Remembering Rico J. Puno conquered the USA 40 years prior
Not many people know this but Rico J. Puno was the first major Filipino performer to tour the United States. This happened 40 years ago back in the 1978 when Puno’s popularity was at an all-time high. His fifth album, “The Total Entertainer,” was a chart-topper.
My father, Danny Olivares, was then president of the Philippine Association of the Record Industry and along with his siblings Rogel, Totit and Ben, brought Puno to the US for several shows. Billed as “Manila-Memphis-USA,” Puno flew in with a full band and opening acts of impersonators of Elvis Presley (Bill Haney) and Nat King Cole (Larry Strong who went to Manila in the 1980s and married a Filipina) plus some dancers.
“We started the tour in Bakersfield that wasn’t too small but not too big, just right for an intimate show,” recalled my Uncle Ben who was based in Los Angeles at that time. “That got everyone ready for the big date at the Sports Arena — the old arena of the Los Angeles Clippers. All the chairs were arranged in circular fashion around the stage and it was a great show.”
Memphis show highlight
They next hit the Cow Palace San Francisco that, although not filled, (the venue sits 16,000-plus people for concerts), still drew a huge audience.
The Memphis show the highlight of the tour. “Rico was a huge Elvis fan,” said my dad. “He really wanted to play in the King’s hometown.”
They managed to book a show. However, it did have its glitch.
The American crew than handled the sound system refused to allow the use of the equipment until the promoter paid them.
“The show was delayed because of this and the crowd was getting angry,” shared my father. “Rico was such a trouper that he was willing to sing acapella. Of course, that was unacceptable. Once he got on stage, he cracked his jokes and disarmed the crowd that a good time was eventually held by all.”
“Rico sat in front of the stage and looked at one Filipino in the audience and asked, ‘Meron ba akong muta?’ The fan said no. Then Rico said, ‘Buti ka pa meron.’ It does sound a little crass, but everyone was laughing.”
The show went on and a great time was had by all.
Remarked the American owner of the venue, “This is incredible that you managed to fill this place. Is he your man?”
Mainstream around then
My dad, proud of that moment, replied, “Yes, he is our man.”
Sadly, the promoter never did pay the American crew.
Amid the visit, Puno saw my Uncle Ben wearing some French jeans that were mainstream around then. He asked my uncle where he could get a few and he purchased a considerable measure. When he came back to Manila, he was the just a single wearing them and being a popular individual, he was given many style focuses.
“Rico wasn’t just an aggregate entertainer,” said my uncle, “yet he likewise had this immaculate sense for form. He preferred sprucing up. A long time later, when we saw each other again in Manila, he expressed gratitude toward me for helping him get those jeans. He cherished them.”
Towards the finish of the visit, two record officials from Herb Alpert’s A&M Records sat down with my dad and Uncle Ben about marking Puno to an account contract. “Is he here the present moment?” my uncle reviewed one official who raved about the record. “That is some voice.”
Shockingly, Puno had returned home with the visit over. Once back in Manila, for reasons unknown, the arrangement never worked out. In any case, regardless, it propelled Puno’s global profession.
“It was an extraordinary visit,” reviewed my dad (who resigned from the chronicle business in the early long stretches of the new thousand years) as we discussed Rico’s passing without end. “It was an incredible ordeal for every one of us. Particularly, for Rico. What’s more, we turned out to be such great companions.”