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Noteworthy Recordings

Overseas Ventures: Great Guitar Groups of Europe and Japan

America's Ventures are certainly rock and roll's best-known and most enduring instrumental group, but plenty of other countries produced killer 2-guitar/bass/drums combos.

England's The Shadows leap to mind, with an amazing string of singles and EPs that now command eye-popping prices in good condition. Fortunately, Scamp Records did us all a favor by releasing a terrific collection of these on the 1997 CD, Shadows are Go!. Legendary producer Joe Meek brought the Tornadoes to international fame in 1961 with "Telstar," but the sax/guitar combo, the Flee-Rekkers deserves not to be forgotten.

Sweden's the Spotnicks are not far behind the Ventures in the longevity department, staying together behind leader Bo Winberg for over thirty years, playing a wonderful "spacy" guitar sound.

Finland has spawned some of the best guitar combos, starting in the 1960s with the Sounds, who had the honor of having their original hit, "Mandschurian [Manchurian] Beat," covered by the Ventures themselves. Led by Johnny Liebkind, the Sounds had a wonderful power pop kind of sound that well deserves a rediscovery. More elusive are the Quiets, who I've only heard on an obscure Japanese compilation, but whose atmospheric covers of "From Russia with Love" and "In a Persian Market" have led me to years of (so far) fruitless searching. And in the 1990s, Finland gave us the awesome Laika and the Cosmonauts, who were as good at reinventing tunes such as Mancini's "Experiment in Terror" as they were at writing originals such as "Six Seconds in Dallas."

Belgium's the Cousins, led by brothers Andre and Guido Vander Meerschout, had an international hit with "Kili-Watch," which was similar to the Shadows' "Apache" (covered with much greater success by Jorgen Ingmann): a rocked-up version of an ersatz American Indian melody. Several years later, Jos Clauwers and Ronny Sigo formed the Jokers (released in the U.S. as the Fabulous Jokers), and turned out some blistering speed trial versions of standards such as "Caravan" and "Humoresque," as well appealing originals such as "Diamond Strings." The Jokers released one album here in the U.S., on Monument.

The Netherlands had a fascinating subculture of emigre Indonesians who hit the instrumental rock scene in the early 1960s and constituted the "Indo-Rock" movement, with groups like the Tielman Brothers, and the Javalins.

Australia's the Atlantics were probably that continent's first successful rock and roll export, placing a few surf guitar singles on charts in other countries in the early 1960s.

And this survey wouldn't be worth its electrons without a mention of the phenomenal Japanese guitar slinger, Takeshi Terauchi and his Blue Jeans, who could rip off a frenzy-fingered cover of U.S. instrumentals, but whose best work was his surf-guitar adaptations of Japanese folk melodies. Terauchi was one of a number of Japanese "Ereki Gitaa" groups inspired directly by the Ventures.

A sampling of some of these global guitar groups can be found on Guitar Moods, an album of mysterious origin available from Jack Diamond Music.

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