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Born in 1971 and raised in Bowling Green, Ohio, Sugar Brown was born as Ken Chester Kawashima to a Japanese father and Korean mother who both immigrated to the United States in the mid-1960s. Now a permanent resident of Toronto, Canada, Sugar Brown is a modern blues musician, singer and songwriter. His brand of dark, sweet, and inconsolable blues has caught the attention of the Canadian music scene, winning the 2013 Toronto Blues Society Talent Search and quickly receiving invitations to play at the Kitchener Blues Festival and the prestigious Mariposa Folk Festival in 2014.
Sugar Brown’s blues originated while studying as a college student at the University of Chicago. By day, he studied history, political economy, and philosophy; by night he learned to play the blues from Chicago’s famed West Side blues raconteur and singer, Taildragger, as well as from blues legends such as Dave Myers and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, the late drummer of Muddy Water’s band. Sugar Brown’s blues were shaped by playing the small clubs and venues along the West Side of Chicago, where the sounds and memories of past blues greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, and Magic Sam were still very much alive. Taildragger’s band, The La-Z Boys, played this style of blues every week at the 5105 Club and every weekend in the summer months at the now defunct Delta Fish Market, originally a gas station that was renovated in the 1970s into a fish market (with fish transported fresh from the Mississippi delta) with live blues music. There, in the parking lot, Sugar Brown played harmonica on a large, red-painted stage behind Taildragger and before delighted, dancing audiences of the West Side of Chicago. Since the 1970s until the late 1990s, the Delta Fish Market hosted performances by the likes of Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Taylor, Taildragger, and even Lightnin’ Hopkins. For Sugar Brown, playing at the “Fish Market” was better than heaven on earth and it changed him and his thinking forever.
(The Delta Fish Market sadly went out of business in the late 1990s. In the 1980s, however, Dutch television accurately captured on film the scene at the Delta Fish Market, including live footage of Honeyboy Edwards, Eddie Taylor, Taildragger, Detroit Jr., Johnny Littlejohn, and others, here.
Taildragger is responsible for giving Ken the stage name Sugar Brown in 1992, saying to him, “You ain’t black…..and you sure ain’t white….You’re Sugar Brown.” (Taildragger’s first two proposals for Ken’s stage name were “Japanese Boy” and “The Korea Kid”, both of which Ken vetoed outright, claiming he was in a blues band not an early United Nations delegation.) After Taildragger was imprisoned for shooting and killing fellow west side bluesman Boston Blackie in 1994, however, Sugar Brown left Chicago to pursue a Ph.D. in modern Japanese history under the supervision of intellectual historian, Professor Harry D. Harootunian. He moved for several years to Tokyo to study Japanese language and history, but couldn’t stop playing and singing the blues. He studied during the day and played blues at night as a regular performer in one of Tokyo’s best known blues bars, Bright Brown.
Since completing his Ph.D. in history from New York University in 2002, Sugar Brown has been living and working in Toronto. By day, he studies and teaches at school, now as Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto.
Photograph of Sugar Brown by Mark Maryanovich
Rockin Johnny Burgin is one of the hardest working and well recognized traditional Chicago blues artists today. Since his start in the 90s on Chicago’s West Side with blues singer Taildragger, he has become a leading blues attraction throughout the United States and Europe, performing up to 250 dates a year. He’s been featured in major media outlets such as The Chicago Tribune, WGN’s After Hours with Rick Kogan, The Illinois Times, and KPFA’s Blues by the Bay. Rockin Johnny is a Delmark recording artist with 6 CDs to his credit, including his latest critically acclaimed release, “Greetings from Greaseland”, of which Chicago Blues Guide said, “plays out like a great set of live blues, as authentic as it will ever get”. He is also in demand as a session player and has recorded with many blues greats including Billy Boy Arnold, Taildragger, Paul DeLay, Jimmy Burns, Andre Williams, Eddie Taylor Jr., and Jimmy Lee Robinson.
Johnny Burgin grew up in Starkville MS and Greenville SC,and while he was still in high school, he got to see many touring blues bands such as Guitar Jr, Gatemouth Brown and Eddie Clearwater. He father was an actor and folk musician and taught him guitar. He went to University of Chicago with the intention of becoming a writer, but a different path unfolded and he fell headfirst into the Chicago blues scene. After learning from the masters by touring with such artists as Pinetop Perkins and Howlin’ Wolf drummer Sam Lay, he put his own band together. Things started happening fast after The Rockin Johnny Band (with guest vocalist Jimmy Burns) took a Monday night residency at the Smoke Daddy in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Their original, energetic approach made them a strong local draw week after week and year after year. The atmosphere the band generated was so electric
that the prestigious local label Delmark Records offered them a contract after hearing just one set.
Rockin Johnny plays solo and duo shows, has a great West Coast Meets Chicago package with rising harmonica star Aki Kumar, and does guitar and blues workshops worldwide. Elmore magazine has remarked on Johnny’s “commanding vocals and stinging guitar”, but Elvin Bishop may have said it best: “his guitar style is raw and rude and real—on the vocal side, a nice original style–he’s damn good!”
Julian Fauth is a singer and piano player whose style is based on the tradition of pre-war barrelhouse blues and boogie woogie, with infusions of gospel and jazz. He writes his own songs in addition to re-interpreting traditional material.
In his teens, Julian was a protégé of Mississippi blues giant Mel Brown, whose influence was invaluable.
He plays regularly in his hometown of Toronto and has toured across Canada, the USA, Western Europe, Russia and Cuba.
Julian has recorded a number of CD’s with Electro-Fi Records. His first CD, “Songs of Vice and Sorrow” was nominated for, and his second CD “Ramblin’ Son” won, the JUNO for Blues Album of the Year. His third CD was selected Best Blues Album of 2012 by the CBC, he’s won one Maple Blues Award and been nominated for many other MBA’s. Julian has played with many great players and has opened for Johnny Winter, John Mayall and John Hammond.