I heard about these guys before I met them. Everyone said they are the best blues band in Cebu and have been together a long time. I did some net research and found a couple of vids on Youtube, not much, but what I saw piqued my interest. If I couldn’t connect with Bruce Conte (former guitarist in that quintessential funk group Tower of Power, who is now living and playing in Cebu) maybe I could find Arnold Ang, the leader of 40 the Band.
Lyndon, Juel, Arnold, Henri, Kay (L-R)
all pics from 40 the Band website.
I lucked out one night at the Outpost when I was introduced to the female singer of the group, Kay Tradio, and her husband Henri who also plays guitar in the band. They called Arnold over and we all started rappin ’bout which guitar is best (Fender Strat), the Blues and it’s introduction to Cebu, Philippines.
Kay said when they first started playing the blues in Cebu (40 was previously a classic rock and originals band) there were many lonesome gigs where people wouldn’t come or didn’t understand the genre and walked out. But they stuck with it, honing their licks, paying their dues and have persevered. Their gigs at the Outpost and other venues around town are now usually packed with blues aficionados. Hey, we all know, the blues is alright!
They asked if I wanted to come watch them play and maybe sit in at an upcoming gig at Formo. Of course I agreed.
Formo is a modern nightspot located in Banilad Town Center which is a trendy place to meet and mingle among the young professionals in Cebu. When there isn’t a band they have a DJ providing the beats. Owned by John Paul Chiongbian, the son of Nenita who is a friend of Fe’s sister Lisa. ( Cebu is a small island, sometimes it seems everyone knows everyone else!) Nenita visited us in Indianapolis many years ago and we had a great time checking out all the discos around town. (Like I said, it was a long time ago and Discos were the THANG ).
Advertised as starting at 10:30 the band didn’t play their first note until 11. That’s Filipino time folks, and besides, Cebu doesn’t start jumpin till late at night.
The current lineup of 40 the Band features three guitars, bass and drums, with Kay handling the vocals to good effect. These guys have studied and perfected their blues vocabulary. It seemed a little surreal, watching and listening to these Filipino cats, but at the same time it was comforting, like a night at my old home place.
The front line consists of Arnold Ang, Henri Tradio, and local guitar phenom, Randy Pages. Randy is a close friend of my nephew, Ian, and plays in two bands. One, an atmospheric avant garde group and also 40. He studied guitar in the US and has brought his hot licks back to Cebu.
Lyndon, the bass player knows where “home” is, and I like that. His playing is complementary, soulful and he doesn’t overdo it. He knows a big fat note is much better than a bunch of skinny ones.
The drummer is Juel Zuleta, and he knows how to play the blues. He blocks the song along with the 12 bar sequence and hits accents in the right places. With advanced technique and metronome tight, he lays down the groove and is easy to follow.
Payin their dues, playin the Blues in Cebu, Philippines
Kay has a big funky sound for a little girl. She can howl, growl and belts out the blues in full voice. I really enjoyed listening to her no holds barred rendition of “The Sky is Crying”, by Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Arnold is leader but allows everyone their contribution within the framework of the song. The three guitarists have vastly different styles with Arnold taking a studied lyrical approach, somewhat like Clapton, Randy supplying ethereal textures and rhythms, and Henri giving stinging “balls to the walls” performances reminiscent of Albert Collins. I dug listening and watching their interplay.
I was called up to play almost a full set with the band. We covered “Roadhouse” by the Doors, “Pride and Joy”, by SRV, even Claptons “Cocaine” and lots of others. The Band allowed me a try at singing “Walking Blues” by the Butterfield Blues Band (Originally written by Robert Johnson) even though they had never heard the song!
Arnold called for extended jams and breaks which added interest and made the playing dynamic. These guys know how to put the “stank” on it! 😉
All too soon the evening came to a close and I surrendered the bass back to Lyndon, thanking him profusely for the use of his rig. They ended with an extended instrumental version of “Little Wing” as recorded by SRV.
I’m glad I got to meet and jam with Arnold and crew. They are busy spreading the gospel and keeping Blues alive in Cebu City, Philippines.
May they play long, hard and prosper.