Businessman realizes lifelong dream to become singer-songwriter
Sometimes all it takes to rekindle one’s lost fire is to rediscover the spark that started it in the first place.
William Russell Sobrepeña was a teenager when the British Invasion musical phenomenon led by The Beatles exploded. Back then, the former businessman thought he had what it took to have a successful career in music.
“I really wanted to be a musician back then. I learned to play the piano, then the guitar and I believe I was already in high school when the melody of my song, ‘Dear Sunshine’, first came to me,” he recalled to InterAksyon and other entertainment media in a recent roundtable gathering.
At around the same time, melodies of other tunes also popped up in his mind from time to time, and Russell (some friends also call him William) had the presence of mind to jot down those notes in a notebook.
“I never got to finish any of the songs as there were many intervening factors that ultimately prevented me from pursuing my passion, like moving to a new house and the desire of my parents for me to finish school and pursue a more stable career,” he recalled.
Somewhere along the way, losing the notebook that contained all his musical ideas, incomplete and unrealized as they were, also led Russell to momentarily give up on music.
Not for long, though. Decades later, Russell eventually found some consolation in managing the retro showband Glass Onion that featured Tonyboy Cojuangco and former Presidential Management Staff Secretary Lenny de Jesus among its members.
It was through the encouragement of de Jesus and other musician friends like Mike Pedero, Jings de Guzman, Richie Quirino, Jun Raymundo, Joey Mundo, Carlo Gaa and Nap Apolinario that gave William the confidence to join Glass Onion in many of their live performances not just as guitarist but also as one of the vocalists.
“By 2010, I was effectively retired from all my corporate responsibilities and public service initiatives. By the time I was involved with Glass Onion, I was ready to be a full-time musician,” he confessed.
Then just two years ago, something happened that he took as a sign to finally realize his long lost dream. He found that lost notebook, still in one piece and still with his notes intact on every page.
Finishing what he started, even Russell was surprised at how productive he was as a songwriter in his…well, he was a teenager during the time of Beatlemania, you do the math.
“An inspiration can hit me at daybreak or anytime of the day, which can be accompanied by a specific melody line that would be hard to forget. Sooner or later, , I will add the lyrics that, in my mind most appropriate for the song. In some songs, I start out with the lyrics, and then develop the melody for the song. Oftentimes, I would make final revisions in collaboration with my session artists,” he said in describing his songwriting process.
By 2013, work on a full-length album that is now called “Russelution” was completed. Those session artists, which included Raymundo, de Guzman, Quirino, Mundo, Gaa and Apolinario, would eventually become members of the band dubbed by Russell as, well, the William Russell Experience.
Because the seeds of the music had been planted as far back as the 1960s, Russell said it is not surprising that the influences of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Zombies were very much evident. Since he was also big on Cat Stevens and Jim Croce, their footprints were also evident on the other songs, particularly on “She Slipped-Away (From my Sight)” where he also played the ukulele.
Lyrics-wise, Russell tackled his own personal experiences in songs like “It Was Easy (To Do) about a trip in Tuscany, Italy in 2001; “Scary Feeling” about typhoon Ondoy; and “Get Real”, a social commentary on people’s apathetic and nonchalant attitude towards the elderly.
But for the most part, the songs including “Dear Sunshine” focus more on Russell’s spiritual healing. “Sunshine refers to light and life, and the rest of the lyrics talk about the manifestations of form and matter. The spiritual and physical realms of reality are so closely associated with each other and I don’t think there is a reason why anyone should not experience this connection,” he said.
Explaining the album’s title, Russell added, “It means, the fruition, resolution or actualization of a personal dream—in this case, the production of an album full of original compositions.”
Based on his well-received performances at the Philippine International Jazz and Guitar Festival last year followed by more positive feedback on shows in Angeles City, Alabang Town Malls, Trinoma and several exclusive private functions, it looks like William Russell has found his “Russelution”.
“My past life in business remains important only to myself and my family. As far as the public is concerned, I wish to focus only on my musical or creative initiatives as a songwriter-musician. The present time is of greater interest to me and I hope, the public would continue to feel the same way about my current persona,” he pointed out.
William Russell will perform with his band, now called William Russell Music and Friends, at The Long Bar, Raffles Hotel in Makati this Monday, March 10.