When Koichi Fujishima (Fujii) was a boy, in the early sixties, he saw a photo of Sleepy John Estes on a record sleeve. Something in the eyes of that old man as he stared out from the picture, guitar in hand – with a pencil for a capo, lit a small fire in the back of Fuji’s mind.
Fujii tells the story of his meeting with James ‘Son’ Thomas, while playing some excellent Japanese Blues;
He got a guitar when he was in high school, and started to play the Blues. After college and two years working as a ‘salaryman’ in Kyoto, that small fire inspired him to join a Blues Tour from Chicago to New Orleans with a bus load of Japanese Blues fans. He recalls, “In Clarksdale we were standing by the railroad tracks, and the guide said, ‘Don’t go over there Fujii, it’s too dangerous’. ” Fujii knew that place was where the real Blues came from.
Two years later, he returned to The States to make a pilgrimage of his own, staying for several months. By now Fujii was working as an artist and illustrated a cartoon book about his Blues adventures, with his central character as a funny little dog, as well as playing slide-guitar on a National Steel. He returned to Japan and after a spell teaching in a Steiner school in New Zealand, the small fire fanned into flame again and Fujii returned to America. This time his quest was to find the gravestones of his heroes, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White and Son House.
Fujii found that his outsider status, as a long haired Japanese guy who played some authentic guitar, gave him access to places on that ‘dangerous’ side of the tracks. He found Fred and Bukka’s graves, and continued his occasional ramblings around The States over the next few years. He visited with R L Burnside in Holly Springs and, in early 1993, met the ‘down and dirty’ bluesman James ‘Son’ Thomas shortly before he passed away.
Europe was the next stop in Fujii’s wanderings, where he performed with free-jazz player Paul Shearsmith, and recorded the albums ‘We Pray the Brooze’ and ‘What Time Did You Get Up This Morning?’ to add to the two albums he recorded in Japan, and showing that the gutteral Japanese language meshes wonderfully with the essence of Delta Blues. That ‘small fire’ still burned as Fujii continued to explore the Southern States. In 2005 he began a film project documenting his adventures in Blues country and that quirky view of the people who are still making country Blues is now complete.
Fuji continues to roam the world, bringing his unique sound and unexpectedly authentic style to fans of modern Blues.