What I've Learned

Pepe Smith

Wisdom and damn good advice from one of the country’s legends of rock-n-roll.
IMAGE MM Yu
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This was originally published in our October 2015 issue. 

I was in Japan [when I wrote Himig Natin], I was in Tokyo, 1972. I was lucky enough, I was strumming the guitar one day, I chanced on the chords, then I said, “Hey, that’s a cool chord.” Then I kept on doing the chords. Then I had to come back here [Philippines]. I met up with Wally, and we did one of the first concerts we had here in Manila. It was even titled, “Ang Himig Natin The Concert,” down at the observatory, yung Luneta? So I was [dashed] on acid, and I was looking for a place to write that song. I had to come up with the lyrics because I didn’t have any lyrics yet. So I went around [but] I couldn’t find a decent place to write the lyrics, so I went to the men’s room. Walking out, I noticed the next door was the ladies room, and it was closed. There were nails and some planks, and so we were just pushing it and it opened. We went in there, a friend of mine had a camera and he was taking photos. And then I just wrote those lyrics. Then exactly after about 30 minutes, somebody was yelling, “Joey! Where are you? You’re about to go in 10-15 minutes.” So it was a good thing I wrote the lyrics on Marlboro packs. So I wrote it down there and just put it in front of my microphone. So we sang it the whole night and everybody liked that song.

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We were stage-warmers for The Beatles, front act. And recently, I surfed around and I found out we were the only band that played before they came out, anywhere, in all the gigs that they had. I checked... They had the sound system, bad, it was really [shot]. [You] couldn’t hear yourself and all that, and everybody was just screaming like mad, especially the girls when [The Beatles] came out. We went out to the front of the stage and I watched them, because they’re my favorites too—but of course, I liked the Stones better. And then, I just looked up at them, with my other members, and I told them “Pare, I don’t wanna play anymore.” Because The Beatles were so good, man. Just like uncut diamond, man.

"The greatest lesson I've learned from women? Well, don't stand them up. Don't make 'em wait. And you have to be home by 6 p.m."

[I only have one solo album] because Alpha Records never paid me a single cent. I entrusted my master CD to a friend when I went up to Baguio. I told him, “Hey, hang on to this until I come down. If you find anybody that’s interested in releasing it, give me a call,” because he doesn’t know anything about production. And then what happened was, when I went up to Baguio—I stayed there for about a good 10, 11 years—there was one time a friend called me up, he was like, “Hey Pepe, nice album that you’re putting out.” I was going, “Wait a minute, are you talking about the compilation? Is this something like The Greatest Hits of Juan dela Cruz?” He said, “No, no, it’s not a compilation! It’s all new songs, man.” I suddenly remembered and I was like, “Uh-oh...” [My friend] probably gave it to the wrong hands. After two months, the guy called me up—the one I entrusted my CD to; he told me he was gonna come up to Baguio and bring some contracts and explain everything to me. I said, “Yeah! Okay.” When he came up, he showed me about five different contracts. I told him, “Why would I sign this? It’s all one track, it all goes to you and the producers. Alpha Company, they were the ones who produced it.” He was like, “No, pare!” And I was like, “Okay, wait. Would you sign the contract [if you were me]? Will you sign it? Do you believe in it and all that?” It took him a long time and then he said, “No.”

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I was trying to put a higher standard for musicians. I told him to hang on to this, if ever anybody wants to release this and all that, you gotta ask for 1.5M, not like the usual 300k, this and that... I was pissed with that kind of system. I couldn’t do anything about it because everybody was in it. The Juan dela Cruz, that was the best offer that I’ve ever had... But this was the one that really mattered to me most and I don’t get anything! So I got pissed and sometimes I’d go onstage and announce to the audience, “Incidentally, my album’s out, from Alpha Company, it’s called Idiosyncrasies. I want you not to buy it. Don’t buy my album.” (laughs) I really felt bad about it and there were times when, like right now, I had this mental block. I couldn’t write songs anymore. Because you know, like, do I write songs and have this kind of deal again? I’m never gonna make it, financially. So I told myself, “Relax and just enjoy yourself.”

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What I learned from life on the road? Breathing. (laughs)

The greatest lesson I’ve learned from women? Well, don’t stand them up. Don’t make ‘em wait. And you have to be home by 6 p.m.

I’m stIll the same dude I was way back then. [Ang Himig Natin] never [changed me], because, like I said a while ago, everything is always the same. Except for nowadays, they’re getting it pretty easy, all these new bands coming out. They’re all spoiled living with all [the] technology that’s come out. Before, we had to work our asses off to come up with that kind of sound, not distorted, but really loud and clear. And nowadays, they’re trying to go back to that kind of recording. So... pretty much the same.

Play. Play again. It’s the only thing I know in my life. Without music, I’d be dead and gone. Without rock n’ roll, I’m finished.

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If I have to, I’ll come back here and do it again. And again and again.

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Erwin Romulo
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