Lank of leg and long of tooth, but still fleet-fingered at 63, Nitoy Adriano is the very epitome of the grizzled rock ’n’ roll veteran.
For more than 30 years, Adriano pounded the planks as lead guitarist of The Jerks, arguably Manila’s finest bar band, whose smoking live sets at hallowed rock clubs such as the now-defunct Mayric’s and the still-hanging-on-by-a-thread 70s Bistro during the band’s late-’90s/early 2000’s peak have become the stuff of local legend.
Eschewing flashy guitar pyrotechnics in favor of a timeless, understated cool, he was for years an iconic sight in the local music scene, bent over his battered orange 1968 Stratocaster, more likely than not facing away from the audience, remaining ever so slightly in the shadows while vocalist Chikoy Pura handled the frontman duties.
Laconic by nature, Adriano preferred to let his guitar do the talking, coaxing stinging bluesy lines out of the six strings when not providing a solid chordal foundation for the songs. His fat, clean-but-nasty guitar tone was instantly recognizable to guitar aficionados, and formed a good half of The Jerks’ signature rough and ready sound.
Indeed, the band had been at it so long that Pura and Adriano seemed joined at the hip, our very own Glimmer Twins. A virtual revolving door of bassists and drummers have played with The Jerks over the years, but Pura and Adriano formed the core, the beating heart of the band.
Which was why Adriano’s acrimonious departure from The Jerks two years ago came as such a shock to the band’s fans. It was almost unthinkable, like Keith Richards leaving Mick Jagger.
For a while, rumors buzzed thick and fast: Some said Adriano had been fired for indulgences of an herbal nature, others claimed he had simply stopped showing up. Somewhere along the way, the thrill had gone from the marriage.
As ever a man of few words, Adriano won’t say much about the split.
“Nagkawindang-windang na (Things fell apart)”, he says. “Tumabang na ako nang tumabang (I lost interest).”
In any case, it was the end of an era (despite the fact that The Jerks continue to soldier on as a three-piece).
But, as Mick Jagger once said, time waits for no one. A few weeks after the split, Adriano was called on to play guitar on “Bungo sa Bangin,” Ely Buendia’s contribution to “Rock Rizal,” an album project to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Jose Rizal in 2011.
The two musicians had known each other since the early ’90s, when the Eraserheads were an up-and-coming band of young upstarts and The Jerks were already headliners at local club venues. They managed to jam during one of the periodic “Beatles nights” at the 70s Bistro, when they discovered common ground in a love for classic ’60s rock and pop.
Shortly thereafter, the Eraserheads went on to pop superstardom while The Jerks continued to labor in the trenches of semi-popularity, the quintessential cult band.
Despite the generation gap, the chemistry proved simpatico, so much so that Adriano was the logical choice—perhaps the only choice—for Buendia’s “classic rock” project, now known as the Oktaves.
A collaboration between Buendia, Adriano and the well-regarded pop-punk-rockabilly trio of Ivan Garcia, Chris and Bobby Padilla, otherwise known as Hilera, the Oktaves sound like a dream band cooked up by a bunch of music geeks during a reefer session, an intergenerational mash-up that somehow gelled into one of the most consistently listenable records in recent memory.
Combining Buendia’s impeccable pop songcraft with Adriano’s well-seasoned guitar chops and Hilera’s youthful energy, the band cooked up the sleeper hit of the year with “K.U.P.A.L.,” a catchy, power-pop romp.
The band quickly landed a two-record contract with MCA Universal records, and the band’s eponymous debut was released last December to generally favorable reviews.
Apart from classic rock and pop, some of the songs have an unexpected country-and-western flavor which enables Adriano to trot out his rarely-heard slide guitar.
It’s a surprisingly solid and accomplished debut, considering that for all intents and purposes, the Oktaves is basically a side project for Buendia, whose main gig remains his band Pupil, and the Hilera boys.
For Adriano, the Oktaves is a welcome change after the 32-year grind with The Jerks doing mostly covers.
“Gusto ng Oktaves bumalik sa raw music, basic rock ’n’ roll,” he says. “Twenty years ang gap namin—ang Hilera nasa twenties, si Ely nasa forties, ako nasa sixties. Pinagdudugtong-dugtong ang mga generations, isa lang ang common ground namin: rock ’n’ roll (The Oktaves want to go back to basic rock ’n ’roll. There’s a 20-year gap in our ages, Hilera are in their twenties, Ely is in his forties and I’m in my sixties. Our only common ground is rock ’n ’roll).”
Born in 1949, Adriano belongs to the generation that invented Pinoy rock: His cohorts include Wally Gonzalez of Juan de la Cruz and the late Edmond Fortuno of Anakbayan.
One can imagine the youngsters of Hilera sitting at his feet and soaking in the stories of the good old days…
Like many who came of age during the Beatlemania years, Adriano found salvation from the stultifying conformity of the era in the guitar.
In 1968, after finishing high school at Ramon Avancena High in Arlegui, San Miguel, Manila, Adriano began the itinerant life of a professional musician.
“Hindi ko na kinuha diploma ko,” he recalls. “Bumiyahe agad ako sa Olongapo. Mga totoy pa kami noon (I didn’t bother to get my diploma, I went straight to Olongapo. We were still kids then).”
At the height of the Vietnam War, the US military bases at Subic and Clark spawned a vibrant live music scene in Olongapo and Angeles. Hundreds of American troops on R & R leave from the front flooded the bars, screaming for sex, beer and rock ’n’ roll, the last of which Filipino bands were only too happy to provide.
Adriano played Doors, Cream and Jimi Hendrix covers with Dead Man Control and Human Love, two bands which plied the Balibago club circuit in Angeles City. He would have continued working as a journeyman musician were it not for an untimely and unwelcome drug bust, which landed him in Camp Crame in 1973.
It was the height of martial law, and Adriano remembers sharing his quarters with jailed activists and journalists. Because of the suspension of due process, it wasn’t until four years later when the military realized he wasn’t in for a political offense, and sent him back to the civil courts. By that time any evidence was long gone, the courts had other fish to fry, and Adriano was released in 1977 without having been charged with any offense.
He had managed to miss the peak years of Pinoy rock. (Some of his former bandmates had gone on to form the one-hit wonder Judas, of “Dukha” fame.) By the time Adriano got out, Pinoy rock had given way to the folk boom, spurred on by the popularity of Asin and Freddie Aguilar.
Folkhouses like the Bodega sprouted all over Manila, but Adriano was no folkie. Instead, he eased his way back into the music scene as a sound technician, setting up amps and mikes. It was in the Bato Balani, a long-forgotten folkhouse in Malate, that he met a singer named Chikoy Pura in 1978.
While folk music was dying a slow, lingering death, local radio had received a much-needed shot of adrenaline when legendary DJ Howlin’ Dave started playing punk and new wave records on his radio program.
Realizing that this was the sound of the future, Pura and Adriano hooked up with drummer Flor Mendoza and formed The Jerks in 1978—the country’s first punk and new wave band. They took up a residency as the house band of the legendary On Disco, a club where Howlin’ Dave manned the turntables, spinning punk and new wave singles and almost single-handedly spawning an underground music scene.
The Jerks recorded three songs, “Romantic Kill,” “Big Deal” and a ska version of “Day Tripper,” of historic import in that they brought English lyrics back to Pinoy rock ’n’ roll.
After the novelty wore off, The Jerks found themselves back to being a journeyman rock ’n’ roll band, playing classic rock covers in Olongapo and Japan, until they reemerged in 1989.
Under the influence of protest singer and impresario Gary Granada, The Jerks reinvented themselves as a “political” rock band with “Reklamo ng Reklamo” and “Sayaw sa Bubog,” which transformed the raw Jerks sound with world music influences and anti-colonial, anti-imperialist messages.
The band released a live album under Gary Granada’s indie label. Eventually, they recorded “Haligi ng Maynila” for Star Records in 1997, which won album of the year at the NU Rock Awards the following year.
The Jerks’ time in the spotlight was short-lived, however. They fell back to doing what they did best, playing covers at club gigs. For years, local listeners could count on The Jerks playing a solid if unremarkable set at one venue or another on a Friday or Saturday night.
But as George Harrison astutely observed, all things must pass.
“Nagkasawaan na lang siguro, hindi na kasi tumatakbo, puro bar na lang, puro covers, hindi na kami gumagawa ng originals—nakakasawa na din (It got boring. We weren’t moving forward. We only played bars, we only played covers, we weren’t writing original material. I got tired of it).”
Nevertheless, Adriano is still loath to write off 32 years with The Jerks, and fans still have a glimmer of hope that someday, the Glimmer Twins might get back together for old time’s sake.
For now, however, Adriano is kicking in old school with the Oktaves, showing the young ones how it’s done. •