Bittersweet weekend concerts for SOS
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
The Society of Seven's trio of weekend shows at the Hawai'i Theatre will pay homage to the late Gary Bautista, said SOS leader Tony Ruivivar.
"He was with us for 22 years," Ruivivar said by phone from Las Vegas, where the SOS combo now is based. "Everywhere we go, Gary is well-remembered. What amazes me constantly is the amount of friends he had. And fans — people with connections to him. When he died, we got cards and letters from all over; he had such a huge following. Then again, he's always been likable and kind."
Bautista died Jan. 30 after suffering a heart attack while singing at a private performance in Los Angeles. Even after collapsing, he still clasped the microphone and tried to pour out the lyrics to "Always and Forever."
"He went doing what he loved — performing," said Ruivivar.
Clearly, Bautista is irreplaceable. Not just because he was one of the group's prime singers; he also carried a lion's share of signature impressions. He was able to do everyone and everything, from Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong to Willie Nelson, from Stevie Wonder to Johnny Mathis, from Elvis Presley to Luciano Pavarotti. He could even do nonpeople, like the Cookie Monster, the Chipmunks and Popeye the Sailor Man.
So when Albert Maligmat, former SOS lead singer, was tapped to help fill the void, it was with mixed emotions.
Maligmat — who performs Thursday nights at Gordon Biersch with Maila Gibson and Ben Vegas — was a pal of Bautista and had logged 16 years with his SOS chums, the last time in 1992. He did lead vocals, played drums and bass and churned out some impersonations of his own.
"When Gary passed away, Tony called and I told him I'd do anything I can for the group," Maligmat said. "Gary and I were close friends. We talked often; he would have wanted me to do this gig."
Maligmat rejoined the SOS a week after Bautista was buried in Las Vegas to help in the SOS' mini-world tour, still under way. If he can't make a particular Honolulu booking now, his brother, Eddie, occasionally fills in.
Maligmat recalled an earlier, eerie conversation with Bautista.
"Gary always asked me why I had to leave, because he became the workhorse, doing a lot of the impersonations up front," Maligmat said. "I remember him telling me once, 'I'll get you in (the group) one way or another; I'll get you back into the show,' " Maligmat said.
He just didn't think Bautista's death would be the way.
To cope with the transition, particularly for the hometown shows at the Hawai'i Theatre, Ruivivar also enlisted the services of Martin Nievera, son of former SOSer Roberto Nievera. Martin is a solo star in his own right in his adopted home, the Philippines.
"Martin will help do a tribute to Gary," Ruivivar said. After all, he was on the front line when Bautista collapsed, and rushed to the stage.
Bautista's death also elevated health issues among his buddies.
"We all have become more aware of our health," Ruivivar said. "We're eating properly, trying to do regular exercise. Nobody had an inkling that Gary had (heart) problems. He was fine to the last minute, jumping around, singing, until he collapsed."
Meanwhile, the SOS is still in negotiations for another Las Vegas showroom. Until January, the group had been doing afternoon shows (and Friday nights) at Bally's. The fellows — with female singer Lani Misalucha aboard, of course — hope to reopen at another casino by July.
Besides what Bautista brought to the show, Ruivivar said he misses Bautista's incredible memory.
"He was always the first to learn lyrics to new songs, and he remembered everyone's birthdays and anniversaries," Ruivivar said. "That, plus car license numbers. He knew it all. He would always remind us if an important date was coming up."
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.