I was sending some messages to friends one afternoon when I saw the Facebook posting of Eric Clapton that said Joe Cocker passed away at 70. Right away, I found myself humming “You Are So Beautiful,” followed by “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Up where We Belong.” Clapton and Cocker are two of my favourite artists.
I remember the first time I sang at one of the folk bars near Welcome Rotunda, in Manila, Philippines, called Chick Fil-A. A friend of mine asked me to go with him and jam during his set. I was kind of shy then, and the first thing that came to my mind was a song of Ol’ Joe Cocker, “You Are So Beautiful.” When I started singing, the folks begin to sing along with me, with gusto. Joe Cocker was famous in the Philippines; he still is, especially to people who love folk rock music.
The applause of the people did something to the mind of a beginner. It inspired new artists like me to join the ranks of veteran folk singers. The place reminded me also of the time when there were big rallies against the abusive regimes that plagued the Philippines in the ’80s to late ’90s. After those rallies, comrades and friends usually hung out at bars to unwind and do a little assessment of what went on.
Another place that I had a chance to play at was Mayric’s Bar, on España Avenue, in front of UST, in Manila. The first time I went to this bar, in the ’80s, some folk singers dished out Joe Cocker’s songs. Mayric’s was also a hangout of many activists in the ’80s and the ’90s. I hear Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”; Jackson Brown’s “Lives in the Balance,” “Rebel Jesus,” and “Personal Revenge”; Peter Paul and Mary’s version of “Blowin’ in the Wind”; and Christy Moore’s “Viva la Quince Brigada,” being sung by the Filipino folk singer Noel Cabangon. Paul Simon’s songs were also played there, such as “Still Crazy after All These Years.” I like also the songs of Joan Baez. Chikoy Pura with his band The Jerks performed his song “Reklamo” and covers of The Doors. Burt Chaves rendered Cat Stevens’ songs and Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” My friend Empiel Palma would belt out “You Are So Beautiful,” while another friend, Danny Fabella, would sing his song “Rosas ng Digma.” The three of us would eventually become a trio named Musikang Bayan. We would go to different island gigs all over the country like Cebu, Davao, and the northern part of the Philippines. I really enjoyed those days. While we were on board the ship, people would usually request “You Are So Beautiful.”
My gig at Mayric’s started in the early ’90s. Folks would request me to sing Ol’ Joe’s “You Are So Beautiful,” which inspired me more whenever there were pretty girls in the audience. There I met Noel Cabangon, who was a buddy of Rom Dongeto, who wrote “Kanlungan.” Noel and Rom eventually formed Buklod. I am proud to say that Rom was one of my songwriting teachers when I attended a workshop in Los Banos, Laguna. In that workshop also was Kiko of Grupong Binhi from Bagiuo who remains active to this day, writing protest music.
Another bar that became famous in the ’90s was ’70s Bistro. It also became a hangout of activists. Artists who regularly performed there included Joey Ayala, Bayang Barrios, Gary Granada, Ang Grupong Pendong, Asin, Lolita Carbon, Grace Nono, Banyuhay, and Jess Bartolome. I remember the note posted at the door of the bar: “When you enter, you have to leave your ideology outside and just unwind.” This was a time when there was a great debate going on within the social movement on strategy and tactics. In that bar, you could talk about revolution while somebody wass singing Joe Cocker songs.
In the late ’90s up to the early part of 2000, I played gigs at My Brother’s Mustache Folk Bar, which had branches on Timog Ave. (Quezon City), Jupiter St. (Makati), and Nakpil St. (Manila). I used to play there with Leonard de Leos, another folk-singer friend of mine. I vividly recall one gig when Robin Padilla with Princess Punzalan was in the crowd, requesting me to play a song that he could sing. Even there, Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” was a hit.
Now that I am here in Winnipeg and learning about the passing of Joe Cocker, I couldn’t help but remember those dandy days when, instead of being focused studying law, I was more into reading Marx and those who debated with his ghost and memorizing songs for my thrice-a-week gigs. Political Science, Social Theory, and protest music indeed went hand in hand and made my younger life exciting.
In the midst of the great marches for change, one could hear Ol’ Joe Cocker’s belting out “With a Little Help from My Friends“ and “You Are So Beautiful.” Well Ol’ Joe, keep on rockin’ in heaven with your heavenly renditions. Thanks a lot for the music.