About Tommy Chung
Music is not a matter of life and death. It is more important than that.
Background music : Midnight Blues from "Blues Time" CD
The Blues is the heart and soul of me. With the Blues, you can never take credit, you can only give it credit.
Chung is the foremost and number
one Blues player in Hong Kong. He has played in numerous venues in Hong
Kong and Japan. He has also released three recordings being the only Blues
recordings ever released by a local musician in Hong Kong. His three Cds
are currently distributed by EMI (Hong Kong) Ltd. The current line-up
of his band Tommy And The All Blues is undoubtedly the best Blues act
in Hong Kong (some say the best in Asia). In 2001, he opened the first
Blues bar in Hong Kong. Now besides his full band, Tommy also has a trio
act. Here is his story:-
I was born in Hong Kong in the late in the 50's . Since the age of 9 I have lived in Kowloon Tong. In the 60’s, Kowloon Tong was populated mainly by expatriates then working in Hong Kong; the culture in the area was predominately Western. I went to an English kindergarten and also an English primary school La Salle. At the age of 10, I was already very much into Western music. I loved Grand Funk Railroad, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, Santana and my heroes were Crosby, Stills Nash and Young. At the time Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Four Way Street was my favorite record, my head reeled when I listened to the solos on Southern Man and Carry On. At the age of 12, I was already a music freak. I listened to music all day long, I would never go any where without a radio tuned to a music channel or a mono cassette player with a tape of my favorite songs. All my pocket money was spent on buying LPs. At the tine, a double LP costs HK$44 (around US$5). When my mother asked me what would I want for a birthday present, Christmas present, New Year present, I always said I wanted records; there is nothing I love more than music. I used to hang around with friends 5 or 6 years older than me and watched them play music in music studios. Every Sunday morning I would go to the cinema at Ocean Terminal and watch the film Woodstock. I must have seen the film no less than 30 times. It was my weekly pilgrimage; Woodstock was my Sunday church. When I see Pete Townsend doing his signature windmill guitar strumming, when Alvin Lee let rip with his solo on I'm Going Home, when Hendrix did Star Spangled Banner, my feet turned to jelly. I was totally transfixed. When I was 12, I knew music is the most important thing in my life.
Music Week was a weekly music paper run by Mr. Sam Jor in the 70's. Mr. Sam Jor was the chief editor of Music Week and was a pioneer in music in Hong Kong. He knowledge in music is vast, his passion for music is legendary. Each week Mr. Sam Jor would write in the centerfold of Music Week and introduce an LP or an artist. It was through him that a whole world of fantastic music was introduced to me. Whilst everyone was writing about pop music, Mr. Sam Jor was writing about Jefferson Airplane, Lou Reed, Dave Mason and Pink Floyd. I could hardly wait for the Friday to come when the new edition of Music Week would come out. If anyone deserved a place in the music history of Hong Kong, Mr. Sam Jor is one. He opened up a whole world of music for his readers, shared his insights with everyone.
When I was 16 years old, my parents sent me to England to continue my studies. One of the first things I did when I arrived in England was to buy a music paper. There were quite a few and I bought The Melody Maker. That was my first music paper and it was there I first read about the Blues. After reading the article about the Blues in Melody Maker, I was intrigued and I bought my first Blues LP which was John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. I was mesmerized and stunned by the music. It was so different from the Pop and Rock music I was into at the time. The second LP I bought was the first Fleetwood Mac album (the one with the dustbin cover) with Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer on guitar. I was completely knocked out by the music and I found out years later Jeremy Spencer was using a slide to get the guitar riffs on his Elmore James tunes. This new music was so strong and powerful, it stirred up in me emotions and sensation hitherto unknown to exist in me. I fell under the spell of the Blues right away and I was desperate to find out more about the music. I literally read every single article and book on the Blues that I could get my hands on in the library at school and went all over the place searching for every scrap of information about the Blues. I just went crazy over the music; I was simply demented, I was a man completely possessed by the music and my English friends said I had completely lost my mind; maybe I had.
When I went to study law at King's College at the University in London, I could no longer control myself and bought myself an electric guitar when I came home one summer. I was already 18 years old at the time and everyone said it was too late to start taking up a musical instrument. But I love the music so much I had to give it a try. Like most of my English contemporaries at university, I soon started a band and played university college gigs whenever the opportunity arose. At the time I was writing my own music in collaboration with my keyboard player Wayne Clark. I was playing Rock music but the Blues was always there. I started off listening to Eric Clapton, Peter Green, then I discovered B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, Elmore James and the road inevitably lead me to the summit where I found Robert Johnson, Son House, Charlie Patton.
In 1984, I came back to Hong Kong and soon started practicing at a barrister-at-law. The first few years were impossible for music. I was determined to build up my legal career and all time and energy were expended towards that end. All I could do then was to buy all the Blues LPs which I never had the money to buy when I was a student, bought some of the most expensive hi-fi stereo equipment. Only now I never had even the time to listen to any of them, they lie untouched on the floor of my room. I also bought many Gibson Les Pauls, a guitar I dreamed of owning when I was in England. When I started my legal practice, I was working 7 days a week sometimes up to 14 hours a day. But the music was in my blood, I just could not shake it off. When I had some rare unoccupied moments, some Blues tune would come to me head.
By 1985, I was already earning a more than decent living. I could very much afford materially any thing I wanted. But at the same time there was a void in my life. The magic of money had worn off. From a poor student worrying about where the next LP was coming from to having more money than I needed in my wallet and the bank, I had come a long way. One would have thought there was cause for celebration. But I felt strangely deprived and unsatisfied. I walked around in expensive clothes but with a sense of unfufilment and unease; I ate the best food without tasting it and apart from work I felt as if that was nothing life had to offer. I was just unhappy. When my legal practice was well established, I picked up the guitar again and played. I found that I had lost whatever skills and know-how I had picked up during the years in England; I had lost all my feel for music. I was so frustrated but at the same time I was determined to play music again. Gradually I was spending more and more time on music. It had not been easy to work as a lawyer and play music seriously at the same time. The day time job was demanding to the extreme often dealing with muti-million dollar claims. I was unhappy with a lot of money to throw around but I found that music gives me something that money cannot buy; it gave me a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging ness, fulfillment and satisfaction. In 1987, I finally got my act together and formed The All Blues. We used to play regularly at the Rick’s Cafe when the owners were kind enough to offer us a spot. Members of the band came and went as often and as frequently as I changed clothes. I had had different singers but I was never entirely satisfied with any of them. Soon I ended up without a singer and I decided to learn to sing myself. In the end, I changed the name to Tommy & The All Blues as I was the only regular member of the band.
In 1992, quite by chance I got to know a Japanese promoter Mr. Onoda and he invited me to play at a music festival at Furano in Hokkaido, Japan. Mr. Onoda ran a record shop in Sapporo City in Hokkaido and is a Blues and R & B fanatic. He travels the world to meet musicians and he had been to Hong Kong a few times. He heard about Tommy & The All Blues playing at Rick's Cafe and came looking for me. But at the time, Rick's Cafe had finished off with live music and had become a disco. The staff at Rick Cafe gave Mr. Onoda my office number.
I accepted Mr. Onoda's invitation and went to Sapporo in August, 1992. That was my first trip to Japan to play music and with hindsight, this turned out to be one of the most important landmark in my life. Before this trip, I had never played music outside Hong Kong apart from the college gigs in London. In Hong Kong I just could not find anyone to talk to about the Blues, no one knew who and what I was talking about and none was interested. My first trip to Japan turned out to be an eye-opener. For the first time in my life I met people who were as crazy about the Blues as I am, I talked people who were listening to the same recordings I was listening to : Willie Brown, Son House, Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson. I suddenly found a new world in which people speak the same language as I do and I found my music brothers in Japan; I was no longer an alien or an orphan, I found my family. Despite the language barrier, we spent hours talking about music and when the subject-matter became to difficult to explain, we had a drink of sake and continued the best we could.
During my trip in Hokkaido, I made so many friends, I met so many people who love the same music. I also saw so many great amateur players who play better than most professional musicians in Hong Kong. I was humbled by the experience. When I came back from Japan, I played music with a new fervor now that I knew for the first time there are people who love the Blues as much as I do. What I saw in Hokkaido made me realized there was so much more to learn in playing the Blues. Some of the friends I made on that trip become life-long friends. Each year they would come to Hong Kong to visit me when I would organize live shows for them in Hong Kong and each year I would go to Sapporo and play music with them. Music took me all over Hokkaido; I went to Sapporo City, Kitami, Bebi, Asasikawa, Furano to play music. When I came back from Sapporo, I played music with a renewed zest. I began to spend more and more time on music and less on my legal practice. I ended up charging higher fees and earning just enough to be comfortable and spend the rest of the time playing music.
My biggest turning point in life came in 1994. I was invited in 1993 to play some slide guitar on a recording of a local singer Mr. Danny Summer. At the end of the year, Mr. Summer was to host two big shows at the New Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong and he invited me to play on stage with him as one of the guests. The other guests included Mr. Kazuo Takeda. Mr. Takeda has been a hero of my adolescence, he is the undisputed first axe hero of Japan. Mr. Takeda's band Creation was to the first Japanese band to tour the U.S. On this side of the world, everyone knows Mr. Takeda. I had all the LPs of Creation and Mr. Kazuo Takeda's solo recordings. I met Mr. Takeda face to face in Hong Kong in December of 1994 and Mr. Takeda changed my life, he opened my eyes to music, he inspired me to new heights. At the time, I was planning to do a recording with my Japanese friends in Hokkaido and mentioned it to Mr. Takeda. Mr. Takeda came up to my house and listened to my music. I was thrilled when he said he could be me producer but I had to do my recording in Tokyo. Never in my wildest dream would I have thought I would have my hero as my producer. I recorded my first recording Play My Blues in JVC/Victor Studio in Tokyo. Mr. Takeda again produced my second recording Blues Talk. I owed Mr. Takeda so much. Mr. Takeda showed me not only how to play music but how music can be played. He also taught me the correct attitude to music. Mr. Takeda is a man of greatness and with a kind soul and with true love for music; he simply changed my life.
Since 1992, I have been playing regularly in Japan with my Japanese friends. I have played in Sapporo City, Kitami, Furano and Bebi in Hokkaido, Lake Yamankako area near Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. I have made so many friends through music and I had had such good times playing music with my friends in Japan. Throughout the years, I have built up a network of friends in Japan and they come to visit me regularly in Hong Kong and I also go to see them in Japan not infrequently.
In between the summer of 1995 and 1996, I hosted the first Blues radio programme All Blues Hours in Hong Kong at FM Select 104. Every Saturday night between 7 and 9 p.m. I would do the radio show live at the radio station and put Robert Johnson, Son House, Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and the likes on the air waves of Hong Kong. Every week I looked forward so much to Saturday evening when I can share in the air with people in Hong Kong the music I love so much. All Blues Hours was the first ever radio programme of Blues music in Hong Kong. All credit to FM Select 104 for allowing the people in Hong Kong to be exposed to other kinds of music than the omnipresent commercial Cantonese pop music which had and still is monopolizing music on the radio here. I had the thrill of my life doing All Blues Hours. Week after week, I put on air music no one had ever heard on the radio, I shared with others the music that had been bottled up in me for so long. I can still remember in the FM Select Studio how my hands were shaking when for the first time I put Robert Johnson's Crossroads Blues in the Cd player. I knew I made history at the moment.
In July, 1996, I did a concert at A.C. Hall with Mr. Kazuo Takeda and the musicians who played on my first ever recording Play My Blues. They all came to Hong Kong from Tokyo to help me in the show and to promote Play My Blues. Twenty years ago, I saw Mr. Kazuo Takeda playing live for the first time at A.C. Hall. At the time I was just a young man and just one of the hundreds applauding Mr. Kazuo Takeda and his band. Not in my wildest dream would I ever imagine some twenty years later I would be playing on the same stage with one of my all time heroes. With music, you can never tell. I had the thrill of my life.
In March 2001, I opened a bar in Hong Kong to honour the music I love so much. But for the Blues, I would not have had such good times, made so many good friends in Hong Kong and in Japan. In March, 2001, the first Blues Bar in Hong Kong opened for business. I called it 48th Street Chicago Blues. I meet so many lovely people at 48th Street and so many good musicians at 48th Street and made so also made many friends there. We have all kinds of live music at 48th Street, Jazz, Bossa Nova, Fusion and Rock and of course Blues. 48th Street is a place for music. On Saturday nights we pay tribute to the Blues when I play the Blues at 48th Street. 48th Street is a place where people respect and love music.
In the year of 2002, I took the leap, I finished off with my legal practice. Good friends said I was foolish, close friends could not understand what I was doing, others just shake their heads and walked away. So many of them involuntarily uttered the words "Tommy, what a waste". I could not count on my friends, my parents or anyone indeed to understand me but I know I am old enough to account to myself and myself only. I want to wake up everyday and do the thing I love most in life, I don't want any more conferences with clients over their muit-million dollar claims, I don't want to draft any more pleadings, I don't want another 15 day High Court trial. I only want to play music, learn all the songs I wanted to learn, play guitar any time of the day, listen to all the CDs I have amassed all these years without even time to listen to. As with everything in life, there is a price to pay. When I finished off with legal practice, I basically said goodbye to money. I can no longer enjoy the luxuries money can buy, I can no longer enjoy the financial stability that I had taken for granted so long. I felt like someone who had jumped ship from a luxury cruiser in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The future is dark as the deep blue sea. But I have the one thing in life which is a lot more than many people can say for themselves : I am happy, I have my freedom, I can do what I love most in life, I can play music. What is life without dreams? I will end up sleeping in the streets one day undoubtedly, but not with a single regret, not with any compunction or remorse. I took control of my own life, I pursued my dream. Come what may, I now have a new life.
In the second half of the year of 2003, I started recording my new CD "Blues Time". This was my third recording and the most important one. Compared to the previous recordings, I feel I have more control over the music, more control over my instrument and my voice. This also marked the first recording of my new life. I am grateful once again for Mr. Takeda who produced my new recording. I am also grateful to Mr. "Weep Harp" Senoh who played such wonderful Blues harp on the recording. "Blues Time" was recording with the core of my band now playing at 48th Street. The music on "Blues Time" is closet to the music I hear in my head.
Here are some of the musicians I have played with in Hong Kong :-
Band members, I often say, come and go more often than I change clothes. But the core members of the present line-up have been playing together for nearly two years and I cannot ask for better people to play with. I am very lucky it comes to playing music. I have a band that I can bring with me to anywhere in the world to play and feel proud. I have in my band some of the best players in Hong Kong.
My new music direction : trio
In May, 2003, I was to play a series of shows in Tokyo, thanks once again to Mr. Kazuo Takeda. The outbreak of SARS had all the shows cancelled. I was heartbroken. But even before the shows were cancelled I was already experiencing problems. For the Tokyo shows, I had a drummer and a bassist and a rhythm guitar player but I needed a piano player and a harp player and I did not know as many people in Tokyo as in Osaka and I could not find a keyboard player. I knew I had a problem. It also made me think twice about my music. Every time I play, I need a rhythm guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, a keyboard player and a harp player. That can't be right. The answer to that is to play as trio, strip the band down to the bare minimum and play. But playing as a trio is just about the most difficult thing. Every single bad note comes out loud and clear, every beat counts every note counts. There is no rhythm backing when you are doing a solo and you really have to know what you are doing. For my trio set I have three young players playing with me :-
Music has changed my life. When I picked up my first guitar, I was only curious, I only wanted to learn a simple 12 bar Blues tune and play in bedroom. Unknown to me, ever since that first day when I picked up my guitar, I started down a different road. This has only become apparent to me many years later. I simply cannot now live without music and Blues is the spice of my life. I enjoy nothing more than playing music, I want to do nothing but play music. In music, I found the missing piece of the puzzle of my life. I feel as if all these years hitherto were merely a preparation for this present life of mine and I only begin to live a meaningful and fulfilling life when I can put all my energy, heart and soul into music. I finished off with my legal practice in 2002. Some say I am foolish, may say I am insane. But money isn't everything; music is everything.
With music, one always learn. So often I feel just a beginner. To become better musician is a life-long goal. To be a good musician, it takes two things; number one, music and number two, the person. Music and the person, that is what make a musician. As a true musician, one should be honest to oneself, always learn and always share. Accomplished musicians should pass on their knowledge to less experienced players. There should be no secrets in music. What little I know I am happy to share with other musicians. For me, music is a life-long journey and learning the play the Blues is the most important part of my life.
Throughout the years, people have been kind enough to have written about me or have interviewed. They have invited me to talk to me about myself and my music and that I am always happy to do. I would like to thank all those who had taken an interest in me and my music. Here are some of the interviews and articles:-
Some musical thoughts
At 48th Street, I am fortunate enough to meet a lot of musicians, hear lots of different kinds of music. Throughout the years, I have stumbled many times on the rocky road of music and have learnt a thing or two playing music. I am still trying to learn every day. These days a lot of young musicians talk to me about music, about the problems they encounter in music. I myself have come across many of these problems. If you are a young musician trying to get you act together, click here as you may be able to find something useful.
My studio : All Blues Studio
One of the first things I did when I became a barrister-at-law and started earning money was to set up as home studio. This is something I used to dream about when I was in England. All the effects, open reel mull-track recording machines. If you want to have a look at All Blues Studio, click here.
I have always been interested in the sound of the slide guitar. Throughout the years, I have spent quite some time on learning how to play with a bottleneck on the electric and acoustic guitar. If you interested in the slide guitar, click here where I share what little I know about playing with the slide.
Recording your music
If you are thinking about recording your music, I have something to share. I have done two recordings in professional studios aboard and I have some experiences to share. Click here if you are interested.