Before he fell ill recently, Roger Herrera was still playing bass in weekly gigs around town. The highly revered musician died of pneumonia at 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday, his wife Megan told the Inquirer .He was 80.
“He was still having fun playing with us,” recalled pianist Tess Salientes, who lived in the United States before coming home in 2005. “He played the bass like it was a wind instrument. It sounded lyrical.”
Another bass player, Colby de la Calzada, said Herrera was the idol of all young bassists: “He could play the acoustic and electric bass guitar. He could sight-read and play by ear. There’s no better word to describe him than ‘excellent.’”
Drummer Mar Dizon, who played with Herrera for more than 10 years, noted: “It felt exhilarating to be onstage with him. It was like taking a joyful ride, you never had to worry …”
As a person, Dizon said, Herrera was known for his honesty and frankness. “He wouldn’t mince words. He wasn’t a fake.”
Dizon added that Herrera was one of a rare breed of musicians who had no vices. “I don’t think he smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol. All he did, aside from play music, was tinker with his car and motorcycle.”
Echoing the same sentiments, pianist-composer-arranger Ryan Cayabyab and singer Basil Valdez said they held Herrera in high regard. “He was the only bass player I worked with since I started (in the industry), until 2006,” said Cayabyab. “I first met him in 1975, and we went on to work in shows and recording sessions.”
Cayabyab pointed out that Herrera was part of a crack lineup of session musicians referred to as Team A. “That was Roger on bass, Jun Regalado on drums and Narding Castañeda on guitar. Roger was quick to adapt to any type of song—be it pop, jazz or classical. In fact he played on my very first album, ‘Roots to Routes.’”
Cayabyab likewise recounted that when he formed the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra in 2004, Herrera auditioned and made it, “hands down.”
Valdez revealed that Herrera had been his bass player since 1977. “He played with me for 35 years. He was the bassist on all my recordings, all 12 albums, as well as in all my shows abroad with Ryan as musical director.”
Asked what Herrera’s death meant to them, Cayabyab and Valdez concurred that it felt like the passing of the old-school generation of musicians known for exacting skills and utmost professionalism.
“We’re all sad … Roger was like a bridge between the big band and pop eras,” said Cayabyab.
“Ryan and I learned something precious from Roger,” said Valdez. “He made it a point to never commit mistakes during recording sessions. We couldn’t forgive ourselves whenever we committed an error.”
Valdez summed up Herrera’s musical legacy: “Everyone knew he was the best bass player in the country.”
Herrera was cremated on Wednesday. His ashes will be at Santuario de San Antonio on McKinley Road, Forbes Park, Makati until high noon today.