Talk Music: Cardiologist turns rock 'n' roll heartbreaker

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Sept. 4, 2013 at 4:04 a.m.

With heavy bass lines, blues-inspired riffs and wailing vocals, Dr. Yahagi and the Mended Hearts have carved out a niche in Victoria with their freshman album, Heart Surgeon.

Led by Yusuke Yahagi, M.D., the trio performs songs based on life experiences and Yahagi's medical career that are infused with the classic rock styles of Rush, Led Zeppelin, Foghat, Primus and more.

Yahagi caught up with Get Out to talk about balancing his love of music with his love of medicine, putting the album together and his desire to help others.

When you got your start - Seattle circa 1975 - about a decade before Jimi Hendrix started performing there. What was the style of the area?

There was a famous rock band in Seattle in the '80s called Queensryche. Eddie Jackson was my bass player (before he joined them).

The music scene was like that.

I have a heavy influence from Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Rod Price of Foghat. I saw Led Zeppelin live in 1977 in high school when I was in Seattle. They played three hours straight, no opening band.

Rod Price introduced me to the concept of the slide guitar. All my slide guitar work I have learned from listening to him.

I was really heavily influenced by Cream with Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Keith Richards, Def Leppard.

Did you ever stray into other genres during the nearly 40 years you've been playing?

I listened to a little harder rock, but I wasn't really into it.

A lot of people are really into Judas Priest, but I was interested in some pop-rock: The Beatles, The Stones, Sting, The Police, things like that.

So heart surgeon by day, rock 'n' roller by night. How do you balance the two jobs?

You have to commit the time. In the 1980s, I had to quit because I was married and had kids - I was always back and forth between Tokyo and New York. I was an international banker and was very busy.

Right after that, I went to medical school.

Interestingly, all my guitars sat in the cases for three decades. I didn't play at all.

One day, I went to Rosebud's, and I found Jerry James playing an acoustic show and thought it would be nice to start playing again.

How did all this get started?

Hastings had amateur night and I played over there. That lead to a benefit concert for a heart patient who needed a transplant. Then we did it at the Welder Theater in February 2011. The place was packed, and I was televised.

I decided I wanted to do more and maybe start a band.

I met Don Tharp and Rick Collie, who works also at Citizens, and we started playing. Shortly after, Japan was hit by an earthquake and the tsunami. It was devastating.

We thought: what can we do for those guys? In August 2012, we decided to put a benefit concert together for Japan at the Victoria Fine Arts Center, and it turned out really good.

OK, so Dr. Yahagi and the Mended Hearts is a band for charity?

It all started out with me wanting to play music again.

I do operations to help people, but maybe this is something I can do to help other people who suffer.

We don't make a penny off it. It's all nonprofit, but we are so happy to be able to offer support for people who suffer.

Last year, we did a benefit for autism at the Vine School called ABC 2012, Autism Benefit Concert 2012, at the Victoria Fine Arts Center. It was very well received.

My band is happy to support my idea of trying to support unfortunate kids and be able to help out people who suffer.

What can you tell me about the new album?

Pretty much everything is about medical stuff - "O.R., O.R.," "ICU" and "Emergency Room."

We recorded this locally at the place called The Nest Sound Studio about 10 minutes from here.

Jeremy Bludau owns a studio, and we talked him into us recording there. It took about a year and a half. It's nothing but original stuff we recorded.

By getting the CD out there, we decided to pull some money into a foundation I created recently called The Yahagi Heart Foundation. I want to help people who suffer from heart conditions.

Where did this do-gooder spirit come from?

I was born in 1959, about 14 years after the World War.

My family didn't come from a rich environment: my father always worked hard, and my mother raised two children in a small town in Japan. Things were rough.

I knew at the time that small towns and poor people like we used to be always needed help. We helped each other. You don't benefit yourself; you play a role as a team player. We don't strike each other, back stab each other - I was grown up in an atmosphere of helping each other.

I really believe in what I can do. That was the reason I wanted to go to med school and then help others.

The number one priority is to reach out to people who suffer. If I can do that with my music, we'd like to do that.

Was music a part of your family life in Japan?

My father, he never sang in front of us that much, but he sang opera.

Everything was about The Beatles in this world. I would come home and sing to The Beatles' records ever day after school.

My favorite song is "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

What's next for the band?

After this album, I've already written two new songs, and maybe this year or next, we may start working on a new CD about medical stuff.



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