Long before helming Nasugbu’s luxury seaside estate Kawayan Cove, Joey Puyat was a bona fide rock star, with guitars ranging from sentimental keepsakes to thrift-store treasures
By RAFAEL A.S.G. ONGPIN
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOEY PUYAT
Tell me first about your business. What aspects of the business are you involved in? Are there other businesses your family is involved in, but you are not?
I handle a project called Kawayan Cove, a luxury seaside residential community in Nasugbu, Batangas. The property was originally owned by my maternal grandfather, Col. Jose Razon. I formed a team to do the masterplanning, development, and sales of the residential lots.
We purposely planned it to have the lowest density among all the other communities along the coast.
Our family is also engaged in the manufacturing of steel roofing and steel pipes, wooden construction materials, vinyl and wood flooring, marine products, flour, bowling, and billiards.
How is business running these days, after a year of the pandemic? What are you proudest of in your business?
Probably that we are able to offer continued employment for our staff through- out the pandemic. We need to continue to help those in need and I constantly pray that our people and their loved ones continue to be safe.
The construction and food business- es are doing good, and the ones that are involved in sports and entertainment are unfortunately not because of the need to keep the public safe.
How did you first get involved with music? I remember you once told a story of how a relative lent you an acoustic guitar, and you taught yourself to play it? What kind of guitar was it?
My love affair with music began when I was in high school. A bunch of older kids had a party at a friend’s house and a couple of them were jamming away on acoustic guitars. Everyone in the room was intently listening to what was happening. I was hooked!
My dad Aristeo “Putch” Puyat, president of Puyat Steel, co-owner of Puyat Sports, and Godfather of Philippine Billiards] borrowed an acoustic from a cousin of his who had one lying around the house, and I spent countless hours, weeks, and months on it trying to figure out what the older kids were doing. At
the time, even if they showed me what to do, I would have been clueless so I would watch them play during breaks at school, then hurriedly rush home to try and figure out what they were doing.
I would do my homework, lock myself in a room, work things out on the guitar, and wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning with my guitar still on my lap!
What kinds of music were you listening to at the time?
Like most kids in my batch, I was heavily into Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Did you have a lot of musician friends, either pros or hobbyists? Who were they?
My closest friends are musicians, and I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to play with most of the top players in town. My mentor is the great keyboardist Boy Katindig, who hired me as his guitarist for several years. At 21, I was gigging six times a week, from 8 pm to 2 am every day at a bar in Timog named Birds of the Same Feather. Another mentor was the late Menchu Apostol, my beloved kumpadre who did
the most amazing stuff on the guitar. He’s been gone for 33 years, but the memories are fresh and forever etched in my ears and heart.
I know two guys intimately who are fellow guitar players, have extremely successful business careers, own massive guitar collections, and are probably more passionate about music and guitar tweaking than most pros.
When did you first get serious about music as a career and calling? How did your parents react?
Probably second-year college was when I started to play professionally, and by my senior year I was playing every night! My mom was very supportive, and she would cover up for me whenever my dad would look for me. She knew that I was gigging every night but told me to follow my heart (and she would handle my dad if he found out).
When I finally decided to quit playing professionally I asked him for a job in one of his companies. He calmly told me that he always knew what I was up to.
What were the first bands you joined?
I joined a band called Mother Earth, which won the first RC Cola Battle of the Bands way back when I was in fourth-year high school. Over 250 bands from all over the country competed all throughout the three-month summer season and the finals culminated in a shoot-off between the top 10 remaining finalists.
Among my bandmates were Colby dela Calzada (bass), Uly Avante (percussion), who eventually went on to become the top players in their respective instruments.
What was your first serious axe? Your second and third? Which one do you play most today? Could be a different one for each band situation/genre. What about your “desert island (with electricity)” guitar and amp?
My first serious axe was a Teisco [a Japanese electric guitar]. It looked like a canoe paddle and once belonged to some- one who was in a “combo” in the early ‘60s called Orly Ilacad and D’Ramrods! It had strings that were so thick that they felt like steel cables.
Then an uncle who played in yet an- other early ‘60s group saw me with it and promptly gifted me with his trusty Höfner that had paisley-colored leather padding. After several more years my dad thought that if he gave me a “nice” guitar, the noise level would drastically decrease, so he gave me a Black Les Paul. Boy, was he terribly mistaken!
Aside from the exponential increase in the electric bill resulting from increased amplifier usage, the noise levels significantly increased (am sure to his and our neighbor’s great disappointment).
I still have the Gibson 1962 SG that I bought second-hand when I was in my final year in high school, and some others that I’ve managed to collect. Each of them has specific applications, and is suited to particular music genres.
For the Blue Rats I switch between a Les Paul and a Strat [Fender Stratocaster]. For jazz and other music, I’ll bring out the [Gibson] ES-335.
If the house was burning and I could only grab one, it would be my ’63 Strat. It’s a gift from my beloved aunt, and will stay with me till my eyes close.
When did you start collecting guitars? Maybe the question could be, when did you own more than three guitars, either electric or acoustic? Is there any particular guitar that you still don’t have and wish you did?
I started acquiring guitars in late high school. I and a couple of other friends would go down- town to Raon and hunt for “old” guitars. Those used early ‘60s models were regarded as trash, and were sold at prices that would make today’s collectors weep. I paid Php1,700 for my ’62 SG, and bought a couple of ’61 and ’62 Strats for 700 or 800 bucks (a lot of money at the time).
The hunt for the holy grail of guitars is an ongoing endeavor, though.
How many guitars do you own today? If this is a sensitive question, let’s put it this way: Is the number of your guitars less than your age in years, equivalent, or more?
I definitely have less guitars than my age. Most of them are gigging axes, though, and I’m quite happy with what I have.
With regard to solid electrics, do you agree that they fall into these five basic genres of tone, or do you have your own way of classifying them? Can you select an example of each classification that you like, or find remarkable?
I agree that the different tonalities are well represented by a handful of guitar types. I have yet to play a Strat that is as nice as mine, and I’m blown away by my ’67 Fender Esquire, which was a gift from a dear friend whom I have known since high school and is a brother to me.
You also collect amplifiers; in fact, you are an endorser of an amplifier brand. Tell us how critical you feel the effect of the amplifier is?
I love Vox Amplifiers! When they approached me to pitch the idea of having me as an endorser, I already had an AC30 so it was a perfect fit, because I’ve always been a Vox man.
With respect to the amp, your toneis a sum of all parts. Your touch, your guitar, and of course your amp! Some players are in constant search for the ultimate tone. I’ve found mine with my amp(s) of choice.
The great Carlos Santana said that your tone is your face! I couldn’t agree more.
Once upon a time, power/volume was critical to tone, whether over- driving for distortion, or being able to project a clean, pure tone. Amps today seem to rely more on soft- ware to shape tone. Do you think this works? Do you use it?
I’m an old-school guy, so digital amps or software are not my cup of tea. Give me a Vox with NOS Mullards [vacuum tubes] and you’ll see me in tonal nirvana the whole night!
What role do you think music plays in your life? Do you feel it defines you?
Music is everywhere in my life. When I’m not playing or listening to music, I’m imagining tunes and melodies. It relaxes, entertains, uplifts, inspires, and humbles me. The more music I hear, the more I real- ize that I know so little.
What are the most important lessons you have learned from your musical journey?
You get what you work for! No one can make you become a good player. You can go to the best music schools and get the best teachers, but you still have to put in count- less hours of practice.
You have to be humble, because there are valuable lessons to be learned from other players. Listen, play with others, be open to other types of music.
Most important of all—if you want to become a better musician, play with players who are much better than you!