A photo of Tetsuya Shiroki sitting on the stairs.
A photo of Tetsuya Shiroki sitting on the stairs.
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Fifteen Years Since the Discovery of the Master Recordings――The Story of How Bob Dylan’s First Live Performance in Japan was Released in Full as “The Complete Budokan 1978”

2023.11.15

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“Weaving Music Culture” is a series of articles focusing on musical assets passed down through the generations by music enthusiasts, and represent significant and valuable artifacts of “culture.”

In this issue, we feature an interview with Tetsuya Shiroki, the Western music director who worked on “The Complete Budokan 1978,” a comprehensive recording of rock legend Bob Dylan’s first live performance in Japan.
How did this product, recognized as the greatest reissue project in Japan’s Western music history, come about?
He shares the story behind this 15-year endeavor and how he believed in the existence of and persistently searched for the master sound source.

  • Tetsuya Shiroki profile photo

    Tetsuya Shiroki

    Sony Music Labels

Like finding the “Holy Grail”

――This time, a rare sound source of Bob Dylan, which you are in charge of, has been found and released as “The Complete Budokan 1978.” You have also released rare footage of Pink Floyd, which you also managed, in the past.

“That’s correct. I worked on ‘Atom Heart Mother (Hakone Aphrodite 50th Anniversary Edition) ’, Pink Floyd’s first Japan-only album, in 2021. This album will be released worldwide in December 2023.”

――And this time, you have released a rare sound source of Bob Dylan. “The Complete Budokan 1978” is the complete collection of the 45th anniversary of the live album “Bob Dylan at Budokan” (1978), which was recorded from Bob Dylan’s first shows in Japan in 1978. It was released as a double vinyl set at that time, and later became an international bestseller.

Bob Dylan at the Nippon Budokan in 1978

Bob Dylan at the Nippon Budokan in 1978

“Yes. Dylan’s first tour in Japan was from February to March 1978, eight shows in Tokyo and three shows in Osaka, for a total of 11 performances. The ‘Bob Dylan at Budokan’ live album features 22 songs from the shows on February 28th and March 1st, and this complete version features all 58 songs from those two shows. This means 36 previously unreleased tracks are now in the collection.”

――It was literally “brought out from the warehouse.”

“Exactly. I also contributed to the accompanying booklet. It all started with Santana. In 2006, when we were reissuing their album ‘Lotus’ from their 1973 Osaka show, which featured a 22-faced package design, onto a CD package with a cardboard sleeve, we discovered an analog master tape from that time. It was remixed, so we were able to re-release it with superb sound quality. At that time, I wondered if there might be some of Dylan’s Japan tour recordings remaining. So, I contacted a variety of sources and started investigating.”

――Was that as part of your job? Or as a Bob Dylan fan?

“…It was both, really (laughs). However, I had not yet officially reported within the company that I was looking for them. The following year, in 2007, tapes believed to be the masters were discovered in the master tape storage at the Shizuoka factory. I believed in the ledger, which looked like a memo written by a staff member at that time, so I ordered and checked with ones that I thought looked suspicious. To my surprise, I found 20 analog 24-channel multi-tapes in front of me.

I was extremely excited. I looked at the journal and found 10 tapes from February 28th and 10 tapes from March 1st, 1978. These were the master recordings from the Nippon Budokan shows that I had been looking for. It was like finding the ‘Holy Grail.’”

Tetsuya smiles and talks.

――It’s like in the movie “Indiana Jones” (laughs). That’s how much historical value that recording has.

“Of course, it’s a commemoration of his first-ever live performance in Japan, but the shows themselves are a unique and an important record in Dylan’s history. From 1975 to 1976, Dylan performed his famous live tour called ‘The Rolling Thunder Revue’ in famous white makeup, and he went to gospel music with his following studio album ‘Slow Train Coming’ (1979). This Japan tour, including the Nippon Budokan performances, is a valuable source that captures Dylan’s state of being in 1978 between those periods.

Nowadays, Dylan’s live performances take on a free-flowing approach, and his style of not knowing what song he is playing in the prelude is well established. However, even though Dylan had already taken a rock approach in 1978, I think there were still many listeners in Japan who believed him to be a folk god.

However, when Dylan appeared on stage, he was dressed in a white costume like at a Las Vegas show, played only electric guitars instead of folk guitars, and performed with a large band including a backing chorus. He even played his songs with controversial and daring arrangements. But if you look back now, I can clearly see that was what Dylan wanted to do in 1978, and it was a passing point in time for him.”

Bob Dylan's photo

――Well, you discovered such a valuable sound source. How did you proceed toward releasing it?

“Even though we had found the master, we didn’t know if it would be suitable for the release, so we started by checking all 20 tapes. They had not been touched by anyone for over 30 years, and they were in surprisingly perfect condition. We tried to listen to the tapes in the studio, and as soon as they started playing, I could hear the buzz of the venue, and I could even feel the tension in the Nippon Budokan, which was thrilling.

I could also hear the voices of the performers. The opening song was a band-only performance of ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.’ Of course, I knew the set list, but this opening song was not included in the ‘Bob Dylan at Budokan’ album, so I was moved to tears and trembling with emotion by the reaffirmation of ‘Oh, I knew it started with this song after all!’ I decided I must release a complete version of the two-day performance, including all the noise and excitement.

In contrast to the compilation-like original ‘Bob Dylan at Budokan’ album, if we wanted to release it, we thought the title should be “The Complete Budokan 1978”. But actually, I don’t think the master tapes should have remained in Japan. They probably have to be returned to the artist after production. However, since I found them here, I guess we had no choice but to produce them (laughs).”

――(Laughs) So, it was the start of a big project.

“For this project, we gathered a group of Sony Music alumni who were involved in the original ‘Bob Dylan at Budokan’ album: Mr. Heckel Sugano, who was in charge of Bob Dylan at CBS/Sony at the time, Mr. Tomoo Suzuki, who recorded and mixed the album at the Nippon Budokan, and Mr. Teruhisa Tajima, who designed the packaging. We asked Mr. Suzuki to make a rough mix of the newly found sound source, then checked it with Mr. Sugano and sent it to New York to see how they would react.”

We must get this done since we’ve discovered a great sound source

――Did everything go well from there?

“No, no. It wasn’t that easy. The team over there is for, after all, the world’s greatest rock artist, Bob Dylan. It was a significant hurdle. Even when I asked them, ‘Would you please let us release this recording in Japan?,’ I never got a positive response. I kept asking, ‘What do you think about it?’ but received no replies. It’s been 15 years since then…”

――Oh, it took such a long time! Did you ever think of abandoning the project during that time?

“Never. It was a dream project from the start, so I didn’t expect it to be easy to achieve. Since I had discovered such an amazing sound source, I thought that if I wanted to release it to the world, I would have to take the time to get results. It was more than just my responsibility as the director in charge of Dylan; I wanted as many people as possible to listen to it! In the meantime, Dylan’s albums were still being released, so I was always thinking about ‘Budokan’ and looking for opportunities to negotiate while handling my regular work on those releases.”

Tetsuya talks happily.

It was Sunday, April 23rd, 2022, a day I will never forget. I suddenly received an email from the person in charge of Sony Music in the U.S., who had been consulting with me about the project and had been listening to my requests for a long time. ‘It looks like the Budokan project is going ahead. Let’s get the sound finalized in Japan first, and then we’ll get the final approval from Dylan’s team!’”

――You came a long way!!

“I was so happy, but at the same time, once I had gotten this far, I couldn’t go back, so I was determined to follow through. Even if we worked on the sound source, if Dylan himself didn’t like it, we wouldn’t be able to release it as a box set. So our efforts would be wasted, and my company wouldn’t be happy with me (laughs).

I immediately asked Mr. Sugano and Mr. Suzuki to get together again and reorder the analog 24-channel multi-tapes. We were concerned about deterioration since it had been 15 years since I found them in 2007, but the tapes were just a little sticky, so we refreshed them by applying low- temperature heat to remove the moisture.

Then, under Mr. Suzuki’s supervision, we imported the multi-sound sources at Sony Music Studios Tokyo and proceeded with the mixing process. Even at the preliminary mixing stage, the sound was so fresh and the performance was excellent. Mr. Suzuki accommodated the requests from Mr. Sugano and myself, and after repeated fine-tuning, the mix was completed about two months later in June.”

“No to big smiles!”

――“The Complete Budokan 1978” is a box set with very well-made packaging and of course an incredible sound. What was the process like putting it together?

Tetsuya talking about looking at pictures.

“In the end, even after New York gave us approval for the sound source, there were still a lot of detailed checks and requests. At one point we suggested a photo to use and they replied, ‘No, his smile is too big!,’ or something to that effect (laughs). They were also really strict about the permission to use the pictures in general. The box set was shipped from Japan all over the world. It’s understandable since we were making Dylan’s official work here in Japan, so even the text in the booklet was scrutinized in detail, such as a comma needs to be followed by a half-width space, and the need to use lowercase letters for definite articles etc.

The sleeve designed by Mr. Tajima with a collage featuring cherry blossoms was also rejected once. However, we couldn’t give up on this one thing, or rather, I couldn’t give in, so while making minor adjustments to the design, I negotiated with them to use the cherry blossoms as a symbol of Japanese production, including the feel of the period of the performances and expressions at the time. Then finally, we got the approval from them.”

Bob Dylan live sound product package

――So, you showed your determination as the Japanese director.

“I truly believe both the sound and packaging are the fruit of the determination and pride of the Japanese production team. When we sent the completed product to them, I received an email from the person in charge of negotiations for the series of projects, saying ‘I didn’t expect it would be such an amazing package at first. it’s fantastic! Congratulations!!’ I was so happy.

‘The Complete Budokan 1978,’ a project unique to Japan, is a rare reissue project in the history of Western music in Japan, and personally, it’s undoubtedly the culmination of my 30 years as a Western music director. I don’t think I will ever be able to produce anything to surpass it.”

――Since this is the first time that the live show, including tickets, pamphlets, posters, flyers, and other reissue memorabilia, has been released worldwide, there may be a chance to be nominated for a GRAMMY Award for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package.

“There are people around me who have said such things as well, but personally, I am looking forward to the reaction of Dylan listeners around the world first. As for Dylan’s thoughts…Dylan isn’t the type of person to say anything, so I went in with no expectations from him from the get-go (laughs).”

Text by Tatsuya Yasukawa
Photos by Hiromi Furusato
Translated by Yumi Hasegawa