A new blues compilation showcasing Japanese artists reveals the genre’s well-traveled roots

suntimes.com -- Jul 31
Blues singer Johnny Burgin’s latest album highlights a part of the genre’s history that is largely unknown to a swath of its fans: Japanese blues music.

And that unknown is now on full display.

Due to the number of tours that many of Chicago’s blues artists such as Jimmy Dawkins, Otis Rush, Eddie Taylor and Jimmy Johnson played on since the 1970s, a group of Japanese artists who are influenced by them were brought on to create “No Border Blues Japan,” a compilation album — the first of its kind — of the favorite musicians of Johnny Burgin, a Chicago-based blues artist.

“I was playing with these [musicians] because they’re such traditional Chicago players and my partner Stephanie [Tice] was traveling with me and said, ‘You got to make a record with these guys; we got to show these people off to the American blues audience,’ ” said Burgin, who first went to Japan to perform in 1996. “So the next time I came back, that’s what we did. I just think they put so much into the history of blues; they’re playing it at such a high level.”

The album, which is Burgin’s ninth studio album, features Japanese blues artists such as pianist Lee Kanehira, guitarist Nacomi Tanaka, drummer Fumiko Maejima and bassist Hironori “Zee” Yanaga, among others.

The 11-track compilation closes out with “Sweet Home Osaka,” an homage to blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.”

The album was recorded in 2019 at Osaka’s Fukada Studios and was mixed and mastered at Delmark’s Riverside Studios in Chicago.

The impetus of “No Border Blues Japan,” which was released in the States last month on Delmark Records, was born of the number of tours by Chicago blues artists to Japan since the 1970s.

- suntimes.com