07 August 2017

Sonny Lozano and the Little-Known Story of Jose Mari Chan’s First-ever Single “Afterglow”

Left, Sonny Lozano with his beauteous wife Beth.  Right, Jose Mari Chan while on vacation in Bohol in 2010.
After dinner last night, I listened across the table to Sonny Lozano as he narrated the story of how he produced Jose Mari Chan’s first-ever single “Afterglow.” I had heard the story countless times before, but like a child being told a fairy tale before bed, I still get totally fascinated by it.

Lozano was my direct superior at De la Salle Lipa before I retired from service in 2011. He is an educator to the marrow. Before DLSL, he was Dean at the Western Philippine Colleges, now the University of Batangas. He left DLSL the same year that I did; but today, despite having turned 70 last month, he continues to wield his magic wand to transform the First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities into a center of educational excellence at least in the CALABARZON if not the entire country.

The successful career in education, though, could easily have been one in the entertainment industry instead, had things panned out differently back in 1965. That year, Lozano was still a student at San Beda College in Manila. Although still a student, he had an entrepreneurial streak in him and had already set up JPL Records, a small business producing and promoting musical records in vinyl.

“At that time,” Lozano narrated, “the thing to do was to copycat.” What he meant was to produce records of Filipino artists trying to sound like established western musical acts. His Chinese principals from Raon, he went on, would call him and say, “Sonny, I will send you a vinyl record. See if you can produce something that sounds similar.” In his makeshift studio, he would gather his people and try to create what was requested.

One day, while in his office in Escolta, he got a call from a friend telling him to go to Maryknoll to see this personality who was not only a great emcee but also sang very well. “From Escolta to Maryknoll took me only about 20 minutes,” Lozano laughed. “Sta. Mesa Boulevard to Aurora Boulevard, you could drive at 80 kph!” This is just not possible in the present day.

That personality would turn out to be one Jose Mari Chan, an Ilonggo from Iloilo who was studying at the Ateneo de Manila at the time. His father was Don Antonio Chan, one of the richest sugar traders in the country. He was known in college circles as an emcee, having apparently been a DJ back in Bacolod.

“I approached him and gave him my business card,” Lozano continued. He would visit Chan in his home in Bel-Air. Initially, Lozano said, he wanted to build Chan up as “the Cliff Richard of the Philippines” since making copycat records made better business sense at the time. At first, Chan agreed but would later change his mind.

Jose Mari Chan gamely posing with DLSL employees in Bohol in 2010.
“Sonny,” Chan told Lozano, “I don’t think I can do this. I have a better option. What if you don’t have to pay me? If you will just record my song.” Lozano wanted to hear the song, so Chan picked up a guitar and started singing “Afterglow,” the latter’s original composition.

Because the local market’s preference, as already mentioned, was for copycats, Lozano at first thought the notion of a Filipino artist singing an original song in English was “suicidal.” So while in principle, Lozano agreed to produce “Afterglow,” still trying to be a levelheaded businessman, he counter-proposed to Chan that the song’s flipside be a Cliff Richard cover song.

Chan would have none of it and told Lozano that he had another original song entitled “Pines” for the flipside which the latter did not have to pay him for, either. As things happened, one Oscar Salazar, who was a volunteer Public Relations man for JPL Records and The Moonstrucks, encouraged the latter to take a leap of faith as far as Chan was concerned. Many readers will probably be more familiar with the name Oskee Salazar1.

Finally, in 19672 Lozano agreed to produce “Afterglow.” His friends advised him, however, that he needed to have a professional transaction with Chan and that the latter had to be paid. So Lozano paid Chan for the composition and singing the grand old sum of ₱300, a heap of money by today’s inflated standards. To put this sum in context, Lozano said, “The tuition I paid in my first year in college was ₱180.” (Probably for the first semester. In the present day, San Beda’s annual undergraduate tuition range is from ₱145,000-155,0003.)

“Afterglow” and its flipside were the only two songs of Chan that Lozano produced as each moved onto different paths afterwards. Lozano would marry the beauteous Beth Katigbak and move to Batangas while Chan was forced abroad by the increasingly difficult political climate.

Did “Afterglow” make money? “No,” was Lozano’s emphatic reply. In those days, he went on, 45 rpm vinyl records went for ₱2 in Raon. For original acts like The Beatles, distributors passed on records to the retailers for just ₱1.70. Meanwhile, since his company produced copycats of originals, Lozano said they passed on their records for a mere ₱1.40. Unfortunately, while listeners liked “Afterglow” when it was played over the radio, buyers in Raon would often ask for its Cliff Richard original which of course there was none.

The last page of Jose Mari Chan's recent letter to Sonny Lozano.
In fact, in “Afterglow” Lozano and Chan between them produced the very first recorded OPM, something that the former says they have not really been given credit for. Chan would, of course, ultimately become a big name in the local music industry with hits like “Deep in my Heart,” “Can We just Stop and Talk Awhile” and “Christmas in Our Hearts,” to name just a few.

He is not the sort to forget, either. Although unable to attend Lozano’s 70th birthday party, Chan sent in a 5-page letter of gratitude which he ended with, “50 years have come and gone, but the music in me lives on. Thank God for the gift of good health. Thank God for the gift of music. Thank you Sonny for being part of my musical journey. Your bold venture led me to Vicor and eventually to Dyna Records which created my big hit “Deep in my Heart.”



Notes and references:
1 A second entertainment industry who also used to work with Lozano was the lawyer and writer Billy Balbastro.
2Jose Mari Chan,” Wikipedia.
3 As per Finduniversity.ph.

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