A whole gang of naked Japanese men riding motorbikes and playing cover versions in 1970 – irresistible! I bought a CD of this album in New York at Kim’s in St Marks about 15 years ago and have been a fan ever since. The band was the brainchild of percussionist, singer, producer, actor, Yuya Uchida who became friends with John Lennon after opening for The Beatles at the Budokan in Tokyo and whilst visiting England, got turned onto the sounds of the day. He wondered how to bring this music to his own culture and formed the band The Flowers playing cover versions of Big Brother And The Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, Cream and Jimi Hendrix. (The Anywhere album cover art followed the theme of Yuya Uchida & The Flowers album, Challenge! 1968, by having cover versions and nudity).
When two key members left, he broke the band up and formed Flower Travellin’ Band as an exploration of these contemporary sounds in the role of producer, engaging Joe Yamanaka to sing, and the rhythm section of Joji “George” Wada on drums (also from The Flowers), Jun Kobayashi on bass and Hideki Ishima on guitar. (I’m not sure if Nobuhiko Shinohara who played keyboards with the band later is on this record). This band had a darker sound as the seventies arrived, covering Muddy Waters, Black Sabbath (the song) and King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man. The album also included a version Of House Of The Rising Sun.
After a short intro, the band launches into a 16 minute version of Muddy Waters’ Louisiana Blues. It’s hard to imagine a naked, Japanese, pyschedelic, progressive, heavy metal band from 1970 seducing you with their cover versions, but believe it or not they do. I can’t quite put my finger on why it is so good, except it has an authenticity, a freaky realness about it and it captures the Japanese counter-culture of the sixties, breaking taboos with nudity, long hair, loud electric guitars and Western influence. It must have been radical by Japanese standards of the day.
But it’s the interpretation that I love, and after all it wasn’t exclusive to the Japanese to cover Muddy Waters’ or other old blues songs. Cream, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin were doing the same. The Flower Travellin’ Band’s versions were as connected as any Western bands interpretations were. It wasn’t that unusual in the sixties for songwriters to record other people’s songs, Dylan did it, The Beatles did it and lots of talented songwriters such as Tim Buckley, Tom Rush, Tim Hardin and many more did the same. (Too many bands have recorded average albums of their own songs because they wrote them).
Listening to this album is tuning into an era and if freaky jams isn’t your bag then this isn’t for you. But if a journey into the late sixties and the revolution that was happening in music as seen through Japanese eyes appeals to you, then this is a fascinating look at how the cool kids in Tokyo were interpreting the Western style. Great guitar sounds and a real connection to the essence of the originals, the singing too captures the spirit of the times, sadly singer Joe Yamanaka died in 2011 of lung cancer. After this album the band went onto make the landmark album Satori that they wrote themselves – but that’s for another day.