From the Fire Records box set containing reissues of We Are They Who Ache With Amorous Love, Fire In The Sky and Hot.
1. WHAT DID I HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
When I was 16, Carlos Montoya came to play at my high school. After Segovia, Montoya was the best-known Spanish classical/Flamenco guitarist of his generation. He played on every fret with uncanny speed and accuracy, as if each finger had a mind of its own. He made it obvious that the Spanish classical guitar tradition is simply the most difficult and most beautiful form of musical art. We gave him a standing ovation, of course, and left the hall inspired.
Around the same time, I happened to wander into the school music room and found a kid named Emerson playing The Train Kept A-Rolling on electric guitar really loud. No band, no vocals, just a thick pure distorted guitar sound that I had never heard close up beofre. I didn't say anything -- didn't really know him -- just listened for a while and left. It wasn't like a light bulb went on in my head, but that sound stayed with me, lodged in a part of my brain that Montoya's music, for all its genius, couldn't reach.
I didn't own a guitar until senior year, when I came into possession of a nylon string Kay dreadnought that my grandmother had once used for lessons. So I wasn't in a position to try to recreate that electric guitar sound for myself. But I kept hearing it: in Cream's Spoonful, Muddy Waters' slide, Keith Richard's Stray Cat Blues, Henry Vestine's Canned Heat boogie, Jimmy Page's solo three and a half minutes into What Is and What Should Never Be, Hendrix in the Boston Garden, and above all the gnashing, corroding noise of guitar, organ and viola on European Son and Sister Ray.
I took the Kay to college, learned some chords from a Bob Dylan book, and worked out the basic blues scale. The first electric guitar I ever played was a drand-new Telecaster that belonged to a friend of mine with an indulgent psychiatrist father, who had bought him the guitar and a matching Twin Reverb (about $500 for the pair in those days). One day he and some other guys were playing a boar game on the floor of his bedroom. I picked up the guitar, flicked the amp switch, and started playing the two-note Spoonful riff. The further I turned the volume knob clockwise, the better it sounded. Crank the reverb: even better! Suddenly the game players were screaming at me to turn it down and giving me what-the-fuck-are-you-doing looks. So that was that. They all played in teenage bands, but none of them ever amounted to anything in music.
Fast forward then years to the summer of 1980. My musical skills and experience remained minimal, but that ideal electric sound still haunted me. Blessed fate dropped me into the one band where technique was completely unimportant and where the pursuit of raw sonic energy was the only thing that mattered.
Half Japanese had just expanded the David and Jad two-man band by bringing in Ricky Dreyfuss on drums and John Dreyfuss and Lana Zabko on sax. Every weeken they were recording tracks for Loud in the basement of an audio-visual company a few blocks east of Chinatown in DC, where Ricky worked and slept. The space was large, with floors, ceiling, and walls of unfinished concrete. Everybody played at rodent-killng volume and the acoustics were just unbelievable. My wife Edith and I went down to listen every Sunday.
Whenever David Fair starts to get comfortable in a band role, he wants to try something new. In this case, he decided that a second drummer was the needful thing, so he moved ober to drums. This left a guitar and amp unused. The gates swung open;; into my hands came a green, hand-painted Telecaster, tuned to no known harmonic system, and with all the frets removed. To do with it whatever I could.
These were not only the ideal conditions for me to join a rock and roll band, they were the only possible conditions. It worked out really well for a while. We finished Loud, and kept playing each weekend, either in my basement or in the Fairs' 1804 house in Uniontown, Maryland, which had an historical plaque out front related to the battle of Gettysburg. Every Sunday we recorded three or four hours of songs onto 4-track reel-to-reel tape, which Jad would review and mix down during the week. Thus began the era of monster songs and love songs.
At the same time, Jad was recording an amazing range of solo material, using all kinds of instruments, toys, noise-makers, electronics, and every possible sound and rhythm. So he established his pattern early: on the one hand he had a normal (relatively speaking!) rock band, Half Japanese, and on the other hand a constant proliferation of wild, out-there collaborations and solo work.
We started playing shows with the six-person lineup. The first (and my first public performance ever) was opening for Lydia Lunch's blues band, the Devil Dogs, in December 1980 at the old 9:30 Club. Bands shared the same "dressing room," a famously dank, stinking, and rat-infested basement. We didn't hit it off too well with Lydia at first. She had brought along an iron saucepan for a rhythm instrument, and Ricky use it for an ashtray. After she heard us, and the crowd's reaction, though, she did get more friendly. In fact, we blew her off the stage. At the bar, a woman told me that if she ever got married again, it would be to a member of my band. When I was a little slow to process this information, she quickly added, "Don't worry! That's a compliment!"
At that show I discovered that my deep and terrible stage fright converts into adrenalin as soon as the music starts. That, brothers and sisters, is a lifelong addiction.
During the early 1980s, we put out a record a year: Loud, Horrible, Our Solar System, and Sing No Evil, which have been reissued again and again, most recently on the Fire Records box before this one. That pattern broke down with Charmed Life, which took two years to recor an then fell into the record industry's equivalent of Vietcong captivity (as Penn Jillette explains in Jeff Feuerzig's film Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King).
While that situation sorted itself out, the band's focus shifted from recording and playing in the basement or bedroom to touring. Jad was ready to do music full-time. John, David, and I were not, having jobs and families, so we stepped back at that poiunt (which was around 1988). Half Japanese became Jad plus a revolving group of road musicians who lived far apart, got together to tour, and recorded when they could fit it in.
This box set documents the transition. We Are They Who Ache With Amorous Love (1991) is a compilation of tracks from all, or almost all, of the different lineups up to that point. Fire In The Sky (1993) features a brilliant but short-lived version of the band. Hot (1995) is the first LP recorded by the most stable lineup in Half Japanese history, who are still playing together 20 years on.