2003: Japan

Calpis, not cowpiss.

So off I flew from Los Angeles to Narita Airport in Tokyo for my first proper Japanese tour and my second appearance in Japan. In 1978, I went over with then-Doobie Bros. Jeff Baxter and Keith Knudsen (guitar & drums respectively) to do a promo tour for Roland Instruments. But this campaign is now advertised as Al Kooper & The Funky Faculty and ticket sales are going well in advance.

We are only playing four shows: three in Tokyo and one in Osaka. The opening night is in a 750-seat club followed by a day off. Then two nights in a row in a proper concert hall that holds 1700. Now I know you Americans are saying: "How can he sell that many tix in ONE town????? And I'm with ya, but Japan is my biggest country. I sell more albums there than..... ANYWHERE. One of the reasons is that with the exception of "The Landlord" soundtrack album, ALL my albums are released on CD in Japan! And for this tour, SONY-JAPAN is re-releasing the ones on SONY in miniature LP sleeves. They look and sound great, much better than the original CD releases in the 90's. Also, the song "JOLIE" was a big camera commercial there (BTW, I don't publish my songs from back then, and the publisher never asks me if it's okay if my songs are used for films, rappers, commercials, etc. In fact, they don't even tell me when any of that happens!) On top of that, with the help of tremendous airplay from a popular DJ, a musical youth movement adopted "JOLIE" and the song "BE REAL" as their "anthems." This has buoyed my sales way up, especially the CD "NAKED SONGS," which contains those two new "anthems." So I arrived two days early to do interviews for TV, radio and the press. 

June is a rainy, extremely humid month in Japan. The weather has been inexorable since I arrived. NO sun (just like Boston this spring!) high temps and humidity. My cool polyester shirts are unwearable here - only cotton works in this clime. Yesterday, as a result, was a three- shirt day. The band arrived on Friday the 13th, and the flight arrived without the luggage of our drummer, bassist and saxist. They are NOT happy campers. It's about a twelve-hour flight and Japan is thirteen hours ahead of Boston this time of year. We all went to the hotel coffee shop for dinner and it was great to see the lads again. One thing I have learned in my life - when putting a band together, select the better person than the better musician. In this band I am so lucky to have an overflow of both. Trust me, it's rare. After dinner I attended a three-hour production meeting with our Japanese crew.

The day before the first show I had interviews scheduled from 10 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. At 9:30 a.m., I set out in good spirits to the SONY offices where the yaks were scheduled, but with a mere three hours sleep in the can. After three chatfests, the SONY staff took me to a ritzy lunch on the 40th floor of somewhere. Then on to a radio station for a taping and then back to SONY for two more intensives. I was nodding out during the last two interviews due to jet-lag. Mi embarrassment. Dinner at the hotel with me trusty band and STILL only three hours sleep.

The day of the first show I arrived at Club Quarto in Shipyard, Tokyo at 12 noon to approve the stage setup and get the crew ready for the lads arrival at 1:30 p.m. Sound-check was a bit weird. With a translator in tow, I wasn't quite sure if the sound-man understood how to mix us, but I put my faith in God and stormed ahead. Club Quarto was sold out. I got Wakaba, the girl who works locally for SONY International to phonetically teach me to introduce myself in Japanese and thank everyone for coming to see us. It really worked well and the crowd's response was amazing. Off we went into our set. We decided after the show that we played a 7 out of 10 show, but that the audience was totally satiated. After an encore, they stood and yelled for ten minutes with the lights up and the background music playing. We were basically unhappy with our performance and discussed how we might improve it for the next show.

The next day was off and I was off to various Tower Record stores to trade most of my paychecks for fabulous Japanese CDs. In Japan, they release older albums on CD they would never dream of releasing in other countries. Most of my CD collection are imports from Japan and the UK. Here was a chance to browse soul sections galore for my old favorites not available in the US. My top score was the album "I'M IN NEED OF LOVE" by Lou Courtney, originally on Epic Records in America. I never dreamed I'd own this on CD!!!!! It was also quite exciting to pass Al Kooper displays and listening stations in a Tower Records store; something that would NEVER happen in America. After intensive day-long searching I went to the cashier with twenty new goodies and traded off thousands of yen in return. Additionally, at SONY's offices, Akira , a nice chap from the A&R staff of SONY-Legacy, let me browse their catalog, and another twenty CDs went into my stash. While I was fantasizing about how fun it would be to relocate to Tokyo, CNN announced hourly how it was the most expensive city in the world to live in - and Boston is no breeze at this point!

Our second show was at a "concert" hall called Shibuya AX. We had sold that out as well. When we arrived for soundcheck, I was amazed to find a proper concert hall with NO SEATS on the first floor. There were balcony seats, but none on the stage level. That's how the audience likes it, I was told. Whatever makes 'em happy. 

In the bathrooms of the dressing rooms, we found a first for us seasoned travelers. Each toilet had a faux flush button that produced a sound effect of flushing as opposed to the real thing. There was a real flush button additionally of course. We immediately inquired about this and found it was a device for shy females to mask their various possible lavatory "sounds." Now there's a device you'll NEVER see in the USA. 

We played a much better show here (8.5 outta 10) and I met a lotta folks in the dressing room after the show. The keyboard player from Mott The Hoople (!) Morgan Fisher, no longer a young dude, came to say hello and see the show (from the balcony, hopefully) A lovely chap, he has relocated to Tokyo, become a new age artist and seems to be living comfortably. Hmmmmmmmm.

The third show was at Shibuya AX again the next night and was also sold out. We played a scorcher set (a 9) and I believe the audience knew they saw a good 'un. The next day was a travel day. Coincidentally, a typhoon was advancing on the country. At the airport, our flight status was updated every half-hour prior to possible takeoff/cancellation. Luckily we took off for Osaka and safely landed in a cloud-shrouded airport. Airport security is not nearly as tough as the post 9/11 US . A pleasant reminder of day's long- gone-by. I gotta say that the Holiday Inn in Osaka pales before the US version, so use your imagination as to our humble temporary rented abodes. We were, however, nestled deep in downtown Osaka with a day of shopping coming up. I laid down at 5:00 p.m. local time when we checked in, and awoke TWELVE HOURS LATER at 5:00 a.m., finally having tasted multiple hour sleep. Jet lag had previously robbed me of much of that. A charter-member insomniac (Stephen King's book INSOMNIA is dedicated to me) I broke my record for consecutive sleep. Please understand that I normally sleep two-four hours a night and eight hours straight maybe once a year. So Roger Clemons ain't the only smiling American record holder. And by the way, in case ya don't know, the Japanese have mirror baseball leagues here. Japanese New York Yankees, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. So if you find a baseball game on TV, you gotta look close to see if it's American or Japanese. Weird!!

Figuring what have I got to lose, off I went to the Osaka Tower Records store and another five goodies went into the stash including a CD I heard in-store called "The Ukulele Beatles (?!); an instrumental album of John/Paul ditties played by you-know-whats. A great conversation piece for the home.

A constant giggle for me & the boys was a famous Japanese soft drink manufactured by a company called Calpis. When pronounced by a Japanese person, it sounds a great deal like cow piss. Imagine - "You like a cold drink, Al-san? How 'bout some cowpiss?" Good thing that drink is not the color yellow!!!!!

The final show was at the sister club to the first gig, Club Quatro but in Osaka. Basically, the same setup as the first. A wonderful crowd again - I have never felt so appreciated as I felt on this tour - we will try to make this an annual event. Next year, try and catch Al Kooper & The Funky Faculty on the All-Cotton Clothing Tour of Japan 2004!But now, its great to be back in the land of peanut butter & jelly & HBO.

SETLIST - JAPANESE TOUR - JUNE 15, 17, 18, 20, 2003

Appendix A

1.Allen Touissant - Early RCA Tousan - Bear Family
2. Chairmen Of The Board - 3 CD Invictus Box Set
3. Chuck Jackson Two-Fer/ I Don’t Want To Cry/Any Day Now 
4. Chuck Jackson Two-Fer/Encore/Mr. Everything
5. Soul Children Two-Fer/Genesis/Friction
6. Soul Children Two-Fer/ Soul Children/Best Of Two Worlds
7. Jerry Butler & The Impressions/ For Your Precious Love Album
8. Average White Band - Cut The Cake
9. Geno Washington/ 60’s Studio Sessions includes I Cant Quit Her
10. Ben E King/Shades Of Blue
11. Jackson 5 Two-Fer/ 3rd Album/Maybe Tomorrow
12. Eddie Hinton - Dear Y’All
13. Swan Silvertones - Singin In My Soul/VJ Reissue on Edsel
14. Johnnie Taylor Two-Fer/ Raw Blues/Little Bluebird
15. Leon Russell - First Album On Shelter
16. Diana Ross - Best Of - Japanese Motown selection
17. Booker T & The MGs - Soul Men
18. Capitols - Cool Jerk
19. Harmonizing Four - Farther Along
20. Happy & Artie Traum Two-Fer/Happy & Artie Traum/Double Back
21. JB’s Anthology/Funky Good Time (2 CDs)
22. The Ukelele Beatles - a precious treasure!!!!
23. I’m In Need Of Love - Lou Courtney
24. Rance Allen Group - All The Way
25. Staple Singers - Soul Folk In Action
26. Soundtrack - Igby Goes Dow

Gratis from the Japanese SONY catalogue
1. Andy Pratt - Avenging Annie CD - Finally!!!
2. Gregg Guidry - Over The Line
3. Turley Richards - West VA Superstar
4. Michael Bloomfield - It’s Not Killing Me
5. Bruce Wooley - English Garden
6. Soul Survivors - Soul Survivors
7. OJays - Ship Ahoy
8. Tim Hardin - Suite 4 Susan Moore & Damon
9. Madura - Madura
10. Cryan Shames - Scratch In The Sky
11. Kokomo - Kokomo
12. Kokomo - Rise & Shine
13. Edgar Winter - Jasmine Nightdreams
14. Edgar Winter’s White Trash - Recycled
15 Rick Derringer - Spring Fever
16. Crazy Horse - At Crooked Lake