korean friends, their most enthusiastic response came at some of the bluesier clubs around town.
Nakagawa worked hard to find his own voice as a singer and a songwriter. Knowing he could never convincingly approximate Springsteen or Dylan's growl, he develop[ed a smoother approach, a gentle croon that sounds like a cross between Los Lobos and Roy Orbison. HIs songs such as "The Day You Cried" and "The Crow's Song" from the group's debut CD "Long Way From Home," show an unusual lyrical sensitivity that heads in a far different directions than the tough approach favored by his heroes.
While American music is big in Japan, both Nakagawa and Fujii agree that they could never have followed their dream of playing American music while they are still living there.
"I want to write and sing in English," says Nakgawa. "What is the point of singing in English to Japanese who don't understand English?"