If one discounts the pioneering but still largely formative contributions of early-‘70s proto-metal forces like mega-stoners Speed, Glue & Shinki, acid-fueled anarchists Les Rallizes Denudes, and perhaps the country's greatest prog-psych-metal warlords, Flower Travellin' Band, then Bow Wow arguably bear the honor of being Japan's first bona fide heavy metal band — even if, by modern conventions, hard rock might seem a more appropriate label.
Founded in Tokyo in 1975 and already bound for the recording studio the very next year, ready to capture their eponymous debut, vocalist/guitarist Mitsuhiro Saito, lead guitarist Kyoji Yamamoto, bassist Kenji Sano, and drummer Toshihiro Niimi showed a remarkable talent for absorbing the Western trends established by everyone from Deep Purple to Judas Priest to Foghat (!) into a potent heavy rock sushi platter spiced with boogie rock wasabi of their very own. Furthermore, with Yamamoto's guitar heroics leading the way (he was already employing some of the finger-tapping techniques Eddie Van Halen would only popularize years later), Bow Wow soon proved to be as prolific as they were precocious, churning out a string of high-quality albums over the next few years — including Signal Fire and Charge (1977), Super Live (1978), and, to a lesser degree, Guarantee (1978) — that transformed them into minor-league idols in their homeland, if nowhere else. Indeed, for a band whose first public appearance had been comprised of a poorly attended stunt performing an impromptu gig on a flatbed truck, Bow Wow were soon being handpicked to open for both Kiss and Aerosmith, and their considerable domestic success was duly commemorated on a 1979 greatest-hits set (entitled simply The Bow Wow), which saw them closing out the decade as Japan's most venerable hard rockers.
Unfortunately, just as commercial tides were rising to meet hard rock and metal on their own terms across the globe, Bow Wow themselves were slowly headed in the opposite direction, as evidenced by an increasing number of softer pop experiments found on the aforementioned Guarantee and the two studio albums they crammed into 1980 (Glorious Road in February, Telephone in September), along with an anime movie soundtrack (X Bomber Suite) and Yamamoto's solo debut, Horizons. But Bow Wow came back to their senses somewhat on tougher follow-up efforts Hard Dog (1981) and Asian Volcano and Warning from Stardust (both 1982), which earned the band invitations to perform at that year's Montreux Jazz and Reading festivals (on a bill also featuring Iron Maiden, Budgie, and others). These long-awaited opportunities to perform before mostly supportive Western audiences opened the bandmembers' eyes to a career beyond the Land of the Rising Sun and, after parting ways with founding frontman Mitsuhiro Saito (who was replaced by singer Genki Hitomi), they went as far as changing their name to Vow Wow, to avoid confusion with British new wave act Bow Wow Wow.
The ensuing Vow Wow era — which ran from 1986 to 1990 and boasted a typically fertile release schedule including studio albums Beat of Metal Motion (1984), Cyclone (1985), III (1986), Vow Wow V (1987), Helter Skelter (1989), and Mountain Top (1990), as well as a smattering of EPs, singles, live, and compilation releases — didn't sit well with many hardcore Bow Wow fans, then or now. Not only did Vow Wow recruit a full-time keyboard player in Rei Atsumi to aid them in perfecting that ultra-clean and over-produced ‘80s pop-metal sound, thereby disfiguring the unique qualities of their original multifaceted sound, but the decision to relocate to the U.K. in 1986 rudely divorced the band from its Japanese fan base and forced the exit of longtime bassist and key songwriter Kenji Sano, who was supplanted the following year by Scottish-born journeyman Neil Murray (Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, etc.), curiously enough. But as things turned out, none of these moves panned out as expected and the band barely dented the American market (where most Vow Wow albums never even gained an official release, leaving them eating the dust kicked up by former disciples Loudness) before deciding to head back home to Japan and apparent retirement.
Not surprisingly, though, it wasn't long before guitar hero Kyoji Yamamoto (who had lost none of his groundbreaking virtuosity through the years) and drummer Eiji Mitsuzono decided to resurrect the Bow Wow name, rounding out a new lineup with vocalist Tetsuya Horie, second guitarist Hiroshi Yaegashi, and bassist Shoutarou Mitsuzono before recording 1995's confusingly named comeback LP, Bow Wow #1, and its immediate follow-up, 1996's Led by the Sun (Bow Wow #2). Both of these ultimately proved to be mere warm-up exercises, however, for the surprising full-fledged rebirth of the original Bow Wow quartet of Saito, Yamamoto, Sano, and Niimi for 1999's triumphant Live Explosion album, which was captured during a limited run of celebrated reunion concerts before their loyal Japanese fans. Then, although Sano declined to carry on, the remaining trio resumed its productive recording schedule under the Bow Wow banner via albums like Ancient Dreams (1999), Hero (2000), Beyond (2000), Another Place (2001), What's Going On? (2002), and Era (2005), extending well into the new millennium and giving the band's storied career yet another a new lease on life.