The late Pinoy rock icon Joey “Pepe” Smith, whom I got to interview multiple times, took me back as far as 1966 during our last chat with my voice recorder on. It was by way of a post-presscon casual talk in late 2017 when he shared his memory of encountering The Beatles “few minutes before showtime.” By that he meant right before John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr played in front of a massive Filipino crowd at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in July of that year. His then affiliation The Downbeats played frontact.
“We talked about the area and they were asking how big it is,” he reminisced, “I told them ‘You are the first ones who filled this up!’”
Pepe joked that when he heard and saw The Beatles play live, he felt like wanting “to stop playing in a band already.” And that was even before he led a group called Juan Dela Cruz Band to fame and forever. He mused, “I told myself, ‘Ayoko na tumugtog. Ang gagaling ng mga ‘to!’”
Yesterday, Jan. 30, happened to be the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ iconic performance on the roof of their Apple Studios building in 3 Savile Row, London. It was their last public gig. Last Monday, January 28, Pinoy rock was reduced to a dirge with the passing of its most beloved senior statesman.
Admittedly a big John Lennon fan, Pepe specially liked the quartet’s version of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” which he fondly noted as that concert’s opening number. “They’re an awesome band and they sound fantastic, ang sarap ng tugtugan,” he stressed.
Asked about his thoughts on the costly miscommunication that marred the Fab Four’s Manila visit, he somewhat fumed, “Kawawa naman sila. They came here to play and perform and entertain the Filipino people. Hindi nila intensiyon to snub the First Family at pinalala lang yun ng mga nakapaligid sa First Family. Sila dapat ang pinagbubugbog!”
Himself later becoming a poster boy especially for the early days of Pinoy rock music scene, Pepe’s first impression of The Beatles in person eventually mirrored his remarkably hippy stance that sweepingly characterized his career and life, both private and public. He ultimately said of The Beatles: “They were as cool as ever. They’re the ones.”
For many Filipino music fans who grew up knowing he wrote, lead-sung the anthemic “Himig Natin” and lived a devil-may-care, rock n’ roll life to the fullest, he was also undoubtedly the one.