Yuzo Kayama and the Launchers

Yuzo Kayama was a movie idol and rival to premier ‘eleki’ guitarist Takeshi Terauchi. Eleki was an instrumental genre influenced first and foremost by the Ventures.

The songs I’m featuring below are some of the best instrumentals from what I believe is Kayama’s first LP. ‘Black Sand Beach’ is maybe his greatest work, while ‘Los Angeles no Nisei Matsuri’ certainly his toughest. ‘Violet Sky’ is like Davie Allen channeling Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. My copy is a scratchy Peruvian pressing! As I’ve pointed out before, stereo sound was standard for major Japanese labels by the mid-60s, if not before.

Kayama cut a number of vocal tunes that were among his biggest hits. They’re definitely not as cool as the instrumentals, but for fans of Japanese pop from this time, they have their charm, and some good guitar work as well.

As the musical style was changing to vocal combos in the wake of the Beatles, a new term was needed to replace eleki without using the the difficult-to-pronounce phrase (for the Japanese) ‘rock ‘n roll’. Julian Cope’s Japrocksampler recounts how Kayama, who had his own TV talk show, was interviewing drummer and band leader Jackey Yoshikawa (best known among rock fans for “Psychedelic Man” with the Blue Comets):

Yuzo Kayama – right there on live TV – demanded of his guest how could any of them possibly become true to their chosen art form if they couldn’t even manage to pronounce ‘lock’n’lorr’! … the media-savvy Kayama was surprised when Yoshikawa admitted his difficulty. But instead of merely sweating and looking foolish, Jackey turned the tables … and challenged his TV host to come up with something more appropriate. Raising his eyes heavenwards and blowing out several lungfuls of hot air, Kayama fell silent briefly before asking: ‘Why don’t we call the music “The Group Sounds”?’

If this is true, then he named a whole genre of music while it was still underway – a rare feat.

Kayama’s musical legacy is well preserved on video, with a dozen or more great performances available with a quick search, including some that were never released on record (check out this later psychedelic clip, for example).

For those wanting more info, Toronto J-Film Pow Wow has a good write-up on his career.


Yet another surprising find from the KRLA Beat archive! August 13, 1966.

0 thoughts on “Yuzo Kayama and the Launchers”

  1. awesome, thanx so much for this! i was able to track down one of Yuzo Kayama’s numerous “Young Guy” films on dvd, “Electric Guitar Young Guy” and it was pretty cool. in one scene “Black Sand Beach” is performed on a TV talent show that also features an all-girl band who i assume were not an actual band but are cute to look at. there are more Teisco guitars than you can shake a stick at! when originally premiered in Japan his movies were always on double-bills with Kaiju Eiga, this one was paired with “Invasion of Astro-Monster” aka “Monster Zero”.

  2. This LP was re-released in CD, and still arrivable via amazon.co.jp.

    http://www.amazon.co.jp/%E5%8A%A0%E5%B1%B1%E9%9B%84%E4%B8%89%E3%81%AE%E3%81%99%E3%81%B9%E3%81%A6~%E3%82%B6%E3%83%BB%E3%83%A9%E3%83%B3%E3%83%81%E3%83%A3%E3%83%BC%E3%82%BA%E3%81%A8%E3%81%A8%E3%82%82%E3%81%AB-%E5%8A%A0%E5%B1%B1%E9%9B%84%E4%B8%89/dp/B00005TOIR

    Some of these tunes were composed by Kosaku Dan, pseudoname of Kayama himself as the composer, and played with lead guitar of Takeshi Terauchi.

  3. I first heard both “Black Sand Beach” and “Boomerang Baby” twenty-six years ago when I began my freshman year in college, sharing a dorm suite with six other serious obscure music fans. One of them had the Japanese album with both of those songs on it but only “Boomerang Baby” had its title listed in English, so until this morning I had no clue what “Black Sand beach” was called or who performed it. The answer came while checking out a YouTube video called “Kaiju Beach Party” that featured footage from a couple of the Godzilla movies; I’m an old school Godzilla junkie so of course I was willing to check out the video, but imagine my surprise and joy when the music used as the soundtrack turned out to be a cover of “Black Sand Beach” (which I instantly recognized, although the version used was a cover by the Royal Fingers), this time with title provided! That led to some research and a friend directing me here, so thanks for all the info.

  4. The large photograph – I just picked up that LP in practically mint condition. Red vinyl too! If you want I can make a digital recording of it, this wax is completely clean…

  5. It’s worth noting that the tune “Yozora no Hoshi” was also covered by the Peruvian group Los Doltons, titled “Una Estrella En La Noche” (even though they sing in Japanese!). The Ventures played it as an instrumental, and the Phantom Surfers sing it too. I have Yuzo Kayama’s version on a 45, but never knew it was him since I can’t read kanji. Thanks for solving the mystery!

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