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Miki Curtis & the Samurais
Micki Curtis - The First Ear (Vertigo 1972)(Cuddles)
Coming on like a more credible Cliff Richard or a more career-minded Screaming Lord Sutch, the half-Japanese/half-British singer Miki Curtis managed to navigate a successful path through the turbulent ever-changing waters of the Japanese rock’n’roll scene, from its inception in 1958 to its hazy conclusion in the late ‘70s. Curtis began his career as a snaggle-toothed Elvis impersonator in 1958, but oozed such charisma and charm that he was immediately employed by NHK-TV to host their weekly pop show THE HIT PARADE. Getting his teeth fixed, slicking back his hair into a less extreme quiff and donning horn-rimmed glasses, Curtis spent the next few years in this role, using the show as an occasional outlet for his own singing. He thereafter formed Miki Curtis & Samurais to keep abreast of the then-current Group Sounds trend, growing his hair and playing up to the ‘saki and noodles curcuit’ as one Pathe Newsman called it. Was he Mickey, Miki of Mikey? Who knows but Curtis himself; he certainly spelled the name ever way possible in order to keep up with prevailing trends. And possessed with a musical approach that veered from Acker Bilk seashore jazz to soul stompathons, Curtis’ Samurais scored a run of major charts hits including ‘Taiyo No Pataya’, ‘Fires On The Plain’, ‘Wild Life’, ‘Bounce Ko Gals’ and ‘Nothing But Loving’. Ever the career minded pragmatist, Curtis took The Samurais to Europe, where the band played to their Japanese strengths by adopting kimonos. The six piece band also recorded and released records in Germany for Metronome Records, picking up a couple of British musicians – guitarist Joe Dunnett and organist John Redfern - along the way. In London, the band released the single ‘Good Morning Starshie’ b/w ‘Temple of Gold’ for United Artists, and in Italy ‘Shu Shu’ b/w ‘Fresh Hot Breeze Of Summer’. Renaming the band Samurai in 1970, to fit in with Japan’s prevailing New Rock fashions, Curtis released two interesting LPs SAMURAI and KAPPA with this line-up, the two LPs being conflated into one – entitled GREEN TEA – for its 1970 British release on Philips. On returning to Japan, bass player Tetsu Yamauchi quit to record his own solo LP for Columbia, and later joined Free. Miki Curtis thereafter tempered his prog rock fixations with the somewhat poppier LP MIMI, which he made for Vertigo Records in 1972. Collaborating on the album with Hosono Haruomi of the country-tinged Happy End and Vodka Collins/Arrows future star Alan Merrill, who would go in to write Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock’n’roll’, MIMI was a blatant sop to the singer/songwriter trends then consuming Japan. Within the sumptuous Sphinx’n’Pyramid badged gatefold of MIMI, Curtis is shown in his two most extreme incarnations, first as early ‘60s be-suited and be-spectacled nerd, and second as be-jewelled longhair shaman. However, this was Curtis’ artistic swansong. By 1977, Miki had given up any pretences of being contemporary and returned to his rock’n’roll roots, his ROCK’N’ROLL HURRICANE LP containing such hackneyed classics as ‘Great Balls of Fire’. ‘Be Bop A Lula’, ‘Ready Teddy’, ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ with Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’ throw in for good measure.