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NIGHT LIFE

Buddah Heads Take an Enlightened Approach to the Blues : Group comes to Ventura with a contemporary spin on a classic American art form.

March 16, 1995|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If your musical karma glows at the mere mention of rockin' blues, then swingin' satori could be reached when the Buddah Heads play Nicholby's Upstairs in Ventura on Saturday night.

Originally from Downey, a blue-collar town that gave us the Blasters and the Carpenters, the band shortened its name from B. B. Chung King & The Buddah Heads after getting a big-label deal--but not because the name wouldn't fit on one of those itty-bitty CDs.

The Buddah Heads have not only survived and prospered in the L.A. scene but have also taken serious road trips from time to time to the Far East, particularly Japan. The band is led by blazing guitarist Alan Mirikitani, a third-generation Japanese American; Bobby Schneck is on rhythm guitar, Mike Stover on bass, Ray Hernandez on drums and singer Kellie Rucker on harmonica.

If more bluesmen played the blues like Mirikitani does, there would be more blues fans, and fewer blues bands would be relegated to Sunday afternoons and other time slots that club owners have obviously given up on. The guitarist discussed his band during a recent phone interview.

*

What happened to the old long name?

Well, we were touring with B. B. King last summer and his people very politely said, "Don't use that name again." Originally, it was a nickname given to me, kind of an Asian joke, a funny little anecdote, and it just kind of stuck. Back then around 1990, there were a lot of bands with funny names like Sandy Duncan's Eye, and we just sort of fit in with that. It got us a lot of attention and a lot of notoriety. When we got a deal, we knew the B. B. Chung King part was out, then we thought about the Screaming Buddah Heads, but there were too many other bands with screaming in their name. Still, I think it's a contemporary sort of name.

*

Why the blues?

It's just kind of where I came from. When I was a little kid, I had to get a haircut every other week and I'd squirm in the chair. So my dad told me if I'd sit still, he'd take me to the five-and-dime store and buy me something. So I reached into this record bin and pulled out "Bright Lights, Big City" by Jimmy Reed. Man, that was like music from another planet or something. That got me into the blues, but I never wanted to be a traditional blues artist so I just took my roots and applied a contemporary sound to it.

*

If more people played the blues the way you do, would more people like the blues?

I think so, maybe, in a way. There would probably be more fans, but from a different audience. Our fan base is kids to people in their 50s who remember stuff like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Our goal is not to modernize the blues, but rather to play with a contemporary style. Cream played some blues that were contemporary for their time, but some of their songs were by Robert Johnson. Bands like the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead played the blues, but psychedelic blues. I know a lot of musicians will tell you that it's just music, and it's just what we do. That may sound like a cliche, but that's fairly true. Our music is nothing new. It's just good. I'm just a pop artist.

*

What was the Downey scene like?

The only time I go to Downey anymore is to visit my parents. But in Downey, we were far enough from Hollywood so we didn't care about the posers and glam rock bands. There were a lot of blues clubs in Compton and South Gate that were close enough so we could ride our bikes, but it was still kind of dangerous because it wasn't our part of town.

*

What do people always get wrong about the blues?

No. 1, that it's old, and No. 2, that it's all done by old black artists. One problem is that a lot of people won't transcend old blues artists like John Lee Hooker. You have to hear his records when he was a young man and sparks were flying off his hands. Also, blues are not sad, but an affirmation of life. If there's a song about sad things, it's only to make them feel better. Plus, blues is the only American art form.

*

Does Japan rock?

Japan rocks now. Heavy metal and glam seems to be real big there now. They told us that everyone would just sit quietly, then politely applaud. After our first song, everyone was screaming. A lot of the between-song banter they don't get, but they do understand a lot of the lyrics. There's a lot of Japanese blues bands that sing in Japanese, which sounds totally alien to me.

*

What was your strangest gig?

One time, we played in this great big park in Dominguez Hills for sort of a policeman's ball in the park. All their helicopters were there, and booths to sign up if you wanted to be a cop, plus those guys that'll shoot anybody--the SWAT team--were jumping off this building. The entertainment was us. They were expecting something like 30,000 people, and only about three people showed up.

*

When did you know you wanted to be a musician?

This is a story my mom tells that I don't remember. We were in Chinatown when I was about 2 years old, and I got lost. My mom totally panicked and started running around when she came upon a crowd of people, and there I was singing with the Salvation Army guy. Music came naturally to me, and I started when I was very young. My parents were very supportive. My parents used to turn on the radio by the crib to shut me up, and it did.

*

How does a band get signed these days?

The thing is, there's no one way, and no easy way. You have to have good songs. If you tried to follow the trends and you were a post-punk band today, and it takes you two years to get signed, well, a lot of trends go by in two years. But you have to have good songs.

Details

* WHO: Buddah Heads.

* WHEN: Saturday, 9 p.m.

* WHERE: Nicholby's Upstairs, 404 E. Main St., Ventura.

* HOW MUCH: $5.

* CALL: 653-2320.

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