The Boso Boys feature Roger Sherrin a good ol’ boy from Dallas, Texas, who can sing the paint off a pickup truck, and pick good, too along with Shinjiro Mori who may just play Japan’s meanest blues guitar. On June 15, they’re fixin’ to drive in from Chiba to perform in the FCCJ’s Main Bar.

In a famous scene from the The Blues Brothers movie, after a long sweaty performance at Bob’s Country Bunker, Jake Blues goes up to the bar’s owner and asks, “Bob, about, ah, our money for tonight?” Bob replies, “That's right… ahh… 200 dollars, and you boys drank 300 dollars’ worth of beer!” Already broke from feeding the band and at the point of stealing gas, the Blues Brothers are forced to cut and run, chased by Bob and The Good Ol’ Boys, the country band they had impersonated to get the job.

I always thought that scene was hilarious and over the top until it really happened to my band, The Boso Boys. As I’ve discovered, if it’s tough being a local musician in America it’s way tougher in Japan.

One night, after three hours playing to a packed house in Machida, we asked the bar owner about the ¥500 per customer music charge he promised. After claiming we had only drawn 26 customers (when we’d counted over 37) he first deducted an “entertainer’s tax,” then withheld a fee for collecting the music charge on our behalf, and graciously said he was waiving the usual “hall rental and sound system fees.” As we were heading out the door with what money was left, the owner, just like Bob, reminded us to pay our ¥17,000 bar tab. By the time we paid for parking, I had to tell the band members, “Guys, we can split up about ¥800 each, or blow it all on dinner at Denny’s.”

Then there was the time we made a contract with Topanga, a bar popular with surfers on Chiba’s Pacific coast near where we live. The Boso Boys were to produce and provide the sound system for a show with two bands, in return for the proceeds of a door charge. Topanga’s owner ironically also named “Bob” was to benefit from the food and drink sales from over 40 people. But after delivering several hours of music, we were approached by Bob who demanded a “hall rental fee.” And he still can’t figure out why we’ve never played his venue again.

I’ve got lots more stories like these, but only one about an establishment that treats musicians with respect and fairness. That is the FCCJ and its long running Saturday Night Live, which is our favorite place to perform.

We were introduced to Saturday Night Live three years ago, after blues guitarist Shinjiro Mori and I sat in as guests with the night’s featured performer, J.J. Vicars. Bless her heart, over drinks after the show, Sandra Mori of the Entertainment Committee said, “We’re going to invite you guys back.”

So back we came with the whole band that year and the year after. Each time, Sandra, Dennis Normile and other volunteers on the Entertainment Committee have shown us every courtesy and compensated us fairly. Everything is taken care of, including dinner and parking. The FCCJ staff have been equally supportive and a pleasure to work with, and the audience always warm and welcoming. The heartening environment encourages performers to give their best entertainment efforts for Saturday Night Live guests, and attracts top talent to the Club.

That is why The Boso Boys are looking forward to Saturday, June 15 and celebrating our third year of performing for FCCJ members and guests.

In Japan, as a musician you are considered either a hobbyist or a professional there is nothing in between. And you are only considered a pro once the corporate media establishment says so. One way to be considered a pro is if you are in a prefabricated, corporate produced pop group (with an uncanny ability to sing slightly out of tune). Then you’ve got it made at least for two years until a newer model is launched. You may also be accorded pro status if you were popular 20-30 years ago. The thing is, if you haven’t been on TV no matter how talented or hard working you are a hobbyist here.

For starters, it’s hard for those of us who strive to master our instruments, and who can actually sing on pitch, to understand the appeal of JPop. Why do audiences swoon over performers who show no objective evidence of musical talent?

According to Meiji University experts on “Cool Japan” culture, the inability to sing on pitch is in fact the primary endearing characteristic of JPop performers. They win sympathy and support because Japanese audiences appreciate ganbaru spirit more than talent. And anyway those shortcomings can be overcome, electronically in the studio or by lip synching in “live” performances.

What’s missing in Japan is the hard effort that aspiring pro musicians world wide go through as they dream of a big break holding down day jobs and living their musical dreams at night. It’s paying dues that makes you good… but you need an opportunity to pay them.

Take The Beatles. Although hailed as an overnight success in 1964, Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, estimates that by the time their big break came, the “Fab Four” had logged over 10,000 hours of live performance time.


The lesson here is that if your country or culture hopes to produce popular music with any kind of depth or transcendent value, you need low rungs on the ladder, sustainable opportunities for talent to develop.

Many Japanese have natural talent and put in lots of work to master an instrument. Everywhere you go, you see instrument shops, music instructors and rehearsal spaces for rent. But in popular music at least, there are few bridges to a professional career.

Instead of a system that provides opportunities, Japan has a business model that is primarily aimed at exploiting musicians making them pay for the chance to perform rather than employing them to entertain customers.

The “Live House” system is unique to Japan another Galapagos aspect of this archipelago. Everywhere else I’ve ever played in the U.S. or Europe the deal is that venues pay musicians to play in order to draw in patrons and keep them eating and drinking. Smart venues know how to pick the kind of music their customers like and promote new talent. Only in Japan do musicians essentially pay bar owners for a stage on which to strut their stuff. When they don’t actually demand cash from the band – which puts a whole new spin on “paying your dues” live house owners expect each person in a four piece band has family, friends and colleagues who feel obligated to turn out if invited to an event. Some bands may bring actual fans, too. That’s what the live house owners depend on and many don’t bother with marketing or even pretending to promote upcoming acts.

We come up against this all the time. Often when The Boso Boys follow up on an invitation to perform at some live house, we find ourselves presented with a long list of conditions, including: the band must purchase a set number of tickets or to guarantee a minimum number of guests; outrageous demands for hall or equipment rental fees; and more. Meanwhile, some of these venues are charging customers admission fees anywhere from ¥2,000 up to ¥10,000.

Japan’s music business model is dys functional. It discourages local talent from developing past a hobby level; it restricts creativity and variety; and it makes live music less accessible. Some of the people I play with here in Japan are world class talents, but have no hope of making even a modest living from it. And the current system doesn’t even work for the live houses. The last decade has seen half of Japan’s live entertainment venues go out of business.

If Japan wants to do more than just pretend it’s cool, changing this system would be a good place to start. Until that happens, the FCCJ’s Saturday Night Live will stand out as one of the few venues that offers local musicians a fair deal.

So come on out on June 15, and enjoy an evening with The Boso Boys. You’ll get real live music played by real live musicians down home Texas style, with no artificial ingredients. And no cover charge.

Roger Sherrin is lead singer for The Boso Boys, who offer an energetic mix of authentic Americana roots rock, blues and country music. Retired from the U.S. Army, Roger is an Executive Coach with an MBA from Hitotsubashi University and London Business School.