MANILA -- Did you know that “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko,” the disco hit of VST & Company for four decades now, was said to be a favorite music of American singer Diana Ross?
For a bit of trivia: At the height of the disco years, New York City’s famous Studio 54 had a DJ that kept playing a single, but didn’t know what language the song was. It was said to be the favorite of Diana Ross.
How did VST and Company find out about it?
“My nephew, Skye Nicolas, met the DJ in the late ‘90s, while my nephew was doing his art exhibits and revealed to the DJ finally where the band actually came from,” Roger Rigor, one of the original members of the band, told ABS-CBN News four decades after the song was first heard on the radio.
The success of the OPM disco song, “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko,” catapulted VST & Company into the music limelight.
“While the disco beat rage was on, VST was able to come up with more compositions that complemented this surge,” Rigor said. “Although much of the attention during its peak was focused upon the band and its personalities, the song materials in the long playing albums following the debut showed the creative versatility of the rest of the band members.”
Interestingly, “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko” was not the single meant to be promoted by VST and Company in 1978. The song was merely on the B-side of the single, with “Ikaw ang Aking Mahal” on Side A under Vicor Music Corporation
However, “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko” was a more likable, upbeat tune for the DJs, that’s why it subsequently became such a hit nationwide.
Meanwhile, musical director Lorrie Ilustre, shared his seemingly unforgettable story about “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko,” that he posted on his Facebook page when the song marked its 40th year in 2018.
“As I was leaving Cinema Audio recording studio [in Mandaluyong] after a session, I got a call from Tito Sotto, who was then our vice president for production at Vicor Music Corporation. He 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 already 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 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 could bring home a study and work on the arrangement.
“After a day back at the studio, I called Jun Regalado [drummer], Roger Herrera, Jr. [bassist] and Celso Llarina [guitarist]. 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 Naldy 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 the Side B, which turned out to be ‘Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko.’ This hit song started the group, VST and Company and the rest is history.”
Manalastas was a principal violinist and the industry’s music contractor, according to Ilustre. “If one needed musicians for studio recordings, live shows, film scoring and anything that needed players, he was the person to call,” said Ilustre.
“Remember that during those days, everything was played live, with real musicians, as there were no computers yet used for music. Mang Naldy and Mommy V, his wife, ran the business.
“They have a thick notebook that had the list of top and reliable musicians they would call when needed. Your name and number had to be in that notebook so you could work and get good gigs.”
“Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko” ignited the nationwide VST-mania, that became a disco craze around the country.
“The Manila Sound in the mid-'70s was the era of Hotdog and Cinderella,” recalled Rigor. “While OPM [Original Pilipino Music] was the era of the VST and The Boyfriends, among many others, in the late '70s and early ‘80s.”
“Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko” became a much-requested and popular song on the radio and even in all the performances of VST and Company then and up to now. It was De Leon who wrote the lyrics along with the danceable melody created by Sotto.
“In my opinion, based on what Lorrie had written about his role, the motivation of Tito behind the song is the competition with another record company,” Rigor explained. “They were intent on cutting through the latest disco craze demand with a unique OPM tune.”
Spanky chimed in: ‘The melody tracks of ‘Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko’ were laid before the lyrics were done. The concentration was on ‘Ikaw ang Aking Mahal.’”
Gold and platinum record awards followed.
“What I remember is the debut single didn’t take long before it hit platinum,” Rigor recalled. “It was the sole reason the album immediately followed the release of our recording debut.”
With “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko,” VST & Company also got to invade the world of film. The song was included in the soundtrack of Al Quinn’s “Disco Fever” (1978), that starred Vilma Santos, Christopher de Leon and Cocoy Laurel.
Not too long after, VST & Company was on the big screen, as well. They joined the cast of Oscar Miranda’s “Rock, Baby, Rock” and “Swing It Baby,” both shown in 1979.
“The popularity of the song was during the time when Filipino music was creating an impact internationally,” Rigor recalled. “Prior to this, Asia was awash with Filipino cover bands [combos], considered the best in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
“When ‘Anak’ finally established the popularity of the vernacular even in cities like Tokyo [Japan], it didn’t take long that the VST tunes followed suit.”
However, that was not the first time a local band became popular in Asia. Not many know, but two of the guys who made up VST were members of a band in the early ‘70s called The Blackbuster, which came out with four long playing albums.
Rigor revealed: “A lot of people thought it was a soul-funk band from the US. Only a few knew then that it was made up of Filipinos – Nanette Inventor, Charo Unite, Aida Firme, Bob Guzman, Spanky and Snaffu Rigor, Celso Llarina, Guy and Sunny Ilacad and Willy Cruz.
“When The Blackbuster finally debuted at Araneta Coliseum, as front act for the Ritchie Family [from the US], it literally blew everyone away. The Blackbuster’s debut, unfortunately for the visiting Ritchie Family, was so powerful that people started for the exit even before the main act was done with their concert set.”
Through the years, “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko” had other versions by other local artists. Even action king Fernando Poe, Jr. sang it with Judy Ann Santos in their blockbuster film, Boots Plata’s “Isusumbong Kita sa Tatay Ko” (1999) and they recorded the song in the soundtrack.
Whenever other local artists record “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko,” it unmistakably flatters VST and Company. “Any creation, when expressed by others, is always an authentic compliment and appreciation to the creator,” Rigor maintained.
“Knowing that these are songs that our band was known for and now played and expressed by others, make us feel thankful and humbled.”
Apart from “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko,” other songs which became hits for the band, include “Rock Baby, Rock,” “Swing,” “Step No, Step Yes” and “Magsayawan.”
VST & Company recorded other popular tunes through the years, although there were songs that didn’t become instantly popular. One of Rigor’s favorites, though, is “Ikaw ang Aking Pasko.” The band’s last single featured the song, “Babay,” flip-sided with his and Celso Llarina’s composition, “Para sa ‘Yo.”
“It had a beautiful, lilting guitar riff by the late Menchu Apostol,” Rigor said.
After more than four decades of VST & Company’s songs in the music business, it is not surprising that the members are still raring to perform again, especially when COVID-19 has abated.
“As with every single musician and band out there, hope and the urge to get back again to make music in front of a multitude of audience achingly linger,” Rigor said. “To dance and sing as a great gathering again.
“But what this pandemic actually took front and center is in challenging what people value most and what we have been taking for granted for a long time. Do we value things, objects more? Or do we value relationships? Is being rich remain to be an aspiration or can it be accepted as a delusion?”
Rigor remains hopeful. “Indeed, there are more important things to focus on – the air we breathe, the land, the water and the people, as we knew it,” he emphasized. “And so, as we get back to the ‘new normal,’ what we, as folks in the entertainment field should ponder upon, is what our roles are in making sure that the world can truly be a better place, like no other. For everyone!”