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GoNOLA Jazz Fest Interview: June Yamagishi

Get to know Japanese born June Yamagishi who plays guitar for Papa Grows Funk, the Wild Magnolias and 101 Runners, performing at Jazz Fest 2014!

June Yamagishi is one of the many talented New Orleans artists playing at Jazz Fest this year. He is very active in the local music scene as the guitarist for Papa Grows Funk, the Wild Magnolias, and the 101 Runners. Originally from Japan, he began one of the most successful Japanese blues bands, the West Road Blues Band, which pioneered the blues genre in Japan in the 1970s. June moved to New Orleans in 1995 and joined Papa Grows Funk and the Wild Magnolias, two staples of the funk and Mardi Gras Indian genres, respectively. Yamagishi is playing Jazz Fest 2014 with the 101 Runners on Saturday, April 26 on the Jazz & Heritage Stage at 6:05 p.m. Get to know June better as he discusses his love of the blues, NOLA, and Jazz Fest.

New Orleans Guitarist June Yamagishi

Did you come from a musical family? Were your parents musical?

I don’t have anyone who plays music in my family.

Growing up, who were some of your favorite guitarists?

I was listening to most of the blues greats like B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, and Earl King, The Kings, Wes Montgomery, Hendrix, all of the greats!

new orleans musician
June Yamagishi (Photo by McClain Johnson)

You began the West Road Blues Band in 1972. What did you enjoy most about the blues and jazz scene in Japan?

There was a disco club called MUGEN in the ’70s where the great blues and R&B artists like BB King, Ike & Tina, Confunkshun, Rufus were playing weekly. I was hanging every night when I’m up in Tokyo!

What first got you interested in New Orleans music?

Mardi Gras Indian music.

What inspired you to move to New Orleans?

The smell, streetcar, food, people and everything!

How did Papa Grows Funk get started?

new orleans music
June Yamagishi from Jazz Fest 2010 (Photo by John McCusker via The Times-Picayune)

We were jammin’ every Monday at Old Point Bar across the river. That was around 2000.

What’s your favorite venue in NOLA and why?

Maple Leaf! I have lots of stories about my music life in New Orleans from that club. It’s like a second home, if you know what I mean.

What do you enjoy most about playing Jazz Fest?

I love playing in the Jazz Fest vibe and smelling the food!

Do you have a favorite memory from playing Jazz Fest over the years?

The Trio was playing in 2004 and Papa Grows Funk opened. Also seeing Art Neville with Steve Jordan and Willie Weeks and then Stevie Wonder in 2009.

What are your hobbies outside of music?

Cooking!

Do you have a motto or quote that you live by?

Shut my mouth and play!

Do you have any advice for artists just starting out?

If you want to be a good musician, spend time with any kind of music. Get married to the music. That’s it!

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