I didn't even know that he was still alive," a friend commented
when I mentioned that I was to interview seminal Pinoy rock icon
Joey "Pepe" Smith.
Joey Smith has been breathing rock and roll for over 30 years.
A lot has been written about him and his legendary antics on and
off stage. He is Pinoy Rock embodied, they claim. They argue that
one need only to look at Pepe Smith's career to get a pulse of how
Pinoy Rock is doing at a certain point in time. Together with
Wally Gonzalez and Mike Hanopol, Smith gave birth to, under a
cloud of smoke, what is arguably the most successful Pinoy rock
band of the 70s, the Juan de la Cruz Band. If Pepe Smith is
getting gigs, then Pinoy rock is alright.
These days, skeptics are saying the band scene is dead. Pinoy
Rock is dead. Ever since the band explosion of 1994 which gave us
the Eraserheads, Wolfgang and Razorback, solo artists like Sharon
Cuneta, Jolina and Martin Nievera have crept back to the airwaves.
And yes, Pepe Smith seems to have disappeared from the rock scene
But there he was alive and in the flesh, on the day of our
interview. Joey Smith, crossing the street with a distinct strut
pausing in the middle of the road, waiting for vehicles to clear
past him. If Pepe Smith is Pinoy Rock, then it's not dead just
He extended his hand in greeting as I walked up to him. Face to
face with the man, Smith does tend to remind on of Iggy Pop or
Mick Jagger. The years of substance abuse and rock and roll living
has left its mark on Smith. His long dishevelled hair is streaked
with grays, and the lines on his face seem to make him appear more
than his 52 years. It seems that the palpable, youthful energy
emanating from him is the only glue which is keeping his fragile
frame together. In the process of setting up the interview, I
feared that he would show up druggged and incoherent -- in other
words, living up to the stories about him. The mirrored shades he
had on only fueled my anxiety.
A few teenagers, whose parents were probably just dating around
the time when Smith and the Juan de la Cruz came up with the Pinoy
rock anthem "Ang Himig Natin." walked passed us and smiled at Pepe
in recognition. Smith just nodded his head and waved in
acknowledgment. He informs me that he's playing a bit part in a
weekly sitcom -- although he hasn't received any new scripts of
late. "Maybe they don't want me back, I don't know," he said with
a shrug. A punk in a souped-up car (courtesy of daddy's money no
doubt) passes by. Pepe waves at the driver, points to his ear and
mouths the words "maingay."
When asked about how he feels being an icon of Pinoy rock he
gives a modest answer. "Deep inside me I'm happy, but I wasn't
expecting that. I'll still leave it up for grabs. I think I have
to work for it again."
Pepe was also wary of using his career to chart the ebb and
flow of Pinoy rock as some writers have done in the past. "I hope
they don't pin anything on me. They shouldn't expect me to carry
the flag. I always felt that new groups should be [responsible]
since they have the initiative and the management to do it," says
Pepe, with just a hint of bewilderment in his voice. "I am not one
to do this for them. But if they want me to do it, just give me
the keys and I'll open the door."
He laments at how some of the new bands don't take their craft
seriously. He recalls a band who invited him to play with them.
When he asked when they're going to practice, they replied
"Kailangan pa ba tayong mag-practice?" Pepe just shook his
I asked him what keeps him busy these days aside from the
sitcom. He still plays a gig here and there. He's currently with
an ensemble group of musicians, the Flaming Katols, comprised of
members from different bands. Pepe's no stranger to working with
other musicians. He went through a legion of bands before and
after the Juan de la Cruz band. Still, the gigs these days are few
and far between; yet despite his own admittance that he's no
actor, Pepe is having fun coming out in the weekly sitcom.
"Producers tend to ignore you," stating a fact without a hint
of bitterness. He recounts a story where the producers did not
include him because they heard that Pepe would not show up. He
challenged them to name a gig in which he didn't show up. "No act
of God could stop me from going there. As long as it's well
organized [I'll be there]."
The punk cruises by again. He revs his car a few times and then
slammed on the accelerator. "Get out of here!" Pepe yells after
him, brows furrowed.
He said he has no favorites among his creations. "I got tired
of them," he admits. I asked about "Ang Himig Natin" what he feels
whenever he's asked to play it in gigs. "Maybe it's your Himig,
man!" he laughs. He leaves it out of his playlist these days, but
organizers get pissed and pounce on him for not playing the
crowd-pleasers. "For me, I should really come up with a new
album," he says as a way of going around having to play his old
I ask him how he wants to be remembered:"Just a simple musician
who gave fans a few minutes to forget their problems," Pepe said
without skipping a beat. "Not as a good drummer or a good
guitarist or good songwriter?" I pressed. He said he knows there
are a lot of better musicians than himself. "Mas maraming magaling
sa akin. Nagkataon na ako yung sinuwerte," he said with a laugh."I
just hope things get better," he said.
There are only a few more moments with Pepe as he says he's on
his way to a taping of Sharon Cuneta's talk show. "Rock and roll!"
Pepe Smith said in lieu of "goodbye," and so we went on our
The punk drives by again, revving his machine like Shell didn't
raise prices. Pepe and I are forced to step aside. As the punk
passes us, Pepe flips him the finger. Rock and
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