Julian Cope presents JAPROCKSAMPLER.COM

Vodka Collins

Alan Merrill – vocals, guitar
Hiroshi ‘Monsieur’ Kamayatsu – guitar
Take Yokouchi – bass
Hiroshi Oguchi – drums

Although they were together barely three years, Vodka Collins was Japan’s biggest glam rock band of the ‘70s, and remain legends to this day on account of their songwriter having written Joan Jett’s anthem ‘I Love Rock’n’roll’, and their drummer and lead guitarist both having been superstars of the Group Sounds scene. Formed as a trio in 1971, initially as a side project around ex-Spiders lead guitarist Hiroshi ‘Monsieur’ Kamayatsu, the two other original members consisted of ex-Tempters drummer Hiroshi Oguchi and ex-Four Leaves guitarist Take Yokouchi. However, whilst searching for a much younger frontman, the trio discovered the talented Eurasian model, TV actor and singer/songwriter Alan Merrill, whose American mother Helen Merrill was a national treasure to the Japanese, being a singer/actress in the Doris Day tradition. Alan Merrill, who had made his first solo LP whilst still in his mid-teens, acted in the TV show Young 720 and sung with Group Sounds act The Lead, delivered the band a whole bunch of T. Rex-styled songs, all of which would make it on to the first Vodka Collins album TOKYO-NEW YORK. The band signed a big deal with Toshiba/EMI Records and the powerful Watanabe Entertainment agency, immediately scoring massive hits with their single ‘Billy Mars’, ‘Automatic Pilot’ and ‘Sands Of Time’. However, when Merrill’s success brought him no increase in paycheck, he quit on the eve of a huge show at Tokyo’s Budokan and fled to England, where he signed with Mickey Most’s RAK label. Thereafter, Merrill formed the teen phenomenon Arrows, scored a major ITV series and hit the British charts with ‘A Touch Too Much’ and ‘I Love Rock’n’roll’. It was at this time that Joan Jett, while on a British tour with The Runaways, saw the Arrows performance of Merrill’s song and decided she should record the anthem for herself.

Julian Cope
  • VODKA COLLINS (Express, 1973)

  • Alan Merrill and Hiroshi, Vodka Collins.
  • Vodka Collins reunion lineup. Monsieur Kamayatsu, Alan Merrill, Hiroshi Oguchi, Masayoshi Kabe.
Photo- Shinoyama Kishin, 1995
  • Vodka Collins original lineup circa 1972, left to right: Alan Merrill, Take Yokouchi, Hiroshi Oguchi, Monsieur Hiroshi Kamayatsu.
Posted by gullcity, Feb 09, 2008
Posted by Viva Vivi, Jun 29, 2010
Posted by Viva Vivi, Jun 30, 2010
Vodka Collins
Vodka Collins reunions took place starting in 1990 with a short tour after the successful award winning reissue of their "Tokyo New York" album on CD, with original founding members Hiroshi Oguchi and Alan Merrill participating. Other players involved in this reunion were The Coconuts (Of Kid Creole), Robin LeMesurier, Donnie Kisselbach, and Shinohara Nobuhiko.
Five years later, in 1995 Vodka Collins reformed, for several years in fact, with a four piece lineup of Hiroshi Oguchi, Alan Merrill, Hiroshi Kamayatsu (ex-Spiders) and Masayoshi Kabe (ex-Golden Cups), recording the albums "Chemical Reaction" (1996), "Pink Soup" (1997), and "Boy's Life" (1998). In 2004 a best of Vodka Collins was released on Polystar Records titled "Boys In The Band."
Sadly, Drummer Hiroshi Oguchi died of cancer on January 27th, 2009.
There was a "Concert For Hiroshi" at Tokyo's Duo Music Exchange, January of 2010, with a videotaped and televised reunion of all former Vodka Collins band members on stage, including original bass player (now on guitar) Take Yokouchi, Masayoshi Kabe, Monsieur Kamayatsu, Alan Merrill, and Shinohara Nobuhiko. Filling in for the late Hiroshi Oguchi on drums was Grico, of the band Tensaw.
Posted by Viva Vivi, Jun 29, 2010
Vodka Collins, reality check.
With all due respect to Mr. Cope, I have so many corrections to this entry I don't know where to start. First and foremost Alan Merrill started the band Vodka Collins. It was his idea from the start. He brought up the idea to drummer Hiroshi Oguchi backstage at the Western Carnival in 1971 when Mr. Oguchi was with the band PYG, who were falling apart.

After that Mr. Oguchi had the short lived band Orange and Mr. Merrill had the short lived band Godzilla (with Haruo Chikada). When both projects floundered the timing was right for the duo to try out the idea they had discussed backstage at the Yurakucho Nichigeki Theater Western Carnival. A glam rock duo, a band like T. Rex, that was the concept.

Alan Merrill wasn't "brought in" to the band Vodka Collins, this is made up, fiction, It's like saying Steve Peregrine-Took started the band Tyrannosaurus Rex and wanted a younger singer but brought in that old folkie Marc Bolan instead.

Yes, Alan Merrill was a model in Japan, but he was hired for those jobs because he was already playing live shows on stage and TV and was recording solo (2 albums, Atlantic records and Denon Columbia) and with the bands The Lead (RCA Victor) and Godzilla prior to Vodka Collins. He looked like a rock musician and was already making records and doing shows, which is what got him the modeling work. The Flower Travelling Band's singer Joe Yamanaka was also a model for example. This was the way it was in Japan in the early 1970s.

Alan Merrill wrote all the songs for Vodka Collins, was their lead guitarist, musical arranger and lead singer (The Spiders' Monsieur Kamayatsu was not a full member of the band at the start, he was a solo artist and he can only play rhythm guitar). With all due respect to Monsieur Kamayatsu, he's a great talent but he can't play lead guitar. By the way, for the sake of accuracy the lead guitarist of The Spiders was Mr. Takayuke Inoue, not Monsieur.

The original Vodka Collins line up was a duo of Oguchi and Merrill, with Take Yokouchi the last member to join.
After Merrill left Japan in anger due to non payment for his work with Vodka Collins a few days before they were to headline a Budokan show. Desperately in need of funds he started the commercial venture the Arrows in the UK in 1974, with Mickie Most as producer. Mr. Most put the band on a cash retainer as soon as the Arrows signed, solving Merrill's fiscal quandary.

This sudden departure at the apex of the band's success certainly angered many of the EMI (Japan) corporate team backing Vodka Collins, who thought of Merrill as a wealthy young American who would have his parents pay his rent and bills and didn't require payment for his music. They were sorely mistaken. He left Japan, not returning for 17 years.

And this is where Mr. Cope gets the story really backward.

After Merrill left, indeed a "younger singer" was brought in to try to replace him. That was Mickey Curtis's son, a teenager. It didn't work out at all. Vodka Collins was Merrill's brainchild and no one could replace him, so the project ended abruptly.
While in England Alan Merrill not only wrote "I Love Rock N Roll" but was the original artist on the first released version of the song with The Arrows, two years after Vodka Collins broke up.
The Arrows also had hits like "Touch Too Much" and "My Last Night With You" in the UK and Europe further angering the Vodka Collins team he had left behind. The song "I Love Rock N Roll" (RAK records) got the band Arrows their own weekly TV series (Arrows show, Granada-ITV 1976) after performing the song on the Muriel Young produced ITV show "45" in 1975 UK. The song served the band very well in that respect. It got them a TV series.

Moving forward 17 years, Vodka Collins' management finally offered Merrill enough of a cash advance to interest him in recording several reunion albums in the 1990s. Once again, as in the past he wrote all the songs, sang and played all the lead guitar parts on the recordings, also overdubbing keyboards and blues harp. It should be noted that Monsieur Kamayatsu never played guitar on any of Vodka Collins records, although he did sing harmony vocals.
I'm sorry, it is not my intention to embarrass Mr. Cope, and I'm sure there are corporate factions in Japan who want to revise the truth about Vodka Collins to save face and Mr. Cope may have been told a lot of lies in his research, but I really need the truth to be known.
Thank you,
Posted by JunSuzuki, May 29, 2013
To contribute information about this artist you must first log-in or register with Head Heritage.