RJ & the Gayots: Their legend lives on

Nenet Galang-Pereña - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Friday of December which would be Ramon Jacinto’s last performance for RJ Bistro was jampacked with gayots (from the Filipino word magayot, meaning hard, which my lola would always use for a fruit or vegetable which has seen better days) dancing to the hit parades spanning three decades: The ’60s, when RJ and the Riots lorded it over in the Philippine pop scene, and the ’70s, decade of the rowdy Calumpit Institute High School Batch of ’74, who blocked off his dance floor to celebrate their Ruby Jubilee.

RJ came in earlier than usual, sparkling in his red shirt with matching red shoes, his 69 years barely perceptible when he beamed his killer rock star smile. Towering over his fans, he gladly embraced them for photos and bantered with this writer, reminding her that he, too, is a Thomasian, having studied at the Pontifical University’s Faculty of Civil Law, but was cut short by the declaration of Martial Law. He finished his Bachelor of Arts major in Economics with distinction from Ateneo de Manila.

What is perplexingly inspiring with this national treasure of rock ’n roll is that unlike many musical geniuses, he was able to combine his art and his business empire. We remember with sadness the prodigy that was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and even Ludwig van Beethoven, who both died in penury because their temperaments got the better of their treasures. Michael Jackson, another genius, who is the same age as the gayots who surrounded RJ for their night of nostalgia, was also hounded with financial woes until an overdose ended all his pain.

“I  have always tried to put music and business together,” he confides. He started helping his family’s Iligan Steel mills at 15. When most boys his age were still playing trumpo and waiting for their mothers to call them home for meal time, he set up his first enterprise called RJ Enterprises, a company which dealt with producing and releasing records.

“RJ Enterprises pioneered multi-track recording in the country and eventually became the primary studio choice for many artists and advertising agencies at that time,” he explains.

Two years later, Jacinto made history by establishing what would become a legendary radio station in Philippine broadcasting industry — DZRJ. It served as a venue for on-air experiments of radio concepts which were never heard before in Philippine entertainment history. RJ tapped his high school classmates for this  radio station, which introduced alternative music to the Filipino youth. “It was the first station to play songs from rock legends such as the Beatles, the Ventures and the Beach Boys and gave air time to the music of local talent,” he adds.

DZRJ is the most palpable reminder of RJ’s daring destiny with politics. At the height of the People Power Revolution in late February 1986 that ousted the dictatorship, June Keithley and Fr. James Reuter, S.J. commandeered the DZRJ station, which they renamed Radyo Bandido. This was after the facilities and transmitter of Keithley’s home network, the church-owned Radio Veritas, were bombed by the Marcos-loyal Armed Forces of the Philippines. Radyo Bandido broadcasts opened with former President Ramon Magsaysay’s political jingle Mambo Magsaysay (composed by Raul Manglapus), because it was also the theme music of the disabled Radio Veritas. To honor the station’s key role in the 1986 Revolution, DZRJ AM was officially rebranded Radyo Bandido, and switched to a public service format. The music format revived on FM as RJ 100.3, then later, RJ Underground Radio 105.9 (now Retro 105.9 DCG FM), as well as their flagship TV network, RJTV 29 (2nd Avenue on cable).

The golden boys and girls who crowded around RJ remembered that they were robbed of their chance for a JS prom by the curfew imposed by PD 1081. Serendipity, that 40 years after their high school graduation, they were given the chance to enjoy a dinner-dance (fund raising for scholarship) with the Bandido guitar man, whose life, as theirs, was changed by Martial Law.

Martial Law would force RJ into exile overseas for 14 years. After the peaceful Philippine revolution borne of People Power, RJ returned to set up the RJ Bistro for live performances to help revive the night life in Manila. He also started a very successful guitar factory and a chain of stores — RJ Guitars.

At the time of the RJ Bistro’s birth (July 25, 1986), live bands had to go abroad to make a living and the night circuit in Manila depended on piano bars and discos. RJ decided to hire live bands to provide financial opportunities as well as to revive the night life in the Philippines through live music. RJ Bistro was renamed as The RJ Bar in 1991 in Arnaiz Ave. (formerly Pasay Rd.), but it was moved to Mandarin Oriental Manila Hotel in 1997, then it was brought again to Buendia Ave., and later in 2008, RJ Bar reverted to RJ Bistro again for a bigger venue in Jupiter St. It was then transferred to Dusit Hotel Manila, where it still features live bands seven days a week. Today, over 25 years later, RJ Bistro stands as a monument to its staying power, still drawing jam-packed crowds at the Dusit Thani Hotel, where RJ still performs every Friday night.

His monster hits Bulacan (which he dedicated to the boys and girls from the oldest pueblo of the province) and Bulldog sent the golden boys and girls, led by their batchmate who is now their town mayor, Dr. Jessie de Jesus, scampering to the dance floor — slipping and sliding, doing the jerk, twist, mash potatoes, boogie and cha-cha — but mostly the maskipaps (maski papano) where they sweated out the nostalgia of four decades as well as the heartbreaks of the years of struggles with the vicissitudes of life, poignantly penned by RJ in Sugat ng Puso.

The scars you left me

Every day I just try to hide them from


The tears of night come

I remember the joys and laughter with you

The last line is what C.I. Batch ’74 would like to remember more of their night with RJ, the joy and laughter of their high school years which they are immortalizing with the legend they have written, titled 40 Kwento sa 40 Taon, to be ready in the bookstores as their rock ’n roll idol turns diamond in 2015. With a book written by blood, sweat and tears, who says nobody lives forever?


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