Bluegrass 45 1971 US Tour – Week 4

Week 04  (7/08 – 7/14)

During the fourth week of Bluegrass 45’s 1971 American tour, we find them going into the studio to work on their first album for Rebel Records.  Additionally, Josh and Akira traveled to Ohio to visit their sister, Heidi.

The album titled Bluegrass 45(Rebel SLP-1502), included the following tracks:  Bridge Over Troubled Water, Black Mountain Rag, That’s The Time, Hamabe, I’m Comin’ Home, Along The Way, Place In The Sun, Fuji Mountain Breakdown, Bring Me Back To My Home, Wild and Reckless Hobo, Sakura, Meet Me In Heaven.  As a reminder, here was the band’s line up for the recording:

Guitar and lead vocals — Tsuyoshi “Josh” Otsuka 

Mandolin and vocals — Akira “John” Otsuka

Bass — Toshio “Speedy” Watanabe 

Banjo and vocals — Saburo “Sab” Watanabe Inoue

Fiddle and vocals — Hsueh-Cheng Liao (Gakusei Ryo)

Here are Akira Otsuka’s notes from his diary for that week:

1971-7-8 Thursday —day off 

I called my sister Heidi and told her we (Josh & I) are coming up Saturday morning. In the afternoon, we prepared for a contest next weekend.  We then rehearsed for tomorrow’s recording for many hours.

1971-7-9 Friday —recording #1

Got up at 8:30 and had breakfast right away.  Dick came to pick us up and we first went to Liao’s dentist, then to Roy Homer’s studio.  Recorded 11 am to 2:30 pm:

  1. Fuji Mountain Breakdown
  2. Sakura
  3. Salt Creek
  4. Comin’ Home Babe
  5. Orange Blossom Special
  6. Black Mountain Rag

Sab used a Fender Artist banjo that we borrowed from Ben Eldridge.  Josh used a Martin D-35 that belongs to the studio, I used my own Gibson A-50 and Liao used his fiddle.  Toshio used Ed Ferris’ bass.  Just the five of us plus Dick Freeland (producer) and Roy Homer (engineer) were in the studio.  

We made many mistakes on first tune, “Fuji Mountain Breakdown.”  Roy put a lot of reverb on “Sakura” and he also spliced tapes on “Fuji Mountain Breakdown” &“Sakura”!  On “I’m Comin’ Home” Roy panned banjo right to left to right. (Note: many years later Dick’s son Ronnie told me the console Roy used had a pan that is just hard left, center or hard right… Ronnie had that console in his storage for many years — it should be in a museum considering all the artists who recorded there.)

Song Details:

  1. “Fuji Mountain Breakdown”

Josh took Suzuki violin for 4 years while in elementary school.  Then he got into banjo while attending high school and he learned how to play all the bluegrass instruments.  He was also really good at arrangement and he taught all of the BG45 members.  Here he arranged Mozart’s Turkish March into a banjo instrumental.  I believe Dick Freeland decided to call it “Fuji Mountain Breakdown” named after Japan’s highest mountain – the audience always chuckled after hearing the title.  You can see us performing this tune in a movie Bluegrass Country Soul.

  1. “Sakura”

Very old and probably best-known traditional Japanese song and it has words, but we decided to play it as an instrumental number.  At the beginning, the guitar and banjo are simulating the image of cherry blossom petals falling.

  1. “Salt Creek”

Well-known fiddle tune but rejected.

  1. “Comin’ Home Babe”

Well-known jazz tune originally recorded as an instrumental number by Dave Bailey Quintet and then Herbie Mann in early 60’s but later on lyrics were added and Mel Torme’s version became a big hit.

  1. “Orange Blossom Special”

Well-known fiddle tune but rejected.

  1. “Black Mountain Rag”

Josh once heard Doc Watson live tape where he said he couldn’t figure out how to play this tune with the finger picking style.  As Josh loves challenges (or having a twisted mind), he decided to try it with finger picking.  

Roy Homer Studio:

This was a basement studio located in Clinton, Maryland.  Dick liked the sound Roy was getting and he brought most of Rebel artists to this studio.  The Country Gentlemen, Ralph Stanley and Clinch Mountain Boys, Bill Emerson & Cliff Waldron, Cliff Waldron & the New Shades of Grass, Keith Whitley  & Ricky Skaggs, Seldom Scene (Act I) and many more.  Roy had a huge collection of expensive Neumann and Telefunken microphones  and recorded straight into a stereo ¼ tape, which means no overdub or “cut and paste” and every musician had to sing and play the whole song correctly, and Roy had to mix them.  As 2-inch 16 track machines started coming in, Roy lost interest, sold his equipment and got out of recording business.

Back at the apartment, we practiced “Bill Cheatam,” “That’s The Time,” “Calling You,” etc.  

1971-7-10 Saturday — Cleveland

Hans is a big classical music fan and when Josh told him we were recording Mozart’s Turkish March, Hans played several versions on a harpsichord.  Hans is also an excellent photographer and showed slide shows of photos he shot.  

1971-7-11 Sunday — Cleveland

Sightseeing — James Garfield Memorial Monument, then Cleveland Museum of Art.  Filled with Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, Dali, Van Gogh and many more….wow…

1971-7-12 Monday — A trip to Nagara Falls.

1971-7-13 Tuesday — Shopping in Beachwood, OH

1971-7-14 Wednesday — Akron and back to Maryland

 We went to Akron to tour the Goodyear factory, but it was just stinky smell and heat. Josh & I flew back to DC on a Northwest and Dick picked us up.  We stopped at a bar right at the DC and Maryland border line and met Mr. & Mrs. Bill Carroll (I believe one of original founders of Rebel Records along with Dick Freeland).  Eventually the party was moved to BG45 apartment and went on till 6am.  We discussed a possibility of us touring the US during the summer and staying in Japan the rest of the year.  

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