Songs With Words Stories Behind the songs
This is a very different record for us. So much so I feel like I need to preface the usual ‘Stories Behind the Songs.’
The last CD we released with substantial vocaltracks was our 2010 project, Legacy. It was a collection of songs from our first decade. Actually for the last 10 years we have been focused on instrumental tunes, with only an occasional vocal track.
Why? To try different things, to keep experimenting and growing with our sound and concepts.
I don’t know if you’d say this record is going ‘full circle’ or not but we have been asked for a very long time to consolidate our vocal songs into one CD. Our manager, John Chung has been pushing us because he feels we aren’t giving folks all the music they expect from us—and he’s also been a long time Quiet Storm DJ during the heyday of KBLX in San Francisco, so he knows a thing or two.
Last fall we had requests to do vocal shows by two different promoters. Came as a shock. Anyway, we thought we’d give it a shot as long as we could find singers we like. Oddly, that was the easy part. We reached out to our favorite raconteur, Terry Steele (who’s been a part of our family for around two decades) and the soulful Hawaiian beauty, Yvette Nii. If you follow us, they were the singers on our 2010 Grammy nominated, Legacy.
We came up with a format that made the whole idea exciting—we decided to record the songs ‘live’ in the studio. Everyone set up all over the place and playing and singing together. It was such sublime chaos!!!
A couple of things to checkout. First, given these are vocal songs, the role June’s koto playing in ALL the songs really is the aura that is Hiroshima. She creates beautiful unique parts that give the songs such individuality. Add to that the keyboard playing of Kimo. Though he did do some overdubs (i.e. the complex beautiful string arrangements of George Del Barrio), for the most part all the keyboard parts are played ‘live’ by Kimo using multiple keyboards and a number of foot pedals. Next time you come to a show check out all the sounds he creates. Amazing!
Below are the Songs With Words. I noted the composers/album/year of initial recording)
1. “Never Ever” (D. Kuramoto/P. Hata) HIROSHIMA 1978
Revisiting lyrics and melodies you write decades earlier in your life is such a trip! We decided to do this as a duet (who even still does duets?!), and Terry and Yvette had a lot of fun ‘role-playing’ the story and I think you can hear it in their performance. The song begins with Dean’s bass and June’s koto, and Dean’s solid groove is the foundation for the tune-- which is a lot of fun.
2. “Roomful Of Mirrors” (D. Kuramoto) HIROSHIMA 1978
I had the good fortune to be the composer for the first—and only—Asian children’s series on ABC-TV, “Bean Sprouts,” produced in the SF bay area by Loni Ding. This song is actually from that show--a scene depicting kids of all colors trying on grown-up clothes of all occupations, fireman, nurse, etc. They were literally surrounded by a roomful of mirrors. I wanted it to be sort of an anthem for any child of any color to have the right to be whoever they want to be. It won an Emmy and became the first radio hit on our debut album.
Yvette really captures the story and the hopes and dreams. Note the ‘classic’ string arrangement (from the original) written by our dear friend, the brilliant Argentinian, George Del Barrio.
3. “The Door Is Open” (T. Steele/D. Kuramoto/J. Kuramoto)
BETWEEN BLACK AND WHITE 2004
Believe it or not, I was asked by the pastor of my Baptist church, Reverend Ken Fong, if I would write a song to invite everyone
to our new church, which had grown so large we actually created two churches. June was helping me write it, and when Terry heard it, he came up with the lyric idea for the verses. It has become our song of welcome, and Terry’s vocal truly delivers the message. BTW Pastor Ken is also the photographer for all the photos on this CD!
4. “One Fine Day” (D. Kuramoto/J. Cornwell) HIROSHIMA/LA 1999
There are many ways to write a song. In this instance, Kimo came up with a very hip music track and asked me if I could come up with a melody and lyric. The ‘vibe’ of his track led me to a song of hope and inspiration. This version is tricky because the melody is sung simultaneously by Terry and Yvie—not easy to do—and please note Kimo’s classic organ solo in the middle, and Terry “taking us to church” on the way out.
5. “Da Da” (D. Kuramoto/P. Hata) HIROSHIMA 1978
The truth is, the title came from the opening ‘crunch’ guitar line. Before I had lyrics finished we had a concept for an almost lyrical blues melody that ‘floated’ over a rock guitar comp. In fact we did it for a while as an instrumental. Eventually I wrote lyrics to the song, about the ability to emotionally survive. I was inspired by a poem I studied in high school that had the line, “zero to the bone.” I thought that was such a powerful way to describe ‘hitting bottom.’ As we re-approached this live recording, it occurs to me that this is really a woman’s song of redemption. Yvie navigates the story and tricky melody so soulfully, and June’s koto solo exemplifies Stanley Clarke’s statement that she is ‘the world’s greatest koto player, and the only one who can truly improvise.’ Again the dramatic string arrangement by George del Barrio elevates the piece.
6. “Long Time Love” (D. Kuramoto) HIROSHIMA 1978
This is a love song, set in images and scenarios from a period in my young college life, living in a cold-water ‘walkup’ in Haight Ashbury. It’s a narrative about love, life, loneliness and anticipation. Terry brings it all to life.
7. “Tabo” (D. Kuramoto/D. Yoshihara) EAST 1988
My cousin Darrell (who was one of the lead singers in a very popular Asian dance band called ‘Carry On,’) and I always felt like as young Japanese American guys growing up in East LA, we didn’t have the heroes the media provided for others. Most Americans don’t know that during WWII the 442nd regimental combat team, composed entirely of Japanese Americans from the mainland and Hawaii became the most decorated unit in our nations military history. Also we felt as 3rd generation Americans our grandfathers (1st generation) were these remarkable adventurers who came to this country to create a new life, and somehow their story should be told. This song is our attempt to capture some of that spirit.
8. “Save Yourself For Me” (D. Kuramoto)
ANOTHER PLACE 1985
This live ‘one-take’ version is raw and visceral and a tour de force by the amazing Terry Steele. Turn off the TV, put down your cell phone, close your eyes and listen.
9. “Thousand Cranes” (J. Kuramoto/D. Nakamoto) EAST 1988
We have done numerous versions of this beautiful song by June, but we chose to reapproach it, both because of the opportunity to record it live, but also to add a Hawaiian spirit to it. Yvette Nii was born and raised in what was a rural area of the Hawaiian countryside on the island of Oahu. Her deep Hawaiian roots in the culture, in hula and in music and story-telling lend a new level of spirituality to this song of peace, which is our anthem.
BONUS download from our website –
“Do What You Can” — Jam (D. Kuramoto)
If you don’t already know, you NEED to know that Vinx is one of the great artists of our time. His is a remarkable personal story and his music, his singing, his playing, his vision and his joy speaks to all of us.
I had the good fortune to get a call to play some Japanese flutes on a track on his solo project some years ago. “Squeeze You,” had what I think were pitched drums playing a bass ostinato, and grooving percussion and of course, Vinx’s amazing voice. Beyond hip. Typical of recording ‘overdubs’, I played shakuhachi and fue all over the track, and usually they edit out whatever they don’t need. Well, they decided to use all of it, and that song is still our ‘walk-on’ music when we take the stage for our live shows. “Do What You Can” is the ultimate demonstration of the power of music. We were playing a Jazz festival in Florida in the 80’s and a guy approached Dean. He told him that he was a Vietnam War vet and suffered terribly from Agent Orange. One day he couldn’t stand it any more and took a gun to his head to end it all. As he was about to pull the trigger, a song playing on his radio caught his attention. It was a simple anthem about dealing with life a little at a time, about getting back on your feet, to just ‘do what you can.’ This song miraculously brought him back from the depths of despair. Music flows through us—we don’t claim its powers, we share it when we can. In this totally improvised, ‘one take’ version, Vinx took all of us on just such a journey.
Thanks for the opportunity of letting us share our dreams with you all.