A Loving Glance at Takeshi Terauchi, Japan’s King of the Electric Guitar
October 24, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.
With delirious picking speeds, copious tremolo, and an expert knack for arrangement, Takeshi “Terry” Terauchi wowed surf-thirsty audiences in 1960s Japan, black Mosrite in hand and genial smile across his face. Terauchi’s frenzied instrumentals earned him a crowning as King of the Electric Guitar several decades ago. Alas, his rule has not yet extended to American shores. He’s one of Japan’s best kept secrets.
Terauchi was born in 1939 in Tsuchiura City, which rests in the middle of Japan’s eastern coast. His mother, Hatsumo, was the musical parent and influenced her child with performances on a three-stringed shamisen. At age nine, looking for sounds louder than love, Terauchi modified a telephone to electrify an acoustic guitar belonging to his brother (some accounts of this tale say the device in question was not a phone but an old air raid siren). Ingenuity in this vein would be a hallmark of the budding rocker’s lengthy future career.
As a teen, Terauchi procured a violin manual and incorporated its techniques into his guitar playing, which at that point was focused on rockabilly and country. Those genres were just starting to touch Japanese culture thanks to Armed Forces radio broadcasts created for U.S. service persons remaining overseas after World War II. Japanese musicians who fell for these styles repaid the favor by performing live at American military bases. Terauchi was no exception; he joined up with ensembles like the Honshu Cowboys and Jimmy Tokita and the Mountain Play Boys to entertain soldiers. This was a much greater thrill than the electrical engineering he was simultaneously studying at his father’s behest.
[Album: Let's Go Eleki-Bushi]
When a 20-something Terauchi heard The Ventures in the early ‘60s they hit him like a freight train. This was the music he really wanted to play. The guitarist formed a sextet called The Blue Jeans in 1962. This, along with a visit to Japan by the Ventures during the same year, kicked off the eleki (electric [guitar]) movement. Eleki erupted during a time when the nation’s charts were dominated by saccharine, mostly acoustic pop stars who rooted their art in traditional Japanese styles. The Blue Jeans offered a cornerstone of eleki in Surfing, their 1963 debut, a record that is clean but not sanitized as it dishes out staples such as “Pipeline” and “Squad Car.” Terauchi’s trademark picking style is already in effect, as is the electric piano — designed by the guitarist himself — that usually compliments his performance. Surfing is also, apparently, one of the first albums in history to have used individual microphones for each drum. Verily, there’s no doubt The Blue Jeans had passion for surf music and a deft understanding of what made it work.
Up to this point, Terauchi had been using a Fender Telecaster, a rare instrument for that era in his corner of Earth. He’d pick up a guitar even more rare, the guitar that became his trademark, in 1965 when the Ventures returned to Japan. Their favored brand of Mosrite had smaller necks and lighter strings than most guitars, making them perfect for surf music’s whiplash fretwork. An Eastern obsession with Mosrite was born. Terauchi and The Blue Jeans opened for The Ventures during this tour; afterward, he was most often seen cradling a licorice black Mosrite.
The Ventures experienced Beatles-level adulation in 1965 Japan, but The Beatles were just as beloved there, probably more. John, Paul, George, and Ringo visited during the Summer of ’66, playing five concerts at Tokyo’s legendary Budokan beginning June 30. The Blue Jeans were an opening act, but Terauchi wasn’t there. He’d left the group right before these landmark concerts due to exhaustion. In 1965 alone The Blue Jeans released four LPs; four more followed in 1966 (including a dynamic collection of ancient Japanese bushi [folk] music retellings called Let’s Go Eleki-Bushi). As it happened, Terauchi only needed a few months to recuperate. In December of 1966 he emerged with a new group, The Bunnys, and their debut disc, Let’s Go Terry! (The Blue Jeans had decided to move on without their founding leader).
[Takeshi Terauchi & The Bunnys]
Let’s Go Terry! — “produced especially for young people,” or so the back cover claims — is all original compositions, a marked departure for Terauchi. There are also vocals on several songs. This material, however, is just as hypnotizing and full of dexterity as the known gems Terauchi rode to initial acclaim. “The Flying Guitar” in particular snaps, crackles, and brims with limber menace. Interestingly enough, the following year The Bunnys swung back to all cover songs with Let’s Go Classics. The sophomore platter offers sand-caked takes on Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, and several other classical luminaries. Their feverish rendition on Beethoven’s “Theme From Symphony No. 6” should have roused the extremely late composer. The same can be said for what The Bunnys do with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” though a wonderful restrained beauty can be found in “Theme From Swan Lake” and “Toreador From Carmen.”
In 1967 Takeshi Terauchi released his solo debut, The World Is Waiting for Terry. The Bunnys make up the majority of Terauchi’s backing band on this disc, but the music rolls into a richer, more charismatic, more cinematic landscape — one Terauchi would perfect just a few years later. The World is Waiting… is the sound of Takeshi Terauchi truly coming into his own. He even makes a hoary old piece of shit like “Moon River” glow anew.
[Artwork from Electric Guitar No Subete]
Electric Guitar No Subete (All of the Electric Guitar), from 1969, is the offering that stands as the guitarist’s true testament. Subete opens with brio, as Mexican standard “Granada” stomps out its arrival with percussion and brass; the floor then yields to Takeshi’s guitar, flitting about like a butterfly before conducting a gorgeously orchestrated romp through Lara’s celebrated 1932 composition. This sets the tone for the entire album, a life-affirming treasure that cradles the soul. A nimble dash through “Dark Eyes” is accented by a perfectly tight snare drum; more brass fills the corners of “Walk Don’t Run” as Takeshi peels off a top shelf performance. Several guitars comprise the dream-like “Caravan,” swelling up as his wild picking echoes through the foreground. The grand finale is Turkish-based hit “Uskudara,” a bold declaration of love that Terauchi has no problem conveying.
After some legal tussling over the name, Takeshi Terauchi formed a new version of The Blue Jeans in 1969 and started cranking out albums with them through the 1970s. Terauchi found himself unexpectedly caught up in global politics mid-decade; a 1976 tour The Blue Jeans did in the Soviet Union (at the request of an eight-year-old fan with leukemia) coincided with Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko’s defection at Hakodate Airport in Japan. Belenko was flying a MiG-25 at the time, a relatively unknown aircraft in the West. Japan invited the U.S. Air Force to come inspect the plane, enraging the Soviet populace. Faced with sudden anti-Japanese sentiments during his U.S.S.R. visit, Terauchi remarked to a crowd of several thousand at Yerevan Stadium, “We came to seek friendship, we believe in everyone, and [we] believe in peace.” The guitarist then made a peace sign, which the audience cheered and reciprocated.
Terauchi’s output with The Blue Jeans tapered off toward the end of the ‘80s but he’s continued to release albums and perform periodically. Almost all of Takeshi Terauchi’s recorded work has never been released in the United States, which is a crime against our culture. Our world is still waiting for Terry, but it doesn’t appear this mountain will come to Muhammad. What better excuse do you need to visit Japan than the King of the Electric Guitar?