Q&A with Japanese blues and funk musician Takuto Asano, one of the most revered new players in the world

"Like Lightnin Hopkins said “the blues dwell which you ever day, and everywhere”, the blues is everywhere from now on. Some people sometime want the nostalgic world which social media didn’t exist. I think if we sing the blues from nowadays, the blues can affect people."

Takuto Asano: The Blues of the Rising Sun

Japanese musician Takuto Asano is a guitarist and songwriter living in Sapporo. Influenced by the movie "Blues Brothers," he started playing guitar at the age of 15. He studied English at the University of New Orleans (UNO). He participated in various blues, R&B, and jazz live shows. He also participated in the recording of Ben Levin's "Forgot Mrs. Claus." He is currently based in Sapporo and is actively performing and composing with Abucon, Sway, and others. Takuto Asano says: "When I was studying for the exam to get in a high school, it was 1 week before the exam, my parents were watching Blues Brothers 1980. When I saw the scene of John Lee Hooker, I got a shock like a thunderstroke. I played baseball and table tennis; I was not familiar with any music but since then I started to play music. I played some blues and blues rock in high school, and I was in a jazz club at my college. After I graduated, I started my own R&B and pops bands called Abucon, and Sway. So, I can at least try some ideas to mix blues with other music. Some people say that I like your ideas. It would be so nice if I can play like Robert Jr. Lockwood. He mixed jazz with blues so beautifully."

(Takuto Asano / Photo © by Edward Sawicki - Sawicki Photography)

Takuto Asano aka Tak, influenced by Robert Jr. Lockwood, Eddie Taylor, BB King, T Bone Walker, Cornel Dupree, Boogaloo Joe Jones a lot. Japanese blues musician Takuto Asano talks about the Blues, the local Japanish scene, Pinetop Perkins Foundation Workshop Masterclass in Clarksdale, Ben Levin, and many more.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Soul/Funk music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Thanks to the blues and soul music, I was able to communicate with people. When I went to the US to study at University of New Orleans 5 years, I couldn’t speak English at all. When I even said, “How much is this?”, workers didn’t understand my English. I arrived the doom where I stay. I felt like I’m so useless, I couldn’t do anything. One day I heard the sax riff of “Pick Up the Pieces” by Average White Band at the campus. I grabbed my guitar, went out my room and headed to the park where the riff is ringing. I met a sax guy there, my English was so poor, but I played the riff. And then we understand each other. We played a couple of jazz songs too. Then I stayed at young blues pianist, vocalist Ben Levin’s house. They were very kind, patient to my English. On the other hand, I know some of music terms, so I could communicate with them at the gig with no problem. I stayed like 2 weeks with them, and I realized that we’re from very different countries culture, but we have same thing, we want same thing at the same time, sometimes we have same expression. I had never spent time together with foreign person like that before. Blues and soul music made me realize that we’re human and we’re same at some point.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

When I was studying for the exam to get in a high school, it was 1 week before the exam, my parents were watching Blues Brothers 1980. When I saw the scene of John Lee Hooker, I got a shock like a thunderstroke. I played baseball and table tennis; I was not familiar with any music but since then I started to play music. I played some blues and blues rock in high school, and I was in a jazz club at my college. After I graduated, I started my own R&B and pops bands called Abucon, and Sway. So, I can at least try some ideas to mix blues with other music. Some people say that I like your ideas. It would be so nice if I can play like Robert Jr. Lockwood. He mixed jazz with blues so beautifully.

I think my guitar playing is influenced by Robert Jr. Lockwood, Eddie Taylor, BB King, T Bone Walker, Cornel Dupree, Boogaloo Joe Jones a lot.

"It is good for blues future and young people to discover new music. I think this kind of collaboration is very good for the blues music. I’m finding the way of blending the blues into our current life." (Takuto Asano, Japanese blues guitarist and songwriter / Photo © by Edward Sawicki - Sawicki Photography)

Why do you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following in Japan?

Some book says “Japan Blues Boom” started around late 70s. A lot of great blues musician came to Japan at the time like Lightnin Hopkins, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Eddie Taylor and the Aces, BB King, Albert King and more. Even the 80s, many blues musician came to Japan. So, my parents saw John Lee Hooker’s playing, (he was touring with young Robert Clay) BB King’s playing and they became big blues fans. Now they are telling their children about the blues. I think that’s the point. I think that same things happen a lot in Japan and the US too.

Some blues magazines are still telling people attraction of the blues and I’m so impressed when I heard the story of great blues shows which happened in Japan before. BB King Live in Japan, Robert Jr. Lockwood and the Aces live in Japan are classic in Japan. And also, I’ve listened to great Japanese blues band and musicians such as West Road Blues Band, Roller Coaster, Mitsuyoshi Azuma (guitar). Blues still alive around world, and passionate blues fans keep telling the Blues.

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

That would be Pinetop Perkins Foundation Workshop Masterclass in 2019.

In 2019, I went to Pinetop Perkins Foundation Workshop Masterclass in Clarksdale. (My mother found that workshop on Facebook) I met great blues lovers there. They really love blues. I was so glad to meet many young blues musicians as well. Especially I met a pianist, vocalist, Ben Levin. Since then, I’ve been playing with him for 5 years. Thanks to him, I could go to many places and meet people in the US. The most enjoyable sit-in last year was opening act with Ben Levin for Lil Jimmy Reed at Crescent City Blues Festival.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?                                   (Takuto Asano / Photo © by Kuzuchan)

In February 2024, I went to Korea to play for dancers. That was a “blues dance event”. I couldn’t expect the blues dance event, but DJ play some blues music and about 200 people actually were dancing to Jimmy Reed songs and Howlin Wolf song and our playing too. That was just beautiful. And there were many young people. It is good for blues future and young people to discover new music. I think this kind of collaboration is very good for the blues music. I’m finding the way of blending the blues into our current life.

"My parents’s generation still love blues music. I love that. And I sometimes play some blues in front of young people. They don’t really have knowledge of the blues, even musicians who are playing with me, but they love the blues about listening to and playing too."

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I actually like latest songs. So, I have no fears for this. But if I’m forced to say, I miss live, pure sound. Even the recordings, I like the live sound like Blues Is King by BB King, Live at the Lighthouse by Grant Green. They captured the live emotions, dirtiness. I smell funky. I like that. I’m concerning that a lot of venues are losing unfortunately in the US and Japan. I’m think of the solution.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the blues music to affect people?

Like Lightnin Hopkins said “the blues dwell which you ever day, and everywhere”, the blues is everywhere from now on. Some people sometime want the nostalgic world which social media didn’t exist. I think if we sing the blues from nowadays, the blues can affect people.

Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

My parents’s generation still love blues music. I love that. And I sometimes play some blues in front of young people. They don’t really have knowledge of the blues, even musicians who are playing with me, but they love the blues about listening to and playing too.

In February, I went to Korea to play at blues dance event. There were a many young people from a lot of countries dancing to the blues music. I was impressed about that. I’ll show you a video about this.

So, I think the blues has a potential to become more popular among young people now.

Takuto Asano (Instagram) Home

(Photo: Takuto Asano, blues & funk guitarist and songwriter)

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