Blues for the new millennium

Howling Loochie Brothers get serious with first CD

by Sara Harris
The new CD puts a contemporary spin on classic blues-rock.

“It’s a ticket to the show.” That’s how Canadian band leader Robin Suchy describes the newly released CD he produced with his 10-man blues band, the Howling Loochie Brothers.

The Brothers are veterans on the Tokyo music scene, and their energetic, infectious style has created a dedicated following. But as Suchy reflected in a recent interview, no matter what artists do on the live scene, without a CD they are simply “not taken seriously” in the music business today.

“[This CD has] allowed me to enter the professional arena,” he said. “If you want to come to the party, you’ve got to wear a tuxedo.”

The current 10-member group has played together for the past two years, although the band has existed for over 10. Suchy began performing shortly after arriving in Japan from Vancouver 12 years ago, first as a duo with a keyboardist partner, then steadily adding members to form the group. He continues to play other genres solo and with smaller groups, performing as Robin Loochie Acoustic and with the Electric Loochie Band. The styles vary, from rock and funk to blues and jazz.

Most of the other members are full-time professional musicians, including renowned blues veteran and former West Road Blues Band member Teruo Matsumoto on drums. Satoshi Kato, who plays saxophone, wrote the horn arrangements for the new tunes on the album. Fumio Ishikawa on harmonica and bassist Keijiro Ogata especially strike a chord with audiences whenever they cut loose.

Suchy contrasts the music-school background of his bandmates with his own untrained, intuitive approach to performing.

“I think the mixture of having the instinct and the emotion, mixed with the organization and the schooling and the tradition of the way it’s done, makes for something that works,” he says.

The CD has been a long time in coming. It is also a big leap for the band — nine of the 11 songs are original material and most were written expressly for the CD.

The songs can’t be classified strictly as blues, and Suchy avoids defining the CD as any one genre, citing Duke Ellington’s maxim: “You have to stop listening in categories — the music is either good or it’s bad.”

The disc, however, is notable for updating the classic blues-rock tradition. Songs seamlessly combine contemporary lyrics with traditional rhythms, making for a fresh yet somehow familiar combination.

Suchy also introduces elements of the ’60s protest folk song with “What We Got” and “Spinning Round,” which trumpet the cause of environmental awareness. It is one of his most important concerns. Suchy talks about sorting recyclables in the wee hours of the morning after a gig. “I can’t live with myself if I don’t do that,” he said. “I’m totally an environmentalist.”

Living in crowded, polluted Tokyo, he adds, provides plenty of artistic inspiration for such songs.

Most of the songs came together in the studio, and, unfortunately, the CD loses a little of the infectious drive of the Loochie Brothers live. Nevertheless, the songs are both catchy and witty.

Now the band will be polishing this new repertoire for live performances. Suchy plans to take the band on the road for a national tour in the new year — and, after recuperating from the effort of getting out this CD, would like to produce another. Now that they’re all dressed up, the Howling Loochie Brothers have plenty of places to go.