If there is one man who many consider as personification of Pinoy rock ’n’ roll, it is no other than the late Pepe Smith.
The founding member of Juan dela Cruz band has always been a star – one who never went quietly into the night even at age 71.
Friends, fans, and his colleagues mourn Pepe’s passing on Monday, Jan. 28. The devastating news was confirmed by his daughter, Daisy Smith-Owen, via Facebook post.
“Thank you for everything papa bear ko. Thank you for being the best dad in the world. I know you’re in the best place now, no more pains papa. I will see you in a few days. I love you to the moon and back,” she wrote.
No further statements, including the cause of his death, have been given as of this writing.
Here, Bulletin Entertainment looks back on Pepe’s personal life, musical journey and significant contributions that help shaped the industry.
Behind the mic
Pepe’s real name is Joseph William Feliciano Smith. He was born on Dec. 25, 1947 to Edgar William Smith, a US serviceman, and Conchita Feliciano, a native of Angeles, Pampanga, where Clark Air Force base was located at the time.
He spent his first years in Angeles, often visiting the airbase, where his father would take him to the flight line to watch the US military aircraft take off and land. That led him to his fascination of collecting toy planes. His childhood dream was to become a pilot.
Despite having an American father, he had never set foot in the USA.
Several articles claimed that when he was eight years old, Pepe’s parents separated. His mother died from hepatitis. He and his younger brother Raymond went to live with their grandmother, Concordia Go, in Kamuning, Quezon City.
Pepe was married four times, and had been associated with younger companions numerous times.
He has five children. His eldest, Queenie, born 1976, also a rock singer, is the daughter of noted artist Agnes Arellano. She is followed by former MYX VJ Sanya Smith, born 1985, Beebop, born 1989, Desiderata, born 1991 and Delta, born 1992.
Pepe’s passion for anything related to music started at a young age.
He learned to play the drums at age nine. Two years later, he had his first band composed of friends from the Kamuning district. It was first called The Blue Jazzers, later The Villains, then The Surfers.
They spent six months in Vietnam in the early ’60s during the war. His band was contacted to play for the American solder.
Later on, he became a rock sensation in Manila as the drummer and lead vocal of the Downbeats band. He earned the moniker “Mick Jagger of the Philippines,” after some fans and supporters likened his performances to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.
The Downbeats, managed by the Reyes clan of Pasig, appeared in contemporary TV specials and movies. The group, along with Eddie Reyes were two of the very few Filipino performers who did opening acts during the July 4, 1966 historic and “controversial” concert of the Beatles in the Philippines.
They performed “Get Off Of My Cloud,” originally by The Rolling Stones. The Downbeats was said to be the highest paid international band in Hong Kong during their time.
Pepe then played drums and sang for the Japanese rock trio, Speed, Glue and Shinki.
In December 1970, he joined the seminal Pinoy rock group Juan dela Cruz Band along with Wally Gonzales (guitar) and Mike Hanopol (bass).
The band’s name is a Filipino term for “everyman” similar to “Joe Blow” in the USA. It became a quartet a few years later with the addition of Edmon “Bosyo” Fortuno, on drums, when Pepe decided to play guitar instead.
Their first gig was at the 1970 Antipolo Rock Music Festival, an open-field concert similar to Woodstock, attended by thousands.
The first album of Juan Dela Cruz band is “Up In Arms” which was released in 1972. All songs in the album were in English.
It was not until the following year that “Ang Himig Natin (Our Sound)” started the Filipino rock revolution. Pepe composed the song in 20 minutes while inside a comfort room.
The band eventually became superstars in the own rights. Their hits “Beep Beep,” “Balong Malalim,” “Titser’s Enemy No. 1,” “No Touch,” and “Kahit Anong Mangyari,” was deemed as Filipino anthems.
In past interviews, Pepe said he would like to believe that his songs were his biggest legacy.
The band went on hiatus sometime in 1976.
Pepe decided to form his own band The Airwaves. Along with him were Jun Lopito (guitar), Gary Perez, formerly of Sampaguita (guitar), Gil Cruz (bass) and close friend Edmon (drums).
Juan dela Cruz band had a reunion concert in 1998.
Seven years after that, Pepe released his first solo album “Idiosyncrasies” under Alpha Records. The 14-track album was said to be three-years in the making, with recording project starting in 2002. It was released simultaneously with the Juan dela Cruz three-CD collection from rival label, Vicor Records.
After the members of Juan dela Cruz band went on different paths, Pepe ventured into acting, playing a comedic role on an ABS-CBN sitcom.
In 2006, multi-awarded journalist Howie Severino produced the most complete documentary of his life. Entitled “Pepe’s Myth,” the raw footage consisted of several days of interviews with him, his friends and family.
The late rock icon played as one of the two main characters in the 2014 movie “Above The Clouds” directed by Pepe Diokno, which also used some of his songs.
Controversies and accident
Although “Himig Natin” and many others of the Juan dela Cruz songs have become rock anthems in the Philippines, none of the group members profited from the recordings, as alleged in several reports.
In 1992, Pepe was jailed for 19 months for alleged drug trafficking. His constant jail visitor in the Quezon City Jail was Apa Ongpin, who, with Pepito Bosch and other friends, mounted a legal defence for him. He was eventually released for lack of evidence.
In 1994, he survived a car accident that damaged his signature jaw and put him out of action for some months.
The musician suffered a stroke in November 2017, his third that year. He also underwent an eye operation.
It resulted in a speech impediment and also affected his singing. He was quoted in several interviews as having contemplated retirement since then.
As soon as news about Pepe’s death broke out, industry colleagues paid tribute to the rock icon via social media posts.
Robin Padilla reposted Daisy’s message to her father.
The Dawn lead singer Jett Pangan wrote: “I read the feed today, oh boy… RIP Pepe Smith.”
Singer and songwriter Nicole Asensio wrote on Instagram: “Paalam Tito Pepe Smith ….. The KING of Pinoy Rock. Thank you for being really nice to me always…. for being genuine… for giving advice and for encouraging me to sing… for always showing concern for my dad and my family’s well being… Thank you for the music, Thank you for the good vibes. Thank you for paving the way for the rest of us “misfits” who just wanna rock n make people feel. You’re a legend.”
Gary Valenciano posted: “The Philippine music scene would’ve never been the same without you in it. I salute and thank you sir Pepe Smith. You rocked our world.”
Eraserhead Marcus Adoro meanwhile took to his Instagram Stories and thanked Pepe for all the things he learned.
“He’s a rollin’ stone.He’s a man-child. He’s Pepe Smith,” Marc Abaya wrote.
Sandwich’s Raimund Marasigan said: “You are maximum rock n roll… tenkyu piyaps…we’ll do our best to keep it burning.”
“Another OPM legend bites the dust. With deep sadness, I say Farewell Pepe Smith. Gentle travels,” Jim Paredes tweeted.
Singer and photographer Niña Sandejas wrote on Facebook: “Pepe Smith and I spamming photobooths at a mac store with our faces. Glad I emailed this to myself back then. This was always my favorite photo, more than his portraits or performance shots through the years. Stop breaking our hearts universe! Enough already! Rakenrol in heaven Pepe Smith.”