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Fully vaccinated at last 遂にワクチンを接種した 

Today I was fully vaccinated for COVID-19 at last. The past year has been difficult for everybody. I keep my hope that the day to go back to our normalcy will come soon. 



During the lock down, it became common for musicians to provide live streaming for their performance on line. However, I tried to resist the temptations to do so. 



Because, in my opinion, a live audience is a must have for blues music. Interaction with the audience could make me get down deeper and often helps enhance my performance. 



While I had some spare time, I picked up my golf game where I left off years ago. I had sealed off my golf clubs in order to concentrate on playing music. Now the weather is nice, jogging along the Pacific Ocean is also refreshing. 



For the longevity of my career as a musician, both mental and physical health are important. I cannot wait till I hit the local venues to play the blues and tour to Japan again when the pandemic is under control finally. 


Fork in the road of life  人生の分岐点  

I left my day job in a corporate environment 7 years ago. I have been playing music full time since. Although it was financially a risky move, it turned out to be one of the happiest decisions I made in my life. In a way it was like trading my bread & butter for total freedom. 



A common question I often receive is how I made my career change from a technologist to a musician. The underlying implication of this question is that it was insane. But in my mind, it was the other way around. 



I had been in an R&D field for over 20 years where I had to be innovative to survive. That is to keep finding new paths where there are no known solutions as to what to do. It takes conviction in my own ideas and, to some degree, rebellion against existing authorities. When breakthrough moments come, the sense of reward is enormous. It is like walking a long dark road all by myself and often getting lost till I find a dim light far away. To me music helped to keep my sanity. 



Another big gamble I took was to move to Chicago in 2017. Playing around the blues clubs in Chicago was my dream come true. Despite that I practically had no connections in the area beforehand, I was very fortunte to have over 200 gigs in my 3 year residency there. My performance peaked before I moved back to California last year. 



I felt that I could continue pursuing my music career and satisfy my soul regardless of where I would live. At the moment I am waiting for the pandemic to be under control, when we can all get our collective groove back. I am stooping low right now so that I can jump high. 


2021 and beyond, 2021年とそれ以降 


Earlier this year, I made a decision to move back from Chicago to the Bay Area in California. After nearly 3 years of my residency in Chicago, I reached the point that I accomplished most of what I could achieve in that period. 



Perhaps I might have been able to continue working as a side man in Chicago, but it was about time for me to focus on leading my own band. 



Under the current pandemic situation, there would not be much opportunity to perform in public for the remainder of the year. At some point in next year, I hope that COVID-19 will be under control in society. My new recording and Japan tour will be due at that time. 



As an independent blues musician, I can be selective in what gigs I want to do. Namely, playing the music I want to play in the way and where I want to play. If that is not an ultimate goal in my music career, I do not know what is. 


Magic Sam’s influence マジック・サムについて 


Another major influence in my younger days was Magic Sam. His masterpiece albums 

 “West Side Soul” and “Black Magic”, recorded in the 1960s are still among the top of my favorites. 

僕が若い頃に影響を受けたもう一人は、マジック・サムだ。彼の2大傑作アルバム、“ウェストサイド・ソウル” と “ブラック・マジック” は今も最も好きなアルバムの中に入る。 


His distinguished guitar tone in these albums was attributed to the “mini-humbucker” pickups on Epiphone Riviera manufactured in the 1960s. But equipment contributes to only a part of his sound. 

この2枚のアルバムでの彼のそれと分かるギターのトーンは、1960年代に製造されたエピフォン社のリビエラの “ミニ・ハンバッカー” と呼ばれるピックアップから来る。しかし器材だけでは、彼のサウンドは再生できない。 


For example, his Stratocaster extends notes beautifully in his fire breathing performance at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival Live in 1969. In the rare video footage of his performance in Europe in the same year, he was playing Earl Hooker’s Les Paul guitar. The boogie groove with his finger picking was out of this world. 



So far I have covered many Magic Sam tunes along with my other two favorite Chicago Westside Blues Guitar players’ tunes - Otis Rush and early Buddy Guy. 



In the past few years while I was living in Chicago, I dared to play Magic Sam’s song entitled I Feel So Good. It is a talking style fast boogie. When I nailed it on stage, I realized that at last I covered almost all the blues songs I wanted to cover since I started digging the traditional Chicago Blues in my youth. 

シカゴに住んだこの数年の間に、僕はマジック・サムの I Feel So Good という曲を大胆にも演奏していた。トーキング・スタイルの速いブギー曲だ。ステージでこの曲を自分の思い通りに演奏出来た時、これまで長年にわたり掘り下げてきた伝統的なシカゴブルースの曲で、カバーしたい曲はもうほとんどやってしまったと感じた。 


This recently prompted me to start writing a few of my own songs. However it is not something I generate out of the blue. I stand on the ground of traditional blues and early R&B that blues & soul giants created decades ago. 

それで最近になって、自分の曲も少し書き始めた。しかしそれは、無から有を生じるような類いではない。僕は、何十年も前にブルースやソウルの巨人が造り上げた、伝統的なブルースや初期のR&B の土台を踏まえている。

Left handed guitar (3 of 3) 弦逆張りギター奏法について(その3) 

( Continued) (前回からの続き) 

When I moved to Chicago in 2017, I attended all the blues jams happening in town for my networking with the local musicians. 



After continuing blues jam attendance for 3 months, I shifted my exposure to sitting in with the working bands. That was how I luckily landed the opportunity to join JW Williams Band. In parallel, I had started my own band acitivities as well. 

そして3ヶ月経つと、露出の方法をブルースジャムから、有名なブルースクラブでライブをやっているバンドに、ステージで飛び入りさせてもらうように変えて行った。こうして幸運にも、地元で名の通ったJW ウィリアムス氏のバンドに、レギュラーメンバーとして雇われたのだ。それと平行して、自分自身のバンドの活動も始めていた。 


Meanwhile, I made the best use of blues jams as a means to do some experiments with an audience. This included playing a bass guitar, drums, and my left-handed guitar. The most efficient method of improving instrumental skills is to play under pressure. 



By the end of last summer, I was playing my left-handed guitar on the stage. An avid blues fan commented to me that it was insane to alternate a right and a left-handed guitar. 



The left-handed guitar method is deep. If Otis Rush’s guitar is compared to Mt. Everest, I am probably looking up the summit only from its foothill. It takes both conviction and emotion to play blues guitar. 

この弦逆張り奏法は奥が深い。オーティス・ラッシュ氏のギターをエベレスト山に例えるなら、おそらく僕はその麓 (ふもと) から頂上を見上げているに過ぎない。ブルースギターは、確信 (信念) を持って弾くことと感情を移入することが大切だ。

Left handed guitar (2 of 3) 弦逆張りギター奏法について(その2) 

(Continued) (前回からの続き) 

In fact, in my humble opinion, playing chords on a lefty is more difficult than playing solos because I need to decode each chord and figure out the fingering in reverse orders. 



While I was living in Chicago from 2017 to 2020, I stayed in an apartment by myself and played nothing but blues. It took me this environment to concentrate on practicing the left hand method with no distraction. This continued day in and day out for months. 



First thing I had to master was to play major key and minor key blues chords in the standard 12 bar format. Then, I moved onto somewhat trickier tunes. 



By the time I got to learn Otis Rush’s popular tune called Homework, which has some uncommon chord progression for blues, I was feeling relatively comfortable with this style of play. 



Not to mention, at this point I converted the left-handed Stratocaster that I purchased 25 years ago (as mentioned earlier) back to its original left-hand configuration. 



(To be continued )(次回に続く)

Left handed guitar (1 of 3) 弦逆張りギター奏法について(その1) 


While I am right handed, my obsession to play a left handed guitar in the Otis Rush / Albert King style goes back a few decades. 



I grew up in Japan admiring Otis Rush music most, along with the Westside Chicago Blues guitar greats Magic Sam and early Buddy Guy. 



The late great Otis Ruch was left handed but played a right handed guitar flipped upside down. This makes the strings in the reverse order. He pulls strings down instead of pushing them up to bend notes deeply. Combined with his powerful vibratos, it generates a unique bluesy sound. 



In the mid 90’s, I once purchased a left handed Stratocaster but I gave up on playing it because it was extremely difficult to play it upside down. I ended up converting the guitar to right-handed by changing the nut. 

僕は1990年代半ばに一度、左利き用ストラトキャスターを購入したことがある。が、この奏法はやたら難しく、その時はあきらめてしまった。結局はギターのナット (ヘッドの手前にある、弦を溝に納める部品) を取り替えて、右利き用ギターに転換しただけに終わった。 


A couple of years ago, in my second attempt, I purchased a left handed Flying V. This time I made more progress, probably because I had studied diligently some of Albert King’s phrasing when I purchased a right handed Flying V some years ago. 

ところが2年前にまた懲りずに、左利き用のフライングVを購入した。今回は、以前に右利きフライングV でアルバート・キングのフレーズをかなり研究していたこともあってか、弦逆張り奏法に前回より進歩があった。 

(To be continued )(続く)

Back in California (3 of 3)  カリフォルニア州に戻って(その3) 


The other day I had an opportunity to take a COVID-19 test as a part of preventive measures for my regular check-ups. Fortunately the results came in negative. 



This pandemic has damaged the livelihood of many musicians, in particular, those who make a living on live performances. On top of 6 months of lost opportunities such as bar gigs, tours, or concerts, there still is no end point of the disaster in sight. 



Since 2013 I had been touring to Japan once or twice a year, but I had to cancel my tour this Spring for the first time in 7 years, due to the travel regulations in Japan for visitors from the U.S. 



Beyond this Spring, I stopped taking flights in fear of virus infection. At this rate, I would not feel comfortable flying for many hours until valid vaccines become easily available in public. 



In the mean time, I am making efforts to maintain my good health. I need to be ready when the next opportunity comes up to play the blues, hopefully in the near future. 



As the saying goes, you have to stoop before you jump high. But I can squat only for so long. 



Back in California (2 of 3)  カリフォルニア州に戻って(その2) 


A few months ago when I returned to California from Chicago, coincidentally it was shortly after the pandemic started engulfing the country. My time in Chicago was simply up after living there for almost 3 years. 



While I was in Chicago, one of my musician friends succinctly described the blues community in Chicago by saying, “There is only in or out in the blues circuit in Chicago. Once you are in, you are in.” From that point of view, I probably had the tip of my toe in the door. 

シカゴ在住中に、同業の友人が端的にシカゴのブルース界を描写していた。彼が言うには、“シカゴのブルース・サーキットは、イン か アウト のどちらかしかない。いったん内輪に入れば、お前は俺たちと同じ釜のメシを食ってるのだ” と。その意味では、おそらく僕は爪先をその扉の内側にこじ入れていたのかもしれない。 


In the midst of nationwide unrest in racial issues in the US, what does it mean to me to play the blues in this country? In my humble opinion, it is the authenticity of blues music because this country is where the blues was born. Playing around the blues clubs in Chicago in the past few years also validated it. 

人種差別の問題で全米が揺れるこのさなかに、自分にとってアメリカでブルースを演るということはどういう意味があるのか? 僭越ながら、それはブルースを産んだこの国でそれを演奏するというホンマモン感に尽きる。この数年間に本場シカゴのブルースクラブでライブを数多くこなしたのも、それを裏付ける。 


To me, born and raised in Japan, singing the blues for the audience in the US is the most challenging aspect of it. The sense of reward is immense when I feel spiritual connection with the audience who are responding passionately to my performance. 



Fortunately the current Shelter-In-Place gives me an opportunity to further focus on music. This includes writing my own songs as well. If they survive the test of time in front of live audiences, my new recordings will be due next. Hopefully such days will come soon. 


Back in California カリフォルニア州に戻る 


Last week I drove 2400 miles from Chicago and moved back to SF Bay Area, California. I made it home safely before the nationwide protests erupted in chaos. 

先週、3年近く住み慣れたシカゴから2400マイル (約3800km) を運転して、カリフォルニア州はサンフランシスコ・ベイエリアに戻った。全米の多くの都市部でプロテストの混乱が起こる前に、無事に家に着いて良かった。 


I drove Hwy 55 to St Louis, Hwy 44 to Oklahoma, then Hwy 40 all the way to the West Coast. Every time I drive across the continent, I am amazed by how big this country really is. 



As I was finally crossing the California State border from Arizona, the inspector asked me some routine questions. 



Officer: “Where did you come from?” 



Me: “From Chicago” 

僕: “シカゴからです。” 


Officer: “Did you bring any food, plants, or agricultural products?” 



Me: “No, none of those” 



Then the officer goes, “How about blues? Did you bring the blues from Chicago?” 



Me: “Yes, sir. I sure did.” 

僕: “はい、それはもちろん。” 


He smiled and let me pass the gate saying “Have a good day”. 

すると検問官は、ニコッと笑いながら “ハブ・ア・グッドデイ”と言ってゲートを通してくれたのだ。 


After all, one can take a boy out of California, but never take California out of a boy. It is great to be back home.