Simonette "Mony" David Jackson


It was a careless statement, but it was said nonetheless. I said, “I think I’ll try a blues band next.”

But before that statement was ever said, there were misadventures along the way. It all began with my uncle’s karaoke machine. Now, one must understand that Filipino households have essential items that mark them as Filipinos: a rice cooker, a “bunot” (half a coconut husk used to polish waxed wooden floors), a Santo Niño, and a karaoke machine.

Back before you could read the lyrics on your TV screen, Karaoke’s came with tiny lyric booklets that could fold nicely into a cassette tape case. The tapes were called “Minus One’s.” The machines themselves were bulky creatures that resembled small guitar amps, only they were topped with two cassette tape compartments and adorned with shiny knobs for volume, echo, and pitch changer – in case you wanted to sing Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” in the male key. Everyone sang. Everyone. However, the Filipino standard of good singing was hitting the high notes of Chaka Kahn’s “Through the Fire.” I could not. Content in taking turns with the cousins, I became proficient in Madonna and Gloria Estefan songs. That was until the Pat Benatar Minus One tapes arrived. Although still second fiddle to a cousin that could hit high notes, singing “We Belong” with a big voice gave me a cooler, edgier reputation.

With new found confidence, I auditioned for our high school’s glee club. I nailed it with Annie’s “Tomorrow.” Apparently, I liked show tunes and standards, as well. Then I became bolder and formed an 80’s band. Donned in black tank top, a denim miniskirt, and fake black Raybans, I did my share of Blondie, Chrissie Hynde, and Patty Smythe. My band got as far as having management and record deal interests, but it happened at the same time my family would migrate to Los Angeles.

I was miserable. My daily thoughts were consumed with plots on how to go back home to Manila. And wouldn’t you know it, a karaoke machine came to my aid. Homesick, I found myself singing Filipino ballads all the time. An auntie took notice and suggested I entered a Filipino singing contest. The grand prize was a recording contract – in Manila. It was a big deal in the American-Filipino community. There was press and a dedicated cable TV show for this event.  I won the weekly show. Won the quarterly semifinal. Sang my way to the grand finals, but alas, someone that could sing “Through the Fire” won. (What did I tell you?)

There are many other tales. I was once stranded in a beer garden singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to a crowd of leering men waving dollar bills. (Another story, perhaps.) I spent many years in a Filipino wedding band, singing Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer songs till it hurt. I remember this one “fan” who would catch our weekly restaurant show and tip me $100 each time I sang “I Will Always Love You.” 

And so it was one afternoon while working at the mall, I was telling my entire singing history to a friend, when on a whim, I said, “I think I’ll try a blues band next.” Not that I had ever sang the blues or knew any blues songs for that matter, but for some reason, I said it. And as if by magic, this pretty blonde woman entered the store. She was helped by my friend and their conversation led from one thing to another, when some minutes later, I heard my name being called.

“Mony, this is Mary Sime. Her husband has a blues band and they’re looking for a singer.”