Jose Feliciano recalls concerts in PH, even Cagayan de Oro | Inquirer Entertainment
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Jose Feliciano recalls concerts in PH, even Cagayan de Oro

By: - Columnist
/ 12:15 AM May 30, 2014

THE PUERTO Rican legend can exclaim “Mabuhay” and “Salamat,” along with a few crisp cuss words. RUBEN V. NEPALES

LOS ANGELES—“Cagayan de Oro.” Jose Feliciano pronounced the name of the Mindanao city perfectly, still remembering where he performed in the 1970s. We were looking back at some of the memorable concerts the legendary singer-guitarist-composer had given around the world.

At the end of this recent interview at the Metropolitan Suite of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Jose broke into four songs, including “Feliz Navidad.” Suddenly, it felt like Christmas in May.


“My memories of the Philippines are wonderful,” said the multi-Grammy winning Jose, clad completely in black. He has a very good memory for people and places. “I love the Filipino people. I felt very sad when the typhoon hit the Philippines. I was supposed to do a bunch of concerts there but they got cancelled. I love the Philippines. I came at a time when Imelda Marcos and her husband were in power. I didn’t necessarily agree with some of the things they did but I was just a guest. So I behaved myself.”

The performer, who was not deterred from pursuing a musical career despite being born blind, reminisced, “I played in Mindanao, in Cagayan de Oro. I played, of course, in Manila, which I liked. I enjoyed myself. I liked the food. If you want to know about the people in each place you go, eat the food. Don’t go to the Philippines and have McDonald’s. So when I go to a country, I eat their food and it tells me a lot about the people.”


He exclaimed “Mabuhay!” and “Salamat!” several times during our chat. The beloved Puerto Rico native even whispered crisp Tagalog swear words, which he said he learned during his Manila trip. The 68-year-old is also known for his humor.

Classic Christmas song


Of course, we had to ask how he came to compose “Feliz Navidad,” recognized by Ascap (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) as one of the 25 all-time most-played Christmas songs in the world.

“I wrote it in 1970,” Jose began, hands on his knees. “I was working on a Christmas album. Of course, I never thought that ‘Feliz Navidad’ would be as big as it had become. I really didn’t. Nobody writes a song thinking, oh, I am going to write a hit song. If the people don’t accept it—I don’t care how good the song is—it’s not going to be a hit.

“The people have been wonderful. They have accepted the song. What makes ‘Feliz Navidad’ so great is the simplicity of the song. There’s no big philosophical thing about it. You don’t have to use your mind to enjoy the song.”

Another seminal song for Jose is his version of The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” He credited his producer Rick Jarrard for that. “If it weren’t for Rick, I don’t think I would have an English career.” (He also acknowledged producers Rudy Parris and Leonardo Schultz.)


He explained how it all began for him in Latin America. “My Latin career began in 1966 when I recorded the boleros in Argentina. All of a sudden, I became a teen idol, something my wife likes to hear all the time,” he said with a wide grin.

“I couldn’t leave my hotel room,” he said. “I was like Julio Iglesias in a sense. The girls would be screaming and they would meet me at the airport, seven thousand strong.”

Jose instantly liked “Light My Fire” when he heard Jim Morrison singing it in 1967. “I became a Doors fan, just like I became a Beatles fan in 1964. When I did ‘Light My Fire’ in 1968, I was performing in folk music places. My producer Rick, who… is now one of my dearest friends in the world, heard my version.

“We were in the studio recording ‘Feliciano!’ Rick said to me, ‘Jose, why don’t you record ‘Light My Fire?’ I said, ‘Rick, that song has become a hit already. Why not record something else?’ But he said ‘No, please, record ‘Light My Fire.’ I did. I had a great bass player at the time, Mr. Ray Brown. To me, there have been a lot of great bass players but nobody like Ray Brown.

Lighting a fire

“I did my version of ‘Light My Fire.’ Rick took it and added flute and strings. The rest is history. Side A was ‘California Dreamin’,’ which started to climb [the charts]. But somebody in Seattle took the record and turned it over and ‘Light My Fire’ became a really big hit. I was happy because we won two Grammys that year for that record. I was thrilled.”

Jose later did a duet of the song with the late Minnie Riperton, which also became a hit.

Jose started playing music on a tin can when he was three years old in Puerto Rico. When he and his family moved to New York when he was 5, Jose started learning to play the accordion, guitar and other musical instruments.

The boy who would be hailed as a “10-finger wizard” spent up to 14 hours a day in his room, perfecting his guitar playing. One of his classical music teachers was Harold Morris, who studied under Andres Segovia. At 17, Jose started playing in clubs and pubs around the same time Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were rising.

Jose said blindness did not deter him from his goals. He quipped, “The hardest part for me was to learn how to run into a limousine.”

He said, “I know that I am very different from most blind people because my senses are very sharp…when I walk, I don’t shuffle. I am very independent.

Lessons from mom

“I had a mother who didn’t feel sorry for me. She taught me most everything. My mother didn’t want me to be a burden to anyone. She used to say, ‘Jose, I am teaching you these things because if a woman should be attracted to you, you shouldn’t be a burden to her. You shouldn’t be somebody that she would have to do everything for.’ My mother also taught me how to cook.”

He remarked, “My wife (Susan) doesn’t do everything for me. She’s very good and she knows how I feel about being independent. She will help me if I need it.

“I am very blessed because I have three wonderful children,” he said with a smile. “One of them is here today, my youngest son Michael, and my nephew Steve. I am surrounded by a wonderful family. If I had to do it all over again, I would do everything the same.”

He mentioned Ray Charles as one of the talents who inspired him. “When I found out that Ray Charles couldn’t see, I thought to myself, if Ray Charles could have a career as a blind musician, maybe I have a chance. So I took a chance. I sacrificed a lot. I didn’t really have much of a childhood, because I devoted my life to music. I am glad I did.”

Among this guitar virtuoso’s other idols are Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and George Harrison.

 Still excited

Asked if he ever got tired of his songs after decades of performing, the 2000 Grammy Legend awardee was quick to answer. “No, I don’t,”  he said firmly, “because I realize that if somebody from the new generation comes to my concert, I am still excited by what I am doing. And since I love to perform, I don’t think of it as a job… I am grateful to all the fans who keep me working.”

Global audiences never tire of listening to his many hits, which include originals and covers like “Que Sera,” “Rain,” “California Dreamin’,” “Ay Cariño,” “Chico and the Man” and “Ponte a Cantar.”

At 68, Jose still sounded excited about his new album, “Live from Tel Aviv.” “We were very lucky,” he gushed. “I went to Tel Aviv and we played at the Nokia Arena. I performed with the Raanana Symphony Orchestra in Israel. I have been there before but I had never played with a symphony orchestra. So that was enjoyable.”

And he has a new single, “Please Don’t Go Away,” in different versions, from English to Spanish, pop to dance. “It’s exciting, especially since I did this duet with a Serbian artist (Dragana Mirkovic),” he said. “She’s kind of like the Madonna of Serbia. It came out good.”

“My guitar is in there, my voice is in there,” he continued. “I am hoping that some of the pop radio stations will play it. People like Ryan Seacrest—I hope that he plays it because getting on radio in America is not easy anymore, especially for the established artists… in America, they think we are passé. Of course, I know I am not. I am hoping for the best.”

For Jose’s fans all over the world, he will never be passé.

(E-mail the columnist at Follow him at

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TAGS: authors and publishers, Cagayan De Oro, Jim Morrison, Jose Feliciano, Mindanao, Music, Ray Charles, The Doors
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