The author Jim Paredes (right) with (from left) Martin Nievera, Ric Segreto and Rico J. Puno taken about 30 years ago.Rico J. Puno: More than just ‘macho gwapito’
I was awakened last Tuesday morning, Oct. 30, with the news that Rico J. Puno had passed on. I learned from friends that he had done a gig the night before. After the show he complained of chest pain and went to the hospital. It was there that he had a fatal heart attack.
I was in shock. I was getting and reading texts from colleagues who felt the same way. Even if I knew that he was struggling with health issues the past three years, his death still came as a surprise to me. I guess we tend to remember people as we last saw them. In my case, it’s been about two years since my last encounter with him. This felt so sudden. Death is indeed like a thief in the night.
Rico was a guy who loved crowds. He loved being around people. He always had a joke to share. Whether he was talking to a huge concert crowd or just a few people in a room, he was the same. He was always full of zest. He often seemed bigger than life itself.
When I first met him, he was already famous. The APO was still on the make. He enjoyed his status immensely. He loved the trappings of fame. He wore gold watches, bracelets, necklaces. He was often seen in the company of beautiful, sexy women. He enjoyed the mass adulation. For many, he was the embodiment of what a Filipino pop star was if we ever saw one.
APO and Rico, together with the singers and songwriters of the ’70s, knew we were breaking new ground musically and even culturally. We were making modern original songs strictly for the local audience. We wanted to gift them with songs in the vernacular that spoke of genuine Filipino experiences. We were creating what was to be known later as OPM.
I was working for a record company called Jem Recording. I would bump into him in the studio where we recorded Hajji Alejandro who was the antithesis of Rico. Where Rico’s appeal catered more to the masa, Hajji’s pitch was aimed at collegialas. They were both talented and they had their own following.
There were many talents who were recording Filipino originals then but Rico’s songs dominated the airwaves. People loved his soulful voice and his songs that talked about the simple joys of love. “Namamasyal sa Luneta na walang pera” was a phrase from the song Alaala (a Tagalized version of Barbara Streisand’s The Way We Were) which resonated with the hearts of listeners everywhere.
His voice was soulful. He could convey pain, romance, joy, naughtiness, humor and passion with it. His style was unmistakable. When his songs played on the radio, there was no mistaking it was him. He was a brand. He did both originals and famous English songs often translated to Pilipino. Onstage, he had great showmanship. He had command. He also exuded a lot of charm. And he loved to talk. He had great rapport with his audience because of his songs’ popularity. His talking and dishing out jokes enhanced and raised the intensity of the audience bonding to a fever pitch. At the end of his performances, he would often take off his coat and throw it to his audience. He always exited with a bang.
As an older performer later on, he loved to tell green jokes onstage. Sometimes, it would turn some people off. Others loved it. I remember a conversation with him where I asked why he made risqué jokes when he clearly did not need to. He already had the repertoire and the talent and charm to please the crowd. I guess he just liked to do it. He loved to walk the edge and shock his audience.
He recorded Yakap Sa Dilim, one of APO’s big songs, for one of his albums. I saw him perform it live and it was an experience to relish. When he got to the middle part and the line, “Heto na and pinakahihintay natin,” the atmosphere turned electric. While singing he was naughtily thrusting his hips forward and back to the beat of the song. The audience went wild and broke into roaring laughter and raucous applause. It was crazy!
During the past few years, I have been reminding myself to be aware and present with every person I encounter, especially with old friends and colleagues, since it is quite possible that it could be the last time I will see them. When I hear of the sudden death of friends, the moment when we last talked comes back to me. Of course, there is no way of knowing when a person will die. That is why I make it a point now to consciously pay attention so that every conversation I have with anyone will at least have some meaning.
I remember being in a dressing room in GMA-7 waiting to be called for a TV guesting and having a talk with Francis M. He opened up and talked about the trumped-up raps some policemen filed against him for extortion purposes. He was upset. I listened to him. I did not know that would be our last conversation. Some months later, he died of cancer. I also remember being with songwriter Snaffu Rigor attending a Filscap board meeting. A few weeks later, Boboy and I did a show with some artists to raise funds for his medical bills. He was soon gone after that.
I can’t even remember the exact last time I saw Rico. But in life, we crossed paths during concerts, local and foreign tours, recordings, promos, and TV guestings. We weren’t close. But when we saw each other, we would talk about our kids since they were almost the same age. We would exchange a few laughs. We often used the same musicians for our gigs. Our common friends Hajji, Nonoy Zuniga and Rey Valera loved to share stories about Rico’s stage antics.
He also had his philosophical, serious side. He recorded inspirational songs that were huge hits. Kapalaran, May bukas pa and Lupa were some of them. They were soothing and reassuring to the Filipino soul.
Rico J. Puno will be greatly missed. And he will be remembered as one among the great OPM legends who defined music and left indelible happy memories in the Filipinos’ collective psyche.
Mabuhay, ka Rico J.
Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/11/04/1865561/rico-j-puno-more-just-macho-gwapito#L6tCKQziMwWx6gD2.99