When one mentions Pinoy rock especially from the 1970s, you’ll hear the names of the Juan Dela Cruz Band, Anakbayan, Maria Cafra, Sampaguita, and the like bandied about.
However, at that time, some of the best bands in the country went mostly unnoticed. Today, perhaps among a select few in the music scene during the 1970s and the 1980s, somewhat forgotten. Consigned to a footnote and a holy grail among record enthusiasts.
That is because these bands were mostly plying their trade in the lucrative clubs and bars surrounding the former American Naval Base in Subic Bay in Olongapo for almost two decades. With hardly any media attention to the music scene in “Gapo,” these bands toiled in relative anonymity.
These bands somewhat got their due when Ace Records released two compilation albums, “Gapo Vol.1” and “Gapo Vol.2” featuring bands such as Frictions, Soul Jugglers, Hangmen, Splitends, and Brown Sugar among others.
The original albums, released in 1978 through Ace Records, were popular releases. In today’s back sellers’ market, an original copy can fetch anywhere from P5,000 to P10,000. The record has been in demand that Vicor re-released the first volume two months ago.
Of all the bands featured in those compilation albums, perhaps the most popular one was Frictions.
The original line-up featured Romy Clemente on keyboards, Manny Cordero and Jose Ferrero on guitars, Carlito Mendoza on lead vocals and guitars, Benny Quintana on drums, Rodolfo Deniega on piano, and Rodolfo Acol on vocals.
The Frictions had a number one song in the charts back in the 1970s with “Perwisyo sa Lipunan.”
That song ironically resulted from a jam session between Cordero and Quintana off a riff. The band was just fooling around and not realizing that someone taped the song.
On Valentine’s Day of 1978, the band arrived in Manila to perform at a rock concert at the Araneta Coliseum when producer Danny Subido approached them for an original song that would be included in the Gapo Vol.1 compilation.
“Naalala namin na meron kaming kanta na na-record – ’yung ‘Perwisyo Sa Lipunan’ at ’yun ang na record namin for Gapo,” he said.
Other recorded songs that were officially released on vinyl include “Salamat Kaibigan”, which was the flip side to “Perwiso sa Lipunan” on seven-inch vinyl, and “Hoy Kumpare” that appeared on “Gapo Vol.2.”
Songs like “Ang Tunog” and “Bahay Kubo” along with the aforementioned songs were compiled, pirated, and became huge sellers among Filipino communities in the Middle East.
“Nagulat na lang kami na meron mga tapes ng mga kanta namin,” admitted Quintana.
For a band that did not have the repertoire of the Juan dela Cruz Band or even Sampaguita, Frictions were very popular.
In fact, they were the first band to perform at the Folk Arts Theater and even headlined a show at the Araneta Coliseum. Furthermore, the Frictions were a staple of the live music in Shakey’s (Malate and Cubao) later in the 1980s.
Initially known as “The Intimates,” their American promoter in South Vietnam requested that they change their name into something more in tune with the times.
“Dapat ’yung pangalan ng banda ay parang the Temptations, Fifth Dimension ’yung style,” related Quintana who to this day still resides in Olongapo.
“Someone mentioned ‘Frictions’ and nagustuhan ng Amerikano,” added guitarist Manny Cordero.
The name stuck, and the Frictions got their professional debut in Saigon sometime in 1969 (they also stayed for a time in Hong Kong) to perform for American troops stationed in what was then South Vietnam’s capital.
The band would stay in-country for three to four months then rotate back to the Philippines for some rest, and then return for another lengthy stint in South Vietnam.
At first, the band played cover songs of popular songs of the time. “We learned to adjust to the audience,” related Cordero. “Minsan rhythm and blues, minsan standards, minsan rock and roll. Depende sa audience. Later on na kami naging rock.”
By 1973, the band knew that the war wasn’t going so well for the beleaguered country that they decided not to come back.
“Had we returned, baka kasama kami sa mga tumakas sa rooftops nung final days ng mga Amerikano sa Vietnam,” quipped Quintana. “Dahil malawak ’yung war zone, every day may kwento tungkol sa gera.”
When the band returned to Olongapo, they became the house band at the Sierra Club (and later, Genesis).
“The scene in Gapo nung time na ’yun ay one bar, puro Pink Floyd ’yung tugtugan. Another bar, Led Zeppelin,” shared Cordero. “Kami nagsimula na varied ’yung musika. Then nagkaroon na kami ng mga originals na in Tagalog.”
“Meron pa nga kami comedy na skit,” threw in Quintana.
Frictions too pre-dated Tito, Vic & Joey.
“Necessity yung marunong mag-adjust ng banda sa anuman audience,” explained Cordero.
How popular was the Sierra Club and the Frictions?
Cordero laughed. “Let me just say that on any given night, some 600 cases of beer were consumed.”
As for the Frictions, from the bars along Magsaysay Boulevard in Olongapo, they eventually began to play more shows in Manila. And at one point, became a regular performer at Shakey’s Malate and Cubao (back when they still had live music).
By then, some of the original members of the band (such as Cordero who moved to Bahrain where he became a music teacher) had left and a second generation version of the band was performing.
The second generation band lasted all the way to the 1990s before calling it a career.
Today, a third generation version of the Friction performs at the Street Corner Blues Bar in Angeles City, Pampanga. Cordero still plays a mean guitar.
The only other living member of the original Frictions’ lineup – Benny Quintana – hung up his drum sticks as recent as 2017.
“When I look back on those days, they were fun and happy times. Young men playing music for a living. Rocking bars and clubs in the Philippines and Southeast Asia,” reflected Cordero. “It was a great experience. I am who I am today because of that.”
Concluded Quintana in the vernacular: “The experiences we had are priceless. If we did anything for Original Pilipino Music, then we are happy. If we inspired others, then thank you. And it is certainly nice to be remembered.”