I wrote this article for a facebook group about a recording artist, guitar shop owner/teacher, and lover of great guitar music . It’s a Q&A through email about him, his experiences as a guitar player, and while heavily favored on the Allman Brothers Band, Kunio explores wide range of interesting topics.
I’m also overly inquisitive and when I find someone like our good friend from Japan, Kunio Kishida, I simply am not satisfied with just knowing a little about him but feel that I should dig into who he is and what makes him tick. He was gracious enough to answer a list of pertinent questions that I sent him about himself and his connection to Duane. Kunio had an American friend assist him in relaying the thoughts he wanted to express, and what follows are his words and sentiments.
I believe that music can bring people together in a way that not many things can anymore and really good music can change the world. I also believe that there are certain people and certain places that are like magnets that draw people to them. Duane Allman/ The Allman Brothers Band and Duane’s grasp on music is one of those people and the ABB is one of those bands.
J: Let me first begin with where you grew up and when did music first take hold of you?
K: I was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1952. My parents liked classical music. My brother and I listened to 78 records when I was 10 years old. Then The Beatles appeared in 1964 and so we were really excited by their music.
J: What was the first guitar or other instrument that you began playing on and what were you listening to that made you want to play? Do you still have your first guitar?
K: My older brother and I started playing cheap classical guitars that our dad gave us when I was 11 years old in 1963.
J: Were you exposed to music from America/England when you were growing up or how did you get hooked on the ABB? What other musical influences do you have that you consider part of your musical being?
K: I love the Cream after the Beatles. I learned a lot of guitar techniques from Eric Clapton. I love blues style guitar and Clapton was the big hero of Japanese guitarists during late 60’s before Led Zeppelin came out. Then I started to seek other white blues guitarists and found Michael Bloomfield. I love both of them and I mixed their guitar techniques. It became my guitar style. In late 60’s, I heard the name of Duane Allman. I bought the ABB’s first album. It’s great! I love Gibson guitars but Eric and other guitarists started playing Fenders. I learned Duane’s slide guitar techniques. After Duane passed away, I listened to his Anthology album and I learned his slide techniques from this album too. I also love Dickey Betts’ sweet and melodic guitar. I listened to his Highway Call a lot.
J: I’m 42 this year and remember a time when you couldn’t get online and find anything that you wanted and the music we had was the hits from 60/70/80/and 90’s. I’m curious how Southern Rock/Swamp Music ended up as such a large influence for you?
K: I remember ABB and Derek & the Dominos became my last heroes. I wasn’t interested in any new music during the 80/90’s including digital music and disco. I was only interested in Larry Carlton. Then I quit playing guitar with bands in the mid 70’s. I worked for a music store but I always kept Swamp and Southern Rock in my heart throughout my life.
J:Did you play in any bands growing up and what were the jobs you had early on before playing music and the guitar shop? (I ask this because music as a career is still my dream and I applaud and greatly respect artists who take that jump and make a living playing music.)
K: My first band was called The Breakers then Behind the Brain during my high school days. In early 70’s my new band was the Ricefield Blues Band. We played ABB songs and traditional blues. I started playing slide guitar. We won the rock contest in 1974. I did some studio work before quitting my job.
J:You own the guitar recognized as Duane’s first electric guitar, a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Jr., that he bought by trading motorcycle parts to get the cash, and was re discovered by Delaney Bramlett in the early 70’s. How did that guitar end up in your hands?
Richard Brent at The Big House Museum in Macon, Georgia told me when I visited last month that it’s at The Big House Museum now. How long will you keep it there?
K: Yeah! I was lucky. Anybody could have bought it. I found out on the internet that Delaney had decided to sell it. My friend bought it for me from Delaney in 1999 and I’ve had it for 17 years. I brought it to the Big House in 2015 because I felt the need to show it there. I hope many of Duane’s fans will see it.
J: Did you ever get a chance to meet Delaney and talk with him about his time with Duane? You also recorded with Bonnie Bramlett and I would ask the same question about her time with Duane and if she had any stories?
K: I wanted to visit Delaney’s house but I couldn’t. Bonnie talked about Duane at the Muscle Shoals recording session. I can’t quite remember what she said. It was something like “Boy, he’s cute.” Scott Boyer and Jimmy Johnson also talked to me about Duane.
J:You also spent some time with Dickey Betts and his son Duane back in 2013 when they were in Japan, and of course on other occasions. Can you tell us how you acquired the Jessica guitar, what kind of conversations you have had with Dickey about playing music and any advice he offered? Are there any Duane insights that he shared?
K: I talked about Jessica with Dickey in 1992. He said it came to be in a bad condition so he traded it. I received it during the recording session at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 2002. It was a good setting but it was really difficult to play. Unstable tuning and bad neck condition. Our repair man started to repair it after we returned to Japan. It took 2 years. Now, Jessica is a great Les Paul again. I brought it backstage at a Dickey Betts show in 2013. Dickey wasn’t interested but his son Duane was. I think he was tired of talking about Duane so I didn’t ask it.
J:What other guitars do you own that you keep in regular playing rotation and which ones are kept away for safe keeping?
K: Now I play ’52 and ’58 Les Paul gold top and my Alabama Boy that I ordered from RS Guitar Works in Kentucky.
My main guitar is Nancy (1959 Les Paul burst) that I got in 1989 and have used for many live performances and recording sessions. I brought it to Muscle Shoals for the second recording session in 2004. Most of my albums (3rd, 5th, 6th,7th and 8th) I recorded with Nancy. I don’t play Nancy on stage now. I will only play Nancy and Jessica at recording sessions.
J:I believe that Richard also told me that you owned Duane’s original Zebo strap. Are there other items that you have acquired that you would like to share?
K: Yes. I will bring the Zebo strap to The Big House Museum in the near future. I love my many friends who I met in Macon in 2015 and 2016.
J:I read in the 2013 interview by Michael Limnios that you were in a car accident in 1983 that took you away from playing for a number of years. How did you get through that experience and how did that shape you when you recovered?
K: I had bad luck from 1983 to 1998. I got whiplash 5 times in 2 years. I felt dizziness and pain every day. I could not play guitar. My family, my friends and customers took care of me. I was surprised by many things that happened then. Dickey, Gregg and Allen visited me. Clapton’s Explorer, Duane’s Les Paul Junior, Zebo Strap, Jessica and many great guitars came to me. Unbelievable! It was a miracle I could record at Muscle Shoals with Duane’s friends. I believe Duane always helps me.
J:You have a very high end vintage guitar shop that you operate, Nancy. When did you open that up and what is the significance of the name?
K: I opened Vintage guitar shop “Nancy” in my home town Nagoya Japan on 23nd September, 1988. Nancy is my guitar’s name. I decided to use it as the shop name. Then I opened a branch in Tokyo. Tokyo is my second home town as well.
J:What kind of inventory do you keep on hand for vintage instruments versus newer instruments?
K: It’s completely different between vintage and new. Quality is different. Price range too. I love new guitars and I want to sell both. Also I’m advising many guitar makers.
J:What are your favorite instruments that are either for sale or in your personal collection?
K: No.1 is Les Paul, No.2 is Strat, No.3 is Tele No.4 is ES335. I love traditional style.
J:Do you have T Shirts for your business for sale?
K: I sell my Kunio T-shirts in Japan. But many people from USA have asked for them so I will sell them in USA soon so I will get a PayPal account.
J:I saw a picture on your Facebook page comparing the first time that you visited Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia in 1981 to the most recent trip. There has obviously been a long history of your admiration for Duane Allman and I was curious how that first trip came about and how did Macon compare in 1981 versus this last time you went?
K: No. It was in 1979. My friend drove from Nashville to Macon with me because I really wanted to visit but I didn’t know how to get there. When I visited Duane and Berry’s graves, I was so sad. I didn’t think to visit again because it was so far from Japan. Next time was in 1988 and the third time was in 2002, the fourth in 2015 and the fifth in 2016. I could feel Duane and Berry’s presence from Japan because I have many friends in Macon now.
J:I’m a late addition to the Allman Brothers fan club although I grew up listening to their music but not at a fanatical level as now. We may have already covered this in previous questions but were you aware of Duane when he passed in 1971? How did you get to the point of making a trip to Macon to visit and pay your respects?
K: I don’t know why I wanted to visit his grave in 1979. I’m just a big fan. After I recorded with Duane’s old friends at Muscle Shoals, I needed to visit his grave and Macon. Since the last traffic accident in 1998, a strange thing happened. It is all about encouragement. I came to think that Duane would surely watch over me. So I decided to donate to the fence around Duane and Berry’s graves and go to Macon where I got a nice experience playing in Macon.
J:I believe that I also saw a picture of you and Kirk West from either that trip or another one. How did you meet Kirk and how did that friendship come about?
K: I met Kirk in 1991 and 1992 when the ABB played a concert in Japan. I missed meeting him in Macon in 2002. We later met on Facebook a few years later. I visited and played at his gallery in 2015 and 2016.
J:As well as owning the guitar shop you are an accomplished recording artist with I believe 11 CD’s available. From your website I was able to listen to a number of tracks and gather some info about your recording career. You recorded the first album at Muscle Shoals and have worked with Johnny Sandlin on a couple different albums and recorded or played with a number of people that also played with Duane.
K: It’s actually 8 albums. Yes, an act of God! Everybody was so kind to me. Johnny was our boss. He collected members: Paul Hornsby, Jimmy Johnson, Mickey Buckins and Bonnie Bramlett. Scott Boyer came during the session too. I asked him to help with my recording. I’m still excited because I could feel Duane. I believed Duane touches me when I play slide guitar. He gave his inspiration to me at the end of song “It’s You.”
J:What is the feeling you get working with these people and what have you learned about Duane through these experiences? Are there any stories or pieces of information that have helped you understand the man and his playing that you can share?
K: Yeah, Paul and Johnny talked about when Duane started to play slide guitar in 1968. They could not listen because Duane had no technique and it was a bad sound. Ahaha! Also, Jimmy Johnson explained Duane loved to use old batteries on his Fuzz Face pedal. He did not like new ones.
J:I decided a couple of years ago to really dig into slide playing and was immediately drawn to Duane and the Allman Brothers music. It’s a struggle not to sound like cats fighting in an alley and I wondered what is your advice for playing slide?
K: Which finger do you use to hold the slide? I use my ring finger. In my case, my middle or little finger hold the slide while my index finger touches (damps) the strings. It’s standard form so we can prevent ‘cat noises’. How does this sound to you?
J:Along those lines, considering all the people with whom you have interacted who knew and played with Duane, have you picked up any technique from them that came from Duane? (I’m thinking of Dickey when I ask this question.)
K: When I became aware of Duane and Dickey in late 1969, I already had my guitar style. I only learned Duane’s slide technique and Dickey’s country style. My slide guitar style came only came from Duane and old blues players. I didn’t copy any other slide player (Ry Cooder, Jeff Beck, Derek Trucks…). I was hugely influenced by Duane’s slide style.
J:When you play an ABB song and specifically the solos, do you work out the parts note for note or just get the general feel of the songs and keep some of those signature riffs?
K: No, I don’t. But many of the live audiences have said my playing is very similar to Duane’s. Ahaha. I’m proud!
J:Every year on the date of Duane’s passing you have a memorial/tribute show. What is the set list like and who are the musicians that play with you?
K: I’m not a band master. I’m requested to play Duane’s part. As I want to play my own music, I promise to play with them 2 times per year.
We played original band’s songs: “Statesboro Blues,” “Don’t Keep Me Wondering,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Whipping Post,” “Midnight Rider,” “Black Hearted Woman,” “Don’t Want You No More” and “Stormy Monday.” We also played “Jessica” and “Southbound.”
J:What kind of turnout do you get and are you converting people into new Allman Brothers fans?
K: I hope so. There is not big guitar music market in Japan. I need to feel we show great guitar music and guitar sound to young people. It’s my main reason why I play guitar and music again. Amateur bands can’t play ABB. Our tribute band members are all professional musicians. We play great ABB music for the next generation. I’m happy some young musicians start to copy ABB and my music.
J:You also have a beautiful bracelet that you sell that is a replica of the Zebo strap. I think it’s a beautiful way to Remember Duane Allman. Are these made locally in Japan and do you have an online store where people can purchase them?
K: Originally Mr. Charlie Whitt made it. He gave me one in 2015. It was small for me but I ordered one for my friend. Everybody likes it. I brought some to Macon this year but I only sell them in my stores from now on but soon I will sell them by mail order on my website.
(UPDATE:These are now sold at the Bighouse in Macon, Ga. contact them through the website below to purchase)
J:Once you’ve had a chance to reply, I may have some more follow up questions but I really appreciate you taking the time to reply and share your story with us.
K: My pleasure. I am honored to be able to answer your questions.
J:I am very happy that someone like yourself has Duane’s and Dickey’s guitars. I find it a shame when someone collects instruments because they have the money but they sit in a vault and never see the light of day.
K: I don’t know. But I believe a guitar chooses the owner. I wished to show the guitars to Duane’s mother but I was late by 6 months.
J:I feel that the Gold Top is in the perfect location and that Richard and owner, Scot Lamar, are doing a great service to Duane’s memory by keeping it in the hands of musicians and in front of the fans.
K: I agree.
J:Galadrielle is also an amazing steward of her father’s memory and instruments and I was very excited to see all three guitars together for the last go-round at the Beacon in 2014.
K: Me too. I hope Galadrielle was happy.
J:Thank you again Brother Kunio san.
K: Thank you too.
Brother Kunio emailed me most of these pictures for use for this article. I didn’t list any photographers but if your work is displayed here, please let me know and I’ll gladly add your information on the photos.
Kunio’s websites are below and also the link to the Big House Museum. The Big House Museum houses the soul and spirit of the Allman Brothers and is a great place to visit and support.