Smokey Mountain’s first female member and original singer, Geneva Cruz, was only 12 years old when she recorded the group’s debut single, “Kailan,” in 1989.
But did you know that the song wasn’t supposed to be the first single of the four-member group, with Jeffrey Hidalgo, James Coronel and Tony Lambino?
It was the late lady boss of Universal Records, Bella Dy-Tan, who insisted that a love song should be the first single of the group.
“I didn’t know anything about love yet at that time,” Cruz told ABS-CBN News. “But I already knew what having a crush meant.”
“Kailan,” composed by Smokey Mountain’s mentor and songwriter, Ryan Cayabyab, became such a hit nationwide. Embracing Smokey Mountain’s recording success at that time, when Cruz was such a very young age, was a headscratcher for her.
“It was a life-changing experience,” she said. “But my family kept my feet on the ground. I was a star at work, but at home, I was treated the way I was since birth.”
“Kailan” became a much-requested and popular song on the radio. The song is something that will permanently identified to Cruz, the group’s most recognizable and most popular member.
Cruz traveled to other countries very early on with Smokey Mountain. The quartet performed at the World Summit for Children for UNICEF in New York City. “We were the only performers from a different country and it will always be one of my favorite performances with the group,” Cruz shared.
“It made all four of us really proud. People were very fond of us! What an amazing way to make our country proud!”
Smokey Mountain also represented the Philippines in Surabaya, Indonesia in 1991 for the ASEAN Song Festival. “We gave one of the best performances of our lives,” Cruz proudly recalled.
“It was fun, too, because we were at the festival for about a week and met many people from different ASEAN nations. We were the youngest performers, by the way, at that time.”
Understandably, Smokey Mountain immediately considered 1989 as a banner year for the group with its recording success for “Kailan” and subsequently, for Smokey Mountain's self-titled debut album.
The album was certified with gold, platinum and double platinum record awards then and was No. 1 for eight straight weeks on the airwaves.
“The year 1989 started it all for us and everything happened fast,” Cruz said. “By 1990, we had our own Christmas special and a sold-out Christmas concert at the Araneta Coliseum on Christmas Day. It was terrific.
“I believe Tita Bella Tan had mentioned to our American producer and Maestro [Ryan] that our first album reached eight times platinum by the time Smokey Mountain disbanded.”
“Kailan” was followed by other songs of Smokey Mountain that became popular and successful singles, too. “Can This Be Love,” sung by Hidalgo, did well, too. “But ‘Kailan’ started it all for us,” Cruz said.
“Most of our songs had social relevance, so it was just those two love songs that had a commercial impact. But all of our songs are still very much relevant up until this day.”
“Kailan” became one of the well-loved and best-selling ballads that kicked off Smokey Mountain’s successful singing career.
“The song in itself is a classic,” Cruz maintained. “It’s the type of song that you can listen to repeatedly and not get sick of it. It speaks about pure love; that’s why it takes us back to our youth.
“Having a crush on someone and not being liked in return is a typical case for young people no matter what generation they’re from. The Maestro told me in an interview that ‘Kailan’ is still his biggest hit song and I am so honored that he chose me out of hundreds of people all over the Philippines to sing it.
“He has always been brilliant and respected, but we are now talking about the National Artist of the Philippines for Music and it’s mind-boggling. I still can’t believe I sang his biggest hit. I’ll always be grateful to him and the group.”
Through the years, “Kailan” had other versions by other local artists, like Sarah Geronimo, Gary Valenciano, Noel Cabangon and Juris. Although Cruz insisted “Kailan” is the Maestro’s song, the beautiful and timeless ballad inevitably became strongly attached to her, too.
“It is not my song but the Maestro’s, though I feel like I’ve been married to that song since I was 12, so there was a time where I was a bit protective of it! [Laughed] I love all the versions. I think Filipino artists are uber-talented.”
“Kailan” became Smokey Mountain’s signature song and among the group’s biggest hit, along with “Paraiso,” “Da Coconut Nut,” “Mama,” “Better World” and “Can This Be Love.”
“Before the group disbanded, the first group finished recording the second album, ‘Paraiso’ and I love all the songs in there,” said Cruz. “There were ‘Hideaway,’ ‘Da Coconut Nut,’ ‘Kahit Habang Buhay,’ my duet with Tony Lambino.
“Kahit Habang Buhay’ was my favorite. There’s a video of us singing it when we were only 13 on my Facebook and Instagram somewhere… classic!”
“Kailan” undoubtedly become a sentimental favorite by many. “Many people have told me that the song was a big part of their childhood,” Cruz said.
“Some of them even married who they were crushing on. I think that’s pretty awesome if you ask me. The song had been embraced by individuals and music fans through the years.”
After six years in the US, Cruz returned to the Philippines last year with her daughter. “I went to America to give birth to my daughter and be with my eldest, si Heaven, who is now 24 years old.” Heaven is Cruz’s son with Paco Arespacochaga.
“I had no regrets because I learned so many things while I lived in the US. Mahal na mahal ko pala ang Pilipinas. I’m just happy to be back here.”
Cruz remains thankful for all the good breaks that opened for her after she joined the entertainment business starting with Smokey Mountain.
“I really wanted to sing and perform, but God gave me something much bigger than I thought,” Cruz said. “I’m grateful to the Maestro for trusting in me and believing in me. I auditioned and I was able to make it, because of the training I got. I never had to say, ‘Pamangkin ako ni Tirso Cruz’ o ‘pinsan ako ni Sheryl Cruz’.”
After more than three decades in the entertainment business, Cruz is still raring to perform again in front of a live audience when this pandemic tapers off. “It has been 31 years since the group's launch, and yes, I can’t wait to perform again here and abroad,” she admitted.
“I like acting, but singing… I love it! There’s a plan for the first group to reunite with the Maestro for a show when the pandemic is more manageable. I hope to God it happens soon. We are also launching Better World Foundation to be able to help more our countrymen.
“Smokey Mountain disbanded years ago, but the story, the music and the legacy will live on forever.”