The Roots: Filipino Rockers and Musicians of Winnipeg (1974-1982)
By Levy Abad , Singer-Songwriter
Published on PHILIPPINECANADIANNEWS.COM
September 18, 2016
Updated: September 19, 2016, 7:04 PM;Sept. 20, 10.17AM
There are a lot of musicians in Winnipeg and their presence goes back to the time the first wave of Filipinos arrived in the early 60s. Filipinos love music and along with this is the desire to learn instruments like the piano or guitar. This thing made me wonder if there is a book about the history of Winnipeg’s Rock and Roll scene. I did some research and found none.
There are books written about the Filipino community’s presence like the one written by Gemma Dalayoan, Leah Enverga-Magsino and Leonnie Castillo Bailon (The First Filipino Immigrants in Manitoba, 1959-1975), but none focusing on musicians. In writing this article, I am just attempting to put the oral narrative online and on print hoping to trigger curiosity, conversation or create tiny ripples that may affect and effect the future of Filipino community’s music scene. So friends, here is my tiny contribution and hoping you will enjoy the narrative.
With a songwriter’s curiosity, I phoned Manong (Elder) Alex Oyas of BIBAk on September 2 to ask him about the history of bands in Winnipeg. I told Manong Alex that a friend referred him to me as one of those who were active in the music scene in the Filipino Community in the 70s.
Manong Alex Oyas is also a musician. I have heard him sing and he is good. He played the piano and guitar at BIBAK’s events. He relayed to me that he used to be invited by the aboriginal community called the Western Hour program of Channel 11- CTV back in 1975 and 1976 to sing some songs. He was known as the Winnipeg Filipino Cowboy or the Benguet Cowboy. Manong Alex listed some songs that he played on television during that time, songs like Boggie Blues, Pitong Gatang, Devil Woman, Chime Bells and a song called Tatlong Baraha (Three Cards). This station was somewhere in Logan and Salter, where the old Aboriginal Friendship Centre building was located. In pursuing the issue of the first bands in Winnipeg’s Filipino community, Manong Alex suggested that I should contact Manong Mario Tuazon, who is presently working with UMAC. I was able to get hold of Manong Mario Tuazon.
Sta. Cruz Band – earliest band
Before I proceed with the account given to me by Manong Mario Tuazon about the Cobra Band, I would like to mention that the earliest band formed was the Sta. Cruz band. This information was given to me by Manong Butch Jularbal in a phone conversation (September 12, 2016, 10:58 a.m.), with whom I had a nice chat about his music days in the Peg. He mentioned that he actually played with a three piece band, together with Celso Bueno who plays bass and Ricky Hibi on drums. Sta. Cruz band was an experimental band that was formed in early 1974. The band, Mikrobyo, would come later that year with new members like Tony Igonia, Eric Lucas, Reno Clement,Teo Mance and Jessie Opina. Later on, Butch Jularbal became a regular member of Cobra band in 1975-76 and so Sta. Cruz band faded from the scene.
In my conversation with Tony Igonia, he explained to me carefully that Sta. Cruz band was the first band in the Filipino community of Winnipeg and is really famous during that time. He said these three guys, Butch Jularbal, Celso Bueno and Ricky Hibi were regularly performing in different venues. Tony admiringly stressed that Butch Jularbal, during that time, was the best guitar player in the Filipino community. He remembers that whenever there is an event and the Sta. Cruz band is performing, they would selflessly call on the members of Mikrobyo band who were just beginning to come up and jam. This is probably why there was confusion as to membership of Celso and Butch.
Reflecting on these accounts makes me feel a bit disappointed for not having met the late Celso Bueno who is from Nagcarlan, Laguna, same province where I came from. But as a consolation, I am glad to know that he was one of the pioneers in the Winnipeg Filipino music scene. It is interesting to note that Celso Bueno also lent his establishment for the bands to hang out and also employed them as musicians for years until he passed away. (source: Ardie Sarao). These accounts about Celso were confirmed by his younger brother Jerry Bueno who also sent me pictures for this tribute article.
Mikrobyo Band (1974)
Mikrobyo band was formed sometime in 1974. The band was composed of Tony Igonia, rhythm guitar, Eric Lucas on bass, Reno Clement (Filipino) on drums, Teo Mance – on guitar and Jessie Opina who joined the band briefly. I got the membership of Mikrobyo from Tony Igonia (September 18, 2016). Tony said over the phone that the asset of Mikrobyo was the presence of Teo “Phil” Mance who was really loved by the community because of his cool and warm tenor voice, especially when he sings “Feelings,” the hit song of Morris Albert . Another asset of the group was Eric Lucas who was great with the bass guitar. Tony also added that they covered songs of Doors, Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues, Juan Dela Cruz songs and many more.
An article by Leigh Ann Sommers that appeared on Filipino Journal in the late 80s reaffirms that in 1974, Teo Mance, the famous folk singer in the Winnipeg Filipino community, was a member of Mikrobyo band until he left to go solo and eventually moved to BC. This story was also repeated by Mar Tuazon of Jade band (1978) in a phone conversation.
Mikrobyo band played at different lounges and hotel bars. Jojo Yso of Traffikk Jamm (2016) told me that they were legends in the community back in the mid-70s up to the late 80s. I asked Butch Jularbal as to why a lot of his friends thought that he was a member of Mikrobyo? He explained that during the time, he went around playing with different groups to find the best one.
My interview with Tony Igonia gave me an insight of Mikrobyo band. I asked him about Celso Bueno and he said that Celso never became a member of Mikrobyo. Celso was a member of the first band in Winnipeg. The reason people got confused was because the group of Celso during that time, would always call on Mikrobyo members to perform with them at wedding socials etc.
Tony Igonia vividly remembers how they came up with the name Mikrobyo. With gusto, he told me that he, together with Erik Lucas and Reno Clement, watched a movie titled Andromeda Strain and the conversation afterwards was to use the title of the movie as their band name. Somebody said it was too long or folks wouldn’t get it. Eventually, someone suggested “Mikrobyo” instead, everybody agreed and so it came to be the band’s name.
In my interview with Ardie Sarao on September 3, 2016, he said that he met the members of Mikrobyo band and learned to play the guitar with their guidance. Ardie added that he became a“saling pusa” (hang out) of Mikrobyo sometime in the early 80s with Tony Igonia and the rest of the band.
Cobra Band 1975-76: Playing during the Disco Era
Cobra Band (1975-early 80s) Manong (elder) Mario Tuazon told me that the famous band back in the 70s, between 1975 to early 80s, was the Cobra Band .The leader of this band was Butch Jularbal, who arrived in Winnipeg in 1972 . Butch himself was famous in Baguio with DZWT of St. Louise and a member of the band Vagabonds (September 12 conversation with Butch Jularbal). Vagabonds played in places like Camp Wallace in San Fernando La Union, Cresta Ola Beach Resort in Bauang, La Union (late 60s) and also abroad in Vietnam.
Butch Jularbal was the lead guitarist of Cobra. Mario Tuazon (the best man at Butch Jularbal’s wedding) also shared that Cobra played at the Grant Motor Hotel, Canadian Motor Hotel, Hanger 22 Hotel and Paddle Wheel. In a text message of Butch (September 12, 3:42 p.m.), he wrote,“Cobra band was the first band to play at Pubs Montcalm near University of Manitoba back in the late 70s…..We have agents who booked us in different parts of Manitoba.” These places were again mentioned by Butch Jularbal in his other text message (Sept. 12, 2016, 10:41 a.m.).
Other members of the band were Eric Lucas (bass guitar), Danny Zapata (organ) Brian Paul( Keyboards) and Robin Morrier (drums) and Conrado “Conrad” Cordoviz who plays lead and bass from time to time. Conrad Cordovis said that he joined the band by mid-1977. The band’s repertoire includes Rock and Roll, Blues, Top 40, Bee Gees and Disco (text message of Butch Jularbal, Sept 12, 2016, 10:44 a.m.).
According to Butch Jularbal, the band Cobra disbanded sometime in the early part of 1979. By 1980 and ‘81, Butch left for Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta with Cliff Ho whose band South East movement had just disbanded. They performed in the best venues in Alberta like the Banff Hotel. Cliff, by the way, was the original bass player of Juan De la Cruz and was also the keyboard player of the South East Movement Band. In the seventies, some bands that performed in Winnipeg were from Calgary.
Butch Jularbal explained to me that playing music was fun but it was tough too. He said, “I could tell you many trials and tribulation being a musician in the Peg. It’s hard, but we managed.” He continued, “Yeah with great difficulties and politics, we managed with the 3 Ps: Patience, Persistence and Perseverance.”
The musical influences that they brought with them from the Philippines were different from the Rock ‘n Roll of Winnipeg, which, during that time, was Rolling Stones and ZZ Top, an American rock band that formed in 1969 in Houston Texas performing Blues rock, Boogie rock and Hard rock. He remembers Cobra playing Bee Gees and Earth Wind and Fire songs, which were kind of unacceptable during that time. He shared that one time, they performed in one border town called St. Piere where there was a mix group of people who were really happy with Disco music. Back in the 70s and 80s, Butch added that Winnipeg was not into Disco.
My research on Butch Jularbal on Facebook led me to a posting by Willie Posadas (July 27, 2010) where it says that he recently viewed the DVD movie (2009) “Driven to Kill” of Steven Segal. Butch Jularbal played the music “Butch Blues” in this movie, and also has other music credits/soundtrack in two other movies, “The Silencer” and “For a Few Lousy Dollars.” Butch is indeed a very talented musician and former “Vagabond” from Bagiuo. He now lives in Vancouver. Wow, seeing this post on Facebook just proves the stories that I heard from Mar Tuazon and other old time musicians in the Peg that Butch Jularbal is really good in his craft.
When I contacted Jose “Jun“ Pacifico, I asked him about what he can remember about the group Cobra and he told me that he was able to listen to them and session with them once. He recalls Cobra band covering the songs of STYX like Babe. Jun noted that Cobra also covered Top 40s and danceable songs. “The band has to cover popular songs to survive the music scene or the management hires another that can satisfy the likes of the clientele,” Jun explained.
I am grateful and I really appreciate Butch Jularbal’s willingness to share some information and the musical atmosphere of the time. Even with the stature he has reached, Butch is so humble and devoid of primadonna attitude, which just confirms what Kuya (Elder) Mar Javier told me that the Jularbals are good folks and humble. Mario Javier is one of the seniors who became the President of Health Sciences Union and had known the parents of Butch Jularbal.
Butch has been in BC for several years now and he is still playing with a band. My FB friend, Leo Orpilla Cunanan, told me that he performed with Manong Butch with a band named “Butch and the Sundance Kids” from 1984 to 1992. Butch Jularbal is also the band leader of another band called “Catch 22” and performs at a place called Stefanos in BC. He is also writing his journey as a musician and I am just happy to cover a bit of his artist’s narrative back in the 70s up to the time that he left for British Columbia.
Ka Levy is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who considers himself as an alternative musician playing musical pieces with nationalistic themes. He was a member of the group Musikang Bayan together with Danny Fabella, Empiel Palma, and Jess Bartolome. He migrated to Canada in 2006. He now serves as the community liaison of Sparling United Church but continues to be a cultural worker.He lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.