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Episode 18. Alan Merrill

30th December 2019 Private messages

Alan: I might get back to Japan for a Group Sounds reunion show winter 2020. That is if my friend and former band mate Haruo Chikada (Godzilla, 1971 short lived band, one album) is a presenter, as he often is. Happy New Year, Glenn!!

Glenn: A very Happy New Year to you as well! It's going to be a good one!

Alan: Yes! 2020 !! The year I hope to get my book out at last! Including the sausage roll saga of course! LOL

Glenn: Brilliant and I demand a signed copy for the Mendips library! (rewind….)

12th September 1975 Concert, Leicester

Local heroes Showaddywaddy are at the DeMont tonight and me and my mates have tickets; this is my fourth gig. Showaddywaddy are currently in the top ten with their latest single, Heartbeat, which is a cover of the Buddy Holly classic although I’m fourteen years old and am not aware of this fact at the time. On the way, on the top deck of the No.67 bus, we talk excitedly and near the top of Evington Rd and gorp out the window at Ellaneff Tailors who have two of Showaddywaddy’s Teddy Boy drape coats as their window display. Said tailors are indeed the dressers of tonight’s stars and the Rock ‘n’ Roll revival is in full swing in the UK. We alight at the next stop and mingle with the older lads and lassies all heading in the same direction. They are dressed to jive the night away in their finest fifties attire, the lads with greased back hair in a D.A and brightly coloured drape coats; the girls with their swing polka dot dresses sporting a bouffant haircut. They look tough, smoke cigarettes and act cool.

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Three guitarists, two drummers, two vocalists, one bass player and eight eye-popping bubble-gum teddy boy suits.

Inside, we take our seats and for the first time in my concert-going experience, I know who the support band (or ‘Special Guests’ as they are advertised) is and it’s Arrows. They had a hit the previous year with a song called A Touch Too Much which I bought but hadn’t heard anything else since and to be honest, Arrows had faded from my memory a bit because of that, just as they had from my mate’s memories as well – they didn’t even remember A Touch Too Much. House lights fade, polite applause from the 1950s crowd, Arrows hit the stage resplendent in blue lamet suits and deliver forty-five minutes of three-minute pop songs, ending with their hit. House lights up, polite applause, my mates are not overly impressed but I am. (fast forward…)

14th November 2014 Home, Kawasaki

I had been trying to contact Alan Merrill for an interview for beatleg magazine as I heard he was in Tokyo for a few days doing a show. Annoyingly, I didn’t even hear about the show until it was over and the promoter wasn’t very helpful, refusing to even pass on a message to Alan and I had almost given up, figuring he had already left Japan when an email arrived.

‘Hi Glenn, I’ve heard you’ve been trying to contact me. I’m still in Tokyo, please call me at…’ followed by a phone number. I dialled it immediately, spoke to Alan and arranged to meet the following morning at 10am.

15th November 2014 Hiro-o, Tokyo

It was 1pm and Alan and I had been chatting for three hours. The questions I had written for the interview were used up over an hour ago and we had now moved on to a new friend’s relationship rather than a writer and musician one. It was just one of those meetings when people instantly bond and he suggested we meet up for dinner later that day. I apologised as I had a prior engagement (I had an interview to do with Nathan East that evening) to which Alan replied ‘Tomorrow then? I’m meeting a few other friends for drinks.’ Done.

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My first meeting with Alan, an interview for beatleg magazine and the start of a great friendship.

16th November 2014 Roppongi, Tokyo

Bernd’s Bar/restaurant’s menu lists wiener schnitzel, sausages, sauerkraut, schnaps and an excellent selection of German beers, the latter two of which we drank lots of. Bernd himself, a large-hearted German, greeted Alan with a big hug upon his return to his establishment (they go back a long way) and kept the steins coming without us even ordering. Alan regaled me and a dozen of his friends with story after story, all of which he said will be in his book. We made sure Alan got a taxi back to his hotel before we all staggered off to our own homes.

17th November 2014 Home, Kawasaki

All day in bed…hangover from hell.

18th November 2014 Home, Kawasaki

I called Alan and wished him a safe flight home as he was leaving today. He made me promise to stay in touch which of course I did after which he said ‘I’m glad I didn’t have to fly yesterday…I had a terrible hangover…’ (rewind…)

2nd March 1976 Home, Leicester

Tuesday night and home from school with the TV on waiting for a new series that will start at 4:25pm – Arrows. They have taken over from the Bay City Rollers show and although I am now more into Rick Wakeman, I still love T.Rex, Mott the Hoople and all the Glam Rockers as well as -thanks to Showaddywaddy - developing a passion for the history of Pop music. I haven’t heard any new Arrows records since the gig so I am surprised and pleased they have their own series. The credits roll, a flashing 1970s pop show animation and the theme tune is Boogiest Band In Town from their debut album, the credits end and the broadcast cuts to a studio performance of them miming to the theme song. I love it and I don’t miss an episode for the entire run of fourteen weeks. They have a lot of guests on I’ve never heard before. Bilbo Baggins, Louisa Jane White and others. I go nuts when they have Showaddywaddy on singing their new single Trocadero. (fast forward…)

2nd March 2017 Private Messages

Glenn: Hi Alan, I guess you've heard but if not, I am really sorry to bring you the sad news that your dear friend Monsieur Kamayatsu has passed away. He was a good man and the Japanese music business will now be a lot less colourful without him. My sincere condolences.

Alan: Thanks for letting me know. I've known him since 1968 so I've known him most of my life in fact. He's been ill since 1996 with cancer and had it under control for a long long time. Middle of last year he took a turn for the worse and he's been in hospital and only in the past month he was back home but unresponsive to my emails. So, while this isn't a sudden shock, it's always terribly sad.

Glenn: It's big news here Alan - the second story on NHK news this morning. A small clip of Vodka Collins was shown along with The Spiders and some latter day interview footage.

Alan: Yeah, he was fabric of Japanese music as was his father before him. I'm happy and proud that I got to work with Monsieur and Tib Kamayatsu on my musical journey. He was a one-off, Monsieur. I was hoping to see him again this April (rewind…)

18th May 2015 Roppongi, Shibuya, Omotesando, Tokyo

We meet at 5:30pm at Bernd’s again and there are friendly familiar faces from last time as well as a couple of new ones. Bernd materialises at the table with a tray holding a dozen weiz beers and we order a round of schnapps. Alan tells me that Monsieur Kamayatsu is going to try and come down as they were both in the band Vodka Collins back in the 1970s and this takes the night to another level for me as I’m a fan of the outlaw actor/composer/musician. Alan is halfway through telling us the story of how he accidentally took his father’s heroin when he was five years old when Monsieur arrives and after introductions, another round of drinks is ordered after which Alan and Monsieur catch up on a few decades of their lives. Around 7:30pm, Alan tells us that Monsieur has invited us all to go and see the father of Jazz drumming, Roy Haynes at the Blue Note. The night is getting better and better for me as I had tried to get tickets to these shows celebrating his 90th birthday but they had sold out in hours. I thank Monsieur as go downstairs ‘Alan’s friend, my friend’ he says and grins back at me as we are headered into three waiting taxis and driven to Shibuya…there’s a quick stop on the way to the Blue Note.

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A night out starting at Bernd’s with Monsieur Kamayatsu. This was just before we left and we were already well sozzled.

I wish I could remember where we went but the weiz beers and schnapps had really kicked in by now and all I remember is being shown into a VIP area, a load of drinks on the tables and Alan and Monsieur laughing and joking with the proprietor. Less than half an hour later, we are zooming towards the Blue Note in three more taxis and I’m wondering exactly how Monsieur is going to persuade the Blue Note - an all-seater club that holds 280 people – that he has bought ten extra friends with him to this gig. It didn’t seem to be a problem though as we were taken in through the back door and sure enough, a large table to adequately seat 15 people was roped off and we were shown to it. Roy was already on stage into his first song (Thelonious Monk’s Trinkle Tinkle) so no one really noticed us enter. No one noticed how drinks were ordered either but they obviously were as a selection of beer, wine, spirits fruit juices and - thankfully – water where distributed by the Blue Note staff. Roy and his band were incredible and as he left after the last number, the house lights went up and I turned to thank Monsieur again but he had already left; he had also paid the bill. Outside, we once again made sure Alan got a taxi back to his hotel and then all staggered our own way home and once again, I knew I was going to have a ‘Merrill Special’ hangover the next day. (fast forward…)

25th February 2017 Private Messages

Glenn: Suzi Quatro/Alan Merrill Band gig advertised here for April…is it happening?

Alan: The promoter hasn't been back to me with my questions and even Suzi hasn't answered me which is unusual. It doesn’t look good. (fast forward…)

24th March 2017 Private Messages

Alan: Suzi has cancelled so the promoter has asked me to headline. I'm going to make it a tribute night for Monsieur. I'll be in Tokyo to see my mum's last show on the 22nd April at the Blue Note. My show will be April 26th at the Duo Exchange. I want you to meet Mom.

Glenn: I already have tickets for your Mom’s farewell show…no way I was going to miss that! (fast forward…)

22nd April 2017 Omotesando

Alan’s mom, Helen Merrill, has had a singing career since World War II. She made her recording debut in 1952 and has a loyal following in Japan. Tonight, at the age of 87, she gave her farewell performance at the Blue Note and it was emotional to say the least. Fans adored her, her voice sublime and I’ve never seen so many flowers in a dressing room. I actually found myself nervous at meeting such an established singer but she put me at ease and the banter between Alan and his mom was wonderful. Alan’s daughter, Laura, got a word in when she could.

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Helen, Alan and Laura backstage after Helen’s farewell show. Laura is a creative artist in New York.

24th April 2017 Roppongi

We go to see The Parrots at the Abbey Road club. I come here a lot and like to take my friends here. Beers flow freely but it’s not a wild night as we both have to work tomorrow and we talk about music, life, the universe and everything. On the way to the toilet, someone asks me if we are famous. I say I’m not but that’s Alan Merrill who wrote I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll. The guy looks at me incredulously and says he thought it was a Joan Jett song. ‘No, it’s not’ I reply. ‘Go and say hello’. Coming out the toilet I see the guy and Alan laughing and joking and Alan signing beer mats. Back at the table, the guy thanks me and leaves. At the end of the night, the manager asks if Alan would mind being photographed with The Parrots for the Abbey Road Wall of Fame; Alan is genuinely delighted and The Parrots are a little bit in awe of him as he tells them a couple of his encounters with members of The Beatles.

30th December 2019 Private Messages

Alan: I might get back to Japan for a Group Sounds reunion show winter 2020. That is if my friend and former band mate Haruo Chikada (Godzilla, 1971 short lived band, one album) is a presenter, as he often is. Happy New Year, Glenn!!

Glenn: A very Happy New Year to you as well! It's going to be a good one!...

30th March 2020 Printed in the New York Times

Alan Merrill, a guitarist and singer whose song “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” became Joan Jett’s breakthrough hit, and who had early success as one of the few Western rock stars in Japan in the late 1960s and early ’70s, died on Sunday in Manhattan. The cause was complications of the coronavirus, his daughter Laura Merrill said.

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I miss him dearly but I have wonderful memories of him and at Helen’s farewell concert, I couldn’t resist asking Alan and his mom to sign their respective singles. I am so glad I did that and they are now on display, side by side, at Mendips guest house.

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