Pinoy punk priestess Delilah Aguilar recalls Howlin' Dave

Rick Olivares

Posted at Jun 03 2017 05:00 PM

Howlin’ Dave and Delilah Aguilar. Photo provided by author

During a benefit show for Maria Cafra drummer Rolly Averilla at the Handlebar last May 10, former DZRJ disc jockey Bob Magoo introduced this woman who despite getting in on the years, sported blonde hair and well, exuded rock and roll. 

“You all know Howlin’ Dave’s better half,” said Magoo by way of introduction. “Delilah.”

Even decades after her split from Howlin' Dave (Dante David in real life) as a couple and nine years after the popular DJ had passed away, the two are still closely intertwined. 

The DJ passed away on May 26, 2008 due to a heart attack. 

While Howlin' Dave is credited for helping popularize what was then nascent Pinoy rock and a few years later, punk and new wave in the Philippines, what many do not know is that it was the DJ’s girlfriend, Delilah Aguilar, who introduced him to the later genres. 

A couple of weeks after that show, I sat down with Delilah to talk about Howlin' Dave on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of his passing. 

“Good times, bad times,” muttered Aguilar not realizing she mentioned the classic Led Zeppelin song. 

“I think,” said Aguilar, who paused for effect, “we were meant to meet, be together, maybe as a couple for some time, but more for the music.”

Howlin’ Dave and Delilah Aguilar. Photo provided by author

Howlin' Dave was one of the more popular DJs of the time. He also helped organize concerts, and when the spirit moved him, would perform on stage as well with the late Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious’ version of “My Way” as his signature song. 

And whether aptly or not, the couple was referred to the Philippines’ version of Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. WEA Records’ Ramon Chuaying (later with PolyCosmic and Universal Records) called Aguilar ‘the Punk Princess.’

“The comparison to Spungen did not flatter me,” said Aguilar. “But I didn’t hate it either. I guess, at that time, we were all young, crazy, and stupid.”

Aguilar had lived in India and studied in the United States and discovered a lot of music that wasn’t readily available in Manila at that time – the Sex Pistols, the Velvet Underground, the Clash, the Patti Smith Group, and the Ramones to name a very few of those precious vinyl records that provided an awakening, a gateway to other worlds that tapped into hidden emotions and feelings.

“Those records were liberating,” said Aguilar of those times she played those records. “While I loved music by Simon and Garfunkel and the Zombies, punk and new wave really touched something deep inside of me. And they were like an epiphany for Dante as well.”

After meeting Howlin' Dave, it was through those records that they bonded and connected. 

Howlin' Dave at the DJ booth. Photo provided by author

“At that time, he (and the station) would play the flavor of the day – the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Cream,” recalled Aguilar. “I told Dante, ‘why don’t you play these punk and new wave records?’”

Howlin' Dave did try them out. Late at night first when the day’s playlists were done. And what followed was a – to borrow a song title from the Clash – “revolution rock.”

“When Dante was on board at RJ, I’d be the one at the booth to answer the phone,” revealed Aguilar of those subversive nights. “Callers (this writer included) would ask the titles of the songs or information about the bands. Sid Vicious’ version of ‘My Way’ was so popular that we’d often get requests to play it even if we already did.”

As a seventh grade student then, hearing the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Skids, and the Clash turned this metalhead of a kid inside out. When Howlin' Dave began to promote the upcoming release of the first ever locally released punk record – “The Best of Punk and New Wave Rock Vol.1” -- the album was like a Holy Grail for me at that age. I saved my allowance for two weeks and then some just to purchase the record (which I still have to this day). 

When I recount that anecdote to Aguilar, she beams proudly. “What was going on inside that booth in DZRJ at that time sure changed a lot of lives.”

Dante, with Aguilar by his side, was propelled into an unlikely figurehead of the punk and new wave moment locally. Together, they staged concerts, hosted them even. And Howlin' Dave sang in a few of them too. They discovered bands. Played them on the air and gave them breaks. 

The Pinoy rock explosion of the 1970s that begat the legendary Juan dela Cruz Band gave way to the punk and new wave movement. It was an exciting time for the local music scene. 

“Good times and bad times,” reprised Aguilar hinting at the eventual decline with the re-formatting of DZRJ and the couple’s eventual split. But not before Dante and Delilah had a son, Adam, who in his own right, has become a top-notch writer. “He found a different calling,” stated Aguilar, once more proudly.

Delilah Aguilar today with the author

Nowadays, Aguilar posts pictures of the good ole days on the Pinoy Rock and Rhythm Facebook page that keeps alive the memories of a most exciting time including her life with Howlin' Dave. She doesn’t listen to the radio anymore. She doesn’t even listen to those punk and new wave records that changed her life forever. Although she will concede to those pre-punk favorites of hers – the Rolling Stones. 

“I don’t just groove to any song. Now when Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones come on, I get down. But if there is any band that I like today, it’s Belle and Sebastian. They are the heirs to the Smiths.”

And just like that, she reverts to her talkative self. How cool they sound and how poignant their songs are.

“Dante,” she concluded, “would have loved Belle and Sebastian too.”