~The story of Vodka Collins~
Vodka Collins was like a comet that rose up fast and burned briefly and brightly across the sky of the Tokyo rock scene. In their two years as a unit
they easily dominated the rock n roll world of Japan in the early 1970s, and their vinyl debut LP "Tokyo New York" on EMI / Toshiba Records is a milestone.
It is considered a ground breaking LP in the domestic Japan rock scene. The album still sells today in CD reissues in both the English and Japanese languages.
There were three hit singles on the album, "Sands Of Time", "Automatic Pilot" and Billy Mars" and a TV theme song with "Scratchin' "
which was used as the theme song for a Yakusa style series starring singer actor Kenichi (Sho Ken) Hagiwara.
The founding members and core band of Vodka Collins consisted of singer-guitarist songwriter Alan Merrill, and drummer percussionist Hiroshi Oguchi.
They were much like their British counterpart band T Rex, and Marc Bolan and his wife June loved Vodka Collins' "Tokyo New York" album.
They were fascinated at the glam rock style being recorded and released in Japanese like the Vodka Collins' glam rock single "Automatic Pilot."
The band, originally a duo, were augmented by members Hiroshi "Monsieur" Kamayatsu on rhythm guitar, and Take Yokouchi on bass.
With Merrill and Oguchi, this was the studio recording and live concert band lineup.
Monsieur was already an established superstar in Japan with his band The Spiders, and he was the creative musical force in that band.
The Spiders were one of the top three bands in Japan, with The Tigers and The Tempters. Take Yokouchi was the lead guitarist for The Four Leaves backing band,
High Society. The Four Leaves were one of the first "boy bands", and they were also big hit makers in the Japanese market.
The group Vodka Collins actually started out when Merrill and Oguchi were called in to back up Monsieur on some solo shows after his band The Spiders broke up.
Oguchi's band The Tempters had also split, and 1971 was a time of reshuffling and change in the Japan rock scene.
Oguchi had done one album with the short lived supergroup hard rock band PYG after the Tempters. After PYG split, Merrill and Oguchi
(after each had short stints with the brief projects, Merrill's band Godzilla and Oguchi's band Orange)
formed a musical bond, and worked with Monsieur, on bass and drums respectively. The lineup for Monsieur's solo shows in late 1971 included
Haruo Chikada on keyboards and guitarist Masayoshi Takanaka, who would later be a founding member of The Sadistic Mika Band.
Merrill and Oguchi were often Monsieur's rhythm section on live shows while still with other projects like the bands Godzilla and Orange.
Alan Merrill and Hiroshi Oguchi started to experiment with Merrill's newly written glam rock songs at Yotsuya Studio in Tokyo with just guitar and drums.
It was setting the foundation for what would become Vodka Collins proper. The guitarist Take Yokouchi was brought in to play bass on the Yotsuya sessions
and Vodka Collins was born.
They were probably the only rock band in Japan with a full set of original tunes in English, and they set about recording the songs right away.
The band did 3 or 4 jobs a day, with radio, tv, and live shows all in a hectic schedule with the band becoming more popular in leaps and bounds each day.
Their fan base grew and they were the talk of all the music business in Japan in 1972. The album "Tokyo-New York" was hastily recorded and unfinished.
Four backing tracks for "Tokyo - New York" were started but never completed, songs like "Galaxy Man" "Jupiter Jumper" and others, but more about that later.
The Vodka Collins phenomenon was growing, and they were spearheading a new direction in the Japanese rock scene.
However, beneath the surface, their management was choking the life out of the band by witholding money. Before Vodka Collins became wildly busy,
Merrill was able to augment his Vodka Collins income by doing recording sessions as a session player on bass and guitar for producers Yuya Uchida, Kuni Murai
and Mickey "Miki" Curtis, playing on records by the likes of Garo, Too Much, Yamashita Kejiro and Hirao Massaki.
When Vodka Collins became too busy for him to his frequent and lucrative session work, he had to rely solely on the money earned from the band.
Vodka Collins split up in the winter of 1973, in an explosive response by Merrilll to the band's deceptive management, and their mishandling of the band's finances.
Simply put, the band were being stolen from in a big way. Merrill got on a plane for London the day before they were to headline at the Budokan.
On arrival in the UK he formed the band The Arrows. Six months after leaving Japan he was in the British top ten charts with The Arrows.
The remaining members tried to carry on with the teenage son of Japanese rock legend Mickey Curtis replacing Merrill,
but it was futile since Alan Merrill was the heart and soul of the band, lead singer, songwriter and lead guitarist.
The attempt to keep the band going band ended immediately.
-Fast forward to the present-
Due to overhelming public demand as a result of the CD reissues of "Tokyo-New York", the band reformed in the 1990s, with new management and a new record label.
They recorded the albums "Chemical Reaction", "Pink Soup", and "Boys Life" in 1996, '97 and '98.
The band made a lineup switch at this time with Masayoshi "Mabo" Kabe of the famed 60s group sounds band the Golden Cups replacing Take Yokouchi on bass guitar.
The new sound of the reformed band rarely has even the slightest hint of the old Vodka Collins glam, now replaced with more of a hard rock edge.
Times change, people change, and so too the music.
Of the three albums they made in the 1990s, "Boys Life" is arguably the best, and the most musically cohesive of the reunion albums.
Hiroshi Oguchi's drums convey a sense of danger and a feeling that things could skid off the rails at any moment, creating a natural
tension in the music that is unusual for typically precision obessesed Japan based bands.
Alan Merrill's varied approach to songwriting, dipping into many colorful musical styles, makes for a diverse feel on each track.
His unique stylized vocals and guitar playing and Oguchi's unique drum style convey a common thread on each song.
Herein lies the difference in Vodka Collins from other bands in the history of the Japan rock scene.
The combination of Merrill and Oguchi is combustable, and when it works, they rock as hard as anyone, anywhere on earth.
Vodka Collins was the # 1 glam rock band in Japan in the early 1970s. It is rumoured that David Bowie's story of "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars"
was based on this group. Vodka Collins even featured a guitarist from The Spiders, Monsieur Kamayatsu, which strongly supports this theory.
The first incarnation of Vodka Collins disbanded in the winter of 1973, at the peak of their popularity, with lead singer Alan Merrill leaving Tokyo for London
to form another succcessful glam pop band The Arrows, who had hits with "I Love Rock N Roll", "Touch Too Much" and "My Last Night With You".
Drummer Oguchi left for Africa, to study drum techniques after the band's breakup. Monsieur went solo to much success,
and bassist Yokouchi formed the bands The Toys (and later Tensaw) a few years later, who recut the Vodka Collins song "Automatic Pilot" and had a hit cover with it.
Vodka Collins made their debut album over 35 years ago, but the music they made still sounds timeless and contemporary today.
In October 2004, the newly created Polystar subsidiary label (Felicity records) have issued a 16 song Vodka Collins compilation album titled "Boys In The Band".
The band Vodka Collins are now legends in the domestic Japanese market, and only recently have their records been available to an international audience,
mainly as a result of the internet. They have been well received all over the world and the band continues to appeal across many decades and changes in fashion and tastes.
Vodka Collins' fourth album "Boys Life" (1998) was reissued on in October, 2013. Get your copy now!
Monsieur Kamayatsu and Alan Merrill performed together at BB King's on May 28th, 2007. The show was filmed on Fuji TV for airing on "Sekai Gumi" - July 30th 2007.
Vodka Collins' debut album "Tokyo-New York" has been reissued on EMI Japan on Oct. 19th, 2011. Get your copy now!
Vodka Collins drummer and founding member has passed away of cancer 1-25-2009. Rest In Peace Hiroshi Oguchi. You will be missed by all who knew you.
Vodka Collins in concert, indoors and outdoors- summer 1973 photos (below).
Updated March 18, 2014
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