Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

The Golden Cups Live

Posted in Music by bourdaghs on the April 12th, 2010

The Golden Cups were one of the most powerful and influential of the “Group Sounds” bands that emerged in Japan during the late 1960s. Formed in 1966, they learned their chops as the house band at Golden Cup, a bar for U.S. soldiers in Yokohama. They came of age playing American R&B and garage rock standards before one of the toughest crowds you can imagine: U.S. GI’s on R&R breaks from the Vietnam War mixed with local teenagers from the hardscrabble neighborhoods that surrounded the American bases.

The band made their recording debut in late 1967, scoring major hits with such original numbers as “Nagai kami no shojo” (The girl with long hair) and “Ai suru kimi ni” (To you whom I love), while their albums also featured their wild takes on recent hit songs from the U.S. and U.K. Here’s one of my favorites: their psychedelic freak-out version of “Hey Joe,” featuring Eddie Ban’s stinging lead guitar, Mamoru Manu’s thrash-style drumming, and Louis-Louis Kabe’s supple bass:

By around 1970, Group Sounds as a genre was played out, but the Cups had enough credibility to allow them to survive in the world of 1970s rock. They went through a number of personnel changes, but the basic core remained intact through early 1972. They played their last gigs in Okinawa, appropriately enough given their roots in military base town culture. The members would continue to be active in a variety of bands–keyboardist Mickey Yoshino, for example, formed the influential 1970s band Godiego. There were also a number of Cups reunions over the years, most notably a gig in 2004 that formed the centerpiece of a documentary film, The Golden Cups: One More Time (trailer here). It’s particular fortunate that that documentary was made then, because it captured the band’s lead singer Dave Hirao just before his tragic death in 2008.

The surviving members of the band are carrying on today, both together and in their own bands. Yesterday afternoon, I had the great pleasure of seeing them perform at the 7th Avenue livehouse in Yokohama, not too far from the site of the original Golden Cup bar. It was very much a family affair, with the audience packed with friends and long-time fans. They played a terrific, fun set. It opened with “Got My Mojo Working” and included a number of Chicago R&B classics, such as Paul Butterfield’s “Born in Chicago.” Mickey Yoshino took lead vocals for a soulful rendition of “Whiter Shade of Pale,” part of the Cups’ repertoire since the 1960s. Mamoru Manu shared lead vocals with Eddie Ban on several numbers, including the band’s first two hit singles. The set closed with a high energy rendition of Them’s “Gloria,” complete with an enthusiastic audience sing-along on the harmony.

I had the chance to go backstage and meet the band, because we’re making arrangements to show The Golden Cups: One More Time at a conference at the University of Chicago in late May (details here; more updates coming soon). We’re also hoping that some of the band members will be able to join us in person for that event. If yesterday’s show was any indication, it will be an enormously fun event.

I leave you with video that makes me both sad and happy: the Cups (including Dave Hirao) performing their early hits with none other than the great Imawano Kiyoshiro. Unbelievably, both Dave and Kiyoshiro are gone now, but I hope the Cups keep rocking for many years to come.

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