2011 was hardly a space odyssey. More of a slow comeback after a couple years of what both the Western and Chinese zodiacs described as "everything you touch shall turn to shit." While it wasn't without its trials all in all it was pretty good. Even the rough spots had their advantages in the larger picture of things.
In January I met up with my 'adopted' sister I hadn't seen in over 20 years and then had a really cool retro themed photo shoot in Narita with Oliver Richter and Bryan Harmon. But the real clincher was the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. What was a serious tragedy for many was a boon for yours truly. When the news outlets royally fucked up the story, often just making shit up to fill air time, us Americans living in Japan found ourselves in the position of being self-appointed reporters via Facebook and Twitter. Despite generally being the odd man out, I've never fit in this city despite all the time spent here, there was an unprecedented comraderie between all of us that lasted most of the year. The sudden exodus of "flyjin" weeded out a lot flakes. Having spent most of my time trying to leave (something that would make a lot of the "foreign community" of suits, squares, yuppies and bankers here quite happy) I suddenly found myself wanting to stay. Several offers to leave were extended by friends and family and I happily declined. As one Texan living here put it, "We don't run."
With all the various charity projects in the works to raise money for survivors in the Tohoku region I wound up with an interesting project of my own. What started out as a joke about writing a Link Wray styled instrumental called Meltdown turned into a Surf instrumental of that name. Bull Durham drove to Houston to record keyboards with his buddy Nitro Blues and Glenn Rios got to work at his studio. While they flew in their tracks Mark 'pookie bear' Schwarz swung by with the Rocket Revenger, Mike Buttrick recorded his infamous 4:00 A.M. gong, and the track was complete. One small glitch, though. Hugh Ashton had recorded a steel guitar part that needed heavy editing. Due to the gear I was using the edits came out choppy. Subsequent attempts to redo his part fell short of the original. Not wanting to leave him out I was stuck until Nitro sent Bull's keys. In addition to the cheesey organ we both had in mind and his smoking solo he had also recorded a synth drone that I wasn't sure what to do with. Joking that it sounded like a Dance remix we stripped off the drums and organ, except for the solo, added a Dance beat from the drum machine, and slapped on the synth and steel. We now had two singles! Released under the name, and separate CD Baby account, "Premature Evacuation" (coined by Robbie Newman) we can claim, to the best of my knowledge, to be the only 'band' to do a Dance remix of a Surf instrumental. Both are available at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/PrematureEvacuation
The trio of Mark Schwarz, Masaki Shibata and myself got together for a benefit gig at the Pink Cow in Shibuya which lead to further benefit performances there and quite a bit of live video, including some with Steve Gardner from Mississippi. Later in the year it also led to three music videos. Having grown up part of the MTV generation I had been wanting to make my own videos for years and had already scripted several including one for Jill Jones when she had a hit on the Dance charts with Living For The Weekend a couple years ago. Amateur film maker Chris Young was looking for music for his upcoming movie Ripped when we struck a deal, I'd score his movie in exchange for him shooting and editing my videos. Using staff from da Cow as stars and extras we shot three videos and JJTV was born. My 'adopted' niece Miya Kobayashi starred in Too Good To Be True from the album "Longhaired Leftovers" with Martin Leroux and since Jeremy Gloff played piano on the song we found a cute way to edit him in. Next up was Black Heart, a song written by Ron Brewer whose band I played bass with in Indianapolis back in the mid 90's and whose unreleased album "Insane Prose" I played on. http://www.jjvicars.com/music-group-163.html Black Heart was supposed to go on the second album but the band broke up before we got that far, something which still bugs me to this day as it was the last real shot at Rock 'n' Roll stardom back when record deals and radio were important. Being nuts about the song I eventually recorded it myself to be released as a disc-only bonus track on the re-released "Heartland" album. Mallory Blalock and her hair co-starred with me in the video and she more or less directed our scenes together. The last video, still being edited, was So Beautiful, a song I had written over 15 years ago and wasn't sure what to do with. Dug the song but it was so different from my usual stuff I didn't know where it fit. Miya, Martin and Valeria the Italian bellydancer, and Akane Yoko all starred in the video along with a few other girls who were present when I had a camera. However, technical complications meant we didn't have enough footage so Chris used his own short story Venus Looking Glass and actor friend Wade Philpott and his wife Mai to create a whole new video far beyond anything I expected. Once again limitations proved to be a blessing in disguise.
A trip to the beach for reasons attributed to either dumped radioactive water from Fukushima or severe unltra-violet from the sun left me with first degree burns on my legs. Laid up for a week unable to walk turned out to be kinda nice in the end. Since I had to eat in bed I avoided the usual slurpfest that passes for dinner around here. Other Americans who have lived in Japan will understand what I'm talking about.
As summer wound down the music rolled on. Hugh Ashton's dobro was so much fun to play with on acoustic gigs we made it official and in true Dudeist fashion named our new duo The Urban Achievers. Much more fun than solo gigs! Back at Crawfish in Akasaka after more than a year I had Hisa Nakase on bass again who blended in perfectly and really helped Masaki lay in the pocket. My dad sat in and the whole father/son dual guitar thing was a big crowd pleaser. Later on Sorcha Chisolm invited me to play guitar on Black Lace Blues, a song from her upcoming third album. The amp I was running through gave us constant headaches and dragged out the session but the four of us soldiered on with her rhythm section of Arda Karaduman (bass) and Daniel Karras keeping a solid pocket every take. In the end though I had to go back and do another pass because the amp wasn't running hot enough and left with a note that they should edit the two takes together. I'm hoping they invite me back for the mixing.
Beijing was one of the highlights of the year, a working vacation that included two nights at the CD Blues club and a trip to the Forbidden Palace. Staying with my dad at his and his wife's place in the Central Business District I saw some far out architecture beyond Blade Runner. After my two gigs with club owner Big John on bass and Rockabilly drummer "Donny" on drums I sat in with a Jazz group at a hotel lounge on the 65th floor. Pickin' away while looking out at the city from high above gave me vertigo. The Forbidden Palace was outta sight. Soaking up all that history from the Ming dynasty reminded me of why so many great philosophers came from that part of the world. In Tiannamen Square I found a souvenir shop with all sorts of Mao stuff. Pretending to be browsing I got a photo with a large portrait of Mao while wearing by Dudeism jersey and repeatedly proclaiming "the Chinaman is not the issue". On my last day I couldn't finish my Peking duck so I smuggled it back in my luggage. Customs asked if I had any weapons or narcotics but they didn't ask if I was packing a duck.
Brian Setzer played Nakano Sun Plaza in early October on his Rockabilly Riot tour with Slim Jim Phantom. Having only seen the big band and not the Stray Cats I was revved up for this. The show was rockin' despite Setzer playing on automatic pilot. Seeing Slim Jim live for the first time after all these years was a treat. After the show I went out back with the rest of the autographs hounds and waited patiently. Tired of being ignored, the only round-eye in the crowd patiently holding his album above the crowd, I hollered, "Hey, Brian! Don't forget a fellow American!" His road manager thought it was funny but Setzer suddenly looked up with a guilty face like he'd been busted (he was) and quickly moved away like he was scared of me. No idea what his problem was. Fuck you, Setzer, you snotty little midget. Probably doesn't want other Americans knowing how pampered he is over here. Fucker rode off in a VIP car reserved for diplomats and the like. Earlier that day the missus and I had been pouring over an old Japanese music magazine from when Skynyrd (the original uncompromised first draft) played Nakano Sun Plaza in '77. Seems that they were so taken with the idea of a Japanese Southern Rock band, Idlewild South who opened for them, that they sat on the floor in the aisles during their set. Lots of other stories in there about how down-to-earth and hospitable they were, particularly Allen Collins, my main guitar hero from that group. Having grown tired of a lot of costume party bullshit and wanting to return to a more comfortable musical and aesthetic style I took the whole thing as an omen. My buddy the Reverend Len Fassler had said I was a BluesRocker, not a Rockabilly guy. I tossed out my pomade and echo pedal. The Rev knows his shit.
The year closed out with a few more gigs at da Cow and one at Crawfish where I don't even remember being on stage. Since there's no paying gigs in Tokyo anymore I can't treat it like work so I treated it as a party; get loaded and jam. Resuming work on the Ripped score for Chris Young I brought in my brother-by-another-mother Nikki Hills and drummer/percussionist/engineer Glenn Rios. Still a work in progress giving us a few surprises to kick off 2012 with.
A Surf instrumental charity single, a Dance remix of same, tons of live video, playing in Beijing, my old man sitting in on my gig in Tokyo and Beijing and the audience digging the whole two-generation thing, three videos, a movie score, guest spot on another's album... oh wait, two guest spots! Yours truly also made a cameo on Jeremy Gloff's groovy new album THIS. Not bad for a slow year. Not bad at all.