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Howlin' Dave: Hippie Punk Legend

If American radio had ever had a Wolfman Jack and an Alan Freed all rolled up into one person - someone who was also a crucial 1980's punk rock pioneer as well - that DJ probably would have owned the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and half of Cleveland, to boot. While no one figure in U.S. music history can claim to be all that towering, the Philippines had just such a rock jock: Howlin' Dave.

howlin_dave.jpgHowlin' Dave, who was to Filipino (or "Pinoy") rock what Freed, the Wolfman and perhaps John Peel combined were to Anglo music, died on May 27 at the age of 52, the victim of several long illnesses. I must admit that I had never heard of Howlin' Dave until reading of his death, and thereupon I searched the Internet in vain for any on-air clips of his '70s or '80s radio shows. I did find a few interviews with him in Tagalog, mostly done in recent years, but I'm not bothering to link to those.

I think what fascinates me about him is, well, first, his handle. He said he picked it as an homage to Howlin' Wolf, and that makes sense. Several articles also said he had a booming voice and did occasionally howl. But what really is interesting about Dave is how he so dominated two eras in the Philippines - the hippies-under-martial-law 1970s and the angry punk rock early '80s, when he staged a series of punk concerts that helped, in some estimates, turn the nation's mood decisively against Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and their reign of repression, helping to usher in the People Power Revolution.

Then the ultimate irony - after Filipinos gained their freedom, the anger subsided, and Dave's relevance quickly ended. He developed a brain tumor in the early '90s and spent the rest of his life battling diabetes, hypertension and a host of other ills.

Howlin' Dave (real name David Dante) started off as a laid-back hippie in the '70s, becoming one of the Philippines' top FM-style, classic rock disc-spinners as the nation suffered under the fist of the Marcos' martial law regime. According to some accounts, Marcos largely left the pot-smoking counterculture alone, while focusing his considerable ire on political rebels and opponents. This enabled Howlin' Dave to hone his style and craft.

Even as classic rock was getting tired in the late '70s, Dave managed to keep it fresh by playing local bands. His interest in them, and his willingness to give them airtime, helped develop the whole Pinoy Rock phenomenon. But things really took off for him in 1979, when he discovered the Sex Pistols and other seminal punk rock through the influence of his girlfriend, Delilah Aguilar, and her set of underground scene friends.

Dave took to wearing eyeliner, bleaching his hair and affecting the whole punk rock persona: He and Delilah become the Filipino Sid and Nancy. He became the most influential punk rocker in the country, playing not only the best British and American bands, but also nurturing Pinoy Punk - bands like the Urban Bandits, George Imbecile and the Idiots, I.O.V. and The Wuds, on his show, Pinoy Rock & Rhythm.

His influence reached its zenith between 1980 and 1985, when each year he would host a huge punk rock concert in and around Manila called Brave New World. The emphasis was on pissed-off punk rock culture - and Filipinos had a lot to be pissed off about. By this time, they had tired of the Marcos regime and hordes of angry, combat-booted punks screaming about freedom fit the tenor of the times. In 1983, the assassination of Sen. Ninoy Aquino and the resulting plunge into economic chaos only strengthened the emerging popularity of Pinoy Rock. It took off as opposition to Marcos mounted.

But come the 1986 People Power Revolution and Marcos' relinquishing of power, its reason for being abruptly ended. As the country entered a period of peace, Howlin' Dave's brand of hard-hitting rock screaming became quaint. It was never the same again.

The man's passing, especially at such a young age, really puts a coda to the original punk era. If I had been a Filipino, I have a feeling I would have worshipped Howlin' Dave, both as a hippie and as a punk. I kind of do now, even though I've never even heard him introduce a Ramones record. I wonder how you say, "Stay tuned for more rock 'n' roll!" in Tagalog?


From the Beachwood Country All-Stars to Dylan's Grammy Museum, the finest bones of rock 'n' roll are rattlin' 'round Don's Root Cellar.


Posted on June 2, 2008

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