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The ’90s: A music memoir (3)

In 1994, Pepe Smith was freed from prison. The Pinoy Rock pioneer had spent 17 months locked up in the Quezon City Jail on drug charges, and probably would’ve rotted there — were it not for lawyer Wijohn Reyes, who volunteered his services pro bono and succeeded in having Smith acquitted.

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Around 1988, while editing Jingle Chordbook Magazine with James Saspa and freelancing for the broadsheets, I got word from then Champ sports magazine editorial assistant and Jingle contributor Lav Diaz about a bar on España Boulevard in Manila, right across the University of Santo Tomas (UST), that featured live music.

Mayric’s, it was called, from the names of the owners’ daughter May and son Eric. On weekdays, the place was an eatery in the morning and a bar at night, with musicians playing mostly folk-rock.

On weekends it burst with life from the music of Cocojam and The Jerks.

In 1994, Pepe Smith was freed from prison. The Pinoy Rock pioneer had spent 17 months locked up in the Quezon City Jail on drug charges and probably would’ve rotted there — were it not for lawyer Wijohn Reyes, who volunteered his services pro bono and succeeded in having Smith acquitted.

Cocojam was a reggae band with a religious-like devotion to Bob Marley songs, but it also boasted original compositions including “Lakambini,” “Ulap,” “Batang Maynila” and “Pagbabago.”

Initially composed of Rolly Maligad on vocals and guitar; Doray Castillo, bass; Ike Bernardino (keyboards), Girlie Bernardino and Irma Tengasantos (backup vocals); and Nowie Favila (drums), the band was a hit with the crowd that was packed cheek-by-jowl in a cramped joint.

Cocojam got so popular, it also drew the likes of Jun Lopito, Rico Velez, Edmond Fortuno and Noli Aurillo to join the band.

Watching Aurillo for the first time as a sideman of Pepe Smith at a 4 July gig in 1986 at the courtyard of Loloy Fuentebella’s Le Bistrot Hippopotamus in Malate, I was transfixed at the distinct, unorthodox manner he manipulated his guitar.

When Aurillo became Cocojam’s lead guitarist, the band sounded more vibrant and dynamic.

Reggae band Cocojam was the Saturday night attraction at Mayric’s during the late 80s and 90s.

The Jerks, meanwhile, rocked Mayric’s with a hot repertoire of Joe Jackson, The Clash, The Police, Talking Heads, Doors and, whenever original member Lopito was around, lots of Rolling Stones.

When the ’90s began, The Jerks’ lineup consisted of Chickoy Pura on vocals and guitar; Nitoy Adriano, lead guitar; Angelo Villegas, bass; and Flor Mendoza, drums. By this time, Pura was starting to write songs after joining workshops organized by Gary Granada.

The fruits of those workshops were “Reklamo Nang Reklamo,” “Sayaw sa Bubog,” “Haligi ng Maynila” and later, “Rage.”

In 1994, Pepe Smith was freed from prison. The Pinoy Rock pioneer had spent 17 months locked up in the Quezon City Jail on drug charges and probably would’ve rotted there were it not for lawyer Wijohn Reyes, who volunteered his services pro bono and succeeded in having Smith acquitted.

Cocojam bassist Doris Castillo and guitarist Helly Umali at Mayric’s.

Reyes was part of the group of University of the Philippines (UP) alumni that opened ’70s Bistro on Anonas Street in Project 2, Quezon City. A year earlier, co-owner Charlie Jayco, along with business partners Helen Reyes, and Renard Bartolome, called me to a meeting.

The Bistro was planning an ambitious marathon concert dubbed Bistro sa Amoranto: Tugtugan Pamorningan and Jayco said they wanted the Juan dela Cruz (JDLC) Band to be in the roster of performers.

Renard Bartolome, Dong Abay, Pepe Smith, Wijohn Reyes in 1994 at ’70s Bistro.

I was then a radio DJ at LA 105 and writing for the Philippine Daily Inquirer and other papers, so Jayco asked if I could help locate Smith. Wally Gonzalez couldn’t be found, but Mike Hanopol was back in Manila from the United States, so maybe, Jayco added, Hanopol and Smith — together with 31 other artists — were enough to fill the Amoranto Stadium.

The concert, held for 12 hours on 17 December 1993, was well-attended but Smith couldn’t make it since his trial wasn’t over yet.

But he did get to perform with Hanopol in another ’70s Bistro production at Rizal Park’s Quirino Grandstand.

When he walked from prison, the first place he visited was the ’70s Bistro. For a year, I served as his manager with Arthur “Judge Dredd” Pimentel.

We booked Smith at Club Dredd, which had moved from Timog to Cubao. He needed a crack team for his band. So we hired drummer Harley Alarcon (Dead Ends, Rizal Underground) bassist Johnny Besa (The Breed) and Smith’s longtime buddy, guitarist Lopito, to back up the then 47-year-old rock star.

Some 300 people showed up and paid P100 each to see Smith perform a set list of Stones, Doors and JDLC classics. The deal was, Smith and the band get all the entrance fees, which amounted to P30,000.

Smith was tired but happy. “I’m free!” he blurted when the band played the last note of “Himig Natin.”

At 4 a.m. we were still talking about the gig while having breakfast at Chowking in Cubao.

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