“Made-in-Japan Beatles? I hate it when they call us that. We’re the Spiders!”—Tanabe Shochi on why The Spiders passed on opening for The Beatles
Michael Bourdaghs has a very informative and fun companion blog to his new book Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop. (You can also follow him on Twitter). In a recent post, Bourdaghs discusses Kamayatsu Hiroshi a member of The Spiders, a sixties band that part of the Group Sounds movement in Japan.
In the post Bourdaghs posts a clip of a great Spider song, “Little Roby,” whose opening riff borrows from the Kinks’ “Set Me Free”:
In the post, Bourdaghs offers a brief description of Kamayatsu’s career and impact:
Kamayatsu was the son of Tib Kamayatsu, a Japanese-American jazz singer whose career in Tokyo dated back to the 1930s. He debuted in the late 1950s as a country-western and rockabilly singer before joining the Spiders. He was one of the first Japanese rock-and-rollers to really “get” the new Merseybeat sound when it exploded onto the scene in 1964 and went on to compose many of the Spiders’ hits. In his seventies now, “Monsieur” Kamayatsu remains an active force on the Japanese music scene today.
Bourdaghs provides a fuller picture of The Spiders success and eventual dissolution in Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon:
The band’s first major hit came with the uncharacteristic “Sad Sunset” (Yūyake ga naite iru, 1966), a minor-key kayōkyoku-style ballad composed for the band at its record label’s behest by hit maker Hamaguchi Kuranosuke. Despite its soft feel, the record featured a distorted fuzz guitar. The Spiders’ debut LP, The Spiders Album No. 1 (1966), remains a landmark work in the history of Japanese rock and roll and provides a more representative instance of the band’s sound than does “Sad Sunset.” Unusual for a GS band, the album features all original compositions, many with English lyrics (including a new English-language version of “Furi Furi”), and many of them written by Kamayatsu. (By contrast, the group’s second album, rushed out one month later, consists entirely of cover versions of Western hits, including six Beatles numbers on side 1.) The twelve songs include both ballads and up-tempo numbers; all are built around guitar riffs, and most feature vocal harmonies in the Merseybeat style.
In addition to their early predilection for original compositions, the Spiders were also unusual among GS (Group Sounds) bands in that, after an original tie-in with Hori Productions, they set up their own management company, Spiductions. The band became a regular on a television variety show, helping it build a national audience. The Spiders also opened for a number of Western groups on their tours of Japan in 1965 and 1966, including Peter and Gordon, the Animals, the Honeycombs, and the Beach Boys. Famously, they turned down an invitation to appear on the opening bill for the Beatles’ Tokyo concerts in 1966.The band toured Europe in 1966, including an appearance on the BBC’s Ready Steady Go! television program. This overseas trip was ostensibly intended to promote “Sad Sunset,” which had been released in a number of countries there, though in reality the primary aim of the tour (as with Misora Hibari and Kasagi Shizuko’s 1950 American tours, discussed in chapter 2) was to improve the Spiders’ image in Japan. In an interview published just before their departure, leader Tanabe asserted that the tour would show they were not just Beatle imitators but had their own identity: “Made-in-Japan Beatles? I hate it when they call us that. We’re the Spiders!” He vowed that “we won’t give up our own originality” in performances for European audiences.In another predeparture interview, Tanabe expressed his hopes that the tour would raise the band’s image (and income) in Japan. The following year, the band would play a concert in Hawaii as well as make media appearances in Los Angeles.
The Spiders continued to enjoy hits through the mid-1960s. As with other GS bands, though, they found their popularity waning after 1968. In May 1970, Tanabe announced that he was leaving the group to devote himself full time to the talent-management business. The band recruited a replacement drummer, but this was short-lived. By year’s end, the group had decided to disband, and they played their farewell shows early in 1971 in the Nichigeki Western Carnival. Kamayatsu would later recall, “In the changeover from the 1960s to the 1970s, culture and music and everything was changing, and [our breakup] was just a reaction to that.”