B’z was born in the height of the Japanese rock boom, in the early eighties. Although B’z followed on the heels of big-wig (literally) bands such as Buck-Tick (1984-present), and X-Japan (1982-1997), these bands were veering off into the creation and development of the scene we know of as Visual Kei. B’z was founded by guitarist Matsumoto Tak and vocalist Inaba Koshi in an effort to create something different from what was filling the music scene. Where many bands were using heavy electronica in their music and big band status, Matsumoto and Inaba felt that there were two things that comprised the soul of rock music, and these could not be replaced or imitated: Guitar and the human voice.
Kudos to them. Matsumoto, already an established soloist, began doing tryouts for vocalists shortly after the release of what would be his last solo album (at the time), Thousand Wave. Enter Inaba Koshi, then an aspiring amateur taking voice lessons and preparing to become a math teacher. Although I can’t vouch for the truth of this information, apparently Inaba silenced his dream of teaching when he discovered he would have had to cut his hair.
Inaba tried out, and the two immediately bonded and agreed to start a duo, which became B’z. Kind of a funny beginning for the top selling, most renowned, internationally famous band in Japan ever.
Where Visual Kei was digging its roots deep in the music scene, it seems only a few musicians were exploring pop and classic rock (think Yutaka Ozaki of great national fame)– at least only a few were doing it with any lasting style (Japan was about as cool as anywhere else in the 80s, perhaps even slightly more awkward because of its intense cultural transitions that had taken place, so it’s pretty amazing that we’re still listening to their 80s, 90s and Today so to speak). B’z came in, with Matsumoto’s monstrous guitars and Inaba’s high, strong vocals and powerful wails, and paved the way for Japanese classic rock and pop as we know it.
On September 21st, 1988, B’z debuted with the album B’z and the single Dakara Sono Te o Hanashite.
They debuted in a time where most Japanese bands believed it was necessary to perform live immediately after releasing an album. However, B’z had figured out their game plan, and did not perform immediately after the release of B’z. Instead they waited it out, making more music, refining their style and quality, and creating enough material that they could perform, and perform well, for at least 90 minutes.
This campaign resulted in another full-length album: OFF THE LOCK, released May 21st, 1989. After the release of LOCK, they decided to tour. Thus began LIVE-GYM, kicking off in Nagoya, infecting Osaka,and looping back up to Tokyo to completely overwhelm Eastern Japan with the need to listen to B’z.You have to remember that, at this time, awkward shoulder-pads were popular.
I could go on for page after page listing their chronology, year to year, month to month. But I won’t. Now that you have an idea of how they came to be, let’s address who they are and where they stand in the music scene.
At the beginning, B’z was very contemporary in sound, relative to their musical peers such as T-Bolan. However, they quickly started to discover their own influences and inspiration, and their music took form in a way that hasn’t been seen much elsewhere in Jrock. B’z is a classic western-style rock band. Tak Matsumoto has refined the long-haired, leather-jacketed, Levi-jeans of the a-typical American rocker to that point that even the western rockers look less “rock-star” than Matsumoto.
And it doesn’t stop at face-value. B’z definitely pulls their musical influence from Western rock. All the great bands from way back when, the ones that were melodic and beautiful, while paving the way for American rock (which no longer holds any claim to these adjectives). Perhaps part of their appeal to the Japanese is their Japanese-ness paired with their Western influences. Often when I have my playlist on shuffle and a B’z song comes on, I sit for the first 30 seconds trying to figure out which Western (albeit cool) music somehow infiltrated my impressive defenses, and then Inaba starts singing, and all order returns to the world.
Their music is a huge slew of whatever they so happen to want to play, mostly sticking to rock and pop, without ever leaning over to the heavy side too much. Their music is usually upbeat and fun, with some upbeat danceable stuff (Bad Communication getting a good poke here), a little orchestral-rock (Love Phantom), and with their ’07 release Action, some fantastic straight-up rock.
I have to say, considering what they’ve done for the Japanese rock scene and Japanese music fame in general, it really gives me a bad itch whenever someone presenting Jrock doesn’t even give them mention.
Despite having such an intensely strong run as B’z, both the honorable gentlemen have made time for solo endeavors. Matsumoto has worked with a wide range of different artists from around the world, both on their projects and his own. Meanwhile, Inaba embarked on his own solo work, utilizing skills not only in singing and composition, but also in a variety of instruments including guitar. As a solo artist, Inaba released 3 singles, 3 albums, and collaborated with several western artists on their projects. Matsumoto has released 11 albums and 4 singles under his name.
To throw a bit of trivia at you: Steve Vai personally invited B’z to put their hand-prints in Hollywood’s RockWall–the first artists from Asia to do so. Their discography includes 41 consecutive #1 singles, 23 #1 albums, and they have sold more than 77 million records in Japan ALONE!
The guys are still going as strong as ever. In 2009 they released two singles (Ichibu to Zenbu/DIVE, and My Loney Town), and the full-length album MAGIC. In early ’10 they hit up Japan with an impressive arena tour around major cities. And in Summer ’10 they will split up briefly to work on solo projects, Inaba with a solo tour and Matsumoto to tour Japan with American jazz guitarist Larry Carlton, they will release an album in June 2010, entitled Take Your Pick.
Official Website (English, Japanese)
House of Strings Official Website [Matsumoto’s solo project] (Japanese)