Mike Santos (1939-2009)

>> Sunday, September 27, 2009

March L. Fianza

Donned in a cowboy’s get-up, complete with shiny boots, Big Spender black Tetson hat, black denims and checkered long sleeves; I find Mike sitting in the dark, behind piles of beer cases at the “Wild West Bar” along Otek St., Baguio City , Philippines .

His cigarette glows in the shadow as I approach the familiar smile. Alone on a table for six, he finishes a light beer as if reviewing in his mind the songs that he has lined up for the night’s gig. And as I sit at the other end of the table he asks, “kumusta pare, anong bago?”

His family, relatives and older or earlier contacts in life knew the real name as Manuel P. delos Santos ; but friends and associates outside the family circle knew him as Mike Santos. This was so, especially at the time he took to the stage as a country singer-musician in the early 60s.

It was a name on and off stage that became as enduring as the cowboy hat that he always wore. It looked more permanent than the name that appeared in his birth certificate. Mike Santos then, became a household name among musicians and bar regulars in Olongapo, a city known for its carefree nightlife of wine, women and songs.

The name of the man with few words became even more popular to that city’s guests as the years of his singing career passed by. American servicemen on duty or on ‘R and R’ at the Subic and Clark military bases, as well as tourists, became admirers of Mike that they can not stop dropping by just to see and hear him sing Hank Williams’ “I’m so lonesome I could cry.” One time, he told me that Hank is his favorite singer-composer.

I also came to know him as Mike Santos as that was the name introduced to me. Later, I found out that the saloon workers such as bartenders, bouncers, waiters and waitresses called him “Tatay” or “Tata,” while contemporaries in his music world called him “Little Mike.”

In his long career as a singer-musician, Mike earned fleets of nameless admirers and an unknown number of friends, but likewise stumbled due to problems that arose in the course of his occupation. According to the beer bottles, aside from singing, Mike was a strict businessman. Hence, his staff and workers were sometimes hurt with the way he ran the club.

A close friend of Mike confirmed that the guy owned and managed in the 70s two or more bars in Olongapo that catered country-western music. These were the “Long Horn” and “Country Corner” bars.
When Mike asks, “pare, anong bago?” – He is simply suggesting that he wants to share a new joke he has invented, make one laugh or make one’s night happy. Then he starts telling a series of jokes invented out of personal experience. That alone is satisfying enough.

Mike does not talk much off stage but elicits energy from the audience the moment he belts out his first song. In between the melodies, he blurts out the answer to a many-a-customers silent inquiry, so he says – “uray lakay, makasikog pay!” (even older men can impregnate).

He came up and sang at the Genesis Restaurant along Harrison road before becoming main attraction at the Wild West bar and restaurant, together with the Foggy Mountain Band that was organized with Conrad Marzan, another legend. Mike was there when Wild West opened in 1992 until it closed down in 2000.

He came to Baguio at the time when country music was becoming popular and solo-duet folk singing in the city was losing its crowd to the Karaoke bars. At the same time, rock ‘n’ roll was becoming the trend in Olongapo.

After one benefit concert for an indigent patient was held at the Wild West bar, the activity would not seem to stop – especially when the audience always asked if Mike would be performing. He was always there even at the time when he became a beneficiary of one of the shows.

Right after recovering from ailment, he got up again and the crowd, as usual, became loud upon hearing his yodel and instant jokes. Mike left the stage Thursday after a fatal attack Surely, Mike Santos will be remembered and missed – the way he was. -- marchfianza777@yahoo.com


Unknown March 24, 2011 at 8:01 PM  

I remember Mike from 66 and on to the 70's he was one of a kind. I remember him at the Country Corner. When I'd come up the stairs and he would see me he would almost instantly play a song that he knew I liked....What a performer and friend....Roger E

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