Women. Bellbottoms. Singing in Tagalog? Looking back on the days of Manila Sound's radio and records with the Total Entertainer and Macho Gwapito, Rico J Puno.
Interviewed by Don Jaucian for our January/February 2013 music issue
Don Jaucian: What was
it like in the seventies?
Rico J Puno: The fashion muna. The most fashionable era was the 70s kasi we were conscious about how long or wide the bellbottoms would be. The hairstyle should be long, if not very long, “afro” naman.
Yung look ko, ethnic look. Afro-style. With the comb.
The music was more of what you feel inside. The 70s was the Martial Law era. Mostly the music that we created during the time, ako naman hindi, all love songs ako, what I do before, yung kasing mga foreign songs actually invaded the music industry in the Philippines, so you seldom heard yung mga local songs. More of mga foreign like Barry Manilow, Michael Jackson… more on soul, Temptations, Spinners.
That was the music before. Sa rock, ang music was all about: if you can see sunlight tomorrow, or what will happen if, or there should be freedom, and then may mga konting patama. Sa States naman kasi ganon si Bob Dylan. That was also because of the Cold War between US and Russia.
Music was evolves around that climate. They composed songs and the lyrics… actually talks about freedom, about suppression.
Don: How do you think
your songs figure out in that kind of…?
Rico J: ‘Yung sa akin hindi eh. Yung “The Way We Were,” it’s the type of song na parang nagre-reminisce ka about what you did, mag-syota kayo, what you did before, kung pa’no kayo mamasyal kung saan-saan, make the day very happy and fruitful without money, namamasyal kahit walang pera tapos “necking-necking” na lang diyan, so ‘yun, more of that. Sa akin kasi that was also the era of, talagang, ‘yung love song na instead of before, ngayon ‘yung rap diba may rap din kami nung araw pero nagsasalita ka lang talaga yung ‘hello baby,” yung ganon, “I love you I wanna make love to you” in the middle of the song or before the song.
“Baby” was the word before. ‘Pag sinabi mong “baby,” it talks about the woman or someone that you love.
I was so lucky lang na nung bago ako sa music scene nakapasok ako kaagad sa FM station. Because before yung ‘pag local ka, you cannot be played sa FM, bakya kasi ang dating noon. Ako when I started, with strings, yung “The Way We Were,” “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” may sentiment, so parang hindi siya bagay sa FM, noong una they thought, baka hindi magclick sa akin. But I was just so lucky.
Television was not the medium before, radio talaga. Pagka pinatugtog yung song ko sa radio ng maski na once sa favorite na program, halimbawa yung ‘Lundagin Mo Baby’, parang ano yan, TV Patrol ngayon ‘yon. Merong announcer doon, pag tinutugtog yung plaka mo doon, your song will be very popular right away. Your record is selling like hotcakes kasi ang uso pa noon ‘yung 45 RPM eh parang hotcakes yon. Dati, di pwede ang piracy kasi you really had to press the records.
Because of that, nung pumasok ako sa FM, all of a sudden, everybody wants to play my records. Minsan one week lang nakaka-20-50 thousand na ako. Ang gold record noon is 50-100 thousand. 100k is platinum, 200k is…biruin mo nakakapagbenta kami ng plakang ganon kadami? Today pag naka-5000 ka ang plaka lang non P3.75. ‘Di tulad ngayon, P300 plus.
Yung mga singers na medyo left behind, tulad nila Victor Wood, these were the people who exposed ‘payola’. Ang mga announcers kasi before 600 pesos a month lang or something but they earn a lot because of the payola. If you want your record to be played every hour, babayaran kita ng lump sum of money. They exposed that, pero product sila ng payola system. So lalong nagiging popular ‘yung music ko because I was the victim of that, akala nila ako ‘yung binabayaran ng payola, hindi sila. But after that, maski na walang payola, ang dami talagang gustong mag-play ng records ko.
Don: Do you think
nakatulong sayo yung nag-iinsert ka ng Tagalog lyrics in your English songs?
Rico J: Sobra! Well, napakahirap pumasok sa music scene dati kasi yung acceptance ng Filipino music was zero. Once you sing in Tagalog songs, you’re automatically considered as bakya. Jologs. What I did was to copy exactly how they sound and then I inject Tagalog in the middle.
I used to be a member of a band in the 70s, we played in Roxas Boulevard, na parang Tin Pan Alley ‘yan. Lahat ng clubs, the number one groups before talagang if you can sing songs as they sound exactly in the record then you’re up. That’s why noong mga panahon na ‘yon mayroong ‘Elvis Presley of the Philippines,” ‘Tom Jones of the Philippines’ kasi they sounded exactly like the original singers. So I joined a club, the only thing is I inserted Tagalog lines in the lyrics. I was the first one who did that. Minsan when I was a student nung ginagawa ko non, nagrecord na ako nun, nasa jeep ako nun tapos pinatugtog ‘yon. Pagka may Tagalog na, “wow, pwede pala ang local” sabi nila. But they cant see me kasi wala pang TV. 8 tracks pa sa jeep nun eh. Minsan may nagbibida sa mga kasama, “Nakita ko na yan, may polio yan eh.”
My songs became hits in three weeks. People went out of their way to buy records. Pumupunta talaga sila sa Raon, para kang nasa perya dun kasi iba yung sound dito, iba yung sound doon.
Ang sikat noon yung Circus band sina Hajji Alejandro, etc. They disbanded because going solo is okay kasi “Rico Puno is already doing it.”
Don: Doon din ba nagsimula ‘yung “making
jokes in between songs”?
Rico J: Oo. Ako kasi nasanay ako na ganon kasi I used to be a folk singer. ‘Yung kumakanta ka sa mga joints, peanut holes with a guitar. Dun ako nag-umpisa. Ako ata ‘yung unang stand-up na singer. And then dinala na yon hanggang ngayon. A little bit naughty kasi most of the people I entertained before, lasing na ‘yon so kailangan naughty mga sinasabi ko.
Para akong Pied Piper before kasi I not only sing, I crack jokes. Parang friendly ako lagi. Kaya wherever I perform, gustong gusto nila ako kasi I was being paid 50 and 75 pesos, that was the highest then. Ang normal lang 20-30 pesos. Ako pataaas ng pataas kasi everywhere I go marami talagang nanonood. May mga fans ako na detail men and women, mga nagbebenta ng mga gamot. ‘Yun ang “call center” dati. ‘Pag naging detail person ka, may car plan ka kaagad. So kung saan ako nagpe-perform, sampung tao lang, ten cars agad yung nasa harap.
Kung gwapo ako noon, mas gwapo ako ngayon.
Don: Do you think
you’re responsible for injecting a Filipino sensibility during that era?
Rico J: I would say yes kasi before if you’re Tagalog, hindi pwede. I talk the street language. When I went to college, all my friends became my managers. Pagka babagsak ‘yung isa, mga mababa grades namin, iniimbita namin yung professor namin, dadalhin namin sa mga bars tapos kakantahan ko. Maya-maya I will wreck the house down kasi I will sing “black” songs. Black naman itsura ko. More naman ng more pag kanta ko. Mga barkada ko kasi ginagatungan.
Ngayon din naman everywhere I go. That’s why late bloomer din ako sa TV shows. Kasi sabi ng colleagues ko ‘Yang si Rico Puno, bastos yan, hindi pwede sa TV” pero actually inaayon ko pa rin sa audience. Kasi yung music ng 70s before, yung Stylistics, if you will really listen to the lyrics, lahat ‘yon yarian eh. “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” yarian yun eh. “The time is right you hold me tight and love’s got me high please tell me yes and don’t say no.” Yarian yon eh! May mga narrations ‘yun. Ngayon rap, mas mabilis.
I didn’t join the freedom fighters mga ganyan, ‘yon kasi influenced by Woodstock. Ako kasi pang romantic lang talaga ako. That’s why most of my songs are all ballads.
Don: Pero you weren’t
bothered by the label na “bastos” ka na singer?
Rico J: Hindi, you have to see me before. Si Charo Santos nga eh, when we presented a show na gagawin namin, pinagtanggol pa ako: “In fairness to Rico, we gave him three shows but never nagkaroon ng kaso na nangbastos siya.” Mine is double meaning or suggestive.
Mas liberated, mas open. I’m for RH Bill pero yung condom di pwede sa akin ‘yon eh, hindi kasya eh. Maluwag ‘yon.
Don: Then you had an
image na macho gwapito or womanizer. Ganon ba talaga si "Rico J Puno"?
Rico J: Hindi, ano eh. Hindi naman ako “handsome,” cute lang ako. That was humorously said na instead na handsome, “macho gwapito” ka na lang.
Don: Was that song
based on your persona?
Rico J: I think so. The composer of that song, back-up singer ko ‘yon for such a long time. Kung ire-reality TV ako—ang pangit-pangit mo naman bakit ang daming nagkakagusto sayo? Eh kasi I’m friendly, especially with the ladies. Mas madali akong maka-jive with them.
Yung isa naman “Lupa,” “May Bukas Pa.” ‘Yun dapat isasali namin sa Metropop. Kaso noon wala pang cellphone so madaling sabihin na nag-flop ang show mo kasi wala naman nakakita.
Yung “May Bukas Pa,” I recorded that kasi I had to do a series of shows in the US sa Cow Palace. Ang ganda talaga nung having a TFC kasi very good ‘yon kasi they can act like they are still here. Dati kasi pag wala ‘yon taas noo pa ‘yon! “I’m in America, how about you?”
Kasi majority of the baby boomers noon, ‘yun pa ‘yung mga fans ko dati. Sila-sila na ngayon ang mga senior.
Don: Have you had a crazy
experience with a female fan?
Rico J: Nako, sobra ‘yon. Noong araw nanghihipo yung mga girls. Sumisigaw sila, parang ako ‘Shut up!” If you bring in a car, ‘wag mo dalhin kasi babagbagin nila. They just want to shout. Hindi katulad ngayon may konting finesse. ‘Yun, hihipuan ka, kung ano ano gagawin sayo. Minsan may magbabato pa ng panty sayo. Feeling gwapo ako when I sing. I sing sexy songs so sexy din ako kunwari. Naging [image ko na yun] na “ladies’ man.” Kasi I always talk about relationships, a woman’s life a man’s life.
Don: So mas
makakarelate ka talaga sa topic na yon?
Rico J: Oo, kasi there is nothing more exciting than talking about relationships and sex. Sa atin may konting hypocrisy pa. Right now they’re trying to introduce sex education pero dapat dati pa. Ako I just go around that thing. Taboo na topic, I can easily just say, “Ang laki ng suso mo” pero dati hindi mo magagawa ‘yan. Pero there are a lot of ways to say that thing. I’ve been in this business for 37 years so I guess the acceptance is already there na. Pagka may nao-offend may nagde-defend, sabi “O, why did you get him, you should have gotten a priest!”
Don: So for the past
thirty seven years, who would you say you have lived up to your title as a
Rico J: Alam mo kasi, pag i-introduce ka na “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Total Entertainer...” dun pa lang you have to prove that you have to make them totally happy. You have to be a versatile person and it takes a lot of intelligence. You have to know what’s going on, dapat in tune ka kasi kung hindi, ako I cannot just sing on stage. I will always talk. They wonder where I get my jokes… the things I say… I get it from the crowd, on the spot. I don’t have scripts. I talk about a lot of things. Recently PAGCOR gave me a national tour: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. I was banned in PAGCOR for almost 10 years. Napupuno naman siya agad ng maaga and pagsilip ko, halos mga kasing edad ko na, so I have to change my topics, instead of talking about love, I talk about arthritis, high cholesterol, ganyan. Kaya you always have to be in tune with the crowd. That’s why the songs, you don’t have to sing new ones. Kahit kumakanta ako ng mga bago, hinanahap pa rin nila yung mga songs that they’ve lived with, the songs nung nagkasyota sila, naging theme song nilang mag-asawa.