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Entertainment

Floods of childhood

BLITZ REVIEW - Juaniyo Arcellana - The Philippine Star
Floods of childhood
From left: Wally Gonzalez, Mike Hanopol and Pepe Smith as the Juan dela Cruz band during the cover photo shoot for Kahit Anong Mangyari, their last studio album of all-original songs.
Photo from the band’s Facebook page

Who knows when I first heard Wally Gonzalez’s guitar whose blues were like no other, must have been in high school when playing a guitar was sort of a status symbol during the martial law years, a peace weapon.

Most likely on the radio, strange sounds of a nascent Pinoy rock and images of water, Rak en Rol sa Ulan, and travel around the country, Mamasyal sa Pilipinas. Pupunta ako sa Baguio para magpalamig ng ulo, its stop and go chords echoing the Blues Breakers and Cream but with, get this, Pinoy lyrics, a ready soundtrack for the tourism department if not for a stowaway (istokwa, back in the day) going for the heady smell of pine. Di bale marami naman akong dalang gamot, never mind if you always get caught in the rain, something to roll in cigarette paper was within reach, the hallucinogens of adolescence.

Then there was Himig Natin, where as the story goes, Pepe Smith had scribbled the lyrics while waiting in a comfort room at the Luneta just before a gig, and the rest, as they say, is history and the long lyrical guitar solo toward fadeout, you never knew if it was an altogether separate section of the song itself though it could well have been, sa langit ng pagasa.

Hearing that guitar live must have been at the old UP Theater before it was torn down, wasak, though the T-shirt waving young crowd were already that — wasak — as the Juan dela Cruz Band (JdlC) teared into one song after another, including some new ones written by bassist Mike Hanopol, like Kagatan. That night of rock and roll turned into the album Super Session, overall sound a bit muddy given the analogue times, but with the digital advances lately we might now hear Gonzalez’s guitar lines snake through proceedings waiting to pounce on our stoned selves.

Gonzalez was the only original member from Juan dela Cruz’s first iteration that included drummer Edmund Fortuno a.k.a. Bosyo, also since kicked the drum kit. The first album Up in Arms had a cover version of Leon Russel’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which could well capture the experience of an overseas Filipino band member in Japan, where local musicians were the best export even before the term Japayuki was coined.

It was, however, the band’s third album Maskara that hit the spot, many of the songs or samples becoming part of the cultural canon of advertising jingles, slogans, segues in films and their respective denouements: beep, beep, balong malalim, the title cut where years later as backdrop, the character of Joel Torre would gun down his wife’s lover in On the Job. Jeepney drivers were king of the road but had to line up for merienda. Balong malalim was the deep well between the third and fourth pavilions of UP High School where kids washed up after Practical Arts class, before it was demolished to make way for the Town Center, akala mo’y bangaw. A big fly for your thoughts.

And so Wally Gonzalez passed away one early morning in July amid the nine-day rains in the metropolis, and we remember the Juan dela Cruz reunion gig sometime in late ‘90s at the World Trade Center off Buendia, full of sustain and reverb and the blues being blues, carried with it a flood of familiar faces from a lost childhood surfacing like jetsam and flotsam, the long journey to fadeout and the guitar speaking, what’s a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?

Nadapa sa Arina, relistening to it now, was ahead of its time with its spoken word overlaid with conventional vocals as if coming from a distance, but we didn’t know what to make of it then, of course.

Gonzalez’s guitar was the musical peg, whose riffs drove the songs forward, while Hanopol’s bass provided solid anchor, and Smith was the face of the band whose drums and rhythm guitar could ad-lib for all their worth, from nine-day rains to summer winds.

When JdlC split up for a while toward the late ‘70s and Gonzalez and other members opted to go solo, his album On the Road was released containing what remains the definitive instrumental guitar track of our generation, Wally’s Blues, surely right up there along with Jeff Beck’s Definitely Maybe and Cause we’ve Ended as Lovers, and Eric Johnson’s Cliffs of Dover. No one had to say a word because the guitar did all the talking.

In the old Jingle magazine the reclusive writer Pancho Lapuz interviewed Gonzalez and his brother Dodie, the piece titled Nakapako sa Hangin. Reading it was like being nailed to the wind, two or three minds understanding music and its power, doesn’t matter if one was a song and dance man as long it helped put the kids through college.

And so Gonzalez passed away one early morning in July amid the nine-day rains in the metropolis, and we remember the Juan dela Cruz reunion gig sometime in late ‘90s at the World Trade Center off Buendia, full of sustain and reverb and the blues being blues, carried with it a flood of familiar faces from a lost childhood surfacing like jetsam and flotsam, the long journey to fadeout and the guitar speaking, what’s a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?

JUAN DELA CRUZ PINOY ROCK WALLY GONZALEZ
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