How the rock-god tribute scene translates — or doesn’t — into Japanese

By Andrew Abbey

As Janis Joplin tears into a rip-roaring version of “Another Piece of My Heart,” ably supported by none other than Jimi Hendrix on guitar, Keith Moon watches with interest from the crowd.

This is a collaboration that, tragically, never happened, and you’d be forgiven for wondering who spiked your drink. But we’re at a Legend of Rock (LoR) tribute show, and anything is possible. Janis — or Zaisu Joplin, as the Japanese impersonator is known — pulls off the impossible, her familiar rasp sending shivers down the spine. Jimisen is more than just note-perfect. He is Jimi.

Strangely, despite the popularity of Western rock bands in Japan, the tribute scene has never really taken off. While the likes of ABBA impersonators Bjorn Again regularly play to thousands in Europe, their Japanese counterparts are confined to sparsely attended basement live-house gigs.

LoR promotor Takashi Okabe is setting out to change that, but it’s a tough challenge.

“Japanese people aren’t yet tuned to the tribute band scene,” he says in an email interview. “But we hope to be able to share classic rock music with a new generation, and the quality of the musicians is very high.” Okabe is undoubtedly right about that: without exception, the LoR acts are tight, well drilled and ooze real passion for their music.

Metropolis managed to catch up with several of the artists at Ikebukuro live house ADM Garage, and discovered a common inspiration. Hiroshi Fujie (aka Jimisen) says he “saw the Woodstock movie at age 16 — Jimi’s guitar sounds were just amazing.” Townzen guitarist Samurai Sam nods enthusiastically, having been similarly moved by the energy of The Who’s performance. “Windmill jumps, crazy drumming — I thought this is the only band for me.”

It’s clear that for many of the groups, it’s not enough simply to play the music; getting into character is a vital part of the experience. The members of Kiss tribute band Makin’ Love are visually (and musically) indistinguishable from the real thing — Jimisen blacks up, dons an afro wig, and plays guitar with his teeth. Once a year, on the real Jimi’s birthday, he burns a guitar onstage.

From time to time, there are even some authentic rock ‘n’ roll moments. “A couple of years ago at one of our shows, our drummer Mr Monner [i.e., Keith Moon] and our former vocalist turned up drunk — really drunk,” Samurai Sam recalls. “The gig was terrible and I got really angry and started smashing up equipment.” Fans could be forgiven for thinking this was part of the act, until Sam asked the crowd, “Can you sing better than him?”

“I could try!” shouted back Englishman Ian Webster. A few days later, Sam advertised in Metropolis for a new singer, and Webster seized his chance to become the new Roger Daltrey — and the only foreigner on the LoR tour. “Ian and I have a real chemistry,” Sam says. “Thank you, Metropolis, for being our cupid.”

This being Japan, many acts, while true to the music, have their own little quirks. AC/DC’s schoolboy outfits become salarymen; Aerozamath are all women. The Beggars (Rolling Stones) are all men but look like Osaka oba-chan. Which, come to think of it, is exactly how Mick, Keith, et al. look these days too.

Last month, Townzen, Jimisen and Mr Jimmy (Led Zeppelin) combined to produce a CD. Intriguingly, each band also recorded an original track in the same style as the bands they cover, with impressive, if somewhat surreal results. Singing in Japanese while pretending to be Daltrey was, says Webster, “challenging to say the least.”

“There’s still a long way to go before tribute culture is fully accepted in Japan,” he concludes. “A few people just don’t get it: one member of the audience I spoke to after a show thought I was wearing a wig on stage because I was bald!”

What she made of Jimisen’s blackface and afro is anyone’s guess.

Legend of Rock is available on Omagatoki/Columbia.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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“There’s still a long way to go……………”

Yes there is and please don’t come back

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The original members of Pink Floyd only sold 70% when they came here and played the Yoyogi Oympic Stadium but maybe local tribute acts playing small venues can get by. Any music played live is better than prerecorded, sampled, looped crap. Support live music.

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Strangely, despite the popularity of Western rock bands in Japan, the tribute scene has never really taken off.

Not entirely true. There have been Beatles cover bands in Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo playing in facsimiles of the Cavern Club for about 30 years now.

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Ian and I have a real chemistry,” Sam says. “Thank you, Metropolis, for being our cupid

rabu rabu, it's good Metropolis supports the lgbt community

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sad la

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Conflicted thoughts on this one. As a musician I feel for these performers and wish them all the best in achieving their goal to gain more audience attention.

On the other hand, as someone who things "American Idol" is the music equivalent of making singers into generic products, I wish more people would focus on creating new music and less time trying to be dead stars.

If you look back at the 60's, 70's and even 80's you can quickly define the sound that made the music of those periods unique and tied to the time. But from the mid 90's to now we have experienced wave after wave of recaps of previous era's music. I find this sad.

Where is the drive to create a new and unique sound instead of immitating the past traditions? Where is that signature sound for the 2010's? Pop now sounds like 80's, R&B has little changed in years, Rap is still...well rap with no signs of real evolution and JPop is well... Jpop.

It is too bad this level of talent devoted to trying to be someone dead isn't turned to trying to be something new and make a name for themselves as their own sound. But then with everyone downloading music instead of supporting artists and Tokyo's live houses caring more about raping performers with unreasonable pay to play costs, it is no wonder that nothing new is out there and good original and local music is becoming extinct.

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Support live music...

Cliffworks, I definitly agree.

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tokoind2, I don't think there will be much more evolution outside of way too technologically enhanced music. I enjoy trance and techno, but I greatly dislike when my rock or nearly any other music genre is messed with by being digitally enhanced. I want to hear what the singers really sound like and feel the personal emotion behind the music.

Great for these guys doing this in Japan. America and Japan's past has been intertwined, and I enjoy listening to some Japanese do American tribute better than some Americans.

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Any word on when the next LoR will be??

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Unfortunately, unless the lyrics are absurdly simple and repeat over and over again, the meaning of the words of the rock classics go way over the heads of most Japanese. It's the same reason that French rock gods never make it big in America. So the only people who go to these shows are either joining a fad because they feel they should like this stuff or they are just plain fringe.

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House of Rocks in Yotsuya has LoR events at the end of the month.

Jan 29 Rory Gallagher, The Who, Hendrix Jan 30 Whitesnake, Thunder, Jeff Beck, Heart Jan 31 Kiss, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick


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"He is Jimi"

I'd like to see this guy perform.

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At least they are entertaining. I think it's a good venture.

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geeze, it's a coverband, folks. these bands exist everywhere, and they're almost always fun as hell.

if you can't understand that very basic point, you need to relax. how this story gets turned around into a "sad state of affairs," only the JT gods know.

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