I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Jerry (Jelly) Fujio -- Tooku e Ikitai (遠くへ行きたい)

According to the information for this YouTube video, this is the lone concert recording of Hollywood's famous Rat Pack with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. along with Johnny Carson as the host. I was born a few months after this performance in St. Louis so my first now-fuzzy memories of pop culture back then consisted of the last spurt of those big guns from the Golden Age of Hollywood as they often appeared on television in either finely tailored suits or tuxes singing those swingy jazz standards. Folks nowadays usually can't catch such a thing anymore unless they are Michael Buble fans or watch certain episodes of "Family Guy" since star and creator Seth MacFarlane is an ardent fan of the old tunes.

I've always equated Yujiro Ishihara's(石原裕次郎)Ishihara Gundan(石原軍団...the Ishihara Army)with Ol' Blue Eyes' Rat Pack. The Big Man was the Chairman of the Board for that Gundan with members including Masaki Kanda, (ex-husband No. 1 of Seiko Matsuda, father of Sayaka), Hiroshi Tachi and Tetsuya Watari as the cool tough guys in their own fine threads. They even starred in their own cop shows from the 1970s onwards.

However, singer-actor Jerry Fujio(ジェリー藤尾)actually looked like he could have joined Dean, Frank and Sammy on stage in Las Vegas. I haven't seen him too much in the last several years but when we could get access to a VCR (either through showings at the Buddhist Church or when we finally purchased our own), I was able to see footage of the dapper fellow in his tux singing old chestnuts such as "Danny Boy". And that's how I've always seen Fujio.

From what I've read of Fujio, he had a pretty tough upbringing. According to his J-Wiki bio, the singer was born Shigeki Fujio(藤尾薫紀), the son of an NHK announcer, Shigehiro Fujio(藤尾薫宏), and his English wife, Olivia Heath Gonzales in 1940 in Shanghai, China. When the family returned to Japan after World War II, Olivia and young Shigeki were discriminated for a number of reasons including the language barrier. The anxiety was too much for Olivia as she descended into alcoholism and died when Shigeki was in his first year of junior high school. After jobs as a bouncer and a roadie, in 1957, Fujio was scouted by someone working for Manase Productions when he spotted Fujio suddenly jumping onto to the stage to sing Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" at a jazz lounge. Thus, his career in showbiz began.

In 1962, on the NHK music-variety program, "Yume de Aimasho"(夢であいましょう...Let's Meet In Our Dreams), Fujio sang "Tooku e Ikitai" (I Want To Go Far Away), one of the most melancholy-sounding kayo that I have ever heard. The power duo of songwriting at the time, Hachidai Nakamura and Rokusuke Ei(中村八大・永六輔), created this ballad of wanting to travel somewhere unknown and as far away as possible. There's no mention about the reason behind the urge to make that trek all alone but I can only wonder if it were some kind of romantic breakup. Perhaps the pair even made it specifically for Fujio. The song became his breakthrough hit and it has become his signature tune.

I've heard Fujio sing the number but when I re-acquainted myself with "Tooku e Ikitai", there was a voice inside me stating that I've heard this cry-in-your-beer sort of tune even beyond his contributions. And as it turned out, the song was adopted as the theme for an NTV travel show with the same title that has been continuing since 1970...a good 46 years!

And it was here that many singers over the decades have covered "Tooku e Ikitai". Everyone from Duke Aces(デューク・エイセス)to Yo Hitoto(一青窈)have given their own version of the evergreen song.

Here are the Duke Aces with their own heartrending version.

And this is the late Keiko Fuji(藤圭子)with her haunting and more introspective cover of "Tooku e Ikitai".

Finally, this is the performance of a much older Fujio singing his signature song. As for the name of Jerry, there was no mention in the J-Wiki article about how he got it. Was he given an English name by his mother or was it placed onto him by the folks at Manase Productions because of his Eurasian appearance? However, for some reason, Wikipedia and even his own webpage have written his nom de guerre as "Jelly" and not "Jerry" although the covers on his records have it listed as the latter. I'm still not clear on this so I have placed the two names at the top. Frankly, if there is anyone who should have earned the name "Jelly", it would be me due to considerations of my own girth.

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