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Johnny Burgin – No Border Blues

No Border Blues is a result of cherry picking just some of my favorite players from several tours in Japan over a twenty year period. I also included a representative of an elite group of Japanese blues players who immigrated to Chicago and by hard work, talent and persistence, earned their way into some of Chicago’s top blues bands.

In ‘96 I first went to Japan with my college friend and Tail Dragger bandmate Ken Kawashima. It was a humble tour of Tokyo, Fukushima and Osaka. In those pre-internet days, Osamu Sato, owner of Sam’s Record Shop in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, played a key role in publicizing our gigs. The trip was eye-opening; when I witnessed Kozy Ouchi, a Japanese musician who modeled himself completely after Lightnin’ Hopkins”, casting a spell on a rapt audience, I realized just how intense and dedicated both the Japanese players and audiences were. I met several remarkable players who I still work with today including harpman and singer Kotez, who was already a great showman and player while still in his early 20s. Kotez burns through “I Just Keep Loving Her” and the original “Samurai Harp Attack”. While touring in Oaska I also met and worked withTakagiman. One of my favorite drummers anywhere, Takagiman plays on several cuts here.

In 2013 I met a bassist Yoshimi Hirata (her biggest hero was Dave Myers), so I hired her a lot that summer. She was thrilled to play paying gigs in Chicago and later that winter, she returned the favor by booking me a two week tour in 2014. On this trip I played with many of the players who are on NBB such as pianist Lee Kanehira, Kyoto harpman Kazu Ohnogi, and Osaka’s Yoshi Mizuna, who displays that slashing west side sound on “One Day”. One of Yoshimi’s biggest responsibilities was figuring out how to include all the Japanese players on the shows. She worked through local contacts in other cities so everyone shared the organizational work. It seemed like once the basic will to realize a tour was agreed upon, the tour just came together in a matter of days. That clued me in to the communal, non-competitive, and inclusive nature of the Japanese blues scene. In 2018 I first went to Japan with my partner Stephanie Tice. We met Nacomi, an original front woman and tireless performer whose band is a joy to work with, and the striking harp player Iper.

Throughout my time in Japan, I was struck by the selflessness and discipline that so many Japanese musicians displayed. The artists on No Border Blues don’t worry about being nominated for awards, because there aren’t any. They don’t compete for gigs, because practically nobody plays music for a living. I hope that their spirit, attitude towards their craft, and soul will refresh, intrigue and impress you as much as it has me over the years, and that the rest of the world will come to know some of the hidden treasures of Japan’s underground blues scene. – Johnny Burgin

Band Members:

  • Johnny Burgin: guitar (all tracks), vocals (2, 7, 8, 9,11)
  • Stephen Dougherty: drums (9)
  • Yoshimi Hirata: bass (2, 4,10)
  • Lee Kanehira: vocals (3, 5), piano (2,3,5,6,10,11)
  • Kotez: vocals (6,11), harmonica (5, 6,10)
  • Fumiko Maejima: drums (4)
  • Minoru Maruyama: guitar (9)
  • Chris Matheos: bass (9)
  • Yoshi Mizuno: guitar (1, 2, 7, 8,10,11)
  • Kaz Nogio: vocals (3), harmonica (2, 3, 10), electric harmonica (11)
  • Iper Onishi: vocals (1), harmonica (1, 7, 8, 9,10,11)
  • Ataka Suzuki: drums (5,11)
  • Takagiman: drums(1,2,7,8,10)
  • Nacomi Tanaka: vocals (4, 11), guitar (4)
  • Hironori“Zee”Yanaga: bass (1,3,5,7,8,10,11)


  1. One Day You’re Gonna Get Lucky (Carey Bell Harrington) [4:31]
  2. * Sunnyland (Elmore James / Joe Josea) [4:28]
  3. * So Crazy About You (Hudson Whitaker) [4:10]
  4. Hurry Up Baby (Johnny Burgin) [3:02]
  5. Pumpkin’s Boogie (Lee Kanehira) [3:24]
  6. I Just Keep Loving Her (Mada Sukinanda) (Walter Jacobs) [2:36]
  7. Rattlesnake (John Brim) [3:04]
  8. Old School Player (Burgin) [3:46]
  9. Two Telephones (Beverly Bridge / Gene C. Redd / Sonny
    Thompson) [4:08]
  10. * Samurai Harp Attack (Kaz Nogio / Kotez / Iper Onishi) [5:49]
  11. Sweet Home Osaka (Burgin / Robert Johnson) [4:59]

Label: Delmark

Website Johnny Burgin

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