In the early days of television in North America when variety shows were a common occurrence over the airwaves, viewers tended to treat the celebrities virtually like extended members of the family. There was comedian Milton Berle who everyone called Uncle Milty since he was a welcome weekly visitor and then there was the legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite who was known as The Most Trusted Man in America and could pretty much seat himself around any table at any household. Basically, the variety show performers and other television personalities were familiar presences. However all that changed starting from the 1970s when variety shows started going extinct for the most part.
But for those who know Japanese TV, the phenomenon never died. Variety shows in all their various forms have continued to thrive, and the tarento and comedians and announcers come into viewers' homes almost on a daily, let alone weekly, basis. That also includes musicians and bands whose shelf life may have come to an end so that they made the transition into familiar tube presences.
During my fascination with the medium, there was one fellow who popped up from time to time. His name was Hiroshi "Monsieur" Kamayatsu（かまやつひろし）and he was a guitarist for the Group Sounds band The Spiders（ザ・スパイダース）. A couple of his bandmates, Masaaki Sakai and Jun Inoue（堺正章・井上順）, have become those extended family members of Japan through their various hosting and guesting and acting duties over the decades. Kamayatsu didn't appear as much since he stayed with his music but there was no way that he could be forgotten. He struck a very unique appearance with his long straggly hair and that wool cap which often covered his head right down to his eyes. Plus, he had that wide and gentle smile. I sometimes wondered whether Totoro had been based on Monsieur. In any case, it took me some years to realize his relationship with Sakai and Inoue but in the meantime, I saw him as that somewhat eccentric but cool uncle who would enter our homes once in a while after another set of adventures.
A few days ago, I saw a photo of him online somewhere and it wasn't a very happy picture which struck me as being very atypical. It was also sadly prophetic for me since I read a few hours ago that Kamayatsu had passed away yesterday from cancer at the age of 78. On Twitter, I kept seeing tweets about the man along with the letters "RIP" and I just went "Aw, man...". A welcome member of the TV and music families has left for greener pastures.
Kamayatsu had started his career about a year before joining The Spiders and of course, after the Group Sounds band had broken up in 1970, he went back to his solo career. His first solo single at the tail end of his time with The Spiders was "Dounika Naru sa" (Somehow It'll Work Out) which was released in April 1970.
"Dounika Naru sa" is a wistful folk song about a fellow who's gotten tired of his old life and has decided to leave the city without any sort of plan to guide him. Riding that train out, he assures himself that things will work out in the end. It's different from the usual kayo about getting homesick and scratching that itch to head back home; the fellow in this song may head back home or perhaps home is also not the answer. Whatever he decides, he will do so on his own.
Considering that Kamayatsu has just died, listening to "Dounika" has probably left quite a few more pangs to the heart for his fans and those who were used to seeing him on television. The guitarist created the song while Michio Yamagami（山上路夫）wrote the lyrics. It peaked at No. 50 on Oricon. The song was also a track on the February 1970 album "Tora 70619" (トラ70619) by the group Sally & Shiro (サリー&シロー) which consisted of the two brothers who had been members of another prominent Group Sounds band The Tigers（ザ・タイガース）, Shuzo and Shiro Kishibe（岸部修三・岸部シロー）. Apparently according to J-Wiki, Kamayatsu, who had also been a country music fan, got his inspiration for the song from Hank Williams' "Lonesome Whistle" from 1951. It was also recorded on a 1971 Spiders' album following their breakup, "Dounika Naru sa/Album No. 2".
In that same year, Kiyohiko Ozaki（尾崎紀世彦）did a cover of "Dounika" for his album "Kiyohiko Ozaki Album No. 4"（尾崎紀世彦 アルバムNo.4）. The country feeling was even more pronounced in this version and Ozaki seemed to have reined in his boomer of a voice here which was appropriate. It's ironic about his contribution here since I think the late singer was the first singer mentioned in the blog for whom I did a tribute soon after his passing.
I'm pretty sure that there will be some mention of him tomorrow on NHK and perhaps some tribute to him on a future "Uta Kon" (うたコン). My condolences to his family and friends. And what I only found out a few hours ago was that he was cousins with folk singer Ryoko Moriyama（森山良子）, and his father was jazz singer Tib Kamayatsu（ティーブ・釜萢）.