Fri, Jan 08, 2010 - Page 14 News List

MUSIC: Hell froze over, but this band stayed hot

By David Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER


“The sun is gonna shine in my backdoor someday” is one optimistic line that pops up repeatedly in blues songs. For Taipei blues band Bopomofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ), “someday” has finally arrived.

After three years in the making, the five-piece expat group has released their first CD, Hell Froze Over, a showcase of their Chicago-style electric blues repertoire. The band celebrates this weekend with shows at Capone’s Restaurant tonight and Alleycat’s Huashan tomorrow.

Bandleader and singer DC Rapier says the wait has been worth it, especially considering where the project started. The CD’s basic tracks were recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, the fabled locale that produced countless records from a who’s who of American rock pioneers that includes B.B. King, Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley.

Going to Sun Studio was like a “pilgrimage,” he said. “Being in the holy of the holies.”

I was there for part of Bopomofo’s two-day recording session in 2007, as we were all in Memphis representing Taiwan at the annual International Blues Challenge. It was indeed a thrill to be in the same room where Howlin’ Wolf and Johnny Cash cut their earliest records.

Even though Sun Studio is better known today as a tourist attraction — a fair number of Elvis fans pass through during the day — this modest two-story brick building continues to serve as a studio-for-hire in the evenings.

Rapier says recording there felt like being part of “living history.” His microphone was placed in front of the spot where Elvis supposedly stood during his sessions, which was marked with tape in an ‘X’ on the studio’s old linoleum-tiled floor.

Bassist Mike Tennant likened the experience to “being able to touch everything in the museum.” Looking for a place to hang his jacket at the studio, Tennant was told to rest it on top of one of the pianos. The piano he chose turned out to be one often played by rock ’n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis.


WHAT: Bopomofo CD release party

WHEN AND WHERE: 9pm tonight at Capone’s Restaurant, 312, Zhongxiao E Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市忠孝東路四段312號) and 9:30pm tomorrow at Alleycat’s Pizza Huashan, 1, Bade Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市八德路一段1號)

ON THE NET: Search for “Bopomofo Blues Band” on Facebook

But the initial excitement of that trip faded back in Taipei as the CD fell victim to the typical roadblocks any unsigned, independent band might run into.

Over the next few years, Bopomofo had trouble finding an affordable post-production engineer who met their needs; the band’s pianist and singer Klaus Tseng wound up doing the work in the end. A string of bad luck with manufacturers and printers led to further delays.

Hell Froze Over was named as such because “it took so long to get from recording to finished product,” said Rapier.

Bopomofo, which also includes Japanese guitarist Aki Ikeda and drummer Daisuke “Dafu” Neishi, plans to play the entire album at their shows tonight and tomorrow. The songs have upbeat and danceable grooves and most were penned by Rapier, who covers the standard topics of heartbreak and good times but also lets his folksy, slightly off-the-wall humor shine on numbers like Making My Ulcer Bleed.

Though Hell is good representation of the group’s original work, says Rapier, the band sounds better than ever and is ready for the next one. I asked him when to expect the next CD. “God, I hope it’s not three years f rom now,” he said laughing.

Hell is also a personal watershed for the 59-year-old Illinois native, who held rock star aspirations in his youth. The year was 1969, and Rapier’s first band, a rock group called Hope, had recorded an album in Nashville. Just as they were putting on the final touches, their producer ran out of money. The album never got issued and Hope disbanded soon after.

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