MANILA -- Thirty years after Side A released its debut album, the band's original members recently got together, albeit virtually, to record a re-imagined version of “Side A Redux: First Album.”
It was actually Side A’s original drummer, Mar Dizon, who prompted the other members to come together and record again the songs in Side A’s debut album, which was released back in 1989.
“Initially, I was only thinking about our virtual reunion even on Facebook,” Dizon told ABS-CBN News. “That was after Rodel [Gonzalez] posted our photo in Rumors. But one thing led to another. It was not hard to get everybody together again.”
Coming out with a redux version of Side A’s debut album was a “collective decision” for all the original six members, according to Gonzalez. “Mar actually initiated the reunion after I posted some old pictures of Side A on Facebook,” Gonzalez shared. “Mostly, we will re-record the songs from our first album.”
In 1985, Gonzalez formed Side A with his younger brother, Naldy, and Dizon, along with three other original members – Joey Benin, Kelly Badon and Pido Lalimarmo.
“Rodel and I came from Singapore, where we performed with FM Band in 1984,” Dizon shared. “When we returned to the Philippines, we thought of forming Side A in 1985. That simple.”
Dizon credits today’s technology that makes everything possible for them to record again. “No one is ever thinking that we could be together again and work again,” he said. “When we brought up the reunion, everyone was immediately receptive. We all worked together to make everything possible.”
Most of Side A’s original songs from their 1989 debut album will be in “Side A Redux.” So far, the group has finished recording three classics – Gonzalez’s “Di Pa Huli,” Benin’s “Eva Marie” and Lalimarmo’s “Windows of Our Soul.”
“If we’re lucky, we’ll even do a couple of originals,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the plan. Yes, I do write as well, but not as good as the other guys like Joey and Pido. The group is still in the process of recording the other songs. We also have plans to include new, original songs in the line-up.”
Even Benin, who left the local entertainment scene back in 2007 and settled in Silay, Negros Occidental, was inevitably pulled out of his semi-retirement to work on the “Side A Redux” release.
Benin’s “Eva Marie,” a song he wrote for his wife, Bing, whose real name is Eva Marie, made it to Side A’s debut album. “We were not yet married when I wrote the song in 1988,” Benin disclosed. “I recorded it with the band. We gave it to DJs who very kindly played it on radio.
“We had no plans to record ‘Eva Marie’ officially. We just approached DJs who played it on radio. Mar did not even use real drums, but only used a drum machine. Umugong ang song sa radio that’s why we decided to come out with an album.”
Benin attests they were all immediately excited when they got together again for “Side A Redux.” All of them were easily convinced to come together again. Not one even had second thoughts about giving his nod.
“Ibang-iba na ang laruan ngayon with today’s technology,” Benin laughingly noted. “Lahat kami nagta-tanungan kung ano ang tamang gagawin. Kahit sa video chat, nawawala kami. Ang tawag namin, ‘enroll’ muna. Hindi namin alam ang gagawin.”
Gonzalez, who has been based in the US for nearly two decades, is now residing in Winter Garden, Florida, a few minutes drive away from Orlando. He works as a licensed artist for Disney Fine Art.
“I got to be near the theme parks so if they need me, it’s an easy drive,” he said. “I’ve been a full-time artist ever since I moved to the US. I have a Disney license and Lucas Films license [to paint Star Wars, etc.].”
Gonzalez was in Hawaii from 2002 to 2007, then moved to Los Angeles from 2007 to 2016. He left Side A in 1991, when he got married and gave up performing subsequently.
“I left because I got married and felt like I couldn’t do both,” Gonzalez explained. “That was one of the reasons. It was planned, though. I told the guys that I was planning to quit once I got married and they all understood my decision.”
Gonzalez plays rhythm guitars, saxophone and does a lot of the lead vocals. For a time, he performed with Joey Generoso when the latter came in and joined Side A as its frontman.
“It was more a smooth transition,” Gonzalez said. “Mar and Pido left earlier than me. Then, we got Joey G. and Benjie Mendez on drums and played with them for a year before I left the band.
“Joey G. became the lead vocals. Benjie replaced Mar for a short stint and then Ernie [Severino] came in as the drummer. Joey G. and I performed together for a year and then, he took over center stage when I left Side A in October 1990.”
Meanwhile, Lalimarmo and Dizon left in 1989 to form Artstart. “Walang katapat ang Side A, so we formed a band that will perform with Side A,” Dizon said. “It was a healthy competition. Side A and Artstart often performed back to back, but with different music and repertoire. To give the public a choice.”
The late Wyngard Tracy previously managed Side A, while Tony de la Calzada handled Artstart.
Benin revealed he got the blessing of Tracy, as well as the other members of the band, when he left Side A back in 2007. “One year before I made that decision, I already asked permission from Wyngard and told the band about my plan,” Benin recalled.
Badon, for his part, left three years ahead of Benin. “That was why I was still able to work with Lee Von [Cailao], the one who replaced Kelly, three years before also left Side A,” Benin shared.
Yet, Benin hasn’t given up on stringing wonderful words and churning out beautiful melodies. To this day in Silay, he still has his studio at home, where he has been keeping his treasure trove of new compositions.
His family spent the lockdown in Manila. “Four months kami sa Manila before we returned in Bacolod last June,” Benin said.
Gonzalez admits he misses more the creative process when he’s not with the original Side A members. “Which is what we’re doing now,” he said. “So I’m thrilled. I’ll try my best. I’m collaborating on a new song with Joey Benin.
“I always give my 120 percent on whatever is given me at any stage in my life. All I can say, just like everyone else I believe, is you take what life gives you. Art and music have been good to me. I’m humbled to know that every morning, I wake up and that God allows me to do what I love to do.”
Normally, Gonzalez returns to the country every year to visit. He was in Manila last year for a short vacation. “Of course, I cannot visit this year,” he lamented.
Yet, he is nonetheless thrilled that he gets to bond musically again with former Side A original members. “I’m actually honored to play with these guys again,” Gonzalez said. “They are such accomplished musicians in their own right and sought after by many performers to play with them.
“They’ve never stopped playing, so they are such in a different level than I am when it comes to music. So I’m just like a kid in a candy store being with them again.”
“Side A Redux” is the band’s project with Patreon, a crowd-funding format where one needs to sign up and be a member of the Side A community. “Basically, we all chose this format to directly communicate with our fans, old and new, plus involve them and make them eventually fund this project,” Gonzalez said.
“The success of this project is mostly based on the crowd’s support. Once you become a member and choose a tier, then you get first dibs and free download of our stuff ahead of the public.”
“Side A Redux” continues the band’s legacy three decades later and revives the music that defines the stellar pop group. The collection will carry other old classics like “Heart for Another Love,” “Still A Mystery” and “Love That Was,” all by Naldy Gonzalez, “Why Can’t You Love Me Anymore” by Mon Espia, “Forever Stay” by Dingdong Eduque and two more songs – “Love Will Find a Way” and “Still A Mystery” – penned by Rodel Gonzalez.
Aside from the originals, Dizon insists they need to add new songs to the list every month. “If you’re a patron, once you want a certain song, you can request and we need to add a content monthly,” he said. “This will be continuing. That’s why I converted a room in my house to a recording studio. So, I can work on songs that we will add to the list.”
Benin and Gonzalez have a new collaboration. Benin will also include his new composition.
Moreover, Dizon said they will add his earlier composition, “Kalabukab,” that was performed in Side A’s first major concert at the Rizal Theater in 1987.
“Everyday, we are looking forward to talk to each other,” Dizon said. “We started with virtual recording. Then, our first virtual reunion on FB was followed by many others. Everything is just turning out for the better.”