Kozy Ouchi & Skunk Chikano
@ Sakuragi-Cho Borderline(14th Feb. '09)
Kozy, you drink too much, buddy!
Living in the internet age, I haven't listened to radio or read a music magazine at all for years now. But there still are a plenty of opportunities to discover amazing music or musicians that I've never heard of. Mostly I learn of new music from my friends. This time was no different as my first encounter with this superb album called "Kakuchi Blues" was presented by an old friend of mine. I know this might be a pretty awkward way of describing the music on the album, but it seems like the ghost of the late great Lightnin' Hopkins came back to live in the body of a guy born and raised in the middle of nowhere in Kyushu. The touches of guitar sound and his singing voices have got the same vibes of that blues giant. This guy, Kozy Ouchi, plays real deep blues indeed.
There are a lot of musicians in what we call the “tribute scene” who play exactly like legendary artists once did. Sometimes it is easy for musicians and audiences to enjoy old music this way. Needless to say, nobody can see a dead musician playing live right in front of them, but by stepping into this tribute scene people can get closer to what once was. In fact I love a band called T. Rextasy, the world's only "official tribute" to Marc Bolan and T Rex, and found them to be the ultimate case of a tribute band because even their original songs sound like what T Rex or Marc Bolan might have done. T. Rextasy's debut album, which includes one of original number, "Baby Factory", "Trip & Glide in the Ballrooms of T.Rextasy" was absolutely fantastic and, to tell you the truth, the album sleeve is more original than the original as it reflects what Marc wanted to do originally but didn't complete when the original was out. You can check out T. Rextasy either with this compilation of with their first two albums, "Solid Gold" or You Tube. You will never ever find another band like this on this planet for sure.
Then again, obviously there is no charm in those kinds of mimicry or tongue-in-cheek bands. Often, I found those young or old musicians trying to play and act like their heroes are worse than musical cosplay. You may wonder if Kozy is that kind of artist, but check out his album, "Kakuchi Blues" and I am more than 100% sure that you will be freaked out of by what you hear. There are a couple of covers of Lightnin' Hopkins tracks and another legend, the late Mississippi John Hurt, but the rest of the songs are pure originals and sung in his own dialect of a small town called Hida in Oita, Kyushu where he grew up. This unique combination of his Lightnin' type of guitar style and vocals makes his music very unique and real blues as well.
It is not easy at all to understand the words of his dialect, but we can hear that the songs were born from the real life of an ordinary poor boy living in the middle of nowhere, far from a big town. There are a variety of songs on the album like the ever painful love song of losing a girl or the funny song, "Punch de Date",, which tells the story of Kozy preparing for a date with a girl as well. Going to a local barber to get a kinky perm and getting some fashionable pants and shirts of Comme des Garcons from his friends, obviously he is trying to be smart, but when the songs are sung in his dialect, he himself in the songs does not seem really funny. Another song arousing laughter was "Oyaji (Old Daddy) Boogie" which is about his dad stealing Kozy's ghetto blaster to make money for gambling. He is really a great story teller as well as a singer with heavy duty rhythm of country blues. Even if you do not get what he is singing about exactly, there is no doubt you can get the feeling of real blues rocking hard and this is the thing about Kozy.
After falling in love with this album, "Kakuchi Blues",I decided to check out what he is like in his show and went to a "rock bar" called Borderline in Noge near Sakuragi-Cho station in Yokohama. In Japan, "a rock bar" or "jazz cafe" plays a crucial role in music culture where we spend time in the evening with our favorite music played loud with sake, shochu, a clear distilled liquor, or whatever. From the owner, I heard this bar started off about three years ago and you perhaps can imagine the kind of music played here from the album sleeves on the wall behind the bar counter. Most of them are classic masterpieces like Ry Cooder's "Into The Purple Valley", Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken" or Tom Waits' debut album, "Closing Time" as well as one of the greatest albums of Japanese rock from the 70's, "Dixie Fever" of Makoto Kubota & Yuyake Gakudan before them turning into Sandii and The Sunsetz. Also on the right, when you get into the bar, you could find a gigantic replica of a vinyl copy of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" covering the wall along with Van Dyke Parks' " Discover America" & " Flaco's Amigos" of Tex Mex master of Flaco Jimėnez. Along with those, it was nice to find a hidden classic album of a comedian's approach of modern music of the late 50's, "This is Mr. Tony Tani". Hearing Steve Forbert's debut album, "Alive on Arrival" through the speakers, I thought this bar would definitely be one of my locals if I were living nearby.
Checking the details of the bar, I was wondering when Kozy would turn up as the local blues man, Skunk Chikano, supporting Kozy that night looked pretty anxious. The headliner(!?) must have arrived, but he was not there. There was no lighting equipment there at all as this just a bar and is not a concert venue. Nobody could expect anything like that at all as there was no admission charge either. The fee to the musicians depends on the show and closer to the end of the show, audience members decide how much they want to pay. It really reminded me of a similar folk cafe back in the early 70's when there were so many folkies born under the influence of Bob Dylan as it were in the West as well.
We heard Kozy spent an hour and a half to get to the cafe from his home when he eventually came in which was just before the show time. I was expecting a guy with a bluesy kind of look, but he does not look like anything special, to be honest. I feel a bit sorry for Kozy about this though, as I started wondering if this really is the person who recorded that smashing album.
Right in front of me, Skunk and Kozy started checking the amplifier and shortly after, Skunk started playing. I haven't got the slightest knowledge about guitar, but the way Skunk played his old Gibson and talked, I felt he was another one of those deeply in love with blues again. If I remember right, all of the songs were sung in Japanese and the music was blues based, but perhaps because of the way he sings, he sounded more folky rather than bluesy. It was interesting to hear his cover version of a well known song, "It's not a Spotlight" in Japanese. You may know this from Rod Stewart's big hit album, "Atlantic Crossing" or if you were Japanese, a female blues and jazz singer, Maki Asakawa's cult album, "Hi Tomoshi Koro(In a dim light)" recorded in 75. In Maki's version, she sings in Japanese, but Skunk's one had his original translation, I remember.
In between the songs, Skunk was talking about his blues experience and the first shock came to him when he first and last saw Lightnin' Hopkins in Japan back in ‘78. Especially he was over excited about Lightnin' singing and playing with a completely different key with the backing band. Then he told another gigantic shock about his blues experience which was his encounter with Kozy.
After a bit of a break, Kozy appeared at the corner of the bar and started playing. Straight after him strumming his old Gibson guitar, I was stunned by the blues vibes hitting me. There was no doubt. It really was like the ghost of Lightnin' Hopkins there in Kozy's body and nothing but real deep roots blues was out. The obvious difference in between Kozy and Lightnin' was where the guys are from. Kozy was not born in Texas, but in Kyushu, Japan. Having lived in Tokyo for a long while, he does speak pretty modest Japanese in between songs, but sings in his roots dialect. When I was checking the album, it was not quite easy to understand the words of the songs, but watching him playing, strangely enough, it was not like that at all. I could picture images of a young country boy Kozy. With his song like "Oyaji (Old Daddy) Boogie" and "Punch de Date" not only Skunk but all of us in the audience shook with laughter. When he was singing the title track of the album, "Kakuchi Blues",, which was a song about losing a girlfriend and drinking with a vengeance, there was a glass of shochu in front of him. In the actual recording closer to the end, there are some quotes of Kozy asking for more shochu and, someone responding, "Kozy, you drink too much, buddy". Obviously it was not recorded at the bar, but just giving some vibes of a bar to the song. The actual voice on the master is Mitsuyoshi Azuma of "The Swinging Boppers", the engineer of the album. In this live performance, Kozy himself saying this phrase brought us laughter as well.
The songs were great but the way Kozy played guitar was amazing as well. Rocking his whole body, sharp and ragged blues rhythms struck out and from his finger tips and thumb, with the sharp and hard tones of the guitar strings stubbing into our hearts directly. I have seen some real original blues giants in a series of "American Folk Blues Festival", considering that was recorded in the early days of a TV show, Kozy was rocking a lot harder than those on the DVD. It was like an infection with real blues, we all started rocking our bodies and were transferred into Kozy's blues world.
It was not easy to take photos and check the details of the set list, but I remember almost of all the songs from the album were played in the evening. The biggest surprise was a song not found in there which was not quite like his blues stuff, but more of a folky type of a song of his childhood. He sung in his dialect as well and it was the first time I heard it, but I could imagine the good and old times of a small town in country side of Japan. It was a discovery of another side of this artist that he actually started off playing guitar and singing under the influence of Bob Dylan. I am sure he's got more songs of that kind and I want to hear more stuff like this.
As you can guess, it is impossible to make a living playing this kind of blues in Japan and somehow it does not seem appropriate to be rich with blues, so Kozy's got another job and he can play only once or twice a month on the weekend. Most of the venues where he plays are a bar or cafe like this evening, but you'd better check him now. Whenever I play his album to my friends, I can see a bright surprise in their eyes and see them get excited with this discovery of real blues. I have to tell you there has been no exception at all up till now. I don't know he if could become a star, but at least, the chance to experience him in a tiny bar or cafe probably won't last so long.
According to his Official site, his next show is at Asagaya Checkerboard on the 14th of March. The admission is only 1000 yen with a drink charge which is almost nothing to have an amazing experience to find real blues in Japan.
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