Rockbrat Remembers: Munetaka Higuchi (December 24, 1958 – November 30, 2008)

It’s a wet Thursday, the 30th of November, and the Cowboy is sitting in my office amongst a sea of drones overdosing on apathy. My one salvation is that I’m wired to the sounds of Miss Metal, Mari Hamada, one of only a handful of hard rockin’ Japanese female artists worth listening to (the others being Pink Sapphire, Show-ya, Steffanie and Ann Lewis. The fact that two out of those are half American says a lot about the calibre of Japanese females of the metal/hard rock genre). Anyways, back to the point. I’m listening to Mari Hamada’s great 1993 album ‘Anti-Heroine’, when I remembered that in the early 80s she was very much the leather ‘n’ studs metal bitch, with Loudness’ drummer Munetaka Higuchi most influential in guiding her career and sounds in those early days. I checked the desk calendar and realised that sadly, Loudness’ amazingly talented drummer Munetaka Higuchi passed way two years ago today. Internationally, Loudness were the most well known of all Japanese heavy rock and metal bands in the 1980s, and their albums spent considerable time on the Rockbrat stereo. The Lightning Strikes album from 1985 was as good anything coming out of the west coast of the US at that time, with the talents of Munetaka Higuchi and guitarist Akira Takasaki putting all others on notice. Born in Nara, Higuchi began playing drums at a young age and then right through high school, where he formed the band Lazy with Akira Takasaki, who would also go onto Loudness, a band they formed in 1981. During his time with Loudness , he released his first solo album, Destruction, in 1983. In the same year he produced and played drums on Mari Hamada’s studio albums Lunatic Doll and Romantic Night.  Hamada’s early albums were successful in the Japanese rock market. After several albums he left Loudness in 1992, and resumed his solo career in the late-1990s, working also on side projects, including Sly (with former Loudness’ singer Minoru Niihara), Bloodcircus, Rose of Rose, and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Standard Club Band, besides collaborating with dozens of Japanese artists, both as producer and as drummer. In 1997, as “Munetaka Higuchi & Dream Castle”, he released the album Free World. The band featured many famous musicians from the jazz and rock/metal spheres, like Steve Vai, Stanley Clarke, Billy Sheehan, Ty Tabor, Terry Bozzio, T. M. Stevens, Ronnie James Dio, Richie Kotzen and others. The album was released on February 21, 1997 in Japan. In 1998, he produced Cozy Powell Forever, a tribute album to the recently deceased drummer Cozy Powell, very popular in Japan. For the album, Higuchi had the collaboration of the best Japanese heavy metal musicians and was able to reunite his former bandmates of Loudness. A tour in support of the album was made with musicians from Loudness and Sly. He returned to Loudness in 2001, maintaining his high profile in the metal genre. On April 14, 2008, just two months after Loudness released the album, Metal Mad, it was announced that he was diagnosed with liver cancer. On November 30, 2008, Munetaka died at the age of 49. We pause for a moment to remember his passing – and the contribution he made to heavy metal. Thunder in the east, thunder in the sky…..

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