Sugar Brown
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Sugar Brown

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2014

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Blues Roots


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Sugar Brown @ Mariposa Folk Festival

Orillia, Ontario, Canada

Orillia, Ontario, Canada

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"Sugar Brown "Sugar Brown's Sad Day" (Canada)"

Just got a chance to listen to "Sugar Brown's Sad Day", the first full length release by Sugar Brown, and I must admit, it is really really good.

This beauty is a great mix of older style Chicago, Texas, and Hill Country Blues and it was not only a surprise, but also a rare treat to hear this type of music as newly released music, as this sounds just like the music from greats such as Little Walter, Magic Slim, Muddy Waters, and most notably Tail Dragger. Tail Dragger actually gave Sugar Brown, whom was born Ken Chester Kawashima, his stage name, saying to him "You Ain't Black...But You Sure Ain't White...You're Sugar Brown ." Tail Dragger's association with Sugar Brown, did not stop with just giving him his stage name, as Sugar Brown played blues with Tail Dragger, in addition to Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, the legendary drummer for Muddy Walter's band.

One of the things I was really impressed with, when I started to listen to "Sugar Brown's Sad Day", was the great live feel I got. This live feel comes from the fact that this album was "recorded live-off-the-floor onto a full track mono recorder." This made for a wonderful old time sound, quite reminescent of the Chess recordings during the 50's. Even the cover, back, and additonal photo's inside the CD case, have a old time look to them.

"Sugar Brown's Sad Day" consists of 15 Tracks of great tunes, and is just over 63 minutes in length. Eight of the Tracks are Sugar Brown originals, with the remainder consisting of some mighty fine covers, which included 2 Elmore James tunes "Fishman's Blues" and "It Hurts Me To", Jimmy Rogers "Act Like You Love Me", Velvet Underground's "Run, Run, Run", and Muddy Waters "Rollin' and Tumblin'", to name a few.

In addition to Sugar Brown on Vocals & Guitar, as well as, Harmonica on 2 Tracks, additional performers included playing various instruments on various Tracks, Bharath Rajakumar (Harmonica/Guitar/Maracas/Back-Up Vocals), Ben Caissie (Drums/Upright Bass) and Zak Izbinsky (Guitar). "Sugar Brown's Sad Day" is dedicated to Sugar Brown's late father, Fujiya Kawashima, for whom several songs were written in the wake of his fathers passing, "Sad", "Grim Reaper", and "Two O'Clock". All written in a deeply personal and moving manner, with the most rawly performed being "Two O'Clock", which is just Sugar Brown singing and playing Harmonica.

"Sugar Brown's Sad Day" finishes off with what I am guessing is a little tribute to Sugar Brown's father called "Boogie For Fuji" and as the name implies, it is a great little Boogie number that has the whole band kicking up quite a storm. "Boogie For Fuji" goes for a length of 3:01 and then after about a 20 second pause another song on that Track starts up. Not sure whether it was a hidden or bonus Track, but is was certainly another nice treat to this stellar album.

"Sugar Brown's Sad Day" marked my first intro to Sugar Brown and what an amazing intro it was. I would have never dreamt that this style of fantastic old time blues was still being made and certainly not with such an authentic old time feel. "Sugar Brown's Sad Day" is a must have album for any Blues lover, no questions asked.

5***** for "Sugar Brown's Sad Day" and I which I had a higher rating system, because it certainly deserves it. - Blues Underground Network

"Sugar Brown’s 'Sad Day'"

his debut release from Ken Kawashima, stage name Sugar Brown, was independently recorded and released in 2011. Clocking in at just over one hour, the fifteen tunes included here are representative of the old Chess sound of the 50’s.

Recorded live and onto a full track mono tape recorder, the tunes sound aged with the authentic feel of the old Blues masters and one could almost imagine the archivist Alan Lomax present with his tape machine to record the sessions for posterity.

There are eight tracks written by Kawashima and the remaining songs are arranged from old Elmore James, Jimmy Rogers, Floyd Jones and Muddy Waters originals. There is even a tasty cover of the Velvet Underground song Run, Run, Run which redefines the meaning of blues interpretation.

Guitar, Harmonica and upright bass form a potent mix across these tracks, complimented by occasional drums on a few songs. The sound is sparse and elemental with a vocal delivery that hints at the pain and frustration of the singular traveller in search of respite.

Based in Toronto, this excellent musician, singer/songwriter has produced a ground-breaking take on the blues medium that is at once ancient as the hills and refreshingly modern in its’ stripped bare honesty - Lonesome Highway


Like stepping into a time machine, you end up in the Chess studio mid fifties and then witness recordings full of authentic Chicago blues. It sounds Sugar Brown's Sad Day. Yet it is a release from 2014. Each of the 15 songs were recorded live on a full track mono tape recorder which each song has an old-school sound, similar to Chess Records in the fifties. A rare beautiful plate.

Sugar Brown (Bowling Green, Ohio) was born as Ken Chester Kawashima son of a Japanese father and a Korean mother. Both emigrated to the USA in the mid sixties. Brown, now living in Toronto, Canada, won the 2013 Toronto Blues Society Talent Search. His guitar playing is a mixture of fifties Texas country music, early electric Chicago blues and Mississippi blues. Browns bluesharp game betrays the influence include Little Walter.

Sugar Brown's Sad Day is March 4, 2014 and was recorded and produced by "blues harp master Bharat Rajakumar who also plays on the album. The Canadian harmonica player Ben Caissie literally let themselves heard on this release. Several songs on the album deal with the death of Brown's father, like Sad Day, Grim Reaper and 2 O'clock. It is melancholy and personal songs where the emotion dripping from every note, supported by a cutting blues harp. Especially 2 O'clock rips and burns through the bare musical accompaniment. Only the plaintive song of Brown, piercing harmonica and occasional footstumping wrote the whole song GOOSEBUMPS in big letters across it.

But the other songs make a great impression. Fishman's Blues (aka Pickin 'The Blues) is an instrumental containing dirty guitars. Before The Law echoes Not Fade Away, Act Like You Love Me burns very pleasant a hole in my speakers while Volcano Woman and It Hurts Me Too blues dirges in optima forma. Hook-a-Boogie tapped out a happier keg by his rousing rhythm and slide cutting. Run, Run, Run gets such a thorough makeover blues that hardly recognizable as a cover of The Velvet Underground. John Henry and What Are We Gonna Do dragging, tearing and cutting even as tasty, while the version of Rollin 'and Tumblin' are actually succeed in something new to add to a number that is now quite is chewed. Boogie For Fuji connect goosebumps plate again with emotion that gushes from each tone.

Sugar Brown's Sad Day is a rare beautiful record. Blues in the style of Chess mid fifties cutting blues harp and vocals. Goosebumps. - The Blues Magazine

"Sugar Brown Sad Day -"

WHEN was the last time you connected raw, Chicago-via-the-Mississippi-delta blues wailing with an associate professor of East Asian studies? Only in Canada you say. Toronto-based Ken "Sugar Brown" Kawashima is originally from Ohio and spent time in Chicago as a student prowling the local scene as a blues enthusiast. The big payoff of his circuitous travels is now in the form of his première 15-track album, Sugar Brown's Sad Day. The release delivers the kind of sparse, spine-tingling authentic blues that used to be made in the 1950s by guys with names like Muddy, Chester, Walter and Bo.
Kawashima and his band had the luxury of recording on vintage "full track" mono equipment, which is what gives it much of it's faithful sounding depth. The less-is-more approach is often touted, yet this particular set seems to exhale a different kind of audible air. Kawashima's six-string playing and slightly echoed vocals are tied to the past in much more than a copyist's fashion -- he has a natural feel for the blues and delivers with frankness and heart.
He wrote over half the songs on Sad Day, putting even a finer point on his level of expertise in interpreting raw blues the way it should be. 4 out of 5 stars - Winnipeg Free Press


Still working on that hot first release.



Born and raised in Bowling Green, Ohio, Sugar Brown was born as Ken Chester Kawashima to a Japanese father and Korean mother who both immigrated to the United States in the mid-1960s. Now residing in Toronto, Ontario, Sugar Brown is a contemporary blues musician, singer and songwriter. His brand of dark, sweet, inconsolable blues has caught the attention of the Canadian blues scene, winning the 2013 Toronto Blues Society Talent Search.

Sugar Brown is a rare multi-instrumentalist blues musician on todays blues scene. As a singer, his voice flows from low, dark whispers to jumping banter, from sweet crooning to broken wails and howls, all the while singing catchy songs about everyday life in its sad and beautiful twists of fate. As a guitarist, Sugar Browns playing is sweet, dirty, raw, refined, wild, and above all, grooving on the bass strings. Its a mixture of 1950s Texas country rawness , early electric Chicago blues , and finallylike many contemporary indie-rock bands paying homage to the bluesSugar Brown loves and has learned the hill country music of northern Mississippi greats. His harmonica influences come from Chicagos tradition of amplified harmonica players such as Little Walter. Haunting, bopping, and wailing, Sugar Browns harmonica playing is an extension of his unforgettable voice. Finally, in the past two years, Sugar Brown has also returned to his childhood instrument the pianoand is tickling the ivory more and more on gigs and in the style of Big Maceo and Otis Spann.


All of these instruments, led by Sugar Browns deep voice, meld into a  spontaneously combustible performance that takes audiences on a stylistic tour de force of blues music and its checkered history, from driving shuffles, bumping boogies, and swinging jump tunes to dark rhumbas, high and lonesome country grooves, and mournful dirges.


Sugar Browns blues originated while studying as an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago. By day, he studied history; by night he played blues with famed Chicago West Side blues raconteur and singer, Taildragger, as well as with Willie Big Eyes Smith, the legendary drummer of Muddy Waters band. Sugar Browns blues were thus shaped by playing in small clubs and venues on the West Side of Chicago for veteran Chicago blues singers such as Taildragger, for whom the sounds and memories of past blues greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, and Magic Sam were still very much alive. Taildraggers band, The La-Z Boys, played this style of blues every Wednesday at the 5105 Club, and every weekend in the summer months at the now defunct Delta Fish Market. There, in the parking lot, Sugar Brown played on a large, red-painted stage behind Taildragger and other veteran blues singers before delighted, dancing audiences.


Taildragger is responsible for giving Kawashima the stage name Sugar Brown in 1992, saying to him, You aint black..but you sure aint white.Youre Sugar Brown. (Taildraggers first two proposals for a stage name were Japanese Boy and The Korea Kid, both of which Kawashima  vetoed outright, claiming he was in a blues band, not a United Nations delegation.) Soon after, Sugar Brown left Chicago to pursue a Ph.D. in modern Japanese history. He moved to Tokyo to study Japanese language and history, but he couldnt stop playing and singing the blues. He thus again studied during the day and played blues at night as a regular performer in one of Tokyos best known blues bars, Bright Brown. Since completing his doctorate in history from New York University in 2002, Sugar Brown has been living and working in Toronto. Once again, by day, he studies at school, though now as Associate Professor of East Asian Studies (Ph.D. History, NYU, 2002) at the University of Toronto. 

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