Japanese singer-songwriter and producer Eiichi Ohtaki passed away at a hospital on Monday, December 30, 2013 after having collapsed at his Tokyo home while eating an apple, a piece which had apparently stuck in his throat causing him to choke. He was 65.
Ohtaki's influential contributions to Japanese pop and folk rock music worldwide could not be more legendary. Born on July 28, 1948, he was perhaps most famous for being the singer/guitarist and founding member of Happy End (pictured left above), a band he formed with fellow Japanese rock heavy hitters Takashi Matsumoto (Apryl Fool), Shigeru Suzuki and Haruomi Hosono (Apryl Fool/Yellow Magic Orchestra). From 1969 to 1972 the ensemble produced three studio albums that pioneered a highly revered heavy acid folk sound that made them Japan's most beloved and critically acclaimed classic rock bands of all time. More recently the ensemble won notoriety stateside when their song "Kaze wo Atusmete" was featured in the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost In Translation.
Happy End - "Kaze wo Atsumete" from Kazemachi Roman (1971)
Happy End disbanded in 1973, but Ohtaki enjoyed a very successful solo career as a musician, singer-songwriter and record producer working with mid-'70s rockers Sugar Babe as well as prominent artists like Tatsuro Yamashita (pictured below to Ohtaki's left) and Onuki Taeko. His 1981 album A Long Vacation was named "Best Album" of the year at the Japan Record Awards and went on to receive both 20th anniversary and 30th anniversary reissues. [A mildly interesting fun fact: A Long Vacation was also the first Japanese album to be released on CD.]
In 2007, Happy End's second album, Kazemachi Roman, topped Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Japanese Rock Albums of All Time, with Ohtaki's A Long Vacation ranking not far behind in the No. 7 spot.
Below is a video featuring Japanese poet, folk singer, and actor Shigeru Izumiya and Kōnosuke Sakazaki of the J-pop group The Alfee totally geeking out over Happy End records. The video is entirely in Japanese but I feel that viewers can get a broad sense of how influential this band has been by watching these two dork out, singing and playing along to some Happy End records, especially given the Ohtaki-fronted cut they begin with -- track two from side B of Happy End's self-titled debut, 12月の雨の日 "A Rainy Day in December"... [this kind of animated homage happens everyday at Amoeba]