SOUTHERN ALL STARS
The band is comprised Keisuke Kuwata (lead vocals and guitars), Yuko Hara (vocals and keyboards), Kazuyuki Sekiguchi (bass), Hiroshi Matsuda (drums) and Hideyuki "Kegani" Nozawa (percussion). In addition to the present lineup, former guitarist Takashi Omori had worked in the band until 2001.
After the contract with the Victor Entertainment, the band released their top-ten charting debut single "Katte ni Sindbad" in 1977. Since then, the Southern All Stars have been one of the best-selling music groups in the past 30 years of Japan, selling more than 47 million albums and singles in the country alone so far. They have had over 40 top-ten hit singles and 16 number-one albums on the Japan's Oricon Charts as of 2008.
Their compilation entitled Umi no Yeah!! released in 1998 has sold more than 3.3 million copies and became the best-selling double-album in Japan. Their most commercially successful song "Tsunami", released in 2000, has sold over 2.9 million units in Japan alone, and provided the band with honor of winning the 42nd Japan Record Awards. The band were also acclaimed and ranked the number-one in a list of "100 influential Japanese musicians", provided by a record retailer HMV Japan in 2003. They also have an unprecedented record that their 44 songs were ranked at the same time on the Oricon Top 100 weekly single chart.
1975 saw a prototype of the band composed of Aoyama Gakuin University students who belonged to the popular music club "Better Days", formed by Keisuke Kuwata. In their early days, the band changed its name frequently, such as "Onsen Anma Momohiki Band", "Piston Kuwata and the Cylinders", and "Keisuke Kuwata and the Hitchcock Gekijou". Finally, when keyboardist Yuko Hara joined the group, they chose a permanent name. Named after the "Fania All-Stars" and "Southern rock" by Kuwata's friend.
After several changes of members, they tried for "Yamaha EastWest '77", the contest of amateur musicians by the Yamaha Music Foundation. At this contest, Kuwata won a prize for the "best vocalist". When the band participated in this contest, Hiroshi Matsuda and Hideyuki Nozawa, two members who were not Aoyama Gakuin's students joined them, and all the members of the group were then assembled.
On June 25, 1978, their debut single "Katte ni Sindbad" was released from Victor Entertainment. Its title was named after two hit songs in Japan in 1977, "Katte ni Shiyagare" by Kenji Sawada and "Nagisa no Sindbad" by Pink Lady In addition, the release date of their debut single was Sawada's 29th birthday. The song featured Kuwata's impressive coarse-grained vocals like a tongue twister. To promote their first single, they appeared on various TV programs. The weird costumes they dressed in and their eccentric performance made an unforgettable impact on listeners. Their single gradually climbed the charts, and peaked at number-three on the Japan's oricon singles chart in autumn of the same year.
Because of the sales promotion of "Katte ni Sindbad" and a following single "Kibun Shidai de Semenaide", they were considered performers of novelty songs. However, "Itoshi no Ellie", their third single released on March 25, 1979, was sufficient to overturn their comedic public image. This pop-ballad was highly regarded by many Japanese music critics and artists, including Hiroshi Miyagawa and Kosetsu Minami. The song is regarded as one of the most notable songs by the Southern All Stars. In 1988, a cover version by Ray Charles was featured in a Suntory Limited TV advertisement. It was released as a single in Japan only, and reached number-three on the Oricon. The cover version by Charles became the best-selling single performed by a Western artist in 1989.
Two months after the Southern All Stars released their debut single, their first album called Atsui Munasawagi was marketed. The band was not able to devote ample time to recording and songwriting for 10 Numbers Carat, their second album which featured their breakthrough ballad "Itoshi no Ellie", which was released only eight months after their debut album. Kuwata's angry look on the album cover mirrored his exhaustion. Hence, the leader of the band wasn't satisfied with the quality of the album, and has stated that the album was "trash".