Medicine Bone is the duo blues unit of Samm Bennett and guitarist and singer/songwriter Ken Shima. They started the group in late 2009, and played together consistently, performing at a host of venues across Tokyo, until Ken returned to the US in mid-2011. Since the two members now reside on opposite sides of the globe, the project has acquired an on-again-off-again status. Fall of 2012 saw the band reunited for four shows in Tokyo, and they expect a similar reuniting in 2013 when Ken will again be in Japan. The long range plan is to continue full time in 2014 or so, when Ken plans to return to Japan for good.
Their tunes and general orientation have been highly influenced by their love of blues, but it's also fair to say that they've branched out a bit from their earliest focus of inspiration, and in several of the last appearances in Tokyo of what they call "round one", they brought some distinctly African influences into the mix. But it was their mutual love of the Mississippi Hill Country sound of blues masters such as RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill (and forerunners like Bukka White and Mississippi Fred McDowell) that initially brought Samm and Ken together. They soon developed a signature sound, rooted in the blues stylings they love so much, but with enough of their own slant to keep the project from falling into stale rehashes of music of the past.
With an eye toward the bass drum/snare drum percussion sections characteristic of Mississippi fife and drum music, Samm created what he calls the "walking drum", which was the driving percussive force behind the band's early sound. He's also used other kinds of drums, such as udu, talking drum, etc., bringing different percussive flavors into the mix. For their round of concerts in September 2012, Samm started using a more expanded drum set that he calls the "fish kit". Between Samm's drumming and Ken's chugging guitar work, they created a total sound that many listeners remarked on as being remarkably full and satisfying for a two-man band.
From the start, the group has been an equal partnership, in terms of singing and songwriting duties. Each man brings his original tunes to the project, and their live shows have always showcased equal amounts of their respective songwork. In that sense, the group is a relatively rare bird, since most bands pretty much feature one main singer/songwriter. With Medicine Bone, two heads are better than one!