A Pinoy Sixties Odyssey

The Saga of the Black Knights Band

by Noel Copiaco
Lansing, Michigan USA
Published on August 1, 2002 - revised 11/22/04

The 60's was a memorable decade for many of us Pinoy baby boomers. Most of us were enjoying the peaceful and abundant times between 1960 and 1965 unbeknownst that it was the proverbial calm before the political storm that will eventually engulf the Philippines.

Music filled the air like fragrant aphrodisiac in those days. Beautiful music. In the early sixties, instrumental rock was the favorite music genre in Manila. Many Pinoy boomers may remember waking up to "Gising na! RJ na!" from the disc jockeys of what was then DZRJ. Or the soothing bass lines of the Fireballs' "Torquay" which Bingo Lacson used as a theme song and her lovely voice telling us "palangga ta gid ikaw". Or the original pinoy beatnik Art Galindez galloping with the hits on DZMB. The sounds of the Ventures, Shadows, Santo and Johnny, Fireballs, Duane Eddy, Connie Francis, Chubby Checker among others filled the airwaves.

And then there were the Pinoy bands almost too many to name, some more famous than others. We are all familiar with the Hi-Jacks, the Riots, Electromaniacs, the Celtics, the Technicolors, the Firedons and the Ram Rods. But each district in Manila and suburbs had their local heroes and although not quite as exposed in the media, most of them were equally as talented and adept in guitar wizardry as the famous brands. How many of you have heard of the Surf Riders, the Reactors, the Volts, the Cossacks, the Elites, the Excaliburs and dare I say it, the Black Knights? It seemed like every street corner in Manila had a band belting out tunes in those days.

Black Knights, Manila circa 1964

I lived in an old district of Manila between north Tondo and Sta Cruz near Rizal Avenue and Solis in my great grandfather's big old house were I started a band in 1961 together with some high school buddies from UST high and a childhood friend. We called it the Lode Stars. The first tune we learned was Duane Eddy's cover of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn". I initially played lead guitar and then switched to rhythm. The Lodestars broke up only after a year or so and from the ashes, the Black Knights evolved in 1963 with me and Dante (another ex-Lodestar) forming the foundation. That is when I made the big switch to bass because we couldn't find anyone to play it. Reluctantly at first but I eventually fully embraced the instrument almost immediately. It has become my signature instrument to this day. The Black Knights saw several personnel changes but the key members and the strongest line up were:
Dante Gatchalian - Keyboards, guitar, vocals (now in Toronto)
Romy Jakosalem - Guitar, vocals (stayed in Manila)
Noel Copiaco - bass, vocals (now in Michigan)
Tony Layno - Drums (now in Toronto)

Black Knights' gig 1965

Other members who went in and out of the roster and made great sonic contributions to the Black Knights sound between 1963 and 1969 were:
Bogo Cortez - Drums, vocals (stayed in Manila)
Ricky Mirador - Rhythm guitar, vocals (now in California)
Larry Mirador - Vocals, percussions (now in Florida)
Bok Vergara - Guitar, vocals (now in Illinois)
Tony Gatchalian - Keyboards (stayed in Manila)

The Black Knights also had a "sister" combo comprised of lovely young Thomasians. They called themselves "The Velvet Teens" band:
Linda Macapagal - Lead guitar, vocals
Delia Macaranas - Rhythm guitar, vocals
Nelia Canlas - Bass, vocals
Ruby Fernandez - Drums, vocals

Playing mostly the less privileged and more proletariat sections of Manila and Quezon City, the Black Knights had a small but loyal following of heads, day trippers and "visionaries". From instrumentals, the band added vocals to their repertoire emulating the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and the Everly Brothers around 63/64. They did a few Beatles tunes to please the status quo but they remained primarily Beach Boys clones until 1967 performing even hard to do materials like "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains". Their rendition of Jan and Dean's "Ride the Wild Surf" and "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" complete with five part vocal harmonies became crowd pleasers.

Hallucinogenic Citrus Juice
(l-r) Romy Jakosalem, Noel Copiaco & Bok Vergara

In the summer of 1967, following the lead of those San Francisco bands and the Beatles' Sgt Peppers Lonely hearts Club Band, they went psychedelic. They became known in intimate circles as the "Hallucinogenic Citrus Juice" and started experimenting . . . in more ways than one!!!

The band abruptly disbanded after my departure for Michigan in the summer of 1969 after my senior year in college. Tony and Dante found their way to Toronto around 1974 and the rest of the band scattered to the four corners of the planet.

Squirrel Tooth Annie band
Tito Baustista on lead guitar (far left)
Boy Copiaco on bass guitar, singing
Michigan, USA circa 1969

Although music never became my main source of income, it became a precious hobby, a de-stressing mechanism and a medium of expression for me to this day. I don't play gigs anymore, I gave that up in 1983 with my last band Multiple Choice here in Michigan. Between 1969 and 1983, I played with several Michigan based bands including Squirrel Tooth Annie, Michigan Green, The Four Most, Desolation Row and Multiple Choice. But music will always be an integral part of my life. My sons who are now adults and practicing their professions in New York City were raised in a home where music played a big role. Now looking forward to retirement in a couple of years, I aim to spend the rest of my days with my wife of 31 years in a music filled state of bliss.

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