|The harmonica is one of the few instruments you can literally put in your pocket and carry with you wherever you go. This portability has allowed Rob Stone to travel the world playing the music he grew up with in Boston and to learn from the masters of Chicago Blues like Jerry Portnoy, Sleepy LaBeef and the legendary Sam Lay, before forming his own band and eventually relocating to Los Angeles. His globetrotting led him to Japan many times where he found an eager audience for his style of post-war electric blues and a community of like-minded musicians. Encouraged by his mentor, the late great Big Jay McNeely, Stone recorded his first all acoustic album with pianist Elena Kato and bassist Hiroshi Eguchi, tagging the record with the title, Trio In Tokyo, as a reflection of the project’s intimacy with an international flair and universal appeal. The unplugged sound is a departure from his five previous albums with The C Notes and other big electric collaborations including those with Joe Bonamassa, Benny Turner, Bob Margolin and Slash.
The ten tracks are a throwback to the 1930’s and 40’s sound of vocal stylists like Big Joe Turner, Nat King Cole, and Fats Waller, who blended comedy and innovation in their music and laid the groundwork for modern jazz and blues. The small combo setting leaves room for these three talented musicians to easily communicate and interact with one another and flush out the nuances of each composition. Finding new avenues of expression and common inspiration in songs made famous generations ago by Louis Jordan, Solomon Burke, Lead Belly, and other heroes of The Great American Songbook.
From the opening salvo of the swinging, “No Money,” the trio easily gets into sync with Stone’s harmonica falling in with Kato’s piano on the T-Bone styled riff, while Eguchi confidently lays down the walking baseline for the classic 12-bar blues. You quickly realize they bring musical pedigree to the project, as Kato leads her own Tokyo-based band, and Eguchi spent years playing bass on the Chicago scene, backing Mavis Staples, Sugar Blue, and Carlos Johnson. Solomon Burke’s 1965 soul single “Got To Get You Off My Mind,“ included a full horn section and background vocals from The Sweet Inspirations. Here Stone focuses on the lyrics giving their sad tale more weight without the big production trappings.
Stone digs deep into his dramatic side on “ Come Back Baby,” while Kato pays tribute to Ray Charles, who first made this slow blues piano ballad famous in 1954. She continues to stretch out on ”Poison Ivy,” another fabulous jump blues from legendary Memphis crooner and piano man, Johnny Ace. The gospel fueled “There Is Something On Your Mind” was originally planned as a duet with Big Jay McNeely, who sadly passed before its completion. Stone finished recording this classic and the mournful blues “What Am I Living For?“ dedicating them to Big Jay leaving us only to imagine how splendid his vocals and saxophone would have sounded on the tracks. “Money Hustlin’ Woman” is another long-lost gem from Texas boogie woogie piano man, Amos Milburn, given a new shine by the trio. Stone shows off his lung power, both singing the tongue twisting lyrics and playing the horn lines, on Louis Jordan’s jivey classic “Jack You’re Dead.” He draws inspiration from all his harmonica heroes with the original instrumental “Blow Fish Blow!” Stone and Kato close the set with a sentimental reading of the transcendent folk standard “Goodnight Irene,” imbibing the tome of love and loss, first recorded by Lead Belly in 1933 at Angola prison, with the care and sensitivity it is due.
This fine inaugural recording from Stone, Kato & Eguchi should prove to be a gateway to discover treasures from the past and new friendships for the future.
Rick J Bowen
Long renowned as a blues harmonica wailer and forceful vocalist, Rob Stone combines tough Chicago blues tradition with a swinging West Coast rhythmic drive. Stone cut his musical teeth in the gritty clubs of Chicago’s north, south and west sides, learning from certified blues masters. He landed an endorsement from Seydel harmonicas (also been endorsed by Hohner). Stone began his harmonica-blowing odyssey at age 18. He slipped into a blues joint in his native Boston to check out harp legend Charlie Musselwhite and was instantly transfixed. Rob bought his first harp the next day and immediately began emulating classic recordings.
In 1993, Sam Lay rolled into town with his own combo and hired Stone. Touring with Lay’s band introduced Stone to blues fans worldwide and allowed him to refine his approach to the harmonica and music in general. Soon, Rob stepped up to form his own band, the C-Notes, with veteran players Chris James, Patrick Rynn and Willie “The Touch” Hayes.
In 2003, Rob and the C-Notes signed with Earwig Music to release Just My Luck, which was nominated for a Chicago Music Award. In 2010, Stone returned with Back Around Here, again for Earwig. The album, featuring Sam Lay, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Aaron Moore, David Maxwell, and remained on the Roots Music Radio Charts for 54 weeks and was named in Living Blues’ Top 50 Albums of 2010. Since then, Rob has also been featured in the documentary Sam Lay in Bluesland, as well as Six Generations of the Blues from Mississippi to Chicago alongside Honeyboy Edwards, John Primer, Aron Burton and Big Jack Johnson. Gotta Keep Rollin’, Stone’s 2014 release on VizzTone, featured appearances by Eddie Shaw, Henry Gray, and John Primer. Since relocating to Los Angeles a few years ago, Rob’s been a busy man. He recorded and performed regularly with the late Big Jay McNeely and continues to work with piano legend Barry Goldberg. He’s gigged with Arthur Adams, Benny Turner, Jimmy Vivino, and Robert Randolph. Rob was featured as a vocalist and harmonica player in the Electric Flag Reunion Band with Goldberg, Harvey Mandel, and Nick Gravenites. And he’s branched out, performing alongside rock royalty including Nancy Wilson of Heart, Billy Gibbons, and Slash. Full bio @ https://robstone.com/biography/.
Elena Kato (Ee-lay-nuh Kay-toe) started playing piano at the age of three years old. Early influence of her brother’s love of movies made her want to become a composer. She studied at the Nagoya Music University. She began her professional career composing and performing television and commercial music for Sony and was soon recording and touring around the country with various musicians. In 1995, an extended stay in New Orleans broadened Kato’s influences and deepened her love of Jazz, Blues, and R&B music. Upon her return to Japan, she continued to perform nationwide both with her own band and visiting American blues musicians such as Chicago Blues musician Carlos Johnson. In addition to her live and studio work, Elena has two albums with the Elena Kato Band.
Hiroshi Eguchi (Hee-roe-shee Eh-goo-chee) began playing bass at 15 years old and moved to Chicago at the age of 18 to study music. Amidst composing and arranging music for Chicago’s World Wide Records, Indianapolis’ Midwestern Music Group, and Gekko Studio in Bangkok, Hiroshi quickly found his way into the Chicago Blues scene. Before long, he was performing in all the premier blues clubs and international festivals with artists like Sugar Blue, Pinetop Perkins, Sista Monica, Detroit Junior, Jodie Williams, Byther Smith, Billy Branch, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Eddie Taylor Jr., Lurie Bell, Nellie Travis, David ‘Honeyboy” Edwards and more. In 2003, he joined Mavis Staples band, performing concerts and festivals throughout the United States––including a tour opening for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and a double-bill Australian tour with Taj Mahal. Hiroshi returned to Japan in 2004 and has steadily performed and recorded with an array of acts, focusing on his own bands Sun Alley and Groove Sign.