Tuesday, July 21, 2009

PERF DE CASTRO - Pinoy Rock Journeyman

Saying that Perf De Castro is one of the best guitarists in the Philippines is an understatement. We all know of his stunning technique on the fretboard and enormous talent. What most of us may not know is the different adventures that Perf has experienced through the years; from taking up a challenge from his high school music teacher to learn to play a new instrument all the way to playing classical music pieces with a 10-string classical guitar. His musical exploits include being the original guitarist of Rivermaya, forming power trio Triaxis, sideman to late Pinoy rap artist Francis M. and hundreds of side projects in between. Now living in southern California, Perf De Castro is strumming nylon more than he is riding the lightning with his electric axes. Yet, still with the technique that compels. The Pinoy Rocker shot a bunch of inquiries to Mr. Perfection himself.

The Pinoy Rocker: Were you formally trained?

Perf De Castro: I took classical guitar lessons from 3R’s Yamaha School of Music when I was 13. Prior to that I already knew how to read and write music from Music class in Don Bosco Makati. Later on I enrolled in Music College first in UST then eventually transferring to PWU where I got my Bachelor Degrees in Guitar performance and Music Education. However, my electric guitar chops were mostly acquired through a lot of self-research and experience.

TPR: Do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to play music?

PDC: I was in 2nd yr High School, the music teacher challenged the whole class at the start of the school year to learn at least 1 musical instrument by the end of the year. I signed up for classical guitar lessons a couple of weeks after. I got hooked and started practicing guitar for hours everyday. By 3rd yr HS I started teaching at the Yamaha school I learned in and by senior year I was pretty much set on having a music career.

TPR: What was the first album you got as a kid

PDC: I don’t remember…. Some New Wave compilation on LP.

TPR: What was your first guitar?

PDC: My first guitar was a locally-made nylon string, a few months later (after a lot of begging) my mom bought me a fake Gibson SG. Both were purchased from JB Music.

TPR: Who were your early favorite music artists growing up?

PDC: I started off digging New Wave: The Cure, The Alarm, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo and the Bunnymen, Bolshoi, etc. When I started playing I found out that I needed to buy guitar effects to play New Wave. Being without guitar pedals I got into Punk: The Descendents, Sex Pistols, anything that only required me to turn up my amp and rock out.

When my skills got better, I got into Glam Rock: Poison, Warrant, Cinderella, etc.

TPR: Can you tell us how you got in to Rivermaya?

PDC: The band was pretty much formed in my studio along Sucat Rd in 1993. Lizza Nakpil found the core members Nathan and Rico and started auditioning the other members there. Nathan eventually brought in Bamboo and Mark and they started gigging as a cover band in Makati. They booked the studio 3-5x a week and for the most part the guys were just goofing off the whole time. Oftentimes I would find myself jamming with whoever’s around just to pass the time. Eventually they fired their guitar player and invited me to join.

TPR: What was the reason for you leaving them?

PDC: Youthful pride, I guess. We all had our ideas on which direction to take the band in. And being young and egotistic, we turned matters that should’ve been handled business-like into some sort of personal slight against each other. Musical differences turned personal.

TPR: Who were your musical influences by this time?

PDC: Well, from Glam I worked my way back into Classic Rock, then Blues, then eventually widening my horizons to pretty much all genres of music. I listened to everybody: Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Mr. BIG, BB King, Buddy Guy, George Benson, Richie Kotzen…. The whole gamut.

TPR: How did Triaxis form? What were your experiences and accomplishments?

PDC: Well, I soon realized during my time with Rivermaya that I won’t be able to do everything I wanted to do musically with them. I remember a time when Bamboo lost his voice and we couldn’t gig for weeks! Instead of moping around, I grabbed my guitar and looked for gigs where I could just sit in…. one such occurrence was a couple of Kalye gigs with Wolfgang where I just showed up and played both sets without even rehearsing! Those were memorable jams for me, music being born out of the spur of the moment.

I also formed a Blues trio that first performed at the Atrium’s Weekends Live under the name “Voodoo Jones” with bassist Dave Harder and drummer Kent Sison (who later played with pop band Great Divide). We did Blues tunes from Clapton to Gary Moore to some Hendrix tunes. This format just clicked with me for some reason and I knew then my next band (if I were to join/form another one) would be a 3 piece Blues/Rock band.

In the months leading to my departure from Rivermaya, I had started writing my own tunes that didn’t fit with the direction the band was heading in. So I decided to record these on my own at my studio with just a drum machine and later on with the help of Wolfgang bassist Mon Legaspi. Sometime later we met drummer Wendell Garcia and started jamming any Blues/Rock tunes that we could think of and eventually working out the songs I’ve been recording. We started gigging as “Blues Trio”, a terribly imaginative name, hitting clubs like 70’s Bistro, Mayric’s and the Edsa Club Dredd. When schedule conflicts with Wolfgang started making life difficult for Mon, we brought in Claire Sobejana on bass.

Wendell, Claire and I decided to change our name to “Axis” after the Hendrix song, mainly because we didn’t want to be limited to the Blues genre as our previous name suggested. Shortly thereafter we changed it to “Triaxis” just to make it easier for people to say and remember.


We released our debut CD “Further Down the Bend” under EPIC/Sony Music Philippines in 1996 and toured the country for over a year. That CD received critical praise and eventually won a Katha Award for Best Rock Instrumental.

Claire got tired of the Rock band lifestyle and went back to school to complete her music degree at UP, so we brought in King Baldoz to play bass. King was a good friend and a frequent tambay at my studio in Paranaque. We recorded our 2nd CD “Who We Are” and released it in 1998. This CD earned me my NU107 Guitarist of the Year Award.

At the 1999 NU 107 Rock Awards.

We carried on for a few more years until the Rock band scene died down. Instead of changing sounds, we decided to stop for awhile and go our separate ways with the option of getting back together when it feels right again. I went back to school and got my Music degrees, King played with the Blue Jean Junkies and started his own design firm, Wendell went on to play for Barbie’s Cradle and Pupil and from what I hear nowadays, pretty much everybody in the music scene.


TPR: What was your gear at this time?

PDC: For Triaxis, my gear evolved a bit. I started out with the green Mightek guitar I used with Rivermaya. Then a friend of mine built me another guitar with the same shape but with different woods and I used that for quite a bit. Then sometime 1997 I signed on as an RJ Guitars endorser again and started gigging with 2 custom-made RJ Ravens. I also had a MIJ Fender Strat in candy apple red and a butterscotch Tokai Telecaster that I had bought from Francis Reyes.

For amps/efx, I started out using a Digitech GSP2101 rackmount efx preamp running that into a Marshall series 9000 power amp and a Peavey Classic 410 cabinet. When I got tired of lugging that around, I started using a Fender Blues Deluxe amp with a Boss Dual Overdrive pedal and sometimes a Vox V827 wah. Then when *that* became tiring to bring around, I started using a lowly Zoom 505 multifx pedal heheh It was cheap but it did the job.

There was also a period where I used a Roland Guitar Synthesizer live to add another dimension to the rock trio sound. Audiences were sometimes confused trying to look for whoever was making those keyboard sounds! One guy literally went up onstage and looked behind the amps for a hidden keyboard player!

TPR: You used to run a rehearsal studio in Sucat, Paranaque. How and when did that idea start?

PDC: All my high school bands used to rehearse at home and eventually I wanted to move to a place where we could jam all the time and not disturb the neighbors. My family owned an apartment complex along Sucat Rd. and my parents graciously let me have a couple of units to turn into a rehearsal studio. Now we had a place to hang out in and at the same time clients would help pay with the studio upkeep.

It eventually expanded into a recording studio, first starting with a 4 track cassette recorder, then into a 16 track ADAT studio until becoming a full-fledged multitrack digital recording studio. By 1998 I was recording major label releases in there, as well as countless indie albums.

TPR: You had different side projects with various musicians throughout the 90’s. Care to elaborate on them?

PDC: So many projects, I don’t even remember most of them anymore! I used to play with anybody and everybody, like that previously-mentioned Wolfgang gig I sat in. I just like being in different musical situations and I constantly sought them out. A lot of them resulted in magical moments onstage…. I lived for those moments!

Perf with the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar (2000)

TPR: When did you migrate to the US and what was the reason for that?

PDC: We moved to the US in 2004. My wife got hired as a registered nurse here and I figured I should at least try to continue my musical career here in the US. So far it’s been working out.

TPR: Did you play in any bands when you got there?

PDC: I did a couple of sessions with Elson Trinidad and his R&B band. I also did gigs with some transplanted Pinoy rockers here (Paco Arespacochaga, Jonathan Buencamino, Basti Artadi) to promote a benefit CD for Leyte that I put together a few years ago. I also played on a couple of gigs with Glen Jacinto around L.A. clubs. Mike Turner and I jammed a few times to see what we could come up with, but never really gelled.

Honestly, I didn’t really pursue the band thing because I didn’t want to start from scratch again… finding band members, rehearsing, booking “exposure” gigs, blah, blah, blah. The main appeal of solo classical guitar for me is that I no longer have to worry about persons other than my self as far as my career goes.

TPR: Your move to classical guitar was quite surprising. Using a 10-string classical guitar was shocking. How did this all come about?

PDC: Well, around 1998 the music scene was changing and there was less and less demand for Triaxis. So we talked and decided to start focusing on other aspects of our lives. I went back to music school and got my music degrees. In doing so, I also discovered that I could continue my career as a classical guitarist.

As for the 10-string, my teacher, Jose Valdez, played 10-string as well so he was a huge influence. Plus I thought the guitar looked really cool! I had been playing a 7 string electric guitar at that time and I know what the possibilities are with more strings.

TPR: When did this interest in classical music begin?

PDC: Like I said, I’m into all kinds of music. But when I was younger I leaned more towards heavier stuff. When I went back to school at an older age, I matured enough to be able to listen and find interesting things about other genres. Where in the past I thought music history was a waste of time, this time around I enjoyed learning about composers, their lives and their inspirations.

TPR: Please explain the concept of a 10-string classical guitar.

PDC: Simply put, the first 6 strings are that of a regular guitar, the extra strings are usually tuned as extra basses.

It was first developed to increase the resonance of the guitar. With the extra strings tuned to a specific set of notes, you can get equal resonance on every note of the chromatic scale… much like playing a piano with the damper pedal pressed down.

Eventually, players started using different tunings to expand the musical range of the instrument, thus lending it to play other music, like old lute music as well as encouraging new compositions and transcriptions in different musical genres.

TPR: Who else uses this kind of instrument?

PDC: It’s been around in some form or another, like the harp guitars with floating strings (meaning strings off the fretboard).

The guitar type I’m using, with all 10 strings on the fretboard, was developed by Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes and Spanish guitar builder Jose Ramirez III. Yepes had his students and followers all over the world playing 10-strings.

In the Philippines, as mentioned, the main 10-string figure is my maestro, Jose Valdez.

In non-classical genres, the most famous 10-string player is Egberto Gismonti.

TPR: What have your projects involving the classical guitar been?

PDC: My first classical guitar project was the Kasilag Guitar Quartet CD released in 2004. We recorded that back in my Sucat studio and was released to international acclaim.

In 2007 I released my first solo 10-string CD, “A Journey through 10 Strings”. I’ve toured behind the CD across the US and in the Philippines and it has met some good reviews as well.

I just released my 2nd solo 10-string CD entitled “CAPARISON”, it’s available through my website (http://www.perfdecastro.com/merchandise.htm ) and will soon be available on CDBaby.com and iTunes.

My next projects will be an all new music CD and an all Filipino music CD. Aside from that I’ll be working towards putting together some video performances and instructionals that will be available for sale as well.

TPR: Who in the classical music genre are your influences?

PDC: There’s a whole bunch as well, I try to listen to everybody.

For guitar there’s Pepe Romero, Andres Segovia (of course), Narciso Yepes, John Williams, Scott Kritzer, James Kline, David Russell, Kazuhito Yamashita, Remi Boucher, Paco de Lucia and a bunch of others I can’t remember right now.

For music in general: BACH, Beethoven, Debussy, Puccini, , Ravel, Joaquin Rodrigo, Federico Moreno-Torroba, Dvorak, Pablo Casals, Mstislav Rostropovich, Glen Gould, Yo Yo Ma, Andrea Bocelli, Paul Robeson, Pavarotti, Philip Rosheger and again others I’m sure I can’t recall off the top of my head.

TPR: Do you still play electric guitar?

PDC: Yes, I do, though not as intently as I used to. I keep my chops up enough to handle my guitar classes and the occasional jam.

TPR: Do you still jam rock n’ roll these days?

PDC: Mostly in my guitar classes. The bulk of my students are aspiring rockers and we get to work on tunes that range from classic rock to the current KROQ hits.

Once in a while I get together with some friends and just blast our amps the whole afternoon. It’s a welcome change from the rigors of classical guitar practice.

TPR: Who are the artists that you presently listen to?

PDC: Aside from the classical guys, I get to check out some fairly new music because of my students: Muse, Rise Against, MCR, Disturbed, Avenged 7fold, Foo Fighters, The Strokes, etc. However, I don’t seek them out unless I have to. When driving I usually just tune in to a classic rock station and listen to whatever they’re spinning.

TPR: Aside from the 10-string, what is your present gear?

PDC: I got back my candy apple red Fender Stratocaster that I’ve used on all my recordings back in the Philippines. I also have a custom 7-string electric made by Kansas guitar maker Dave Wendler that’s an awesome, awesome guitar.

As for amplification, I have a boutique amplifier that’s a clone of a Dumble amp, like the ones Santana, Robben Ford, Larry Carlton and John Mayer use. It’s built by my friend Bob Ingram out of New Jersey. Great amp.

I have different odds and ends as far as accessories go: Boss Dual Overdrive, Guyatone Wah Rocker, Ultrasound acoustic DI, Digitech RP350.

TPR: What are your top 5 all-time favorite albums?

PDC: That’s tough, there’s so much great music out there!

Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare

Pepe Romero – Noches de EspaƱa

Kazuhito Yamashita – Bach Cello Suites

The Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown

Friday, July 10, 2009

Album Review - NUT HOUSE by HILERA ****

Band competitions have become dime a dozen in the Philippine rock scene for the past 25 years. From low-level barangay contests to nationwide corporate-sponsored events like today’s Red Horse Beer Muziklaban and Nescafe Sound Skool. Prizes at these events range from simple cash rewards to recording deals and promises of fame and fortune.

Hundreds of bands with their rock n’ roll dreams have participated in these “battle of the bands” but literally, only a handful have emerged with actual talent in making music and integrity to stick to their style without selling out. One of these bands is Hilera. Winning the 2005 Nescafe Sound Skool when they were still teenagers, this power trio has lived up to expectations with their debut album and hit single, “Define”. Since then they have become one of Pinoy rock’s rising stars with more than just the record company hype behind their name.

Their second album, Nut House sees the band destroying any sophomore jinx and propels them to a much more advanced musical level than most of their more popular contemporaries, who sound like local clones of foreign bands that are the flavor of the moment. Songs like “Not This Time”, “Stop The Fight” and “Ded Ded Ded” show off their rockabilly/psychobilly influences. “No Lizard King”, “It’s A Crime” “So Be It” and the first single, “Radical” display their prowess in the radio-friendly world of power pop (and that is certainly NOT a bad thing). While “Protest”, “Doo Wop Pop” and the Beatle-esque ditties, “I’ll Get By” and “It All Ends” confirm the improving songwriting skills of the band.

Hilera’s advantage from the rest of the pack is that the musical template that they follow is much more extensive and much more deeper which are ingredients to making music with substance and longevity. Hilera has not reached their peak just yet but they have certainly hit their stride.

The new album NUT HOUSE is now available in stores.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Michael Turner Overdrive

People from around the world who have visited the Philippines experience one of two things. They have had either a great experience of its people’s hospitality, its pristine beaches and surf spots and its tasty food or have been traumatized by the heavy traffic, pollution and life-draining humidity with a sprinkle of a military coup de ’etat and mass revolution every now and again. Some of them stay for the rest of their lives, others become frequent visitors and the rest take the next flight out.

For former The Breed and Battery guitarist Michael Turner, who was born in Dayton, Ohio and raised in cities and suburbs up an down the east coast of the United States, going to the Philippines was probably like taking a trip to Mars. Passing through our country only as a training jaunt for a future humanitarian mission to India, Turner did not know that his higher power had a Pinoy Rock side trip planned for this musician who made a significant mark in the local scene during the late 1990’s to the early 00’s.

Now living in Tallahassee, Florida, Michael Turner continues to spread the Good Word, have fond thoughts of the Philippines and play a whole lotta rock n’ roll. The Pinoy Rocker shot a few inquiries to one of Pinoy Rock’s great American allies.

The Pinoy Rocker: What was the first instrument that you learned to play.

Michael Turner: I started taking piano lessons in the first or second grade and moved to drums from there.

TPR: When did you start playing the guitar?

MT: I started playing guitar when I was 9 or 10 years old.

TPR: What was the moment when you knew you wanted to play music?

MT: Probably when I heard the first Beatles album at about 5 or 6 years old.

TPR: What was your first guitar?

MT: Some kind of Yamaha acoustic guitar.

TPR: When did you form/join your first band?

MT: My first band was in junior high school, ninth grade. We were called Cannabis.

TPR: What bands were you listening to when you were in your first band?

MT: Aerosmith, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Kiss, The Doobie Brothers (pre-Michael McDonald).

Michael Turner playing with Salem's Lot, circa 1985

TPR: When did you come to the Philippines and what were the circumstances that brought you there?

MT: I came over in June of 1995 to get some training on the way to India to help with orphanages. It was also kind of a cultural bridge instead of going directly from the U.S. to India.

TPR: How did you hook up with The Breed and eventually join them?

MT: I was part of a bible study group that had meetings at the NU 107 office and I heard that Charlie Y. (Ysmael) needed a guitarist for his band. I went to the audition, played and sat down with Charlie and their band manager afterwards. They told me I got the gig and we were gonna play a show in the next week!

TPR: What did you think of Filipino musicians when you first arrived in the Philippines?

MT: Wow! Freakin' amazing!

TPR: How did Battery evolve from there?

MT: We re-negotiated a crappy deal with Dyna Records to a better deal and rocked out! We went on to record "Amusing Ourselves to Death" with Maly Andres producing and got some really good feedback in local press, etc..

TPR: When Battery released its debut album, you were labeled as Christian Rock. Did you feel comfortable with your music being given that label?

MT: Yeah, because they had already done that with "Amusing Ourselves to Death" which actually had a lot of stronger lyrical content.

TPR: The local rock fans easily accepted you during your stint with The Breed and Battery. Did you feel accepted?

MT: Definitely. It was crazy! I remember my first gig with The Breed. It was just nuts! We even played some old cover tunes 'coz I had only practiced with them only one or two times.

TPR: Does your past experience in the Philippines still influence you as an artist?

MT: Yes. It really gave me great confidence.

TPR: Any memorable gig from the Philippines?

MT: One of my favorites with The Breed was in Bohol playing along with Wolfgang. Just an awesome time. With Battery, the MTV Music Awards and The Pulp Summer Slams were always cool. There are really too many to mention.

Battery version II, circa 2000

TPR: One of your most memorable performances was playing the Philippines' national anthem (Lupang Hinirang) on electric guitar at the first Pulp Summer Slam. What was the genesis of that idea?

MT: All of these great guitar players were backstage before the show and someone asked, "Who wants to play the national anthem?" Nobody answered. I actually had been learning it on my own so I volunteered. I think that was my most nerve wracking performance ever. A foreign guy playing the national anthem of another country!

TPR: What artists do you consider influential to you as an artist?

MT: Pretty much everything I hear has some influence but in the early days it was Todd Rundgren, The Beatles, The Doobie Brothers, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Kiss, AC/DC, Judas Priest, UFO, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith. Nowadays its stuff like the Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, Thin Lizzy, Disturbed, Paula Cole.

TPR: How did your Los Angeles band, Love & Death form?

MT: I was in Hollywood playing a bunch of solo acoustic gigs and getting tired of playing quiet music. I played guitar for awhile with a hip hop band called Four 19. Then, Miguel Ortigas (Razorback, The Breed) moved to town and we formed Love and Death around 2004. Perf de Castro played with us for a while and he and I switched up on bass and guitar until he got too busy with classical gigs and we found Weng Lakanilaw (Fights Without Loss) to play bass.

Love & Death (Weng Lakanilaw, center, Miguel Ortigas, right)

TPR: Did you record any Love & Death material?

MT: Only on practice demos. I'm doing some of the material with my new band.

TPR: What is your band now?

MT: The band is called Glasgow Kiss. We've had about 4 practices. I am writing the originals and we are playing covers to get paid in clubs here. I did a small stint in Tallahassee as a bassist with a guitarist friend of mine.

TPR: What are your top 5 best albums of all time?

MT: That's a tough one. Here goes:

Something Anything - Todd Rundgren
Captain & Me - The Doobie Brothers
Powerage - AC/DC
2112 - Rush
Strangers in the Night..Live in Chicago - UFO

It could change next week but those are classics.

TPR: How did the Filipino environment and way of life affect you as a musician and songwriter?

MT: It really kind of freed me up as a writer and an artist, I think. There is so much variety and also an openness to all kinds of music back there.

TPR: You’re known as a hard rock/heavy metal guitarist. Are there any other genres of music that interest and influence you?

MT: Oh yeah. I love classical music and pop music as well as bluegrass and gospel music. I even like country music these days. I have some studio work on some soul and R&B stuff too.

TPR: Now for some guitar talk. What is your present gear?

MT: A Gibson Flying V, Epiphone Les Paul, Hamer Stratocaster. The V has DiMarzio pickups and the Hamer has both EMG and DiMarzio pickups. I also have a Tacoma acoustic guitar that is awesome!

I just got some new amps. A Vox AC130 combo and a Peavey 100 watt Valveking. I have a 4x12 Marshall cab. I also still utilize my Dunlop Wah and my Digitech RP2000.

TPR: Are any of your kids following in their father’s rock n’ roll footsteps?

MT: They like listening to rock music but none of them are real excited about the work it takes to be a musician at this point.

TPR: Do you still have any musical aspirations?

MT: Yes. To be a recording artist here in the U.S. and a successful song writer.

TPR: Will you ever be visiting the Philippines as a musician again?

MT: I sure hope to!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pilipinas Kontra Con Ass!


Join the movement and let your voices be heard.



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Remembering Dondi Ledesma Part II: Tribute To A Master

DNDI with Wally Gonzalez (left) and Joey "Pepe" Smith

This is the second part of The Pinoy Rocker's Dondi Ledesma tribute. A number of colleagues and friends have made time to share memories and thoughts on how the Father of Pinoy Progressive Rock, in one way or another, touched their lives.

Nino Mendoza (vocalist, guitarist, Blue Jean Junkies)

"I remember Dondi Ledesma when Wally Gonzalez would get me to sing and play harmonica for him. Dondi was always our bass player and on live gigs we would compliment each other by answering tunes. The word for it would be "sagutan" between blues harp, Dondi's bass & Wally's guitar."

"I always felt honored & privileged to play with him especially when Dondi would compliment me with his facial expressions & mannerisms after the set when we would have a smoke out side "Chaqicks" in Makati Ave."

"I always have much respect for the older rock & rollers" coz they really tell you what it's all about while playing with them live, on giving the spot, body rhythm, body language, to bring out your expression through your craft, laughter and a whole lotta lovin' vibes goin' on."

"For Dondi to play like that I believe he is a man with a lotta heart & love."

Eddie Boy Escudero (photographer)

"I was a very big fan of Dondi ever since I saw him play the for the first time in the original Club Dredd on Sct. Tobias. The way he played the bass guitar would make anybody's jaw drop. I've seen him perform through the years and his performance was always spectacular. I'm just happy that I was able to shoot him in action several times."

Audie Gemora (Philippine theatre icon, actor, Dondi's 1st cousin)

"Dondi was my father's favorite nephew and considered him a 4th son. We grew up together in Iloilo and were playmates.
Growing up as kids I never had any inkling Dondi was musical. He was real good at drawing and putting together model airplanes. He was always hyper and very comical. In Ilonggo, "haras-haras."

"When my brother and I moved from Iloilo to Manila in the mid-60s we'd only see him every summer. He also spent one summer in our house in Makati. One of the most fun memories for me."

"When we reached our teen years vacations to Iloilo became less, so there was a whole period when I did not see how he got into music. Next thing I knew he was into rock and had become a dexterous bassist. He proudly gave me copies of his recordings (recorded in his room-turned studio) and it was only then when I realized he was exceptional. This was confirmed when he started playing the circuits with local rock stars."

Bobby Taylo (bassist, sessionist)

"Minsan nakapanood ako sa kanya sa gig ni Wally Gonzalez sa Makati at nakabili ako ng album nya noon. Malaking kawalan talaga si Dondi sa scene."

Jamie Wilson (actor, vocalist)

"He's was always a very meek and quiet guy around me, but he was the first one to comment on the picture of Pepe Smith and me, back in the days of Deadly Green...and I was at least 100 lbs thinner."

"He asked if that was me in the picture! I was never more honored and freaked out at the same time in my life."

Jerry Gonzales (Dondi's high school buddy)

"Dondi was just one of the guys in school and we were never close buddies. He was cool. He was fun. He had long hair the others would envy. He loved life, but school work -- well, not very much. But you can tell Dondi loved being in school because of his friends."

"By some play of fate (or God's way of having fun), Dondi and I became seat mates in our first year of high school at St. Clement's College in Iloilo. I was a witness to his daily activity in the classroom -- drawing and sketching WW I and WW II airplanes. His mind would wander, and one can tell that at that moment he was a fighter pilot. His dreams would be abruptly interrupted by the teacher asking, “Dondi, what’s your answer?”

"By the last quarter of our school year of 1972, Dondi requested me to teach him how to play the guitar. I wasn't an expert in this matter. I'm just a Jingle magazine graduate, who taught himself how to play the guitar when we were in grade 7. His request came as a surprise to me. I never knew he was interested in music."

"From then on, I would teach him every weekend all the basics of the guitar – basic chords and basic strumming. On our second weekend, I knew that Dondi was a genius. Through the week, instead of doing his school work, he taught himself all the chords in the chart. He had also taught himself to transpose the guitar chords to piano chords."

"By our third week, he was into bass. He converted his “electric guitar-shaped”, Cebu-made, acoustic six-stringed guitar into a four-stringed bass guitar. He did this by sawing off new grooves into the nut and bridge. He then wrapped the strings with paper and tape to achieve that “bass” sound."

"By the fourth week, he bought a magnificent, huge bass guitar. I was in awe when he played it with lightning-fast fingers. Ok, that was it. The student had mastered his teacher. Lessons are over."

"Dondi’s first public appearance as a guitarist was during the anniversary of the Iloilo Polyclinic Hospital. We sang “Stay Awhile” by The Bells with four other freshmen. Dondi and I played the guitar."

Nino Hernandez (flutist, Julianne, Loquy)

"We all know he is mabait and his soft-spoken Ilonggo way. There was this one time I was talking to him about bass guitars and told him that this guy got a new 5-string bass and this other guy with a 6-string bass. And Dondi answers, in a very humble way, "labas na nila lahat ng 5 strings at 6 strings nila. Ako 4 strings lang, lalaban ako". Pero ganun pa rin, Dondi way..No yabang. He said it na walang ka hangin hangin."

Henry Strzalkowski (actor, bar manager)

"I can tell you two stories I have about Dondi. The first is about the first time I met him. I used to manage the Heckle and Jeckle in Makati several years ago. It was when Wally Gonzales had just began playing again and his bassist, of course was Dondi Ledesma. During the soundcheck, as I was passing by the stage, I heard a familiar bass riff. It was the opening theme from Weather Report's "A Remark You Made". It is a haunting, beautiful melody, written by Jaco Pastorius. Quite obscure within the blues and rock confines of our club. I, being an old fan of Weather Report and that song in particular, immediately acknowledged Dondi and said to him, "Jaco!" He just smiled sheepishly and winked knowingly."

"The second story is about the day I visited Dondi's house after he had been cremated. I was bringing the proceeds from the benefit shows we organized while he was still in hospital. Dondi's son, Dane, asked me if I would like to see his dad's studio. I had heard about "scuse me while I kiss the sky," before. It was Dondi's workshop and his starship."

"Dane has reverently kept it just as it was when his dad left it. Guitars, amps, electronic equipment, effects, computer, his piccolo bass, his cherished archery bow and ashtrays full of cigarette butts. I looked around in awe wondering how Dondi and Chris (Messer), drummer (who is not a small man) could work in such a confined space. Then I sat in Dondi's chair. I caught a funny vibe and wondered what galaxies and star systems did he travel to with his bass and a pair of headphones on? Now he truly travels the stars, maybe on the same star cloud as Joe Zawinul, Jaco , Miles maybe, who knows. But I know they'll let him sit in. And I know they'll dig his groove. I sure did."

Bob Magoo (veteran FM DJ)

"He was such a quiet guy who did his talking through his instrument. One thing I can say is he was a very humble guy and had no rock star ego...zero! I also cannot remember a time that I ran into him without a cigarette in his hand. Like they say, the good die young. A huge loss for Pinoy Rock."

Cowboy Santos (guitarist, The Blue Rats, Tempestous Jones)

"I only knew Dondi thru his various gigs, and as, of course, the bad-ass bass player that he was. The only time we were able to jam together was when I would jam with the Wally Gonzalez Band, and at the RJ Super Sessions concert. He sessioned once for a band I was in, and all I can say is that he can make 3 simple chords blast off into the stratosphere with seemingless effort, AND be able to take you back down to earth the moment you think you are about to lose your mind, or question if he is actually human. He was one of the greatest, hands down. He is missed by many."

Paolo Manuel (drummer, Mr. Crayon, Queso, The Jerks, Johnny Alegre Affinity)

"I feel very priveleged to have worked with Dondi for a year before he got sick. We were backing up Johnny Alegre as a trio. We played different bars and it would always be inspiring, unpredictable and orgasmic. When it was Johnny's production at Saguijo, we would often play last at around 1 am and i was always amazed how a musician of Dondi's caliber doesn't ever seem to mind being there early all the time and just waiting for our turn and play 2-3 songs (that would fill up the 30 or 45 min set). He never minded and we would have a gas just hanging before our sets. He's the kind of guy you get more compelled to know. You'd wanna pick at his brain. How a calm, gentle guy turns into a monster with all the musicality and madness exploding the moment the green light is turned on just baffles me until now."

"There's one funny story I remember about Dondi. It was when we were not given a band meal in this sort of high-end bar. We played first and we hung out until the very last band thinking the complimentary meal was just delayed. So when we found out there was none, he subtly got the glass salt container in our table and placed some salt on his hand (like when you do before a tequila shot) and he taught me that this is the way to combat hunger. So before you know it, in the middle of this posh bar, we were both snacking on salt, taking turns like we didnt care. I was laughing hysterically deep inside"

"This is the kind of moment where it struck me that this is one guy i would love to learn from. Not just onstage but all around as well. A true person indeed. He was one of the genuinely humblest people I've ever met."

"I was also amazed on how open minded he was with other forms of music. He would appreciate some of the other bands we'd play along with. From metal music to soul music. He would even sometimes ask me if I knew them just so he could compliment them."

"My highlight with Dondi was at the RJ 45th Anniversary Supersession gig last October '08. At that time, we had been playing together for quite awhile so it really felt comfy when we were paired up in some songs. He would bring out the best in you whenever you played. Even just by watching him you could feel the intensity of his soul talking to you, shaking you up like you don't know what hit you. I miss you Dondi!"

Miguel Ortigas (drummer, Razorback, The Breed, The Blue Rats)

"I’d heard of DNDI from Wolf Gemora long before I met him. Mid-90's. Wolf would bring around “tito” Dondi’s latest recordings and we’d listen to them and try and trip on the progressiveness/weirdness of it all. Heavy stuff."

"I first started working with Dondi when Pepe Smith and Jun Lopito recruited David Aguirre and I to play with them at quite a few venues in and out of Metro Manila in anticipation of finally recording Pepe’s first solo album. This was around the mid to late 90’s. We’d play numerous Padi’s Points, the RJ club “The Hive” along Pasong Tamo extension, and lots of other joints, both nice and not-so-nice. It was always a tremendous honor to party and rock with these legends! In the end, Pepe and Jun holed up at Dondi’s place where they recorded the entire album themselves, Dondi providing drum machine tracks he’d programmed."

"For all Dondi’s musical genius, he kept it fairly simple to hold us all together when it came to jam time. He knew when not to over complicate things. And, boy, could he complicate things when he wanted to."

"In later years, 2000’s, Dondi was playing regularly with Wally Gonzales and I’d come around Chakikos to have a jam with the maestros. Pepe would show up, having just come down from Baguio, and we’d get ripped, jam, and hang out 'til he had to go back to Baguio! Dondi would partake of our wild parties, but always measured. I would have a hard time getting him to drink like us, hehe. He always kept a good head."

"Dondi was always soft spoken and never said a bad thing about anyone. He also had that Ilonggo romanticism about him. Pepe would mock Dondi’s “malumay” way of speaking and we’d all get a laugh out of that. Including Dondi."

"Dondi never seemed stressed about any situation. Always very cool. I guess he knew in his head that he had all the guns he needed for any situation. Pag tugtugan na, that was his element and he was at total ease. Always shining through on stage when more often than not, bass players are overlooked."

"I once asked him to sign a drum stick of mine and he was very reluctant to do so. “Sayang yung stick, Migs.” But I said no, it would be an honor and I would one day frame the stick. I still have that stick with me here in Australia. It says: “Luv U Migs – DNDI”. He will be missed."

Aries Guinto (studio/live engineer, Wombworks, freelance)

"I never had the chance to work with Dondi, sayang. I would have loved to tinker some knobs and faders with him!"

"He was a GENIUS! Producing his own records at home. Maximizing the use of modern technology with his creative musical juice. What a perfect formula! He's definitely one of the treasures of this SUPOT music industry! His records reminds me of old Steve Vai and Joe Satriani albums."

Perf De Castro (classical guitarist, Rivermaya, Triaxis)

"My first encounter with Dondi was at his house in Greenhills. Drummer Paul Benitez (Deans December, Southborder) brought me over to Dondi's house to jam. I think I was just 16 at the time. As we were setting up, I remember having a hard time plugging into my amp as my head was turned towards Dondi with mouth agape as he went through these incredible bass runs to warm up. I thought, "Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into?!"

"We barely started our jam when Dondi stopped everything and walked over to the Marshall stack I was plugged into":

ME: Masyado ba akong malakas, ser?
DONDI: Hindi nga kita marinig!

"Then with a twist of his hand turned the amp volume up to 8!!! We then went on doing improvised jams for the next 3 hours or so. Earache notwithstanding, that was a turning point in my playing career having me step up at a young age and go toe-to-toe with one of the country's best musicians."

"Over the next 12-13 years I have been fortunate enough to play with Dondi in several different occasions; shredding in the Mike Hanopol Band, guitar and piccolo bass headcutting duels in Edmond "Bosyo" Fortuno's band, tearing up the stage with the NU 107 Guitarists of the Year, even performing a guitar/bass duet of the Philippine National Anthem to open the RJ Guitar Night!"

"Offstage, we maintained a friendship as well... sharing computer and recording tips and tricks. He built my first website and I eventually got him to play bass for a Pop (!!!) record I was producing! While on tour, we would usually bunk together and explore places in the hours leading up to the show."

"We had plans to record a CD together and it's one of the things that I regret not doing before relocating to the US. His passing is truly one of the sadder moments in my life, but I take comfort in the memories of times we spent together... brothers in Music."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Remembering Dondi Ledesma

by Wolf Gemora

Dondi Ledesma. The name conjures up images of lightning-fast fingers moving up and down a bass guitar’s fret board. Up until his untimely passing in February of 2009 he was considered to be the best bass player in the Philippines. Some could argue that if not for his shyness, he could have become a successful international artist, a true testament to his world-class talent. He would have given Jaco Pastorius a run for his money. Yes, he was that good. He was also an accomplished flutist, keyboardist and a championship medalist in the sport of archery.

Dondi Ledesma was my uncle, my dad’s first cousin. He was tito Dondi. I remember meeting him in one of the big family lunches when I was about 10 years old. My early memories of him were always seeing him every year and he looked the same every time; long hair and dark glasses with a lit cigarette in hand and a pair of earphones plastered to his ears. He always looked like he had just gotten out of bed, which was probably the case.

In my eyes, he’d have easily become the “weird uncle”, but he said hello to everyone, even us kids, before he isolated himself in the corner of the room with his yosi and his Walkman. Every now and then, someone would come up to him to chat and he would always graciously engage with a smile. I never did consider him weird. That distinction would have to go to a couple of his cousins that were actually weird. He just seemed incredibly shy and was very soft-spoken.

In 1985, when I was 14 years old, I lived with tito Dondi in his parent’s house as a boarder because my family had moved to Iloilo and I wanted to finish high school in Manila. I still had not known how talented an artist he was and that he was already brethren to Pinoy Rock’s elite by this time. I hardly saw him since he was probably out all night playing high-octane rock with Pepe Smith and asleep all day.

There was one day though, that our lives would take a turn. Coming home early from school at noon, I had walked into an armed robbery that was happening inside the house. I found myself with a knife to my neck and a very nervous man was threatening to kill me if I didn’t give them everything of any kind of value. Aside from me in the house were the household help and tito Dondi fast asleep in the master bedroom. I calmly led the thieves around the house scrounging out every piece of jewelry and every wad of cash we could find. The only things going thru my mind were “I hope this guy doesn't hurt me” and “I hope tito Dondi doesn’t wake up and come out”. I can’t imagine what would have happened if the thieves saw a tall, longhaired dude come out of the room. It would have been ugly.

By some sort of miracle, we did not go into the master bedroom. Every room was ransacked except for the one tito Dondi was passed out in. It still boggles my mind to this day. Anyway, the devils finally had their fill and left the scene of the crime without hurting anybody. Within ten minutes the police had arrived and the house started to resemble a scene from the “CSI” TV series. Now, at this time tito Dondi is STILL inside his room, oblivious to the drama that had just happened.

I was standing near the entrance when I heard the door to his room open. He emerged from his den, shirtless and unkept. What happened next was classic. He rubbed the sleep away from his eyes while he was walking thru the hall and as soon as he saw the room full of cops he gave this look of utter shock, turned on a dime and walked briskly back to his room and slammed the door. The look on his face was priceless.

That was the last I saw of him until 13 years later. The robbery incident put me on a road that would lead to my adventures with my first band, Hysteria and later with Wolfgang. We saw each other again in one of the last big family lunches. He still looked the same. This time, my hair was as long as his. I guess he knew what I had going on with the band coz he wanted to swap albums. I was very surprised that he even cared about what I did. I gave him the “Semenelin” album of WG and he gave me the second DNDI album. At this point in time, I had NOT yet seen or hear him play. We talked about music that afternoon and that was the first and last time I ever “talked” to him.

Sometime later I finally got to see him play when Wolfgang played along with the late Edmond Fortuno’s band at the time. My jaw dropped and I was in awe for the whole set. I greeted him after and the first thing he said -- with a strong ilonggo accent--was, “don’t call me tito”. From then on, I knew tito Dondi was someone very special. Somehow, I didn’t watch him so much. He was still in “hyper-hibernation mode” at the time. By the time he was regularly playing live with the Wally Gonzalez Band, I had already relocated to the US.

The many basses of DNDI.

I was in Bacolod last January ’09 when I heard a rumor of his condition. By the time I was in Iloilo for the Dinagyang festival I had met a couple of his old buddies and the rumors slowly became fact. I was in shock and naively thought that he would get better and keep on playing. He passed away a few weeks later. I cried that night but I didn’t understand why because we weren’t close at all. I think I cried because Pinoy Rock lost another ESSENTIAL figure. He wasn’t the most popular figure but he was the best at what he did. No matter who came along and thought he/she was the best, I knew tito Dondi was in his private studio, kicking your ass and serving it to you with a smile.

"Hotdancer" by DNDI.


"Medicine" by DNDI.

"Do You Think It's Alright?" by DNDI

I attended the last day of his wake and found myself in the presence of Pinoy Rock royalty. Wally Gonzalez of Juan Dela Cruz, Chikoy Pura of The Jerks and master guitarist Noli Aurelio played an impromptu jam that put tears into the eyes of the people present. His older siblings (Dondi was the youngest of 7) did not fully understand the amount of impact that their baby brother had on Filipino music until they saw the visitors who came to pay their last respects to their idol. The scene inside the room was a very interesting one. On one side of the room were seated all the family/clan members in their semi-formal attire, while on the opposite side were artists, writers and longhaired musicians wearing Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd t-shirts.

The void that Dondi Ledesma has left in Pinoy Rock is a gaping hole that I don’t think any one person will be able to fill. He was the most prolific independent artist in the country (with 9 independent albums) and was a great example to a lot of musicians, myself included. He will be sorely missed. The only consolation we have is that he is probably in the great gig in the sky and Jaco is telling him, “Fuck, it’s good to see you, man. It’s your turn to jam with Bonham, Jimi and Miles.”

DNDI's last project, The Chilekings with drummer Chris Messer

Si Idol in action.