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Cool Cats Rock Tokyo - Lori Lee in Japan November 2007

The rockabilly scene in Tokyo is thriving with rockabilly gigs happening on most weekends. We headed to one such gig at Club Doctor in Shinjuku. The show was in a tiny, smoke-filled L-shaped club, one storey underground, the room was packed with rockabillies. Some were greazers, others had 80s hairspray coifs, some were in comedy dress with fake sideburns and Elvis sunnies. The gals were like little dolls, some in full skirts and pony tails, others in rolls and bangs with sexy outfits, others in jeans and silk Japanese jackets.

Live shows are expensive compared to Australia, this show cost $40 entry, which included one 'free' beer.  Even though there are thousands of people heading out on Saturday night, we still noticed the distinctive look of rockabillies as we spotted a few heading to the gig on the streets of Shinjuku. At least we knew we were heading in the right direction...

The Pink Dragon, a three story rockabilly store.

Props at the Pink Dragon.

Stairway in the Pink Dragon

Bass player 'Chinko' with steel strings. The inscription on his bass read: 'Heavy Drunker'

Hot Dog Buddy Buddy singer

Hot Dog Buddy Buddy entered the stage and did a dance routine for 3 minutes before picking up their instruments to play their set. Much of their show was comedy and crowd interaction. A punter placed a glow stick around my arm and yelled 'yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeahh' and another handed me a plastic cap gun. Many songs were call and response and even though I couldn't understand a word, I still yelled back 'yeah' or 'yeehah' along with the crowd. Their songs sounded like Japanese versions of Sea of Love, Jimmy Jazz and 18 Miles from Memphis.

Hillbilly Delights was the best band of the night, playing truly authentic rockabilly tunes, all note for note and in English. They had a cool attitude, dressed to the nines and were obvious big rockabilly fans.

I met with them after the show and they couldn't speak a word of English, even though they sung in English. Songs included Rock Island Line (with English spoken intro) and Blue Moon. When they played Little Pig, I went nuts dancing and singing out the lyrics at the top of my lungs. It was the most English I had heard all week.

Towards the end of their set a guest (pictured in tiger shirt) joined them to sing Surfin Bird and the crowd went crazy. The guest was swallowing the microphone and singing the brrrwww and ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba parts while shaking his head around.

Mid way through the night, a motorcycle 'gang' rolled up to the venue. They were dressed in full on Ton Up Boys leather jackets, studs, patches and white scarves. Even though the temperature inside the gig was boiling over, they kept their leather jackets on all night, in fact, no one removed their jackets, everyone stayed 'in character'.

Between bands, the club pulled a curtain across the stage and turned a spotlight on the dance floor, so the dancers can be seen. They also broadcast the room onto tv screens in the street, so those hanging outside don't miss the show. For one song, the gals did the modern version of the stroll, made popular at VLV. I stood off to the side, dancing and waiting for the next song. An unknown Japanese rocker handed me a tall can of beer and yelled 'kanpai' (cheers), to which I replied 'arigato' (thanks). A tiny and gorgeous Japanese woman came over and asked "are-you-drunk" to which I pointed to my watch and said "not-yet". We hit the dance floor together for a impromptu sexy dance, the crowd backed off and formed a circle around us with everyone watching and some rockers taking photos!

This night was one of the many highlights of our trip. You can see a video of Hillbilly Delights on their web site here:

Hillbilly Delights with special guest

Hillbilly Delights

Hillbilly Delights
Osaka Rocks

The discounted airfare from Jetstar landed in Osaka, a city of 2.6million, south of Tokyo. We mainly hung out in Amerikamura or 'American Village', a shopping and entertainment district featuring heaps of vintage clothes shops and not-so-vintage college style clothes stores. The city is home to thousands of tiny bars, situated in high rise buildings and apartment blocks. The bars are usually small, ranging from five seaters to fifty seaters. The bars are where you drink and smoke. Everyone smokes.

We spent our last night in Japan in one such bar, a rockabilly bar called Cohiba, in a high rise building, along a skinny hallway with just a single door and no windows. The room was smallish with one bar and a couple of lounges. There was a double bass, a drum kit and guitar amps pushed into the corner and pictures of Elvis hung on the walls. Their cd collection was full of top notch rockabilly. I spent much of the night dj-ing at the bar, the bartender hung out with us (smoking away), and Johnny ended up in an arm wrestle with a tattooed, Japanese young dude. It was all good fun and could be what normally happens when four westerners roll into their local around midnight.  

Flattrakkers & Zombie Ghost Train cds in a record store in Shinjuku.

La Rocca (ska band) and Lori Lee hanging outside the rockabilly gig. None of these cats spoke English, but we had a ball just hanging out
and talking trash.

The flyer for the rockabilly show at Club Doctor.

Flyers for the local gigs at Time Bomb records in Osaka.

Many of the rockabilly bands have female musicians.



A doorman outside an Osaka street level bar wearing a wrestling mask.

Didn't visit this record store, whose logo stems from the Stray Cats font.

This is outside a typical nightclub apartment block, all the boxes are signs for different clubs in the one building.