On April 18, 1979, JD Crowe and the New South played at the Kosei Nenkin Sho Hall in Tokyo, Japan.
Having already visited Japan in August 1975, banjo ace Crowe took the New South back to the Land of the Rising Sun in the spring of 1979.
Fronting what No Depression magazine has described as one of his “best backing bands”, Crowe has the recently engaged Keith Whitley, yearning for a break as a Country music singer having just left Ralph Stanley, electric bassist Steve ‘Boom Boom’ Bryant, who had been with Crowe for several years, Jimmy Gaudreau, who had worked with the Country Gentlemen, and veteran Bobby Slone who had started the decade as Crowe’s upright bass player before switching to fiddle after Ricky Skaggs’ departure.
Whitley, Gaudreau and Crowe shared the vocal responsibilities.
Courtesy of my friend Saburo ‘Sab Watanabe’ Inoue, editor of the Japanese bluegrass journal Moon Shiner and banjo player in Bluegrass 45, two associates have shared their memories of the concert.
Banjo player Takashi Nishiumi was 16 years old at the time …
“I was in the second grade of high school (we have three grades in high school). J.D. was my idol. I posted a report to June Apple magazine about the concert and it was published… you know, for a high school kid, it was very big. That was my first debut on music business in Japan. I still remember everybody at the concert saying ‘Keith didn’t hit G-run throughout the show!’ “
Tokyo City official Satoshi Yamamoto remembers ….
“That was my third year to start bluegrass at college when The New South came to Japan. I’m not into Bill Monroe’s music, while it was too traditional and too high-lonesome, but at the moment I saw the band, I was hooked by the sound of New South, quickly. Since that time Keith Whitley became my idol and I learned the phrasing of She’s Gone, Gone, Gone from listening his singing thousands times from the live tape. We, Senri Mountain Boys, used to sing this song for the first song wherever we go. Later, I learned a lot of Stanley Songs through Keith Whitley. My bluegrass singing stands for those years when I learned it from Keith. I missed his voice a lot.”
Coincidentally, a member of Senri Mountain Boys owns D-18 which was played by Keith on that 1979 Japan tour.
The songs on the album include Harlan Howard’s She’s Gone Gone Gone; Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain, the Fred Rose song made popular by Willie Nelson; the Jimmy Buffett – Jerry Jeff Water collaboration Railroad Lady, one of Lefty Frizzell’s final chart hits; Rose Colored Glasses, the John Conlee hit; My Window Faces The South and I’m Walkin’ from Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew alongside Audrey Butler’s Sugar Coated Love, Jimmy Skinner’s Don’t Give Your Heart to A Rambler and Charlie Monroe’s Red Rockin’ Chair.
The instrumentals are the banjo showcase tunes Shuckin’ The Corn and Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Gaudreau’s Memphis Mandolin, a rockin’ adaptation of Chuck Berry’s Memphis.
There were two novelty pieces – the Ballad of Jed Clampett and the Martha White theme, which features an hilarious imitation of Lester Flatt by Keith Whitley.
The engineer was Tadashi Saito and JD Crowe was the producer.
Rounder Records released the recordings on LP, called Live in Japan, in 1987, Rounder 0159, and re-issued them on CD in 1997.