When people ask how a five-year-old Pinoy rock and blues band named Electric Sala was chosen to compete in the 29th International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis, Tennessee, in January this year, Al Ferrer, creative director and dad to the four strapping young men who compose the band, has a ready answer:
His boys, he says, referring to Paolo, 20, Miguel 19, Carlos, 17, and Abdon, 13, were “born in the ’90s and raised in the ’70s.”
Indeed, music for the Ferrers has been an ongoing family affair since the freewheeling ’70s, with Al and Mabet Ferrer passionately raising their brood on the music of the era.
It was one smooth-running family organization, recalls Al, with Mom and Dad acting as team leaders in charge of directing, schooling, dinner, Mass at every gig and the boys’ homework.
Then there are the boys’ friends who step up when needed. When Miguel is on leave for college, Jurell Jamison and Jello Marcelo slide in to fill the gap as brothers in arms and extended family.
In fact, the band’s name perfectly describes a typical home scene. “Our sala (living room) is filled with electric guitars, amps and instruments, so voila! It’s an Electric Sala!” says the Ferrer patriarch.
The family harmony—in all sense of the word—Al traces to karma and “good trip,” jargon of the ’70s that saw the Ferrer couple starting a business in tune with the spirit of the times.
Some 17 years ago, on Aurora Blvd. in San Juan, the Ferrer couple opened a small boutique named Deacon Blues. The display window was a drum set draped with Mother’s denim jeans, an iconic brand at that time.
Recalls Al: “It was what was called a ‘head shop.”’
The ’60s and ’70s term immediately evokes bohemian visions of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but in this case, it more accurately meant a shop that stocked rock and reggae T-shirts, vintage clothing and long-playing records on wood beams that served as shelves. It was modeled on Mother’s Air Cargo in the former Sta. Mesa Market (now the site of SM Centerpoint), founded and owned by Bob and Julie Villegas, which supplied the ’70s “hippies,” with their Mother’s Jeans, bags and “Tum Tum Tree” paper (rolling paper named after the street where the Villegases used to live in Quezon City).
When Deacon Blues store opened, Al and Mabet had acquired the rights to make and sell Mother’s brand in their store. “Deacon Blues even had a public consignment space for vinyl records of whoever was in the bin; Led Zep one day, Beach Boys the next. There was an Artist’s Nook, with two stools for rapping (conversation) and sharing whatever,” Al recalls of those heady days.
“It was in this very environment where Electric Sala was nurtured,” says Mabet. “(The air was) psychedelic and rocking, while baby Carlos, our third child, slept to the Allman Brothers.”
While pregnant, Mabet cradled a set of headphones around her tummy, sending the not- yet-born son bopping to Jimi Hendrix and Robert Johnson months before his birth. It was an innovative headstart to the next member of Electric Sala, and a preview of a future filled with music.
Did she think the headphones on her womb worked? “Yes,” says Mabet. “A good idea for any pregnant mom to do.”
“Good vibrations, man,” Al laughs.
Visiting band members interacted with the young boys who as children ran free in the store, listening to their elders and laughing. These were their main influences: musicians dropping by with new music to play in the store and small talk for the kids. Everyone was a “tito (uncle).” One day, it could be Tito Jun (Lupito) and the next day, reggae Tito Papa Dom.
By 2010, the brothers were complete and four strong, with the youngest, 10-year-old Abdon as the drummer. “Paolo had formed a group several months before but had to disband as the other members could not practice consistently,” says Al.
“Paolo thus enlisted Miguel (then 16) for bass and Carlos (then 14) for rhythm guitar. Abdon volunteered for the drums, the only spot left if he was to be part of the four-piece,” the older Ferrer adds.
Abdon, now 13, took just 12 drum lessons; the rest is hardcore passion. He joined his brothers and took the fans and audience to heart. The young teen can flail and hit the beats with unlimited power and fury. “I love the energy from the crowd,” volunteers the youngest band member in the family.
Groupies aged 16 to 20 usually hound Abdon for autograph and a photo op, while a protective mom hovers over the teeny-boppers and babes.
Electric Sala has jammed with Pinoy Rock and Rhythm greats: Wally Gonzales, Jun Lopito and The Jerks’ Chikoy Pura, to name a few. It has opened for Razorback and are weekend regulars at Tiendesitas in Pasig, playing lots of classic rock and blues covers to please every age category.
Fate interceded in the band getting its first gig, as Al was driving and just happened to drop by the now defunct Back Door Blues Café on Timog Avenue, Quezon City. Music lover/entrepreneur/owner, Elwyn Zalamea auditioned the boys to hear this young band’s stuff. Fortuitously, Electric Sala got the gig, and the rest is history.
Elwyn now produces “Blues ‘n’ Roll,” which features his pick of the best blues bands in mini-concerts held at various venues around town every month. The spontaneous events get a lot of promo mileage by word of mouth and social media.
A string of opportunities followed, among them band competition and music contests like Ramon Jacinto’s, “Face Off” and “Family Band Contest.”
RJ’s interest in the youngsters led to Electric Sala endorsing RJ Guitar Center and its trove of amps and other musical instruments. The youngest, Abdon the drummer, also got to be its image endorser.
“Sessionistas,” a band competition in Greenhills got the boys their Tiendesitas gig, a weekly Saturday night slot, and more attention. Getting gigs in the right spaces put them in the blues rock stream and club scene tours. The word was out.
Armed with plenty of practice and a long set list of Hendrix, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Clapton, Allman Brothers, Rory Gallagher; classic rock characterized by extended riffs and wailing licks, it was inevitable for Electric Sala to draw attention.
Fans so far have included harp player Tom Colvin of the Asia Blues Network and Radio, Captain Eddie Santos and Peng Perez de Tagle, president and treasurer, respectively, of the Philippine Blues Society.
Electric Sala was invited to join the Philippine Blues Society competition for a chance to represent the Philippine delegation to the Memphis, Tennessee International Blues Challenge (IBC). It was a shot in the dark.
The IBC had two categories for the challenge. A Professional Blues Band with a grand prize in guitars and recording equipment. KatMagic Express was the PBS professional entry after local tryouts. Another category was marked for the under-twenties: the IBC Youth Showcase introduces new talent, with no prizes but the thrill of a life in the real world of blues. It means being world class on the road at its heart and soul city, Memphis, Tennessee.
Memphis is where so much of the history of Blues and Rock began and continues. Memphis is where Graceland is located, the home of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. Sun Studios is a museum of such recording icons as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, and pays tribute to the mighty Mississippi River and Southern US cuisine: breaded deep-fried alligator, crawfish and of course, BBQ. Listen to Paul Simon’s “Graceland” on Memphis and get a sense of its history.
The band’s ride to Memphis was a blurred 36-hour, point-to-point trip. Al explains the long flight: “The US Immigration in Detroit had to verify with each club in Memphis that the band was playing, and also made sure that they were not going to be paid. This (long verification) process caused us to miss our connecting flight to Memphis. But everything checked out and we made it to IBC’s Youth Showcase.”
By the time they hit the ground, the boys barely had anything but adrenalin and live music going for them, from club to venue. Not to mention it was dead winter in Memphis, in January. From a balmy 300C in the Philippines to a bone-rattling 00C! But the blues warmed them up and the band shone.
Between challenge performances was an opportunity to jam with a world-class blues band, James Supra Blues Band (check out www.JamesSupraBluesBand.com). It was not until landing back home in Manila that it sunk in: what a big deal and experience that trip was, a once-in-a-lifetime moment in Memphis, Tennessee.
Early last month, the band released its first all-original Pinoy rock album, “Electric Sala, Vol.1.” Launched at Tiendesitas in an event emceed by Angel Laura of DZRJ-FM and the RJ Society of Music, the album was welcomed by such special guests as Joniver Robles, Chad Robles, Chikoy Pura (NU107’s Rock Awards Best Guitarist, 1998) and Ramon Jacinto, an Electric Sala patron. The guests jammed with the young band to the crowd’s unfettered delight.
With the release of its first album, the whole family is focused on marketing, quite a challenge at a time when the point of sales has changed drastically.As recent as 10 years ago, success was measured based on the number of CD units sold in record stores. But there are not many record stores/kiosks anymore. CDs have been replaced by digital downloads, hard drives and USB, or thumb drives.
According to a 2011 report from AGB Nielsen Philippines, 52 percent of Filipinos have a computer connection at home. This has changed the way music is marketed to the listening public. Two immovable forces—social media and its inevitable partner, the Internet—now rule the road to fame through several formats—Facebook, Yahoo, iTunes, YouTube, Google.
Fortunately, Al is a true believer of the new media. “Facebook can monitor the band’s stats and popularity. We can post gigs and content. The Net enhances promotion through websites.” The songs are online in HD stereo and video. The boys have embraced as well the Filipino Internet radio station, RadioRepublic.ph.
But because terrestrial radio still reaches a large Filipino provincial audience, Al and Mabet choose the best songs from the eight new originals on “Electric Sala, Vol. 1” and find a matching radio station with a format friendly to that particular genre. They give the songs to the station’s programmer.
Al continues: “A radio station may play one song in the afternoon and a different one at night” and the DJ might plug the band and/or the album.
But he is realistic as well. Here and now, the radio reality is that the music is secondary and the emphasis is on the DJ’s prattle on his or her chosen topic of the day. “Radio is something you listen to in traffic, man,” Al acknowledges. Music has become ambient and mere background to the DJ’s chat and commercials.
Al and Mabet may be largely responsible for this unique family band, but they admit that their music tastes and politics are their own and have not figured much in their sons’ choice of music genre.
They do share “the politics of music advocacy,” Al muses. “But music now lacks the messages carried by the sounds of the ’70s,” he adds.
Definitely children of their own times, the Electric Sala boys love their ’80s and ’90s remakes of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck or David Jacobs-Strain. But they also do covers of Juan de la Cruz, Anak Bayan and the dozens of now classic Pinoy rock influences.
But where will Electric Sala be in 10 years’ time?
The Ferrers agree that time is no obstacle; they see themselves playing on.
Well after all, BB King is over 80 and still onstage and the thrill is not gone. How could it be any different for this family venture? •
Check out www.ElectricSala.com and Facebook them too.