Dante David as Howlin' Dave - Ang Bato ng Maynila. (Photo from Dante's brother Nicanor S. David's Flckr collection)

Folksinger: Utang ko kay Dante kaya ako naging Florante


By Rhony Laigo

Balita Media News Service

August 31, 2008


EVER since Uncle Sam came to the Philippines, the country has always been a follower of anything that happens on U.S. soil. Not only do we accustom ourselves with western culture, we even make our own Filipino version as long as its origin is “stateside.”

As a person who spent his teens in the 70s, Manila was in the midst of a cultural revolution, or so I thought. This is because the Rogelio dela Rosas, the kundimans and the hi-fi stereos were being replaced by “Charlie’s Angeles,” “Eight is Enough,” Grand Funk, Black Sabbath and of course, Deep Purple. Quadrosonic speakers became the trend. Radiowealths and Zeniths were dumped for the more expensive, more powerful and clearer sounding Akai stereos and Sony televisions.

This was also the time when the early part of the decade saw daily street rallies in Manila, where Molotov cocktails and pillboxes, policemen with truncheons dispersing demonstrators in violent fashions were the order the day. That was before martial law was declared (but that is another very long story). Years later, with all the members of the opposition either in military detention cells or in the U.S. where they fled, the Philippines transitioned to become a “more normal society” – again or so I thought – as we went back to our ways of living our lives. And the change continued.

In GSIS Hills, Barrio Talipapa, Novaliches, Caloocan City, a few miles north of Manila where I grew up, this “newfound” rock culture became more pronounced because many teenagers, among them my older brother, had a special neighbor.

His name was Dante David, son of Uncle Nick, who used to work as a broadcaster of the old ABS-CBN radio network. By the way, the younger Dante, was Howlin’ Dave. A Filipino rock icon who passed away last Sunday (Monday in the Philippines) after suffering a stroke. He was only 52.

For those who didn’t know Howlin’ Dave, he hosted the weekly Pinoy Rock & Rhythm on DzRJ, an AM station, in the70s. Every Sunday, at noontime, listeners of the Rock of Manila tuned in to the program that played Filipino songs. In-house ads were also in Filipino.

Howlin’ Dave used to announce his program in his booming voice by telling his listeners this aptly translated line: “Ito po si Howlin’ Dave sa DzRJ, Ang Bato ng Maynila.” Prior to the program, many Filipino rock bands played American rock songs and many of them were based in Angeles City and in Olongapo, home of the U.S. military bases. Thanks to Howlin’ Dave and DzRJ, some of them became famous for their Filipino original songs.

As we look back, even before the OPM acronym (for original Pilipino music) was coined, we already had Pinoy Rock at that time. It was a period when Juan dela Cruz was arguably the Number 1 Pinoy Rock band, composed of the legendary bassist Mike Hanopol, drummer Joey “Pepe” Smith and guitarist Wally Gonzales. They were the Grand Funk of the Philippines.

Copycats, yes, but at least they sang their original compositions.

It was in DzRJ where we first heard of Sampaguita (her famous singles were “Bonggahan” and “Tao“), Petrified Anthem, the jazz music of Boy and Eddie Katindig, Tito Mina, Bong Gabriel and Bong Peñera. But just like in the U.S., where rockers hated disco and pop music, so did Pinoy rockers and DzRJ which deliberately did not play the likes of Rico Puno, Hotdog, and other Filipino pop artists. If not for playing a sitar, Boy Camara would also not have landed a number at DzRJ.

And who could forget Maria Cafra, Edmund Fortuno and his Anakbayan, Heber Bartolome and his Banyahuhay, and most especially, Florante De Leon?

It was on this station where the song “Pinay” became the most popular song of all Filipino professionals who found themselves immigrating to the U.S. – the heart-ripping folk song by Florante that made many a Filipinos cry for leaving their loved ones back home. It was also through DzRJ that Florante’s “Ako’y Pinoy” became the alternative national anthem – the song that gave birth to many other songs that talked about being a Pinoy.

Now based in Rancho Cucamonga, Florante recalled how Howlin’ Dave became the instrument for which all alternative bands back then made a name for themselves. “Utang naming lahat ng alternatives bands kay Dante ang aming career, ang aming popularity. Siya ang sumuporta sa amin. Hindi kami lalaki kung hindi dahil kay Dante,” Florante told this writer.

According to Florante, only Howlin’ Dave and DzRJ played their kind of music. “Kasi, ang mga producers, ang sabi nila nuon, wala raw market sa mga tugtog namin. At DzRJ lang ang nagpapatugtog ng hindi commercial at bakyang musika.”

Florante also told this writer that it was DzRJ which introduced him to the national music scene with Howlin’ Dave giving him live interviews. His friendship with Howlin’ Dave through the years was solidified when Florante became a godfather of one of Howlin’ Dave’s sons with his wife, Delilah.

The folksinger said it was in 2002 when he last talked to Howlin’ Dave. According to Florante, Howlin’ Dave was already a victim of stroke and had brain surgery that led to his “forced retirement” and from ever speaking on a microphone.

As he paid his respects to the legendary DJ, Florante sadly shared that his wife, Ruth, also suffered a stroke last October and is under rehabilitation. Florante disclosed to this writer that Ruth lost sensation in half of her body.

He said he now spends more time with his wife that, according to him, he sometimes has to reject offers to do concerts from other states, even if these would help them in their medical bills.

I remember Howlin’ Dave as a towering figure (he stood more than six feet) who used to wear an afro. His tall and lanky built made him more than just a fashion icon in his American bell-styled Levi’s jeans and cowboy boots – he was of course Howlin’ Dave who for us was like a prophet. Though arguably one of the most popular rock DJs then, I never saw him drive a car, which didn’t matter to most of us (not too many had cars then anyway). Whenever we saw him walking as he went to work, we would automatically always had to stop and talk about him, and appreciate his presence. He wasn’t a rock star, but he looked better than most of them.

I also remember Howlin’ Dave building his “Bahay Kubo Beer House” in GSIS Hills – a compound of several nipa huts, two blocks east of where he lived with his dad and siblings that also served as his dwelling and scenes of several private parties characterized by booze, drugs, beautiful women and of course, rock stars. It was in front of Howlin Dave’s kubo, in my best friend’s house, where our band used to practice. Howlin’ Dave influenced me to pick up a guitar and sing with a band. At that time though, Howlin’ Dave had already moved out, but left a legacy among us to compose and belt out our very own Filipino rocks songs the way we thought Howlin’ Dave would have wanted it.

Allow me, fellow Pinoy rockers, to pay tribute to the man who wrote a chapter in Philippine music history. To me, siya “Ang Bato ng Maynila.”