The Ventures’ 1962 trip to Japan sparked the “eleki boom.” Thousands of young men bought electric guitars and taught themselves how to play. As a movement it worried their elders, who believed such distractions were an obstacle to schoolwork, or worse.
It wasn’t the first time Western pop music rumpled Japan’s social fabric. The short-lived “rockabilly” craze of the late ’50s introduced sexually charged aspects of American rock ‘n’ roll to Japanese pop, mainly in the form of outrageous stage movements. The eleki boom’s ramifications were more commercial, since it prepared the ground for the coming Group Sounds (GS) fad that solidified the position of talent agencies in shaping the direction of Japanese pop.
The two central performing figures of the eleki boom were Takeshi “Terry” Terauchi and Yuzo Kayama. Terauchi is the pioneer of electric guitar in Japan, and was already an established musician before The Ventures arrived. Having grown up in an electrical-goods shop, he was technically adept, and legend has it he not only built his first electric stringed instrument from scratch but also Japan’s first electric piano. In his two groups, the Bunnys and the Blue Jeans, Terauchi played Ventures-like instrumentals but with more flash: He was the master of the whammy bar. Most of the songs he covered were minyo (folk songs).
Terauchi was overlooked during the GS era, but he still performs today. The now-defunct U.S. magazine Music Breaker named him one of the world’s three best guitarists, along with Les Paul and Chet Atkins. Punk godfather Jello Biafra declared “The Blue Jeans Golden Album” (1966) the greatest instrumental record ever made.
Kayama is one of the last extant performers from the pre-Group Sounds era of kayokyoku (Japanese pop). Handsome and from a well-to-do family, he rose to fame with the “Wakadaisho” (“Young General”) series, which were like the Elvis movies, except that where Elvis played someone with a slightly delinquent past, Kayama’s character was resolutely upstanding.
Kayama was a devoted Ventures fan and often played the group’s records on his radio show. The band returned the compliment by presenting him with some of their custom-made Mosrite guitars following their 1965 Japan tour. Though he was mainly known as an actor and singer, he was also, as Ventures cofounder Don Wilson points out, “a terrific guitarist.”
With so many young men learning the electric guitar and forming bands, the “production companies” (the term commonly used in Japan for talent agencies) eventually became involved and picked up the most promising ones. However, these groups were made over by their new handlers, who wrote their songs and, in many cases, hired studio musicians for their recordings. In that regard, the true Western analog for the Group Sounds phenomenon wasn’t The Ventures or even The Beatles, but rather The Monkees.
Videos featuring smoking performances by Takeshi Terauchi and Yuzo Kayama can be found at www.youtube.com.