Japan Open Mic Adventure Consolidated:
A micro trailer from the film: From the Japan segment of “Out of a Jam.”
The Thumbnail Guide: Thumbnail Guide to Nagoya Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music
The Thumbnail Guide: Thumbnail Guide to Osaka Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music
The Thumbnail Guide: Thumbnail Guide to Tokyo Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music
A link to a favorite blog item from the past: DOING THE ‘LIVE HOUSE’ THING IN JAPAN, MY GIG AT SOMA IN OSAKA
A favorite video: Crazy funny reggae japanese band:
An excerpt from the Book: from the Japan chapter from OUT OF A JAM: An Around-the-World Journey of Healing and Rebirth Through Music:
I left feeling very good that I had succeeded in finding a third place to play in Japan, in Nagoya, another city. Chalk up two in Tokyo, one in Nagoya.
I had walked two or three streets toward the hotel when I heard music emanating from a doorway. It was lit in blue neon, a sign with the words: R&B Melrose, written in English. The music sounded live. Probably an acoustic guitar and a voice. I descended the steep stairs and opened the door into a room where I saw behind the bar a man in his late 50s, early 60s, and a woman in her mid-50s. In the audience, there were three or four people, and in the back of the room was a small stage. There sat a Japanese man playing a Martin guitar and singing a popular Japanese folk song. A drum set sat on the left of the stage, to the right a rack of guitars, electric, acoustic. There were amps, cables, a wonderland of musical instruments and musical atmosphere in a room that was not a tiny corner like Blonde on Blonde but a room for around 50 people, with tables with chairs and cushiony benches.
I entered, the man stopped playing, I went to the bar.
“Do you speak English?” I asked the couple behind the bar.
“Little. Very little.”
“Yes.” They nodded.
“You play?” they asked.
It was after 1:30 AM and I had a big day ahead.
“No, tomorrow acoustic group. Three people.”
“Yes, jam, jam. Tonight. Open.”
“Now?” they said.
I said, “Yes.”
The performer left the stage and they did not even try to sell me a beer, they just wanted me to play.
“Beer, beer,” I said, reaching for my wallet.
The woman told me to set up and she would get a beer. The previous guy had been sitting at a chair with the mic, so I sat in the chair. I was in good condition. I was hot, I was ecstatic. I started playing and the guitar sounded good, the vocal mic sounded good, the sound was good. There were a few people in the audience. Suddenly, here I was in Nagoya and it was a real open mic, announced as such on their web site – I would later see – exactly what I was looking for. It was acoustic, electric, the real spirit of the open mic. And I had warmed up in the other club and done well there, so I knew I could do well and I was really excited. I played “Crazy Love,” and they said, “Another one, another one.” I played Bob Dylan, “Just Like a Woman.” And they said, “Another one, another one.” I had my beer by now. I felt so entirely, incredibly at one with my voice and my guitar playing, at one with the room and the sound system. It was as if I was piercing directly into the psyche and the hearts of the people in the room. I had had enough to drink to be right on top of it, without having had too much. It was absolutely extraordinary and they kept asking for more. I did “Since You Left Me,” and something else. I didn’t want to do too many, I did four or five. Then I got off. They applauded.
One of the other guys in the room took to the stage and did one of his songs. He had long hair, he was cool looking, in his thirties. He used an electric guitar. His song was called, “Bingo.” It was funny, light, an odd song and the name went along with it. It had a hard forceful, bouncy rhythm, and a fairly fast tempo and Japanese lyrics punctuated by the word “Bingo!”
Another guy went up, the one with the acoustic guitar. A quiet man. He did some plaintiff songs, had a good voice and communicated feeling well. Japanese songs again, and his guitar playing was adequate, light, Japanese folk rock. It did not entirely transport me, but it was not bad. He spoke practically no English.
An older man took to the stage. He wore a blue business suit, had a similar look to the man who played “Smoke on the Water” at Bauhaus in Tokyo. This one was thin, about 55 years old, and he played the blues on an acoustic guitar. Classic Robert Johnson style blues. He played “Goin’ To Chicago,” with great fingerpicking and lead. And he sang. A Japanese guy singing the Blues, the American, Deep South blues, with the deep blues voice. Afterwards he said, “You know that song? This the best known blues song of Japan!”
Sometime after this business blues man – he told me he worked in the sewage industry – we found ourselves, everyone, sitting together around the central tables. We ordered more drinks and we ended up jamming. I played my guitar, the sewage man played guitar, the man with the Martin played his, and another man played bongos.
We sang several songs, sharing ones that we knew from my repertoire, and one or two Japanese songs too. The evening – or morning, rather – ended with everyone joining in on my song “Memories.” I played it best of all, and with only four chords in the chorus and three of the same chords in the verses it was an easy song for everyone to jam to.
And so it was that there in Japan, in the third largest city, I had this feeling of being in a familiar environment, at home in another country. It was filled with people who had other jobs and loved to play music at night, the wearing of another hat – that of musician. And we played the same songs, mostly, all around the world; here there was also the sub-genre of the Japanese Delta bluesman that made me think of the French businessman’s blues – “I wanted to be an artist….” (“J’aurai voulu être un artiste….”)
I left the R&B Melrose walking on air again. Here was a real open mic and one that I loved and had fun at, unlike the Ruby Room, which made me feel down; here were kind people, kindred spirits playing music with all sorts of instruments; they were non-judgemental, without the angst or competitiveness of youth that I found at the Ruby Room. Was it because so many of these people were older? They were not all older, though. And Earle’s open mic was nothing but young people, and it was my favorite. So it was not an age thing.