June Yamagishi and Papa Grows Funk

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about Papa Grows Funk.

I was having a drink with a high school classmate at Train Bar in Roppongi in August 2002, my first visit to Japan, and he was telling me that our sixth grade science teacher, Mr. Allspach, had been a manager at the Maple Leaf Bar in our hometown New Orleans.

As much as I hate adding to the narrative of New Orleans exceptionalism, perhaps this is unique and characteristic of the city: New Orleans is the kind of place where your middle school science teacher, known for daily quizzes, dapper suits from the ‘70s, and for being very tall and strict, can also be a regular at a neighborhood dive bar that hosts some of the best bands in the city.

My friend said that Mr. Allspach recommended Papa Grows Funk and that they had a Japanese guitarist. I went to see them for the first time later that summer after I returned from Japan. It was a random Monday night in that dead space in the calendar when college students hadn’t returned to the city, but the bar was full.

Papa Grows Funk at the Maple Leaf for their third-to-last show in April 2013. Walter “Wolfman” Washington on stage with them in this photo.

I quickly became obsessed with the band and New Orleans funk, which all originates from the 1969 The Meters self-titled album (YouTube)(and probably some R&B that came before that). I even had a chance to see the band in Tokyo at Club Quattro in Shibuya when I was studying abroad in 2004.

So it was a thrill to profile the guitarist June Yamagishi for the Japan Times: “June Yamagishi: Hitting New Orleans with a suitcase and a guitar.”

I spoke with him when I was back home in February. He’s super friendly and open and fits right in in New Orleans, where he’s lived since 1995. He’s managed the city that whole time without a driver’s license, which feels like a miracle, but it seems like he’s been based out of the Lower Garden District neighborhood since he got to New Orleans. We were sitting outside Mojo Coffee on Magazine Street, and he could point to the house where he first lived and the house where he recorded a solo album before he moved to the city.

He’s basically a guitar legend in Japan as well. There’s an extended conversation between June and the guitarist Char on YouTube. This is the first part of that program:

I need to give it a watch.

And to give you a taste of June’s music, I recommend the song “Yakiniku”:

And here’s a clip of June from an upcoming documentary about Papa Grows Funk. He’s talking about how the band started gigging at Old Point Bar in Gretna:

Distant Disasters

I have a nonfiction story online today over at Trop about my experience during Hurricane Katrina and the Great East Japan Earthquake. I was in Fukushima for Katrina, and in New Orleans for the quake, the tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear disaster. Strange days.

New Orleans and Japan are both defined and cursed by their geographies: Zoom out from the French Quarter, and people unfamiliar with the area are generally shocked by how little land there is in southeastern Louisiana.


While certain areas of Japan are farther from quake zones than others, nowhere is immune, and all across the island there are reminders that disaster could strike at any moment.

About half an hour to the east of the town where I lived was the small town of Bandai (磐梯), which is shadowed by Mount Bandai. The mountain is about half the height of Fuji, but it makes for a much prettier climb since it is covered in trees and surrounded by beautiful terrain. I climbed it three times, once every year I taught. The southern face of the mountain is a familiar mountain landscape: green in the summer, brown and white in the winter. It looks out onto Lake Inawashiro, and the Inawashiro ski resort on the skirts of the mountain; the smooth slopes were covered with snow by New Year’s, and more adventurous teachers than myself spent nearly all of their free time zipping down the runs in the winter.


The north side was rocky and scarred. On July 15, 1888, three earthquakes hit the region, and shortly after the third, a large volcanic eruption blew out the northern face and resulted in a landslide that covered towns at the foot of the mountain. Nearly five hundred people died. In the place of the destroyed villages and croplands, the eruption created five lakes of all different colors, which is reflected literally in the name of the area: 五色沼 (ごしきぬま). The area is filled with onsen and hiking paths.

Whenever I climbed Bandai, I parked on the south side, took an early bus around the mountain to the lakes, and then hiked up to the top. In certain places, the north side feels like the bottom of an empty riverbed or a forgotten quarry. We scrambled over large rocks making our way to the steeper ascent, which was lined with chains to help climbers. I often wondered if it would blow again, without any warning, as we were climbing.

Jammin’ for Japan

I’ve been working madly the past month on two fundraising efforts here in New Orleans. I mentioned Drink for Japan in a previous post. We raised about $4000 in three hours! The next event is even bigger.

While planning Drink for Japan, I contacted John Gros of Papa Grows Funk, a local funk band featuring Japanese guitarist June Yamagishi, to see if they would donate to the event. John not only wanted to donate CDs and T-shirts, he wanted to organize a benefit concert with several A-list New Orleans bands. He has contacts in the Japanese community, and marketing guru/PR person/writer Carrie Williamson had gotten in touch with him about doing something. We all sat down with some members of the Japan Club and Jetaa NOLA, and the NOLA Japan Quake Fund made a lot of sense as the target of the concert proceeds: it’s being administered by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the city has endorsed it, and all the Japan-affiliated organizations in town are involved. Donations alone have raised over $100,000, and that doesn’t include these two events.

The result has been amazing. John quickly lined up the musicians. His friend Yumi Mano helped gather donations and get restaurants involved. Michelle Hansen of the Japan Club has spearheaded the silent auction. Carrie really pushed the corporate aspect, which has resulted in some very impressive donations from big companies. I’ve been working the social media aspect and helping out with logistics, and Jetaa NOLA members have helped volunteer and solicit donations. The result is Jammin’ for Japan which will be this Sunday (tomorrow!), April 10 from 7:30-11:00pm at Rock ‘N Bowl:

The great thing is that local radio station WWOZ will be broadcasting the concert LIVE. They stream on the Internet, which means that anyone with an Internet connection can listen. When I did the calculation for the time in Japan, I realized that this concert will take place almost exactly a month after the earthquake and tsunami: it will run from Monday, April 11 09:30-13:00 Japan Standard Time.

I hope that you all tune in. Below I’ve pasted the Japanese press release along with an explanation of how to listen live. Please forward this widely to Japanese friends! Let them know that New Orleans is thinking about them.

ニューオリンズのジャズと伝統文化を伝えるラジオステーションの WWOZ 90.7 FM が、4 月 10 日(日)に市内のライブハウス Rock ‘N’ Bowl で開催されるコンサート NOLA Japan Quake Fund」をライブ中継

ジャズやブルース、ファンクなど、さまざまなジャンルで今のニューオリンズを代表するミュージ シャン、カーミット・ラフィンズ、パパグロウズファンク、ジェレミー・デイブンポート、ボネラマ、そして ジョージ・ポーターJr&ランニングパードナーズがサポート

2011 年 3 月 31 日(木)於ニューオリンズ ––– ニューオリンズのジャズと伝統文化を伝えるラジ オステーションの WWOZ 90.7 FM が、来る 4 月 10 日(日)に市内のライブハウス Rock ‘N’ Bowl で午後 7 時半から 11 時まで開催されるコンサート NOLA Japan Quake Fund」をライ ブ中継されます。ジャズやブルース、ファンクなど、さまざまなジャンルで今のニューオリンズを代 表するミュージシャンたち、カーミット・ラフィンズ、パパグロウズファンク、ジェレミー・デイブンポート、 ボネラマ、サンパイ・バーンズ、そしてジョージ・ポーターJr&ランニングパードナーズがサポートに かけつけてくれます。このうち、4 つのバンドには、それぞれ日本人ミュージシャンがメンバーとして 参加しており、当日はスペシャルゲストのサンパイ・バーンズも加わって、できるだけ多くの人に このイベントへ来てもらって、少しでも多くのお金を募金してもらい、3 月 11 日に発生した大規 模地震と津波、そしてそれに続いて起きた原発事故による放射能問題の被害に苦しんでいる 日本のみなさんのお役に立てたいと演奏や募金の呼び掛けを行ってくれます。当日は、日本の 文化にも触れてもらおうという目的で、地元のニューオリンズジャズ太鼓ドラマーズも演奏してく れる他、日本食レストランの NINJA が人気の高いメニューからいくつかのアイテムを販売します。

WWOZ ラジオはオンラインでも聴けるため、地元ニューオリンズだけでなく、全米、および世界中 で愛聴されています。そこでライブ中継するということは、世界中の人たち、そしてもちろん日 本の人たちがこのイベントをライブで聴いてくれるということです。イベントを主催する私たちは、こ れによって少しでも多くの方が NOLA 日本地震基金(NOLA Japan Quake Fund)を通して、 日本で被害に遭われた方々に支援の手が届けばいいと願っています。

パパグロウズファンクのリーダーであり、ハモンド B3 オルガン奏者兼ボーカル担当のジョン・グロス 氏がこの Jammin’ for Japan イベントの発起人です。彼は、次のように語っています。

「今まで、日本へ何度もツアーで訪れて、多くの日本人の友人ができましたが、みな温かい人 柄の素晴らしい人たちばかりです。ニューオリンズとその音楽を心から愛してくださっていて、いつ も応援してくださっています。特にうちのバンドのギタリストである山岸潤史氏を通して、一生を 通じて友人と呼べるような出会いもいくつかありましたが、私たちがカトリーナの被害で苦しんで いるときに暖かい支援の手を差し伸べてくれました。」
「最後に日本に行ったとき、宮城県の仙台と石巻へ行く機会がありました。演奏するお店の オーナーの方は、僕たちが到着したときに赤いカーペットを敷いて出迎えてくれて、一生忘れられないような素晴らしい思い出を作ってくださいました。今回の震災で、その町の方たちが本 当にひどい被害を受け、何もかも失くしてしまわれました。その方たちの気持ちを思うと、いても たってもいられず、また明るい笑顔を取り戻してもらえる手助けを何とかしたい、そう思ったの です。彼らの必要なお金や支援に比べれば、僕たちがここで渡せるものは微々たるものでしょう。 でも、僕たちがカトリーナの経験を通して学んだのは、とにかく第一歩を踏み出すこと。どんなに 困難に思えることでもまずはじめてみることです。その第一歩の手助けをしたいと思っているの です。」

今回の Jammin’ for Japan イベントでは、入場料の代わりに一人最低 10 ドルを寄付しても らいます。これはすべてそのまま NOLA 日本地震基金(NOLA Japan Quake Fund)へ寄付さ れます。さらに、ローカルセレブとのボーリングトーナメント参加費、T-シャツや食べ物の売上金、 サイレントオークション、50/50 ラッフルなどの催しを行い、現場にコンピューターもセットしてクレ ジットカードを使った追加寄付もできるようにする予定です。

NOLA 日本地震基金(NOLA Japan Quake Fund)について

NOLA 日本地震基金(NOLA Japan Quake Fund)は、ニューオリンズで活動しているジャ パンクラブ、ジャパンソサエティ、JetaaNOLA、および日本庭園基金が、ニューオリンズ日本名 誉総領事を相談役に迎えて合同で設立しました。大ニューオリンズ基金(Greater New Orleans Foundation:GNOF)は、連邦政府の認めた 501 条(c)項(3)号団体で、この NOLA 日本地震基金(NOLA Japan Quake Fund)の管理役を務めています。この基金への寄付 金は、被害に遭われた地域のみなさんの復興と再建を支援する日本の NGO’非政府団 体(を慎重に選んで直接そこへ寄付されます。ニューオリンズ市民はカトリーナで経験したように、 どんなひどい災害も時間と共にメディアには乗らなくなり、実際には復興には程遠い状態でし かなくても、義援金を募ることはどんどん難しくなってきます。この基金の一般費用は最低限に 抑え、寄付総額の 98%を直接日本の NGO へ寄付します。この基金はニューオリンズ市長 ミッチ・ランドリュー氏によって是認されています。



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Katrina and the Quake

A month after I arrived in Japan on the JET Program, Hurricane Katrina hit my hometown New Orleans. I had been placed in Nishiaizu, Fukushima Prefecture, a small town of 8000 people nestled in the mountains on the northwestern edge of the prefecture. My supervisor told me it would probably be okay to go back to the U.S. and help out if I needed to, but what could I do? A good portion of the city was under water, and my family had already evacuated to Memphis. I stayed and watched from afar.

At night I drank beer, watched CNN, and wrote angry Livejournal posts wondering why the O’Brien family of journalists had exchanges like these on international television:

Soledad: Clearly something is burning off in the distance.
Miles: It’s still burning. Clearly no sign of it being put out.


And now, nearly six years later, I find myself in the same position. I moved back to New Orleans last summer, so I’ve been forced to watch news from abroad and trace the paths of friends in Japan from Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds. Apparently, the journalists from outside are bad and the government response is slow, just like in New Orleans.

However, I’m confident that Japan will recover because I’ve realized that Japan is, secretly, just like New Orleans. They both pride themselves on the strangeness of their culture, they both eat really weird things, and they both love to drink beer outdoors. More importantly, they are both geographically exceptional; New Orleans was founded on the soft alluvial deposits of the Mississippi River Delta and Japan on the intersection of tectonic plates. If New Orleans can recover (and it has), then surely Japan can. Chin up, Japan.

The other reassuring part about being in New Orleans is that I’m in more of a position to help. Japan has a special place in its heart for New Orleans, as evidenced by the $44 million in aid it provided after Katrina. I don’t think New Orleans will approach that amount, but we can certainly try.

A consortium of Japan groups here in town has banded together to create the NOLA Japan Quake Fund. We raised over $8000 during our first day online, and that was without the assistance of any events. There will be a number of events all over town, so please follow @NOLA4Japan to keep up with the latest information. I’ll probably be broadcasting the information on my own feed as well.

Based on the response we’ve already had, we’re hoping to raise a good chunk of change – something approaching $100,000 if not more. This isn’t an impossibility. We already have many different groups who want to contribute to the fund. I’m involved with two in particular: Saturday, April 2 will be “Drink For Japan” at Avenue Pub, and on Sunday, April 10, Rock n Bowl will be hosting a celebration of prominent local bands that feature Japanese musicians – it’s going to be an all-start lineup, so be on the lookout for more information.

Please spread this info as widely as possible, especially if you are in the New Orleans area.

My New Orleans

The day before I went back home, I jammed my camera and broke it. I was distressed about it for the first few days of my trip – I really wanted to capture some of New Orleans – but I decided to take it as a sign from the universe that I should enjoy Jazzfest intoxicated and totally unencumbered. Which I did. And I can now say that unencumbered is bar far the most preferable way to enjoy Jazzfest. Some folks will bring loads of equipment and camp at the Acura Stage or the Gentilly Stage, but I prefer to roam here and there, catch little bits of different acts, do lots of people watching. Let me repeat myself: skip Mardi Gras, go to Jazzfest.

In the end my buddy Vasu let me borrow his camera for a couple days. I took some video all over my neighborhood. I’ve lived in four houses in New Orleans, and they’re all within 3-4 blocks of each other. I meant to post something like this while I was back home, so forgive the fact that it’s unrelated to Japan. (Also, camera has been fixed, so hopefully new Japan-related videos in the not too distant future.)

My New Orleans from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.