Off Course

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Mixing Simon & Garfunkel's acoustic influence with traditional harmonies, Off Course were among the founding fathers of Japanese folk-rock. The band enjoyed a 25-year career run until finally dissolving…
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Mixing Simon & Garfunkel's acoustic influence with traditional harmonies, Off Course were among the founding fathers of Japanese folk-rock. The band enjoyed a 25-year career run until finally dissolving in 1989, but its influence is still felt in later acts such as Yuzu or Kobukuro.

The group was formed in 1964 by a bunch of high schoolers including keyboardist Kazumasa Oda and guitarist Yashiro Suzuki who teamed up to play at a local festival. They continued to play together on holidays, and appeared at festivals in the following years even though Oda and Suzuki were both in college; nevertheless, the two won runner-up at a Yamaha Light Music Contest contest in 1969. Inspired, the band made it to the finals of LMC Nationwide Grand Prix Competition the same year, and even though they ended up in second place again, they got a recording contract with Toshiba EMI. The group debuted in 1970 with the single "Gunshou no Naka De" released under the name the Off Course derived from "of course" with another "f" added). It didn't ignite the charts, and the band spent the next couple of years straightening things up: bassist Michio Jimeshi quit in 1972, and was replaced by Kazuyuki Kobayashi, who stuck around for only a year, Kouji Yoshida joined as a backup vocalist, and the moniker was shortened to "Off Course." The band debuted live in 1972, and had their first LP, Off Course 1: Boku no Okurimono, released in 1973. They released five more albums in 1974-1978 (recording with Janet's drummer Jiro Ooma since 1976), and eventually cracked the Top 20 with the album Fairway (1978) and the single "Sayonara" (1979), which charted at number two. In 1979, Kazuhiko Matsuo (guitar, harmonica) and Hitoshi Shimizu (bass) were added to the lineup. The success of "Sayonara" finally allowed Off Course to break through to the big time: they had two more Top Ten singles in 1980-1981, and We Are (1980), their eighth album, was the band's first full-length to top the Oricon cahrts, followed by three more in the next two years. The group even played in L.A., and Japanese TV featured them in documentaries. In 1980, Oda, Suzuki, and Ooma also produced albums by other artists (Oda worked with Iruka).

However, rumors of the band's breakup began to circulate in 1982. After a Budokan show, Off Course announced a hiatus of their live activities, and Suzuki left in 1983 to start a solo career, but the band, which switched to the Funhouse label, continued to record and had another number one release with The Best Year of My Life. In 1985, Off Course made another foray into America, recording the"English" album Back Streets of Tokyo, which had no impact on the Western charts, but topped the Oricon. The band also played at Live Aid. In 1986, Matsuo released his first solo record, and Oda and Shimizu followed suit; the band held together for a couple more years and put out two more albums, but threw in the towel in 1989 after a gig at the Tokyo Dome. Since then, the label released half-a-dozen compilations of their music, and in 1999, Matsuo, Shimizu, and Ooma established the Acoustic Beatles Club, but the members stubbornly resisted all suggestions of an Off Course reunion.