band Vodka Collins was like a comet that 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 33 RPM debut album "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'
" was used for a Yakusa style series starring
singer actor Kenichi (Shoken) Hagiwara.
core band of Vodka Collins consisted of singer-guitarist
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, and they
marvelled at the glam rock style being done in the
band was 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 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.
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 formed a musical bond, and worked
with Monsieur, on bass and drums. The lineup for Monsieur's
solo shows included guitarist Masayoshi Takanaka,
who would later be a founding member of The Sadistic
and Oguchi started to experiment with Merrill's newly
written glam rock songs at Yotsuya Studio in Tokyo,
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
sesions and Vodka Collins was born. They were probably
the only rock band in Japan with a 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.
The 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. Three
or four tracks never were completed.
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 for producers
Yuya Uchida and 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 accept sessions, he had to rely on the
money earned from the band.
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 ripped off 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 !
forward to the present-
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.
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 the
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 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
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 band Tensaw
a few years later, who recut the Vodka Collins' song
"Automatic Pilot" and had a hit with it.
Collins made their debut album over 30 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".
band Vodka Collins are now legends in the domestic
Japanese market, and only recently have their records
been available to the 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.