Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Bluegrass Pioneer Tatsuo Arita Passes

Saburo 'Sab Watanabe' Inoue of Japan sends via the IBMA-L list the sad news that Japanese bluegrass pioneer Tatsuo Arita passed away today while on a tour cruise in the Mediterranean. Although not a musician, he played a key part in creating the first bluegrass-like band in Japan, the East Mountain Boys, in October 1958. There was no tradition in Japan at the time of stringband music or even fiddle and banjo, but from his knowledge of how a bluegrass band should sound, Arita encouraged Don Sano to play banjo and the Ozaki Brothers to play bluegrass-style mandolin and guitar.

While staying in New York in 1961 he heard the loudspeaker of a car (it belonged to the Stanley Brothers) yelling: 'The bluegrass show is in town!' so he went there and met David Freeman, who later founded County Records. The two men quickly became friends and went to 'Bluegrass Day' on 4 July 1961 at Luray, Virginia, the first ever all-bluegrass all-day event, produced by Bill Clifton.

The contribution made by Mr Arita and the Ozaki Brothers is on record as part of the IBMM Video Oral History Project, thanks to Fred Bartenstein. Sab adds:

Personally, I fell in love with bluegrass when I heard a single EP record which Mr Arita loaned to my brother Toshio in the early '60s - Flatt and Scruggs's 'Old home town'. Since the day I heard it, my life changed forever.

Mr Arita was behind the Japanese bluegrass scene since its heyday of the '60s, so not many people know him. However, the people who were inspired by his love of music will never forget what he gave me and us... to Japanese people, the bluegrass music.