Still waiting for that one hit
Arthur Manuntag has been around—a seasoned singer who is adept at practically everything, from rock to soul to jazz and Broadway. But he has never had his own hit song, and that’s his biggest dream.
Meantime he’s staging a birthday concert on November 23 at the Hard Rock Cafe Makati, which he dubbed “Back To My Roots.” The band Breakthrough will back him up; radio personality and moonlighting crooner Cadio is his special guest.
The idea for the show came to him after opening for the Dionne Warwick and Marilyn McCoo/Billy Davis Jr. concerts at the Smart Araneta Coliseum recently. “The crowd loved the soul tunes that I sang, so I thought, why not go back to those times, my roots actually.”
How did you start out as a singer?
It was accidental. I was a student at Araullo High School (AHS) on Taft Avenue, Manila, when the then newly formed AHS Rock Band recruited me to play drums. At the time I was teaching fellow students how to play the banduria (16-string instrument) and mandolina (12 strings). I was also the drummer of the AHS Rondalla. One day the faculty invited the band to perform and the vocalist didn’t show up. I ended up singing while playing drums on “Let It Be” and “My Sharona.” Nakatikim ako ng palakpakan. Sabi ko sa sarili ko, “Paninindigan ko na ito.”
After high school the band renamed itself The Kryptons. We played in small bars, including Hobbit House and Shakey’s outlets. Then I joined a “show band” called Elite, which performed in hotels. I used to be known as “Pandong” because I could sing like Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet. Elite renamed itself Lifeline and, in 1986, we played at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok for nine months.
You joined other bands later on. Which one was the most memorable/ fulfilling?
Hotdog and Second Wind were the two that taught me valuable things in the biz. Through them, I met key people in the scene. I was with Hotdog for only nine months in 1991, but I recorded two songs with the group: “Bakit Ngayon Lang,” written by Rene Garcia; and “Sinong Niloloko Mo,” a rock duet with Rene.
In early 1992 I was singing in a karaoke bar on Roxas Boulevard when I met TV director and former record label executive Bert De Leon. He asked me to join former Side A front man Rodel Gonzales who had formed a new band, Second Wind.
You spent many years singing abroad. What did you learn from those stints?
I learned to get along with all sorts of people, not to be intimidated or shy—whether I’m talking to a top businessman or ordinary folks. I learned to live independently. I had a very colorful life abroad.
You live a comfortable life even if you’re not too visible in the music scene. Does this mean you have good business sense?
I was born a salesman! I can sell anything… turn trash into gold, hahaha. Eleven years ago, my wife and I opened Hungree Burgers, which has several outlets now. Isa yan sa mga sources of income namin.
What made you specialize in jazz standards?
When I was a kid, my dad used to bring me to a nearby restaurant with a jukebox that played the songs of Frank Sinatra, Matt Monro and Diomedes Maturan. Ayun, nabugbog yata ang taynga ko. But I owe a lot to the legendary jazz pianist Emil Mijares and my former band mate, Rey Luib, who both taught me how to scat. Rey introduced me to the music of Al Jarreau, George Benson, Mel Torme and Mark Murphy.
Which soul artists have made a lasting impact on you?
Michael Bolton and James Ingram.
You’re also well-versed in other genres, like rock and pop. Did this ever pose a problem, as far as establishing an image is concerned?
Actually nakatulong sa akin kasi marami akong boses na nagagaya. I use this skill in my gigs. It’s nice to be versatile.
What’s your greatest frustration?
To be seen and heard on national television and to have a signature song. I used to talk about it a lot with the late Vic Jose.
What can your fans look forward to in your birthday gig?
Songs I used to sing in my old bands, and beautiful power ballads by Ingram, Bolton, Luther Vandross, Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, Blood Sweat & Tears, Lionel Ritchie, etc. Pocholo Concepcion
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