B’z guitarist Tak Matsumoto speaks little English, lets his signature Les Paul to the talkin’



By Steve Newton

Up until a few weeks ago, my knowledge of popular music in Japan was pretty slim. About all I knew for sure was that Cheap Trick used to cause a big stir over there in the ’70s when they played a place called Budokan. Turns out that for the past decade, a two-man rock act I’d never heard of called B’z (pronounced “beez”) has totally dominated the charts in the Land of the Rising Sun. Vocalist Koshi Inaba and guitarist Tak Matsumoto have sold more than 40 million albums in their home country alone. To give you an idea of how quickly they can move plastic, their 1998 greatest hits CD, B’z: The Best Treasure, sold 2.5 million copies in just three days.

That’s a whole lotta ka-ching!

Singer-lyricist Inaba and guitarist-songwriter Matsumoto specialize in melodic pop that’s driven by the latter’s flashy, guitar-hero embellishments. As well as being revered throughout Asia, he’s the fifth player in the world to have his own signature model Gibson Les Paul, which puts him in the company of Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Ace Frehley, and Slash. And Matsumoto is beginning to find recognition in North America, as his fifth solo album, Hana, has been released on Steve Vai’s Favored Nations label. Vai mixed two tracks on the instrumental CD, including opening number “Koi-Uta”, which the California virtuoso describes as “one of the most inspired instrumental guitar melodies in existence”.

It’s tempting to use quotes from other people when writing about Matsumoto, because he doesn’t speak much English himself. When the guitarist calls from Beverly Hills—where the duo is in rehearsals for a five-city North American tour that visits the sold-out Commodore Ballroom on Thursday (October 23)—a manager/translator fields my questions, but the one- and two-word responses from Matsumoto don’t leave me much to work with. Not that I’m much of an example when it comes to bilingualism. The only Japanese I know I picked up from that old Styx tune, “Mr. Roboto”.

What I do learn from our awkward, pause-filled conversation is that Matsumoto came from a musical family (his father was a singer in a university vocal group), that he practises guitar almost every day, that Hendrix’s “Little Wing”—which he covers on Hana—is one of his favourite songs, and that the last CDs he bought were by Jeff Beck, B. B. King, and Brian Setzer.

The final tidbit of information I glean from Matsumoto is that he’s looking forward to his first visit to Vancouver, though for the time being there’s little chance of B’z knocking Nickelback off the local retail charts. “Right now,” the translator explains, “there’s no set plan of releasing a CD [in North America]. But Tak always says that if there’s people around anywhere in the world that are interested in their music that they’re willing to go over there and play concerts.”

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