Libre: Juan de la Cruz

Seriously Now

JINGLE Magazine was primarily a chordbook that taught youths in the ‘70s how to play the guitar. It was also an outlet of activism with articles written by progressive writers, and a promoter of local artists and bands. I had a copy of every issue, but sadly, I lost all of them when fire destroyed our house on F. Ramos St. early in the ‘80s. It could have served as a good reference for this piece.

The passing of Pinoy Rock icon Joey “Pepe” Smith brought back memories of those amazing times when Filipino music was evolving. Villar Records was the biggest record distributor, and signed up artists like Cebu’s Odds & Ends, Boy Camara and Jun Polistico, among others. Odds & Ends consisting of Alex Lim, Gabe Escaño and Ralph Ding had gone mainstream, singing their original English songs on television and played at times on radio. It was during this time that Jingle started writing about Odds & Ends, Boy Camara & Afterbirth and emerging groups, such as Circus, Balahibo, Sangkatutak, Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society, Hotdog and a rock group called Juan de la Cruz with its album “Up in Arms,” but nobody really played the latter’s songs on the radio except maybe Ramon Jacinto’s dzRJ in Manila.

Vicor, the recording company that produced bakya songs, signed up, under its sub-label Sunshine Records, Circus, Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society and Juan de la Cruz. Villar, for their part, had added Hotdog and New Minstrels. Martial Law was declared. Jingle was forced by the government to mellow down and change its name to Twinkle. Many radio stations were closed. Those that remained open had to play every hour the Bagong Lipunan Hymn. Juan de la Cruz (consisting of Wally Gonzales, Mike Hanopol and Pepe Smith) released their song “Himig Natin.” It seemed harmless to Marcos as its nationalistic theme jived with his New Society goals.

In Cebu, the only disc jockey who played Juan de la Cruz was Lil’ Abner (Bacullo) who manned a Sunday evening program at dyNC-AM.

Juan de la Cruz was revolutionary. Other than “Himig Natin,” there was “Rock & Roll sa Ulan” and “Mamasyal sa Pilipinas” that redefined Filipino music. Their follow-up album, “Maskara,” had more Tagalog songs, including “Balong Malalim” and “Beep Beep.” Of the three members of Juan de la Cruz, Mike Hanopol had a successful solo career starting with “Laki sa Layaw,” but for a time, he sold his rock and roll soul by writing disco tunes for Hagibis. Wally Gonzales produced the timeless guitar anthem “Wally’s Blues.”

Pepe Smith had solo attempts, but these never equaled his efforts in Juan de la Cruz. But what made him iconic was his lifestyle. He was a rocker through and through. He lived on the edge. He didn’t compromise his music.

Farewell, Pepe Smith. Rak En Rol sa Langit.


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