Every week and every month, a celebrity passes away. He or she may die of natural causes, accidents, illness or the occasional drug overdose.
This week, it was the Philippines’ turn to lose a beloved showbiz figure in the person of Joey ‘Pepe” Smith. The singer/guitarist/drummer/composer and occasional actor passed on this week at the ripe old age of 71.
Smith was best known for his work with the Juan de la Cruz band, along with Mike Hanopol (who last year became a Jewish rabbi!) and Wally Gonzalez. The trio scored a number of hits in the handful of albums that they released, with the biggest one the Smith-composed “HimigNatin.”
Up until about two years ago when he had a stroke, he had never left the public eye. In my Facebook page, I said “Pepe Smith lived a long, beautiful, crazy, wild and productive life, didn’t he? We should all be as lucky…”
Everyone who loves Pinoy rock has a Pepe Smith story to tell, it seems.
One of his nearly forgotten accomplishments, if it can be called that, was a shortlived TV series based on characters created by the late, great cartoonist Nonoy Marcelo, who was definitely a kindred spirit of Smith. His role was as a guardian of sorts of a kid named Quincy but who was called Kinse. The series lasted only a few episodes, but the acting bug never left the guy named Pepe after that.
A few years ago, he appeared in a Tagalog movie playing a role that fit him to a T. He was the village weirdo who lived and breathed music. I say weirdo in a loving sense, as the guy always gave off the best vibes.
For a short while, he was jailed on drug charges. He accepted his mistake and never tried to hide it after he had been freed. Aside from his admitted occasional drug use, he was a lifelong smoker and drinker. I guess he was lucky to have lived as long as he did.
I will never forget the first time I saw him in concert. I was still in grade school and he was with a band called The Downbeats, where he played the drums. They, along with the Reycard Duet, were the opening act for The Beatles.
Yes, those Beatles. Smith would later say that Ringo Starr actually gave him a pair of drumsticks. Lucky dog, huh?
During his days with the Juan dela Cruz band, I was watching a movie downtown. I think it was Woodstock. Anyway, who should stroll by but the now popular Pepe Smith. The tall and gangling musician said hi to everyone who greeted him.
One of his lady loves was a model/singer named Agnes Arellano, who later became an accomplished sculptress. I believe they were married, but that didn’t last. Anyway, I had a mild crush on Ms. Arellano, who also starred in a shortlived show on television. It was a musical and she sang lead but was not a member of the featured band.
After Juan dela Cruz disbanded, Smith was rarely out of the public eye. He still made music, still sang anywhere and everywhere he could. He had become the senior statesman of Pinoy rock and he lived and looked the part.
I only learned very recently that Smith had some kids, and even had a reality show with them, ala The Osbornes. That also didn’t last.
His kids are all grown now, and none of them became serious musicians. Perhaps their old man cast too large a shadow for them to follow his footsteps.
After his stroke, he had been in frail health, but was still strumming his guitar to the end.
So now Pepe Smith has moved on to legend. There will be no more reunion concerts of Juan dela Cruz. But some of their hits will definitely stand the test of time. Our children’s children will be listening to and maybe even singing along to HimigNatin long after we’re gone.
For the record, Pepe Smith was born of an American father, a GI who was stationed in the Philippines at the end of World War II, and a Filipino mother. So yes, he was a true FilAm. Yet despite his American looks and named, he was 100 percent Filipino in heart and soul.
So goodbye, Joey ‘Pepe’ Smith. You can now rock and roll in heaven.