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."