My Flip Side

Kahit Merikano ako, ipinanganak sa Kentucky, mayroon akong malalim na pag-ibig at paggalang sa Pinoy kultura. Puting labas, pero Pinoy sa aking loob.

This note from my facebook pretty much explains my indoctrination in to the tribe:

My Flip Side
by Joe Cunningham on Monday, February 16, 2009 at 11:55am

It’s not like I ever confused the Philippines with the Phillistines. One creates art, the other destroys it. Actually, Filipinos are probably the most creative people on the planet, and are directly responsible for getting me started as a professional musician.

When I had about one month left on my four-year hitch in the Air Force here in Guam, I got a gig playing flute with two other guys at a local hotel. Frank Cabral, orginally from Columbia, and Louie Gombar, a Pinoy whose family came to Guam back in the ’50s. Frank’s a singer/guitarist, and Louie is a primo vibes player, and now a middle school music teacher.

My next gig came about by sitting in with a jazz trio, consisting of a pianist, a female torch singer, and Monte Pladevega, a Pinoy from Laguna who was playing standup bass. Monte was my first real musical mentor. He’s a truly gifted multi-instrumentalist with the distinction of having been the ukelele champion of the Philippines at the age of 12. Monte had never played standup bass until he got the Guam gig, but managed to get proficient on the instrument in the month before he left to Guam to start the gig.

Eventually, the owners of the jazz club figured they could make more money with a band that could play the current hits, so they asked Monte to put a band together. Thus our mostly Pinoy band 5-Way was born. The lineup was Monte on guitar, Roger Jereza and Robert Cabaddu, both Guam born Pinoys, on drums and bass, me on sax and flute, and Dave Gough, a black dude from Detroit on lead vocals. There’s mention of 5-Way on the Pinoy Classic Rock website: http://pinoyclassicrock.com/bands1.html.

It turned out to be a killer combination, and we packed the club for 6 months straight until we left for Japan for a series of nightclub engagements in Tokyo and Osaka. I became a white OFW…Overseas Filipino Worker. It’s an experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my life because it gave me the chance to live and work in the Pinoy culture, albeit in Japan.

We affectionately called the gig “Construction Work” because we worked gabi-gabi, every night from 8pm-5am and we lived in what was essentially a barracks situation. Each club where we worked had two Pinoy bands, and the music was non-stop for 9 hours straight. When it was time to change bands, there were two songs that were used for transitions: Dahil Sa Iyo and Get Ready, depending on if the song before was slow or fast. The players would seamlessly exchange instruments while the music continued. The only roadblock in our case was that our drummer Roger is a lefty, and therefore had to switch the snare, hi-hat and floor tom tom while the incoming drummer kept time on the ride cymbal. But it always worked out.

Robert the bass player had a particularly twisted sense of humor, and would sing, “Dahil sa iyo, [email protected]#$#@ $#@ mo-o-o-o-” He also liked to have a little linguistic fun at the Japanese customers’ expense. The Japanese equivalent of the phrase, “is that right?” is “asoka?”, which when pronounced with a Tagalog accent means, “you’re a dog!” Whenever a customer said that to Robert, he’d always respond with, “Aso ka rin,” meaning you’re a dog too!

It’s generally known that Japanese society is a very strict hierarchy, and the same thing holds true in the nightclubs. Simply put: Musicians rank below the waiters and maybe even the scullery workers in the kitchen. At the two Tokyo clubs where we worked it was painfully clear. When we weren’t playing, we were banished to the cramped, spartan quarters of the band room, and weren’t allowed to mix with the customers. Those two joints were basically expensive hostess clubs for rich businessmen with big expense accounts.

The floor manager at one of the clubs was a particularly flaming asshole who would harass the boys endlessly. It finally got to the point where I had to step out of my “Yessss Bosss” Pinoy mode and become The White Guy from the Land of Liberty. “You can’t expect us to make good music for your customers when you treat us like a bunch of animals, dude. You need to exhibit some traditional Japanese manners. We’re human beings like you!” We’re talking serious gigilocity on my part. He was shocked that I would question his authority, but he did start being nicer to us. Well, a little bit better relative to his Little Hitler standards.

Crazy Horse in Osaka was the total opposite. We were treated like kings for three months. They encouraged us to hang with the patrons and fed us major chow two times a night. It didn’t hurt that we were the hottest band in Osaka during the summer of 1972, and anybody who was anybody was hanging out there. That includes all the big name concert acts that were doing shows in Osaka. Crazy Horse was the de facto nightclub of the stars.

The bands that I didn’t get to see in concert because we worked every night got to see us, and, in some instances, got on stage and jammed with us. Acts like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Cat Stevens, James Gang, Deep Purple (the night they recorded the Osaka show for the Made in Japan live album), and best of all Led Zeppelin.

Keith Emerson just kind of sat there the whole time looking sullen. Maybe he was thinking he shouldn’t have chopped up that beautiful Hammond B-3 organ with the samurai sword. But Greg Lake and Carl Palmer joined us onstage for a particularly rousing jazzy rock free-for-all, as did Joe Walsh when he popped in with the James Gang, and Cat Steven’s bassist and drummer.

Led Zep was weird..except for John Paul Jones. They were in the midst of their Sex, Drugs, Satanism and Rock & Roll debauchery period. I went to hang out with them at their table when I went on break, and was seriously bummed out by their behavior. They were ragging on the other Pinoy band, and it really pissed me off because the boys on stage were my fellow OFWs. Jonesy was extremely embarrassed by their behavior and apologized to me endlessly. I think he was the only responsible adult in the whole entourage. Nonetheless, it’s cool to have the bragging rights that came with spending an hour with Led Zeppelin.

The biggest prize of my OFW adventure was being accepted as a fellow Pinoy. We weren’t making big bucks by any means, and I would usually be broke a week after payday. But my fellow kababayan musicians always kept enough aside for the basics of living in Japan and some balikbayan pera for the folks back in the PI. There was a sense of camaraderie that you don’t find in very many cultures. I learned that it was OK to for me to grab something from somebody else’s dinner plate if I wanted it. Try doing that in the Mainland US. It was an experience that instilled a sense of Pinoy Pride in my soul.

When our band returned to Guam, we packed the clubs for another year and a half until the band members decided to go in other directions. Dave Gough went back to Detroit where he ended up making a name for himself as a gospel singer. The other guys formed other groups, and I moved to Merizo in Southern Guam and opened an organic restaurant with some songwriter friends and crewed on a 52 foot sailboat taking Japanese tourists out for luxury cruises.

Some 30 years later, I weaseled my way back into the Filipino music scene in Quezon City when I went to Sound Creation Studio in 2005 to record some of my own stuff, as documented in the Quezon City Torture Test note on my facebook here:

https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=75361426912

And now, I occasionally spend time in QC hanging out with an amazing group of artists, playing music, filming videos and generally indulging my Flip Side which can be seen on my YouTube site at http://www.youtube.com/uncletote. Grabe!

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About Uncle Tote

Guam based audio and video producer, singer, songwriter, musician, diver, bookworm, with an out of the box life traveling around the Pacific and Asia doing things like shooting on inline skates on the deck of a 100 yr. old Indonesian schooner in Yap, shipwrecks in the Truk Lagoon, adventure diving in Boracay Philippines and North Sulawesi Indonesia, cave dives in Palau. My life is basically like an adventure novel...without the guns and bloodshed. I'm learning to live with the guilt of having so much fun at work. I'm basically a one-man-band with video. I write, shoot, voice and edit most of the videos on my channel, skills which I picked up during my 30+ years in broadcasting and advertising. I'll use effects and edgy graphics if I have to for commercials, but I prefer to tell the story with the camera. I try to go by the slogan of McCann Erickson, for whom I once worked as a creative director: Truth Well Told. My YouTube channel includes a number of videos of OPM musicians and other adventures in the Philippines.