Memories of Wally Gonzalez: The stage at the Loyola Center (now the Blue Eagle Gym inside the Ateneo de Manila University) cleared of the massive jam that involved members of Anakbayan and the Juan dela Cruz Band. Of that all-star crew atop the stage, a few remained -- drummer Edmund Fortuno, bassist Mike Hanopol, and a couple of others. With Joey “Pepe” Smith backstage, the guitar slinger took center stage.
It was the summer of 1981, barely a few months after Martial Law was lifted after nine years. The concert was dubbed “Loyola Jam” and consisted of a virtual who’s-who in Pinoy Rock. The Juan dela Cruz Band’s third album, “Kahit Anong Mangyari” was a few months old and remained on heavy rotation among radio stations.
A hush descended on the Loyola Center with the spotlight on Gonzalez.
“’Wally’s Blues,’” shouted someone in the audience and that drew voices in agreement.
On cue, the opening strains of perhaps the song that would come to be closely associated with Wally Gonzalez began playing.
The music was hypnotic as everyone quietly watched the country’s first guitar hero at work.
By the time the song hit its crescendo, smoke wafted from the backstage to lend some effect to the performance as the Saturday evening crowd howled in delight. Gonzalez’s face in the meantime, remained impassioned.
To close watchers, that was typical Wally. The quiet one. The opposite of the rancorous Smith or even Hanopol who occasionally engaged the crowd in quick banter.
During the recording of Gonzalez’s second album, “Wally On the Road” which contained “Wally’s Blues,” my father took me to this recording studio -- am not sure if it was in Valle Verde or Greenhills -- where the album was being recorded.
My father, Danny Olivares, president of DisCorporation and the Philippine Association of the Record Industry, had some meeting with Wally and the production people. What it was I have forgotten. What I vividly remember is a scene akin to that part in the film "Almost Famous" where a young William Miller discovers his sister’s stash of records.
There were about 20 of them propped up on the carpeted floor of the studio. The first one was Boston’s crunching debut, Aerosmith’s "Draw the Line," Foreigner’s self-titled debut, Peter Frampton’s "Frampton Comes Alive," a couple of albums of Led Zeppelin, and some others.
It was a jaw-dropping moment. Wally, perhaps not too interested in the conversation among the adults, came over and asked, “Trip mo ba ang rock?”
I failed to verbalize any answer. Even at that tender age of 10, I already knew who Wally Gonzalez was.
He pulled out the record from the jacket of Boston’s debut and put it down on the turntable on the table adjacent to the console. All I could remember was Boston’s vocalist Brad Delp singing, “Then I lost myself in a familiar song. I closed my eyes and I slipped away” as Tom Scholz’s soaring riffs took me to the stratosphere.
He then played some newly recorded tracks from his new album I was in rock and roll heaven.
Wally smiled and remarked to my dad, “Danny, rocker din 'yang anak mo.”
When “Wally On the Road” came out, my dad and I each got a copy -- signed by my new guitar hero.
There was the flamboyant Gary Perez who performed with Sampaguita, or even Resty Fabunan of Maria Cafra (he set his guitar on fire during "Loyola Jam") and I did appreciate them both, but Wally was my local Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen.
I saw him perform with the Juan dela Cruz Band on several more occasions – at the new Ali Mall, the Araneta Coliseum, Olongapo, and the Folk Arts Theater. However, a couple of years after that, Gonzalez went on a hiatus. The next time our paths crossed it was during the promotions for the "Full Blast Pinoy Superbands" concert at the Cuneta Astrodome.
I interviewed him prior to the show and on the day of the "Full Blast," we got to sit down inside the huge room designated for the members of the Juan dela Cruz Band.
“I haven’t really played in a while,” he admitted. “But I’ll be able to do it.”
When I recounted to him all those meetings decades ago, he asked if I still had his records. “I lost them to Ondoy,” I sheepishly said.
“At least you have the memories,” he consoled.
Pepe as usual commanded attention with his tall frame and a Stetson, while Mike, wearing a beanie and sweater, was like some Jedi Master in the corner as he signed records brought over by the fawning members of Razorback who were also on the night’s bill.
Wally, as usual, was unobtrusive, in grey shirt, jeans, and leather shoes. “Hayaan mo na sila Pepe at Mike diyan,” Wally smiled.
Two hours later, the Juan dela Cruz Band finally took to the stage. Pepe wasn’t his usual self owing to a health condition (he gave it his best) so Wally and Mike had to carry the load.
After the fourth song, “Balong Malalim,” things quieted down a bit.
Wally moved up to the center of the stage and the fans, having seen this before roared in delight. You could hear one fan shout, “Wally’s Blues.” The instrumental then began and giving people goosebumps.
Just as I saw him then at the Loyola Center, he neither smiled or betrayed any emotion.
I smiled as I watched the master and the Philippines’ first guitar hero at work. How I felt then and at the time was exactly the same.
RIP Wally Gonzales. Thanks for the music and yes, the memories.