Psychedelic Pioneer Yamanaka Dies

Japanese Rock vocalist and actor Joe Yamanaka died Aug. 7, a little more than a year after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He would have turned 65 Sept. 2.

Yamanaka, whose real name was Akira, was the lead singer for the seminal Japanese rock group Flower Travelin’ Band, which he joined in 1969.

The group was an extension of the first acknowledged Japanese psychedelic group, Flowers, formed by pop singer Yuya Uchida after a trip to England in the mid-’60s when he met John Lennon and attended concerts by Jimi Hendrix and Cream.

To introduce this type of Western rock to Japanese audiences, Uchida formed Flowers, which was basically a covers band. However, the group caused more of a stir with their album covers, where they appeared naked, than with their music.

Because Uchida also had a successful solo career, Yamanaka became the focus of FTB, which started releasing original material. In the early ’70s the band relocated to Canada, where they toured with Lighthouse, Dr. John and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

They also signed a deal with Atlantic Records. In 1973 the group was set to be the opening act for The Rolling Stones’ first-ever Japan tour, which was canceled after Mick Jagger’s visa application was turned down due to a previous drug conviction.

Uchida eventually placed the band on hiatus, and Yamanaka joined the Wailers in Jamaica as a vocalist following the death of Bob Marley, a close friend at one time.

He also found success as a tough-guy movie actor in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s. His solo records were popular in Asia during the last two decades, and he even wrote a song with the late Portuguese fado legend Amalia Rodrigues, another close friend.

In 2007, almost all the original members of Flower Travelin’ Band reunited for a tour and an album.