What a month it has been for OPM as prominent artists bid their goodbyes for the last time.
In the first half of the January, guitarist Bob Aves and drummer Brian Velasco, class acts both, shocked those that knew and love them with their passing.
Aves started in the ’70s. He studied at the UP Conservatory of Music, then at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He was a legit guitar hero into fusing elements of jazz and rock in his playing style. Any guitarist worth his salt would know that adding the word “fusion” into your credentials is not to be taken lightly. One better has the music knowledge and chops to back up the claim. Aves, well, he had those in abundance.
Velasco gave oomph to Razorback’s free-wheelin’ rock and roll style. His imprints are all over Razorback’s heaviest albums. Velasco joined the group as replacement of Miguel Ortigas.
Then there’s Joey “Pepe” Smith. Born Joseph William Feliciano Smith on Christmas Day, 1947, Smith was, for most of his life, the most recognizable icon of Pinoy Rock. While others were handed the same mantle, nobody wore it like Smith did. The man, as many have already said before, lived and breathed Pinoy Rock.
I can’t claim to know Joey Smith personally but like everyone my age, I know his music especially his work with Juan Dela Cruz. In my youth, I had gone through two copies of JDC’s “Maskara” album. The first was a scratched-out vinyl copy I inherited from my cousin’s collection that I had worn out further through repeated playing. The second was a miraculous find that, for the latter part of the ’90s, resided semi-permanently on my trusty turntable.
“Beep Beep” will likely go down in Pinoy Rock music history as having the most recognizable riff for sure. But the “Maskara” album (released by Vicor Music in 1974) also had the thundering opening track (on the ‘B’ side) in “Rak En Rol Sa Mundo.” The regurgitating low ‘E’ string motif that drove “Pinoy Blues” was equally heavy. As does the ‘kaskas’ classic in “Nadapa Sa Arina” (that Razorback used to cover a lot in the Club Dredd days) was just among the rock and roll gems spread out across “Maskara.”
Through heavy listening, I also found beauty in the psychedelic sentiments of “Nakatagong Mata,” the finger-style simplicity of “Pagod Sa Pahinga,” and the almost comical but groove-heavy “Palengke.” The “Last Song” was quite the curtain closer for a classic rock album.
While everybody else my age was flipping out on late ’90s alternative rock. I was under a proverbial rock, listening to Juan Dela Cruz albums. Shuttling between the first album, the knockout “Live” album, a pirated cassette version that had “Kagatan,” “Rak En Rol Sa Ulan” “Mamasyal Sa Pilipinas,” and the “Kahit Na Anong Mangyari” set that had “Panahon” and “Titser’s Enemi No. 1.” Thinking back now, I could say I took my masterclass in Pinoy Rock under the baton of maestros Mike Hanopol, Wally Gonzales, and, yes, sir Joey Smith.
Pepe Smith, Bob Aves and Brian Velasco are unique talents whose voices can never be replaced. And we lament their passing. They have earned our respect for dedicating their lives to their crafts. They may have gone ahead of us but through their music, they shall live forever.