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The Launchers

Yuzo Kayama – guitar
Osamu Kitajima - guitar
Yuzo Watanabe – bass
Ei Kitajima – drums

This clean cut quartet was formed by the movie actor, singer and sometime TV presenter Yuzo Kayama, most famous for inventing the term ‘Group Sounds’ while live on his own TV chat show in 1964. Born in 1937 and already well known for his dashing good looks, Kayama enjoyed entirely new levels of female popularity when, inspired by the 1965 Japanese tour from America’s The Ventures, the actor polished up his dormant guitar skills and turned into a full-on surf guitar God! Kayama’s management team signed the band to Toshiba Records, who added a caveat in the contract that Yuzo must be seen to sing a small percentage of ballads to widen The Launchers’ appeal. This he did and then some, delivering his words in an ostentatiously off-the-cuff Dean Martin-type baritone that still sends shivers down the spines of many a middle-aged Japanese woman. Songs such as ‘Boomerang Baby’ and ‘Mafuya No Kaerimichi’ were huge hits for The Launchers, but Kayama’s ultimate accolades came via The Ventures themselves, who were so impressed by his guitar clamour that they recorded their own versions of two Launchers songs ‘Black Sand Beach’ and ‘Yozora No Hoshi’. At the finale of a joint Ventures/Launchers tour of Japan, the Americans ceremoniously presented Kayama with one of their own signature-model Mosrite guitars. Kayama returned to acting once the beat boom had died down, and the debut album FREE ASSOCIATION was released without him in December ’68, featuring instead the talent of second guitarist Osamu Kitajima, who was Kayama’s young cousin. In September 1969, Kitajima’s Launchers released a concept album about an imaginary country entitled OASY OKOKU (‘Oasy Kingdom’). However, the days of the GS sound was already on the wane, and The Launchers split soon after. In 1971, Kitajima split for England, where he concocted the Justin Heathcliff LP, naming it so as to conjure up a quintessential Englishness. In 1972, Kitajima returned to Japan where he teamed up with former Dynamites guitarist Fujio Yamagauchi, who was enjoying a brief sabbatical from his drug buddies in Murahatchibu. Together, the two guitarists recorded one LP FUJIO & OSAMU. Yuzo Kayama returned to rock’n’roll many years later, re-recording several of his old songs in 1994.

Julian Cope
  • FREE ASSOCIATION (Toshiba, 1968)
  • OASY KINGDOM (Toshiba, 1969)

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