Danny Javier will go down in Philippine music history as one of its most prolific songwriters. And while his life recently reached its coda, he will live on thru the songs he penned. How many of us have made “Awit ng Barkada” the anthem of our youth? Or listened to “Pumapatak Ang Ulan” to cheer us up during gloomy weather? Or dedicated “Pag-ibig,” or “Show Me a Smile,” or “Princesa,” or “Kumot at Unan” to a loved one?
Danny’s discography covers a wide range of topics because most anything for the guy could spark a song’s beginning.
“Danny is a very instinctive [songwriter],” says fellow APO member, Boboy Garovillo. He strung words together and made poetry. He wrote lyrics on table napkins, wrote while on a bus, wrote anywhere. “He’s very fluid. Danny would say things in rhyme with a certain cadence,” Boboy offers. Which is remarkable because his friend, he adds, is a true-blue Bisaya, having grown up in Leyte and Cebu.
Danny’s songs can come from a stream-of-consciousness moment, says Jim Paredes, the second eldest APO (Boboy and Jim were both born in 1951 but Jim is older by a month and a few days; Danny died at 75). “Pumapatak ang Ulan” just came to Danny like a gift. It was inspired by a movie shoot in Baguio—Mike de Leon’s “Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising”—which kept getting canceled because of the rain. It was 1977.
“Pumapatak na naman ang ulan sa bubong ng bahay'Di maiwasang gumawa ng 'di inaasahang bagay”
“And every time it would rain, Mike would shout, ‘Pack up!’ Galit na galit,” recalls Boboy. “Danny would tell Mike, ‘Ano ka ba? Relax ka lang. Masyado kang intense.’ Every time that happened, Danny would get the guitar and sing ‘Pumapatak na naman ang ulan.’ [So the song] is the story about Mike’s reaction.” And the “Laklak nang laklak ng beer magdamagan…” was a tease for the director, because they would almost always end up at De Leon’s Baguio home when it started to pour, drinking beer and killing time until the rain stopped.
“It’s not a love song. It’s thoughts coming into his mind, which I think is really brilliant. Nobody has written a song anywhere close to [‘Pumapatak’],” says Jim, himself a hitmaker whose list of self-penned classics includes “When I Met You,” “Panalangin,” “Batang-Bata Ka Pa,” “Yakap sa Dilim,” “Nakapagtataka,” and “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo.”
Jim describes Danny as a very intuitive songwriter. Not the type who liked to spend a lot of time writing songs—but “when he gets it, when he feels it, he goes for it.” Danny wanted the words to flow naturally, be they English or Tagalog. “You won’t get him to write a song this way… ‘Here are the lyrics. Here’s the topic. Can you make one right now?’ He’s got to have an intuitive grasp right away.”
And when Danny gets into the zone, “you have to capture the moment,” adds Jim, because the idea, the gems, will fly, slip away, disappear forever. “[Danny] also sometimes forgets what he writes and then when he sings it again, medyo iba na. Kung patatagalin mo, or you put it behind and say, ‘I’ll think about it tomorrow,’ mawawala na yun. I think he gets into a song and just finishes it.”
The song “Lumang Tugtugin,” for example, which is about the joys of playing folk songs we grew up with, was composed in roughly 20 to 30 minutes, at a lunch break during their stint as executives at JEM, a recording company where at one point Danny was in charge of marketing and Jim was in charge of artist and repertoire (A&R). “When I got back to the room, he let me hear it,” recalls Paredes in a recent interview. “I told him, bukas i-record na natin ito, okey ito.”
"Kahit saan ka man, ang awit ay naririnigSari-saring magugustuhan, mga luma at bagong himig Ngunit isa lang ang aking gusto, isa lamang ang napapansin Masarap, madaling kantahin ang lumang tugtugin"
Danny was fond of writing songs that were lighthearted and funny. He liked to tickle the listeners’ imagination with words, as in the case of “Salawikain.” “He knows how to make a hook for the song para talagang mga dalawang dinig mo lang okey na e.”
"Kapag ang buhay mo'y malungkot, huwag kang sisimangotKapag bulsa'y walang pera, daanin sa tawa Wala nang pera, sisimangot ka pa? La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la"
Danny had a knack for creating novelty songs, Jim says, but not the “gimmicky” ones—those usually don’t last long in people’s memory banks. “Ang gimmicky yung masyadong naka-tie up sa present, na few months lang limot na.”
But while he’s great at writing fun, happy songs, Danny was also proficient when it came to sentimental and romantic lyrics. “[Danny] wrote ‘Show Me a Smile’ when he was with his first wife,” offers Boboy. “Some say he’s not a sweet, loving person. But he writes about sweetness; he knew how.”
And then there’s the song “Pag-ibig” and its poignant lyrics. Danny’s songs often evoke innocence but also a kind of maturity, and those two are present in this piece about looking back on one’s first love. “Pakinggan mo ang lines,” Boboy says, “ang ganda-ganda.”
"Hindi mo malimutan kung kailan nagsimulangMatuto kung papa'nong magmahal At 'di mo malimutan kung kailan mo natikman Ang una mong halik, yakap na napakahigpit Pag-ibig na tunay hanggang langit"
Danny wrote “Di Na Natuto” for a young Gary Valenciano, upon the request of Gary’s sister Gina. But the songwriter found himself falling in love with the romantic ballad that he also presented it to Jim and Boboy as something they could include in the album they just wrapped. His bandmates, however, were no longer in the mood to go back to the studio and record. But “Di Na Natuto” would make it to their next album, and of course it would become one of Gary’s greatest hits.
"Isang ngiti mo langAt ako'y napapaamo
Yakapin mong minsanAy muling magbabalik sa'yo
Na walang kalaban-labanAng puso ko'y tanging iyo lamang"
In the book “Himig at Titik, A Tribute to OPM Songwriters” authored by Tina Arceo Dumlao, Danny shared that he’s a self-taught musician who considered himself a late bloomer. He first picked up the guitar in his junior year in high school and only started to write songs in college years at Ateneo.
But he’s been a music lover since he was a kid. He discovered the Benny Goodman, The Lennon Sisters, and The McGuire Sisters thru an uncle’s vast record collection. Eventually, his interest in music deepened by listening to Bob Dylan, Paul Anka, Joni Mitchell and the group Peter, Paul and Mary. But it was The Beatles that was his biggest musical inspiration, Danny shared in the Dumlao book. He got hooked on the Fab Four during his high school years in San Beda. The band was the reason he shifted from sculpture and painting to music.
“Nagkawindang-windang ang buhay ko noon kasi wala na akong ginawa kundi isulat ang lyrics ng lahat ng kanta ng Beatles, alamin yung chords,” he told Dumlao.
Fast forward to his college years, Danny discovered that he shared this passion for The Beatles with the other members of the singing group he was hanging out with. Boboy tells ANCX it was in truth this group’s goal to be the Beatles of the Philippines.
The early years
The Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society, which was later shortened to APO Hiking Society, was born in 1969 at the Ateneo High School with 15 members: John Paul Micayabas, Lito de Joya, Sonny Santiago, Gus Cosio, Renato Garcia, Chito Kintanar, Kenny Barton, Bruce Brown, Butch Dans, Kinjo Sawada, Ric Segreto Macaraeg, Goff Macaraeg, Doden Besa, Jim Paredes, and Boboy Garovillo.
On their freshman year in college, that’s when the group met Danny. Jim, Boboy and Danny found themselves in the same class. “He dropped out from UE before he got into Ateneo,” Boboy says. “When we introduced each other in class, [we realized that] he was a very good speaker. Sabi namin, ‘Sino ito?’” The boys were intrigued. And impressed.
Without knowing much about the new guy, they nominated him as class president. “Actually, na-good time nga siya ng barkada namin e,” Boboy adds, recalling one of the results of their youthful mischief. “[Sabi namin], ‘Let's give this guy a chance. Ano kaya ang kaya niyang gawin?’ Maski [si Danny] sabi niya after that, ‘Ano’ng ginawa nyo? Hindi n’yo man lang ako kilala ni-nominate n’yo akong president!”
The boys would later hang out at the Counselor’s Office. Their pastime: singing folk. That’s when they found out Danny was a folk singer. “We found out that he plays the guitar, he plays the banjo. We found out that he knows other singers from outside. Kasi he’s older than us,” says Boboy.
“He was always present where we were,” recalls Jim of Danny. “Before we knew it, grupo na kami.”
The group would perform in campuses, with three, six, or seven members (some guys left along the way, to pursue their own dreams). “Whoever was available. We’d perform in UP, Miriam College, or in other schools,” shares Boboy. “That was college life.”
And then there were three
Asked about their dynamics as a trio, Jim says he would always tell people, “We were three Clark Kents, but when we got together, we were Superman.”
There were no designated roles for each APO. “Democratic kami e. Galit nga kami sa diktador,” Boboy says. “Pantay-pantay kami parati. Kaya in most of our interviews, we said that when we formed the group, we didn't even have a contract of being together.”
They didn’t need one. Onstage, people saw the bond, the chemistry, the give and take.
They tag-teamed in everything, which included throwing witty spiels and punchlines in shows, concerts, interviews.
“Danny and Boboy are considered funny but actually a lot of the funny stuff ako nag-imagine nun,” Jim says. “Tapos pinapasa ko sa kanila kasi when we play with it, it becomes a team effort. So I always say, I’d pass the ball to Danny, Danny dribbles it and passes it to Boboy, and Boboy dunks it. Or vice versa—I’ll pass it to Boboy, Danny dunks it. I was more like a behind-the-scene guy.” Sometimes, after Jim comes up with a dialogue, they would would flesh it out as a group until they land on the funniest bit.
Danny may come across as suplado, but the guy is actually a people person. “He loved talking with other people—he didn’t just stick to singers, musicians, and artists,” shares Boboy. “When he’d meet somebody who works in business, let’s say a stock broker or a banker, he’d love to sit down and talk things with that person.”
There’s more: “Danny is what you might call a craftsman. And he admires people who are good in their craft. If he meets a painter, he will talk about painting. If he meets a banker, he will talk about banking, and he would you like to learn what makes this person good at what he does.”
This is why in the last 20 years, unknown to many, the guy served as consultant to a number of different companies. “Although he was not really into that particular line, he had ideas of what they were doing,” Boboy offers. “He could always help because that's the way he thinks, ‘Give me your problems and let’s see what needs to be done.’ He’s like that in a way.”
Danny always looked out for the poor, Boboy adds. “Danny can go downtown and talk to the tricycle driver, the jeepney driver. He’s really makatao. Siguro he felt he came from [their ranks].”
As a friend, Danny was very thoughtful. Boboy remembers a trip to the US when his friend bought 45 units of Elmo dolls. The furry doll is known to laugh, stand up, and jump around on its own so Danny thought it would be fun to give all his inaanaks and close friends one each. For three days, they scoured Toys ‘R’ Us branches in the US to gather all the Elmos they can find. They emptied each box to fit all the dolls in one big balikbayan box. “Sa Manila na lang ulit natin i-box,” Boboy remembers Danny telling him.
Danny’s wit didn’t only show in songs but in daily interactions. Jim recalls a conversation with a Hong Kong immigration officer when the group went to HK after the 1986 People Power Revolution.
At immigration, the officer asked Danny: “What is your occupation?”
“I’m a hero,” Danny said, and brought out a copy of Mabuhay magazine from Philippine Airlines. He pointed to an article where the APO Hiking Society was featured as heroes of the revolution. “Pinakita niya. ‘See? That’s me.’ Natuwa sa kanya yung immigration officer,” says Jim. “Normally, masusungit ang mga ‘yan.”
The APO released at least 200 songs and 27 albums in its nearly 50 years of being together. Their last performance as a trio was at the inauguration of Pres. Benigno Aquino Jr. on June 30, 2010. It was also around this time when Javier announced his retirement from the music scene.
But despite the breakup, the three always treated each other like brothers. “Some people may think that Danny was not a loving person because he’s not demonstrative. But we wonder why he cared so much about other people. He cared about plants and trees. He cared about fish. He cared about so many other things. So some people think, ‘Why doesn't he care for me?’ I think ganoon si Danny, you have to understand him. Kung ano ang needs niya,” says Boboy.
“I have one of his favorite songs na ginawa niya na hindi naman naging kilala. The line goes, ‘I don't need anything in this world. I don't need shoes. I don't need sneakers. I don't need new clothes. I just need something that only you can share. I just need care.”
A month before Danny was rushed to the ICU, he and Boboy had a chance to talk. “I went to his house. Nagkuwentuhan kami. Kasi ang dami niyang ginagawa e. May mga ibon siya, may mga bonsai. Nagpatayo pa siya ng aquarium. He kept himself busy even if he got sick.”
He also kept talking about the “end zone.”
“I'm actually ready [to go], but of course I don't want to go,” Boboy remembers his friend telling him.
Danny remained a fighter until the end, and continued to be the same caring, thoughtful friend. “He kept calling people from all over the world. Anybody who comes up in his mind he would call. Mangungumusta lang.”
Both Jim and Boboy had a chance to see their friend one last time at the ICU. “I would always get his hand and just kiss it,” Paredes recalled in the eulogy he delivered for his friend. “[I said] ‘Love you, bro. Love you bro.’ Then I held his face pa, and I kissed him on the forehead and I said [a line], from The Beatles: ‘You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.’”
There’s no doubt Jim, Boboy and Danny share so many memories. “Too many,” Jim tells ANCX. “We went through the whole gamut of our Shakespearean play—comedy, drama, tragedy. May elements ng suspense, liberation, sorrow. Lahat dinaanan namin. But I will always remember na we totally relied on each other’s talent. We were good for each other, most of the time, I think.”