A VETRAN Baguio musician succumbed today, a Thursday. Johnny Pomar of the Pomar family of musicians was always a looming figure among the community of musical artists in Baguio. For this reason, I got drawn into his orbit a couple of times whenever I wear my other hat as a musician. On some occasions, we jammed, we played gigs, or we attended each other’s gigs. In all of these encounters he stood out, he knew his business, he was appreciative, grateful, optimistic, and most of all he knew how to have fun like a true dyed-in-the-wool rock musician that he was.
I could not make the claim of being his close friend or that we even shared some common interest to establish a mutual connection. The fact is I am not even sure if he knew me by my name, but I knew, at least, that I was a familiar face to him. In contrast, I could pick him out from a crowd from a far-off distance because of his peculiar fondness for the all-black outfit topped with a black fedora hat reminiscent of his namesake Johnny Cash, the “man in black.” In these brief engagements he would often ask when and where the next gig is, or when we can visit him in his house for a jam.
Indeed, I have been in his house a few times in the past where I have seen his lifetime collection of musical instruments any musician would ever dream of owning – guitars, bass guitars (the instrument he often plays), keyboards, and drums. Of course, he had the iconic Ludwig drum kit because Ringo Starr played this kit for The Beatles. So, I got behind Johnny’s Ludwig too, playing what else but songs by The Beatles.
These encounters happened more frequently when Johnny decided to come home to Baguio for good after years of living abroad. What he did overseas is sketchy to me, but I am willing to bet that he spent most of his productive years as a musician. Having played with musicians of Johnny’s generation for many years, some information would be thrown here and there about Johnny, in that he attended high school at the Baguio City High School, and from there it was a rock and roll life all throughout.
Some years ago, I played the drums for Alex Aquino’s group (The RCBS Band, The Baguio Boys Band). Alex was a former member of the Reichstag, a 1960’s band of record in Baguio which had a friendly rivalry with another band of record, The Vagabonds, of which Johnny was a member. Again, from the pieces of information that I gathered over a period of time, I learned that these two bands were regular fixtures in Baguio “shindigs” in the late 1960s until before the declaration of Martial Law.
An interesting anecdote that I heard was that one day, both bands were invited to a Brent School shindig, no doubt a major event or why invite a two-band setup if it was a mere sideshow. At the time when Camp John Hay was an air base or an air station for American servicemen, their dependents were attending Brent School such that there was a robust number of American expats either teaching or attending school at Brent School.
Under this setting, both bands played their set and, as it were, The Reichstags was first to mount the stage. They played their usual Beatles set, then afterwards it was The Vagabonds’ turn to play. In an apparent scheme to spring a surprise upon The Reichstags, the curtains opened with a horn section reinforcing the band which launched into a rousing rendition of Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’.”
Alex can only recall this event with a chuckle. “They (The Vagabonds) were always the better musicians,” he laughs. “But we were certainly better looking.” Indeed, this good-natured rivalry could have had a reprise if a much talked about reunion concert actually came through. Sonny Bugnosen, another Vagabond, was certainly up to it. One afternoon some years ago, I was in a van with Sonny, Johnny, and their cohort of veteran musicians on the way to a place in La Trinidad where apparently the Pomar family were gathered in a reunion of sorts and as expected, music was in the cards. I played with them, took part in a generous spread of food and drink and it was, on purpose, one of the most memorable times I have had in the company of no-nonsense musicians.
If you expect me to say that the musical experience consisted of technicalities and complex structures, you might be disappointed. Instead, they said, “In rock and roll, all you need to do is play at the post, drive the beat, and keep a steady rhythm.” The few gratuitous backbeats that I brought along, including some esoteric time signatures that I can throw here and there were of no use.
When I was a snot-nosed kid who got behind the drums for the first time in college, Johnny was with a group called The Kings Band playing in a pub which they ran called The King’s Castle. During daytime, they rented their equipment for upstarts like us who were swaggering rockstar wannabes. The advice that I heard in La Trinidad was not new. They were as generous with their counsel then, as they are now. “Do not compete with each other’s volumes. Equalize your sound,” they told us then. To this day I still think that that is the key to playing in a band who wants to produce a pleasant sound even if the genre being played is rock and roll, punk, or metal.
That is why I was always in awe of Johnny, even if he passed himself off later as an aging hippie whose life is determined simply by the next “tugtugan.” That kind of life is not bad. Like Johnny, I can see myself playing music until I cannot play anymore.