In 1966 the cosmopolitan port town of Yokohama
proved the perfect breeding ground for the new Group Sounds. Just as in
Liverpool and Hamburg, the local kids were exposed to a wealth of foreign
culture not readily available to the typical Japanese teen. The FEN (Far
East Network) broadcast out of the nearby U.S. Army base, bringing the
newest Western sounds to the locals. The base PX stocked the latest hip
imported discs, which Japanese record stores seldom carried, and domestic
pressings of which were often delayed many months. Kids with friends from
the base got to watch shows like American Bandstand, while the chances
of their less-fortunate peers catching British or American bands on Japanese
TV shows was next to nil. Yokohama had it's own exotic culture, and it
was there that, in December, the Golden Cups were born.
At this time the Cup's vocalist and founder Dave Hirao was already a rock'n'roll veteran, having played earlier with the Sphinx. But it was his visit to the States in ’65 that made him an eager convert to the new beat style - the bands he saw there left him stunned! The other members of the band were no less ready to switch to the GS sound. Eddy Ban (lead guitar & vocals) made it to the U.S. in '65 as well, and returned with an odd device called a fuzz box, perhaps the first to arrive in Japan. (Eddy later lent it to a fellow GS guitarist who had a Japanese instrument manufacturer duplicate it; this company was soon selling its knock-off throughout the country!).
Kenneth Ito (guitar, vocals) had a special affinity for the West, having grown up in Hawaii. He owned the first Fender guitar to reach Japan (imported instruments being prohibitively expensive back then); a Telecaster like his heroes Mike Bloomfield used.He also used Gibson SG. With Kenneth on board the Cups didn't have to struggle with English like the other GS outfits. The group was rounded out by Ruiseruis Kabe*1 (who'd previously played with Kenneth in Take Five) on bass, and Mamoru Manu (drums, vocals).
Initially using the name Group and I,” they became the house band at the Golden Cup discotheque near the Honmoku army base. Their clientele was made up mainly of GI's, and their set list entirely of covers: "One More Time"(Them), "Evil Woman"(Canned Heat), "Gloria","Stroll On","I Got My Mojo Workin'" (their opening tune), "I Feel Good" (James Brown), "Work Song"(Paul Butterfield Blues Band), etc. Sadly no recorded document of this period survives.
The group was fortunate to land a TV gig the very month it formed! "Young 720" was a teen-oriented weekday morning program (starting at 7:20am – hence its name) that often featured live GS bands. The Cups'gained some important national exposure through the show, and the teenagers of Japan discovered a cool new band! (This performance too seems to have been lost, but if you know otherwise, get in touch!).
From the beginning, the Golden Cups set themselves apart from the other GS bands. In 1967 most groups wore uniforms on stage, seemingly chosen at random. For example, the Dynamites felt it necessary to dress like bellhops, while the Cougars paraded around in Scottish kilts! The Cups, meanwhile, wore only the latest imported mod threads, as if to say "Those other bands rely on gimmicks, but the Golden Cups are for real."
It wasn’t just the Cups' image that set them apart, as became apparent with the June ’67 release of their first single, "Jezabel" (hear the flip side, "Hiwa Mata Noboru,"on the Big Lizard Stomp compilation). The Cups’ guitar playing amazed their less-able competitors, and the band soon built a reputation as the most technically proficient GS outfit.
This reputation was cemented with their sophomore release, the incredible "Giniro no Glass" ("Love is my Life" on ESD Pebbles), in November. This song gave Kabe, who"d handled lead guitar in the Take Five, the chance to turn lose with some astounding bass runs. "When I played bass, I didn’t have to think about it," he recalled later. Considering the amount of practice the Cups were getting, this isn't surprising: "We were very busy. One day we did ten 45 minute shows in a row, and then got to the studio around midnight to record." They actually preferred to record late at night, as it gave them more time to work; there were very few studios available in the 60's, so bands were typically given only one or two hours to finish each number.
1967 also saw the Cups hit the road, if only for a short distance, for an important stand at la Seine, a popular *2Jazz Kissa (or Jazz Tea Room) in Tokyo. The band had something of a split personality live, depending on where they were playing. If they were at a club or Jazz Kissa, they'd play their fave tunes and put on a wild show; but if they were giving a "recital" at a large concert hall, they were forced to perform their dull commercial material, often with an orchestra for accompaniment.
The Golden Cups Album made its appearance in March 1968, a diverse collection of originals and covers. While it has its share of killer tunes, the album reflects the disagreements the band was having with Capitol Records regarding musical direction. Left to their own devices the Cups liked to play R&B tunes like "I Feel Good" or "Got My Mojo Working," while "Giniro no Glass"and their other originals were exercises in fuzzed-out punk mayhem! "Hey Joe" is an example of the real Golden Cups sound at its finest. The slow Jimi Hendrix version made the song famous in Japan, so the many GS groups who recorded it copied this style – but not the Cups! Their "Hey Joe"is based on the garage versions recorded by bands like Love or the Leaves, but with a wild, extended psychedelic freak-out in the middle. It's hard to believe this is the band that recorded sappy, orchestrated ballads like "Jezabel" or "Unchained Melody" on the same album at their management's behest.
The group's next single hit the stores one month later, and for two very different reasons proved the high water mark of the Golden Cups'career. The plug side was another lame ballad, "Nagai Kami no Shoujo" ("A Girl With Long Hair"), a product of professional songwriters that their management insisted they record. The Cups naturally hated the song, and refused to play it live, though they did do some promotional TV spots for it. There was even a "Girl With Long Hair" contest, in which thousands of teenagers enthusiastically participated. As an unkind fate would have it, the song was just about the biggest hit the Cups would have, reaching #14 on the Japanese pop charts!
Luckily for garage fans everywhere, the Cups were given free reign on the flip side, and turned in what's got to be one of the five most savage and stunning garage-punk efforts to come out of Japan! "This Bad Girl"(on HOT NIPS) is propelled by a riff that descends the scale like a bolt of crackling lightning, while Kabe's nimble bass runs and Manu's frantic pounding provide the accompanying thunder. The lyrics, while simple, are in the best anti-social teenage punk tradition: "I don't care what the people might say," Kenneth snarls, a sentiment that, while perhaps not too radical in the States, must have sounded fairly extreme in conformity-loving Japan. Backing vocals add a catchy pop element to the track without detracting a bit from the brutal instrumental impact. "This Bad Girl" is without doubt the Golden Cups' crowning achievement.
Despite the band's success, Kenneth Ito was denied a Japanese work visa that summer, and was forced to return to Hawaii. Rather than attempt to replace him, the band used this opportunity to retool their sound, and brought in 16 year old Mickey Yoshino on keyboards. Despite his age, Mickey was a veteran GS musician, having played with his previous band at the teen club of the US Army base in Yokohama for two years. He counted Al Kooper and John Lord (Deep Purple) as his primary influences.
The personnel changes took place during the recording of The Golden Cups Album Vol. 2 (released in September), so both Kenneth and Mickey are featured. But perhaps the band's meddling management deserves the biggest credit (more accurately, their management was the biggest culprit) for the album, as they continued to feed the Cups middle-of-the-road pop in an effort to keep them on the charts. "Woman Woman,""My Love Only For You:Aisuru Kimini"(the 4th single, which climbed all the way to #13) and "Goodbye My Love:Sugisarishi Koi"are all execrable examples of Capitol's handiwork. ""Gimme Little Sign"was another song recorded at the behest of Capitol bigwigs, who were trying to promote it. The Cups' fascination with Motown wasn't helping much either, as the album is loaded down with one R&B/soul cover after another.
by My love /Heppening at 3 O'clock
This cover photo is rare because they wore uniform!
Really the only hint of what the Cups were capable of comes on
the psychedelic "Happening At 3 O'clock A.M."(appeared on Hot Nips vol.1).A
sped-up ad for the "Crybaby" pedal (competition for the Vox Wah Wah pedal)
segues into the music, which can only be described as Spaghetti-Western
Psych. Otherworldly wailing weaves its way through the loping beat, amidst
a barrage of distorted lead guitar and doom-laden vocals. Not exactly fodder
for the Japanese Hit Parade!
When GS mania began to fade in 1969, the Cups were finally given some creative freedom during the recording sessions for their next album. Now they could give the orchestras and balladeers the bum's rush and concentrate on kick-ass rock and roll! Or, they could wallow in their Blues fixation and fill the album with tiresome Butterfield Blues Band covers. You have three guesses as to which of these two scenarios the Cups followed! OK, we'll throw in a clue: the title of their third LP is Blues Message.
Besides practically re-recording the Butterfield's East/West album ("Walkin’ Blues,""Get Out Of My Life"and "I Got A Mind To Give Up Living"all show up on the first side), the Cups tackle a number of other tunes by popular blues-based bands on the album. Canned Heat's "Evil Woman"(a staple of the Cups’ live show for years) rubs shoulders with "Can't Keep From Cryin'" by the Blues Project, while so-called original "Take 3"is just a thinly disguised "Let Me Love You,"from the Jeff Beck Group's first LP. The orchestra has been replaced by piano and, in some cases, a horn section, though it does make a gag-inducing return on the ballad "Sand of 4 Grammes"(the b-side of the Cups’ sixth single, tacked onto the end of the album). In an effort to say something positive about Blues Message, I'll mention the remarkable Van Morrison imitation on "One More Time,"and the way the oddball "You Really Got A Hold On Me"(Beatles)/Bring It On Home To Me"(Sam Cooke) medley flows so smoothly. This latter track appeared on the Cups' seventh single, with a boogie-rock version of the Chuck Berry tune "Lucille,"also on Blues Message, as the plug side. The album's certainly a success from a Blues standpoint, but is very disappointing for fans of the "This Bad Girl"Golden Cups.
April of 1969 found Eddy Ban bowing out of the Cups in order to form the Eddy Ban Group. (Eddy handled the guitar duties, with Hiro Yanagida from the Floral on organ, and Eddy Fortuno, late of D'swooners, on drums). Ruiseruis Kabe took over the lead guitar spot for the Cups, making way for Rin Keibun to come aboard on bass. Their sound grew progressively heavier, while they maintained their penchant for R&B and Blues. Some of the songs in the Cups’ set list at this time were "I Put A Spell On You,"Mr. You are A Better Man Than I,"and "Blues With A Feeling."nbsp;
Those of you interested in hearing what the Cups were like live in '69 have a wealth of material to choose from-the band released an unheard-of two live albums in the space of three months! Bearing in mind the schizophrenic nature of most GS combos, this actually makes some sense. Super Live Session (released in August) captures the Cups in their "Jazz Kissa" incarnation at a Yokohama club called The Zen, performing the music they preferred to play and ignoring their sappy hits. It's still largely blues-based rock, but played with more verve and creativity than on Blues Message. Highlights include a nearly unrecognizable (compared with the Artwoods'version) "One More Heartache,"and a sprawling take of "Gloria"."Zen Blues,"(on Slitherama compilation)one of the duller straight-ahead blues cuts on the album, has recently been comped on Slitherama. What makes the track notable is that it features the band Power House as well, who were something like the Cups’ proteges. Kabe provided the jacket's psychedelic artwork, hand painted on a Fusuma (a traditional Japanese room screen).
The second live album, Recital, hit the stands that October. Geared towards fans of their singles, the first side features many of the Cups’ lame commercial hits with full orchestral accompaniment. Luckily the band didn't have enough hits to fill an album, so side two is stocked with more covers of heavy blues tunes:"Spoonful","Communication Breakdown,""Let Me Love You"(credited to Jeff Beck this time, unlike on Blues Message!), etc.
By 1970 the Golden Cups’ transformation from GS group to hard rock band was complete. Eddy Ban returned to the fold, as did Kenneth Ito, and Ai Takano from the Carnabeats (by way of the Eddy Ban Group) took over on drums. Still more live material appeared on a various-artists compilation, Rock 'n'Roll Jam'70(featuring the Flowers and Mops as well, and recently reissued on CD). Artists like the Band and Jethro Tull figured heavily in their music. The group's only other releases that year were a second Best Of collection, and the single "Bitter Tears” (which sounds like a poor man's "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" backed with the loungey "Devil's Disguise."
The group's line-up was shuffled still more leading up to their last studio album, Return Of The Golden Cups Vol. 8:Fifth Generation (counting two Best Of collections, this was their eighth LP), released in January, 1971. The members were now Dave Hirao, Eddy Ban, George Yanagi (bass, ex-Power House), and Ai Takano (Mickey Yoshino had left to study music at Barclay College in Boston). Perhaps realizing that their past emphasis on covers wouldn't cut it now that rock musicians were supposed to be "serious artists,"eight of the nine tracks on Return were by group members, with one Band cover ("Tears Of Rage" thrown in. The Procol Harum-like psych of "V.D. (Vernards Going Doomed Again)"may be the album's highlight. But by this point the group's sound was far removed from their GS work, and of little interest to garage rock fans, so I won't bother describing the album further.
In July came another incestuous line-up change, as John Yamazaki - late of the band Room with ex-Cups Ruiseruis Kabe and Rin Keibun - joined on keyboards. On July 31, 1971 the band played an outdoor music hall called the Hibiya Yagai Ongakudou, and the following October released the performance as yet another live album. It proved to be their last; the days when a native band could be financially successful were long gone. The Cups’ albums were selling little more than a few thousand copies apiece, prompting the band to call it quits.
The Cups’ gave their final concert on New Year's Eve, 1972 in an Okinawa discotheque. Just as at the beginning of their career, the audience was mainly American GI's. Since it was their last show, the band played their big hit "Nagai Kami no Shoujo,"but no one in the audience recognized it. It was at this point that Jorge Yanagi noticed a strange smell, and, opening the curtain behind the drum kit, discovered the building was on fire! The Cups yelled "Fire! Fire!"in an effort to clear the room, but many in the drunken crowd thought they were introducing the next song, and called for them to start playing again! Eventually everyone got out, but the Cups had lost all of their instruments, and weren't even paid what they were guaranteed for the show. A sad end for one of Japan's most important GS bands.