Tokyo Rosenthal is a singer/songwriter originally from Long Island, New York who now resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. "Toke" went to college at the University of Rhode Island and that's where he really honed his musical skills by performing in the New England coffee house and club circuit. During his long successful musical career he has performed all over the world, including Canada and Ireland. Tokyo has just released his latest Cd entitled "Afterlife", and It's a fine collection of well written songs. Tokyo has experimented with a lot of endeavors in his life, including a brief career in boxing, a sports commentator, and also currently hosts a radio show called "The Tokyo Rosenthal Radio Program". I recently corresponded with him.
R.V.B - What kind of music were you exposed to at a young age?
T.R. - Initially a lot of Jazz and Big Band Music. Lots of Bennie Goodman, Artie Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald and Al Jolson believe it or not. Solo piano also of Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum.
R.V.B. - Was your family musically inclined?
T.R. - Yeah! My Mom played piano well and my Grandmother played and sang, also real well.
R.V.B - Did you take formal lessons? Why did you start playing music?
T.R. - I started piano lessons at 6 years old and continued through 13. No formal training on any of the other instruments I played. Piano sort of set the foundation.
R.V.B. - Can you describe a few early gigs that you may of had in the beginning of your career?
T.R. - My very first gig I was a lead singing drummer in a 5 piece band. I was 14 and we played the 8th grade dance. Very exciting night. Obviously all covers back then, tons of Beatles and surf instrumentals, ie Wipe Out, Pipe Line, Walk Don't Run, etc. The gig went pretty good as I remember it but we don't even have a picture of the show, never mind a recording. Today we'd have all sorts of recordings of the show. Wish I had a recording of it. Would love to hear us.
R.V.B. - Did you have musical buddies on Long Island that you hung around with that also were into music. What concerts did you go to?
T.R. - Many fellow musicians including my best friend and sax/organ player, Joe Mannino. My Uncle, Ira Seidel, was the Beatles road manager in '65 & '66 so I got to go to Shea in '66 and Westbury Music Fair to see The Union Gap when he handled them. I went to the Easter Show at The Paramount in Manhattan with Soupy Sales as headliner(pretty hoakie, eh?) and The Hollies on the bill with Graham Nash. Later on when I hooked up with older guys in my band I went to The Fillmore East a lot, in particular to see The Byrds, and many others, including CSNY, BS&T, Elton John(as a trio), Neil Young, etc.
R.V.B. - How did you get the name Tokyo?
T.R. - I was an amateur boxer and I desperately needed a nickname. Johnny Carson did a comedy routine one night about a new TV show on NBC about a Jewish Japanese detective, called "Tokyo Rosenthal", obviously a play on words from WWII's Tokyo Rose. I grabbed the name and figured it would last about as long as my fighting career did, which was quite short. But I've been Tokyo, or "Toke" for 40 years or so.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy your college years and did the New England scene help you develop and hone your style of playing?
T.R. - My college years were where I really learned how to play guitar, sing, and learned to write what I now consider primitive songs.(Apologies to my parents, LOL) New England allowed me to play up there, along with my group, Harpo & Slapshot. We really learned how to play live during that time. If I can make a crude analogy, this time for me was like the Beatles in Hamburg. I learned on stage. Our rehearsals were live in front of crowds. This was during the peak of Folk Rock and Country Rock. Great time to be playing.
R.V.B. - Why did you decide to take time off from music after you had a pretty good start? What did you do in your off time?
T.R. - Harpo & Slapshot broke up and I found myself playing solo and weary of starting another band. It was a lost period for me as I fumbled around back in NYC until I noticed an article about a Masters Program in communications at NY Tech. I applied and got in and fell in love with TV work which ultimately led to a career as a Cable TV executive and a sports commentator. I continued to play guitar and piano though I didn't write or record at all during this time. While living in L.A. for 10 years I did join some musicians for pick up gigs and jam sessions often. During these times I realized how much I missed playing but had no idea I could write and I was supporting a family so I stayed put and did some music and boxing promoting as well.
T.R. - My return was not calculated. It just happened and quite fast at that. When "Edmonton" broke and touring opportunities followed I just dropped everything else and went head first back into writing, recording, and touring. By this time my wife Carrie and I were empty nesters and I could afford to pursue what I had left behind, this time with even more passion and a lot of marketing skill that I had learned.
R.V.B. - What made you write a song about Edmonton? Anything to do with Hockey? How did that change your career?
T.R. - I was promoting quite often in Edmonton when a melody and lyric got stuck in my head. When I returned home I finished the tune"Edmonton" and believed I was writing a whole lot better then I had in my twenties. So I took a shot and wrote a few more tunes to see if I could be consistent, and while I'm very critical of myself, I found that I could write a bit and decided to record the tunes. Meanwhile the beat of "Edmonton" changed as I began performing it in Connecticut at a club during the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Edmonton Oilers had a meteoric rise.The folks were all Oilers fans there. It seemed every time I played the tune the Oilers scored and I began playing the song with a heavier and catchier rhythm. Anyway they made it to the finals but lost in game 7. But the tune was set and the fact that no one had written a song with Edmonton in the title helped get it radio play in Alberta and ultimately the key to the city from the Mayor, a sponsored cross country tour of Canada, and eventually a finished first album. So yes, it did change my career I guess, LOL!
R.V.B. - How do you go about writing a song? Music first and then lyrics. Do you have a routing for this or does it just happen?
T.R. - I'm not a volume writer. If there's 10 tunes on an album then maybe I wrote 12. I don't write daily, only when I'm inspired. 9 out of 10 times I write lyrics first. Then it just sort of happens. I'm not really sure how. It's kinda surreal. I listen back to my tunes and it's almost like someone else wrote them. I know I went through the process of writing them but it's like a vague memory. Next thing I know it's on a disc and hopefully on the radio. Also I really don't like to write unless there's an end game, meaning I know I want to put out a new album or the material is so strong and politically timely that I want to release a single and a video immediately.
R.V.B. - How and why did you settle in Chapel Hill?
T.R. - Gotta give Carrie credit for this. After becoming empty nesters and my Musical Renaissance just beginning, I knew I wanted to leave Ct.(great state, too cold) and she discovered Chapel Hill. Great music scene, Great airport, Great culture with all the universities there and nearby, Great climate. And Chris Stamey lives right by me which has allowed me to record with his assistance for 6 albums.
R.V.B. - Are there any shows that you may have done in your career that really stand out in your mind?
T.R. - I consider myself a recording artist first.That being said I love to play live and sometimes to just back other folks on lead guitar or piano. Oddly enough my very last gig allowed me to do both and have a great show and a great time. It was at a venue called Common Grounds in Bunn ,NC. Strictly a listening room, which is all I really like to play. I played my set to a very attentive and enthusiastic crowd which allowed me to flourish. When it was over after an encore, the owner, Peggy Harris asked if she could sing a quick tune in order to audition for my radio show, "The Tokyo Rosenthal Program". I said sure but asked if she'd like me to back her on lead guitar. She said "please do" and a great bass player named Tiger joined us. Well we shut the place down over two hours later, and I had a ball playing lead guitar.
Other memorable venues and shows were at The Bunk House and The Hippie Jack Festival in Tennessee, opening a couple of shows for Chris Hillman in Toronto and all my UK and Ireland Tours were special. And yes, I did play in Tokyo and it was killer!
One other night stands out from the early days when Harpo & Slapshot opened atThe U. of Rhode Island for America, who had just come to the States and this was their very first gig here. Another case of I wish we had a picture or a recording but no such luck. So I'm left with my memory from that night, and maybe that's best, but it was a thrilling experience at that point in time.
R.V.B. - What are some of the songs that you have written are you really proud of?
T.R. - Well they're all my children, LOL!! But there's a few that stand out to me. They'd be "St. Patrick's Day", "Misted Tell Me 'Bout The Great Depression",
"Still She Thanks God", "Who Was That Man", "What Did I Used to Be", and
R.V.B. - On your new album "Afterlife", you have added some new personnel to help record the record. Can you give a short description of the players and how they helped out?
Hard to be short as there's quite a few. Chris Stamey again played outstanding bass besides engineering the album and assisting in the production. He's my guru! Andrea Connolly is just an amazing vocalist and harmonizer. Jick Wins Low tremendous and inventive drummer and his mandolin made "Shreveport". David DiGiuseppe is the king of accordion!
Juanito Laguna played beautiful charango on "The Pearl". The viola playing of Tom Ed White is the glue of the record!! Finally Emily Farmer ended the album with her magical French Horn. Very different crew then my prior albums and helped give this record a unique sound. And surprisingly, and not by design, no electric guitar on the album.
R.V.B. - What are your plans to support the album?
T.R. - Well, hopefully continued airplay and rave reviews. But in addition to that, plenty of touring including an upcoming 3 week tour of Ireland/Scotland/England in October. As always my record label, Rock & Sock Records, will try and market whatever opportunities present themselves to keep the record on the air and in the press. Should the album repeat some of the "Chart Success" that my prior albums had then they will get the word out and get some of the folks who missed the album initially to catch up and give it a listen and a spin. And I must thank and point out both my domestic and foreign publicists, William James from Glass Onyon and Peter Holmstedt from Hemifran, who make sure everyone that should know about "Afterlife" does in fact know about it!
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Tokyo Rosenthal visit his website http://www.tokyorosenthal.com/tokyo_rosenthal/home.html
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