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, July 17, 2018

Black Cats - Come On My Baby (夜の公園で)
 Egg or chicken?  Rockabilly or Rock & roll?  Sometimes regarded as the little brother of rock, rockabilly has antecedents that go furthur back.  A glorious amalgam of American country, rhythm & blues, hillbilly, western swing, boogie, bluegrass, and pretty much any/everything else – if there’s a skinny guy slapping an upright bass it’s probably rockabilly.
     Japan was in on rockabilly right from the 50’s, although record companies didn’t distinguish it from rock n’ roll.   Let’s look at a band that is inextricably intertwined with Harajuku style and the 70/80’s global rockabilly revival – the Black Cats.   

Come On My Baby  (夜の公園で)

     With a sax ripping like canvas in a hurricane (courtesy of Kakuda Osamu) the video is an idealized recreation of 1950’s America.  This putting on the skin of another place and time underlies much of the rockabilly scene, and there’s a reason …

     In 1968 Masayuki Yamazaki (山崎眞行)  opened a bar in Shinjuku, Kaijin Niju Menso.  It was an attempt to replicate the image of an America stuck in the Elvis-50’s of black leather jackets, riesent hair, and music.  Through the 70’s Yamazaki continued opening spots in Harajuku & Shibuya such as “Singapore Night” and “Pink Dragon” – setting off the “Harajuku Gold Rush” as hip youth flooded into the area.   His Cream Soda label presented retro-50’s music, and having limited distribution through Pink Dragon, was highly sought-after.  

Pink Dragon on Cat Street
But the distinctive appearance came by way of England – where Teddy Boys, Greasers, and Rockers had their sub-culture of motorcycles, leather jackets, and “American” records.  Yamazaki’s girlfriend was a half-Japanese half-British model, Vivienne Lynn, and she gave him an intro into 1970’s London punk and new wave fashion.  

In 1981 some of Yamazaki’s store clerks formed a band – The Black Cats.

That's Vivienne in the background

     Lead vocalist was Seiichi Takada (高田 誠一) and the group lasted until 1986.  He revived them from 1994-99, but sadly passed away from leukemia in 2004.
     The Cats covered many American rockabilly standards but had quite a repertoire of original material.   “Neo-rockabilly” would a better description; owing as much to bands like the Stray Cats as to Carl Perkins.  In 1982 they traveled to America and opened for the Go-Go’s, performed at L.A.’s China Club, met Timothy Leary (of LSD fame), and counted Brit punkers The Clash as fans. 

1981 – Singapore Night, their second single.  A smooth, sparse song (popular with the ladies) that near the end invokes the Cream Soda motto:  “Too Fast …. To Live …. Too Young …. To Die”.

Man & Boy” is an atmospheric tune from the 1984 LP “Tokyo Street Rocker” (an album dominated by the arranging and composing of pre-TUBE Oda Tetsuro).  Strong vocal work here:

     The hook is borrowed from the immensely popular “More Than I Can Say” by Leo Sayer (1983).  Mr. Sayer had gotten it from Bobby Vee, who had covered the 1960 original by the Crickets – back-up band for the late Buddy Holly, rockabilly god.  Intentional or not they had gone back to the musical roots. 

     Coming full circle is The Me.  (Warning: this is loud raw punk-a-psycho-billy).  From 1996, The Black Cats and what a commenter says is a clerk from Pink Dragon , doing “Fujiyama Mama” – a contender for the most insensitive lyrics ever written.  Performed by rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson on her 1959 (!) Japan tour it proved to not only be a smash there but is still a perennial for any rockabilly band Japanese or otherwise. 

      The current rockabilly scene is quite active and varied, but as one commenter remembered the old days: "Wasn't it burning hot ?!"

1 comment:

  1. Hi, T-cat.

    Many thanks for this posting on Black Cats. To answer that commenter's query, yup it must have burning hot when I remember seeing all that footage on TV of all those boys in pompadours and girls in poodle skirts twisting away in Harajuku and Yoyogi Park.

    At the time, I remember bands such as The Chanels and The Venus dipping into the 1950s music stylings but Black Cats definitely came right from the street and through time. "Come On My Baby" sounds as if it came straight from a jukebox at Arnolds in "Happy Days".

    "Man & Boy" also has that Richie & Lori Beth feel to it but it also sounds pretty contemporary in the arrangement, too.


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