MANILA -- Did you know that VST & Company’s disco anthem, “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko,” was not the original single that was supposed to be released by the group four decades ago?
Bannered by brothers Roger, Spanky and Male Rigor, VST & Company was one of the most successful bands in the '70s, with other memorable hits like “Rock Baby Rock,” “Disco Fever,” “Ipagpatawad Mo” and “Ikaw ang Aking Mahal.”
Forty years after “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko” was released, VST & Company’s first musical arranger, Lorrie Ilustre, recently recalled in his Facebook account, how the song became the huge OPM hit that it has been until today.
“As I was leaving Cinema Audio recording studios in Mandaluyong after a session, I got a call from Tito Sotto who was then our A and R (artist and repertoire) manager for Vicor Music Corporation,” Ilustre posted on his Facebook account.
“He [Tito] asked me to come up with a recording ASAP, as our rival (another recording company) was planning to produce a new single and we had to get ahead of their release. My only direction from Tito was to create something different from what was currently on the airwaves.
“I had to go back to the studio that very moment. Vic Sotto with his acoustic guitar and Joey de Leon with a pencil and a yellow pad paper, were there trying to put a song together. As Joey was writing the lyrics, Vic would be figuring out the melody. I had to wait till they were done so that I can bring home a study and work on the arrangement.
“After a day, back at the studio, I called Jun Regalado (drums), Roger Herrera Jr. (bass) and Celso Llarina (guitar). I just laid down the basic rhythm track as I had to fly to Davao to do a couple of shows for The Jem Fever Tour. I wrote the orchestrations at the Hijo Plantation (now I think is a resort) in Tagum, Davao del Norte where we stayed.
“I flew back to Manila with the horn section and from the airport, went straight to the recording studio and dubbed the horns. I had Mang Nardy Manalastas contract the string section and recorded them as well. Vocals were done and right after mixing, ‘Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko’ went straight to the pressing plant.
“I already had one other song previously arranged and recorded, ‘Ikaw ang Aking Mahal,’ a ballad which the record company decided to be the side A of the single which would be promoted and pushed.
“When the radio stations got hold of the single, the DJs preferred playing the song on side B, which turned out to be ‘Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko.’ This hit song started the group VST & Company and the rest is history. This is my story."
In celebration of the group’s four decades in the music industry, Amore Entertainment presents “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko – VST Live in Concert” on January 19 at The Grove in Anaheim, California.
The concert has been endorsed by leading celebrities on social media on VST & Company’s Facebook page, led by National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab, Pops Fernandez, former VST & Company back-up singer Babsie Molina and even veteran director Al Quinn and drummer Jun Regalado.
“Awit natin, huwag na huwag nating kalimutan, lalo na on January 19 at The Grove at Anaheim, ang VST experience, kailangan niyong ma-experience,” Cayabyab said.
Fernandez admits to being a fan of VST & Company. “May good news po ako sa inyong lahat. Kung fans po kayo ng VST, now you have a chance to see them and listen to their songs one more time,” she said.
Quinn remembers that back in the late '70s, he directed two films that both featured the songs of VST & Company. The group made their big-screen debut in “Swing It, Baby” (1979), that topbilled Vilma Santos and Romeo Vasquez, with Tito, Vic and Joey and a host of other stars – Amy Austria, Walter Navarro, Rolly Quizon, Sandy Garcia, Geleen Eugenio, Bing Davao and Mike Monserrat.
Earlier, Quinn also helmed “Disco Fever” (1978), that starred Vilma Santos, Christopher de Leon and Cocoy Laurel.
“That was the height of disco dancing,” Quinn recalled. “’Pag tumugtog ang VST, believe me, mapapasayaw kang talaga.”
Meanwhile, Oscar Miranda directed “Rock Baby, Rock” (1979), with Santos and Spanish-born singer Junior, the Sotto brothers, De Leon and other members of VST & Company.
When “Eat Bulaga” premiered on Philippine TV in 1979, VST & Company became a regular performer on the noontime show hosted by the Sotto brothers with De Leon.
In 1978, upon the release of VST’s debut album, it didn’t take long for the record to be certified gold. The album undoubtedly ignited Philippine disco culture, a phenomenal craze that swept across the country in no time.
The band’s first single, “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko,” was destined to dominate the airwaves and charted as an instant hit. The public’s overwhelming response to VST’s first album signaled the band’s massive appeal and star potential.
The group staged their first major concert at Cebu Coliseum. To celebrate the popularity and huge box office appeal of “Star Wars: A New Hope” at that time, VST themed their concert, “Galactica,” after the space adventure epic. The band members sported Darth Vader masks and matching black capes.
That first, successful concert undeniably started the “VST Mania” that created the band’s huge impact on Philippine pop culture.
“In those days, we couldn’t go to a store and buy band merchandise,” recalled Roger Rigor. “We would be greeted by fans in our concerts and they would be wearing VST T-shirts that they customized themselves. That was something that always delighted us. The love and dedication we get from our fans, to this day, are awe-inspiring.”
In all of the five, full-length album releases of VST & Company, Spanky was credited as the executive producer. The albums were released by Vicor Music Corporation. They performed all over the Philippines, with shows in Cebu, Baguio, and Cagayan de Oro.
“What we thought as first as a quick stint in recording turned out to be life-changing,” Roger said. “It is important to note here that VST was already a barkada to start with. The popularity of the songs in the ‘70s exposed the guys to the rollercoaster demands of being pop idols.
“In a span of three years, everything VST and its music were on top of the music scene, with the attention among the youth greatly unexpected. We realized being ordinary guys, like walking to Greenhills or enjoying time out for a movie, was not something we could do anymore.”
Admittedly, their popularity was both fun and at times, filled with anxiety.
“Especially when we had to deal with the downside of being popular,” Roger reasoned out. “We easily became the envy of a few in a rather patriarchal culture.”
The novelty of being pop idols started to lose its appeal among the guys. VST & Company quietly left the local entertainment scene with its final performance as a group in the Coca-Cola roll-out of Coke Litro in the early ‘80s. Eventually, the Rigors moved to the US. Band members Celso Llarina and Jun Medina followed suit.
“Maybe because the industry just didn’t have the mechanism to acknowledge the creative properties of artists and composers through royalties and copyrights,” Roger lamented.
It has taken them quite a spell to regroup and perform together again.
In 2018, brothers Spanky and Roger Rigor mounted the stage anew as guests of the New Jersey-based band, Sounds of Manila. They performed at the Ernst Community Cultural Center of the Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Virginia.
Filipinos in the US East Coast – Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, DC, New York, Massachusetts – trooped to the venue to listen and witness the brothers regale the crowd with VST’s best-loved hits.
It was a roaring trip down memory lane, as Spanky and Roger generously relived the hits of VST. They rendered popular dance ditties and crowd favorites like “Rock Baby Rock,” “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko” and “Disco Fever,” to soaring ballads like “Ipagpatawad Mo” and “Ikaw ang Aking Mahal.”
“Ipagpatawad Mo’ got everyone swooning,” Roger said. “When we sang ‘Ikaw ang Aking Mahal,’ the crowd simply sang with us. It was humbling and truly powerful. We were really thankful for all the years we have been taken in as part of everyone’s journey. We continue to dedicate that song as our sincere response for the love from all.”
Roger is a college professor based in Seattle, Washington since 1985, when he moved to the US with Spanky. However, Spanky later moved to San Francisco and has since settled there.
“The performance in Virginia in 2018 was not really a VST & Company concert,” clarified Roger. “We were simply guests of Sounds of Manila. It just so happened it was in that show where Spanky and I saw Lorrie again after all these years. He was the arranger for VST’s first album.
“Notably, Lorrie was the one who arranged the iconic ‘Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko.’ We finally had the chance to get caught up with each other. And that’s where the idea of holding a dedicated concert started.”
Today, however, VST & Company still feels the impact of their songs among their many contemporaries from the era of the '70s. “Most have their own families, with the children growing up with our music,” Roger proudly beamed.
“The present generation of young Filipino-Americans has become more aware of their heritage and cultural origin. They take pride in the art and music of their family’s past," he said.
“In my role as an educator through the years while VST was in hiatus for four decades, I have been engaging with the youth, especially when we focus upon the socio-political role of the arts.
“Students eventually discover my association with the music of VST & Company and the engagement naturally takes a different approach, especially in my capacity to provide first-hand account over the relationship of OPM and the era of martial law, for instance.”
Roger acknowledged VST’s role and image to the present generation of Filipinos in the US or anywhere in the world. ”We have evolved to become not anymore as mere pop idols of yore, but living mementoes of their parents’ heritage. To say the least, it has become a humbling role for the guys to now become elders to this generation and provide for them an experience that we sincerely hope could generate pride and inspiration.”
The songs of VST & Company have become anthems of the lives of many Filipinos. The fans know the lyrics by heart and embraced the melody. Roger cannot be more “humbled and grateful” that in all four decades, their songs have been remembered and appreciated not just by their contemporaries, but even their children.
“We realize now, too, that there is great responsibility behind being artists whose songs are looked upon with both great pleasure and pride,” he said. “That is why the guys project a wider role now, given the current affairs of the world and the Filipino diaspora.
“Because we bring back fond memories and a blast of unique Filipino disco music, the band’s image is now able to draw upon our audience the enthusiasm and celebration to be people of great heritage and culture.”
Asked to how will he attribute the popularity of the group that has been remembered through their popular songs after all these years, Roger attributed it to how the members evolved, as the years even came and went.
“It’s not as if we totally left the entertainment scene,” he explained. “The producers in the band continued producing recorded songs. Some became household names, like the Sotto brothers, who successfully reached the apex of film and politics.
“Also, Spanky and Val had TV sitcoms and movies after. Yet, the guys who round up the group also had their share of being active in the community.”
The members realized that in all their 40 years, they have not had a single chance to get together for a full-length VST show, more so in the US. “So with Lorrie’s initiative and production leadership, this first VST reunion concert will finally happen at Anaheim in California," Roger said.
Why California? “A producer took it on when Lorrie mentioned the idea in spite the fact that after all these years, many have gotten beyond recognizing the faces and the names behind the group.”
Roger and Spanky Rigor have been performing together for the past four years. “It seems that there is this generational resurging of sorts for our songs. It started in LA in August 2016, then continued to Abu Dhabi in October that same year,” Roger said.
“In 2017, we were at the Fiesta America in New Jersey. We performed at Stanford University then in Virginia. Because of our schedules, we had to limit our guestings, but we go if our schedules permit. People are clamoring for a real concert of the VST & Company and that’s what we’re promising them.”
Among the bands formed in the '70s, VST & Company found out and realized they are the only group that have not had a full-length concert since the '80s.
“Most of us are now in our retirement age, but it doesn’t feel like we are done with things while sitting back into obscurity,” Roger allowed. “The energy of the young generation has sparked a new sense of outlook. We still find ourselves asking, ‘After all these years, who would have thought that we’ll still be here doing the music that we started with?’
“So many have missed our performances that we used to do; creating a lot of dancing and singing as we play live the songs that triggered flocks to the dance floor. The energy we felt when we started is palpably alive again and there is no looking back, because another wave is about to begin. Another wave we anticipate will resume the VST experience we always knew. That others will enjoy again, with a young generation that will now begin to discover it.”