Yuji Tojo

Two musicians are playing in Crow’s Nest on a Wednesday night. You might imagine a couple of folkies sitting in chairs, strumming acoustic guitars and harmonizing before a crowd of seated patrons sipping beer and whispering to each other between songs like they are in a library. But none of this sort of thing is happening as acoustic guitarist Yuji Tojo and drummer Mike Shannon play an original samba song, with Japanese lyrics, called “Umi,” to a handful of sultry dancers.

The song begins with Yuji—he uses his first name as his stage name—playing a little rhythm guitar and a bass line that he “loops” throughout the song, using some sort of computer. Once the song’s foundation is laid, Yuji starts playing lead guitar while Shannon bangs out an impeccable beat.

Yuji insists that there is a simple reason for having a duo that sounds like a full band. “I started doing the looping because I couldn’t find a bassist I liked,” ( good once is already taken ) he says.

On some songs, Yuji uses effects pedals to make his guitar sound like a horn section or a piano, while on other numbers, like a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” Yuji expertly plays straight guitar and wrings notes from his instrument that fall like rain drops.

Yuji says he started playing guitar in Tokyo at the tender age of 9 years old. By the time he was 14, he was playing in a Tokyo rock band called Nami, before joining the Japanese rock/blues/funk band New Creation. But by 1979, Yuji realized he needed to leave Tokyo. “The rock scene was too crazy for me,” he says.

In 1980, Yuji moved to Santa Cruz, and since then, he has played guitar in drummer Baba Olatunde’s band and in his own world beat group, Chi Mizu.

After playing a great song that begins with Yuji playing flamenco guitar before locking into a Middle Eastern-sounding jam, Yuji says, “you guys are good” to the small but enthusiastic crowd.

“No, you guys are good,” one boisterous audience member yells back.

“We are just playing around, you know,” Yuji says before pulling another song’s worth of incredible sounds from his guitar.

By Stuart Thornton

Santa Cruz County has always had a rich musical landscape.

There are a number of talented players

and a mutual admiration society where musicians support and enjoy each others work.

One musician that commends incredible respect from the musical community

is the guitarist Yuji Tojo.

Here is a world class musician playing at the neighborhood clubs in northern California

how great is that for music lovers?

by Sandra Baron