Steve Luongo

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

Friendship is a very precious, special entity especially when you are also able to work with your close friend. Drummer/Vocalist/Songwriter Steve Luongo embodies this sentiment with his tribute to his close friend Bassist/Brass Player/Vocalist/Songwriter John Entwistle with RARITIES OXHUMED VOLUME ONE. Unfortunately, Entwistle passed away in 2002, but he left behind a legacy of amazing rock music that spans over four decades, not only with world-renown, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Who, but also collaborative productions with his extremely talented friend Luongo. In October, RARITIES OXHUMED – VOLUME ONE was released as the first of a series of albums which exemplify the extraordinary talents of both John Entwistle and Steve Luongo that display the true 70’s rock and roll sound with strong guitar riffs, solid bass and drums, harmonic melodies and even keyboard solos.

Catching up with Luongo, he revealed some details about the album, how the songs were written, some insightful stories about his friend and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: This is exciting with the sequence of album volumes. How did RARITIES OXHUMED VOLUME ONE come about?
Steve Luongo: Well, In the years that John Entwistle and I worked together, we created quite an archive of material that we either didn’t release or wasn’t finished and I mean, there’s a lot of it. I have a hundred live shows that we recorded over the years, and I had been asked by the fans, is there anything that we can get? Is there anything left? The truth of the matter is, there is a lot left, but it had to be down to the right circumstances for me to go into that archive and pull it all out. Try to dust it off. John loves his fans and without the fans, you don’t have a career. They said, (he chuckled) John would play at the opening of an envelope if his fans were there, and I felt like if I was gonna do something, create a collection, I wanted to do it with them in mind. He loved them and I know that he would’ve wanted them to hear everything that we have in this collection. So, that’s kind of how it came about. It was always there. It was just right place, right time, right team.

SFL Music: There are three live songs, “Trick of the Light”, “Under A Raging Moon” and “Shakin All Over” which have the awesome, raw, original sound to them. Is that what made you choose those three to put on the album like you were saying, for the fans?
Luongo: Yes. I tried to get a cross section of the different things that we did and those three, they always resonated with the fans, and to have John singing on one was important to me. John would say himself you know, my voice is a little rusty after however many years of cigarettes, but he used to say, “they’re not coming to hear me sing.” So, he was a trooper that way. It’s from our last tour in 2001 and those are performances that have just a lot of heart in them.

SFL Music: You also have a couple of demos “Life Goes On” and “Where Ya Going Now”. What made you choose those?
Luongo: Well, there was a point where John and I were asked to submit demos for possible inclusion in a new Who recoding which never happened. So, John and I got together and I let him sort of lead the way ‘cause he would know what they would want to hear far more than I do with regard to a demo. Together we wrote quite a few songs, but the two that are on the album are two of the ones that were the most complete. Those were the demos that we were ready to say, here guys these are, you know. They offered us a slot. They said, write seven songs. We’ll consider using up to four of them. Now I mean, this is all just conjecture at this point, but those two songs, John and I both felt strongly about with regard to you know, that they were written with Roger and Pete in mind as opposed to anything else. So, I felt like that was John’s guidance to what it would take for him to get a song, and that was always a challenge, for him to get a song on a Who record. So, I thought the fans should hear what he thought they would like on a new album and we cleaned ‘em up. They’re demos, so they’re not polished, but they’re honest (he chuckled).

SFL Music: They definitely display those key changes that reflect on 70’s rock songs. He was a bass player that was known for his pentatonic leads and a definite distinctive sound. Did he have professional training?
Luongo: Well, he was the most classically trained musician in the band. In fact, it got to a point in his life, way before we were friends, where he said, “I was either gonna be in The Who or join the London Symphony (Orchestra)” because he started with brass instruments. French horn, trumpet, so on and so forth. He played in the Boys’ Brigade and he was very good. No matter what John did musically, he excelled at. So, he was trained. In fact, over the years recording and producing records with him, I’ve seen him do things that were just astounding with regard to his knowledge and his power to imagine something musically in his head. Unbelievable!

SFL Music: You can tell by the songs that are on this collection. The song “I Wouldn’t Sleep With you” is like a story of a girl originally rejecting a guy, then all of the sudden he’s in a band and she wants him. Do you know what prompted that?
Luongo: Yes. That’s actually based on real life events. It’s autobiographical. That was one that John wrote by himself and I will tell you this. First of all, I do not endorse misogyny or any kind of MeToo stuff, but he sent me the lyrics via fax, right? We had the music, and then he wrote the lyrics. We wrote four songs together for a demo. We were looking for a record deal. That was one of ‘em. We got offered a sound track in a television show which just happened to be a kids show. So, “Sleep With you” was not gonna make the cut for a Saturday morning cartoon. So, we bagged it on the side, but when he originally wrote it, ‘cause we did the music and I went back to the States and he started faxing me lyrics. We started faxing lyrics back and forth just to be funny. These were not lyrics that would ever be sung anywhere in public, but it does speak to the humor and the light heartiness of what he was about musically and creatively. We had a lot of fun. So yeah, that was absolutely autobiographical.

SFL Music: Where did the inspiration come from for “When You See the Light”?
Luongo: Well, that was a song that I brought to the sessions. Again, the studio tracks on this record with the exception of “Sleep With you”, well they were all recorded in one form or another for the T.V. show that we did. That was Van-Pires. It’s about a junkyard that gets hit by a meteor and the junk cars turn into monsters that suck the gas out of other cars (he laughed). So that would also explain “Don’t Be A Sucker”.

SFL Music: And “Bogey Man”?
Luongo: “Bogey Man” yeah, absolutely! There’s a great music video that goes with that lyric. If you go to you can see it. It’s funny, but the studio recordings were done to try to get a record deal, and the deal that we got was with the television show. So, we either had to re-write songs or strike them completely in the case of “Sleep With you”, but “Left For Dead” which is also on there. That’s the original version that we had on our demo looking for our record deal, but that was one of the ones that we had to change to fit in with the format of the T.V. show. No drugs, no guns, no sex, no violence. So, the spy verse is the first verse, right? The spy gets killed and there’s a bomb, so you can’t do any of that. So, we changed that for the show, and then the cowboy verse. The cowboy gets run out into the dessert because he’s sleeping with the sheriff’s wife. Well, you can’t sleep with the sheriff’s wife on Saturday morning. Then the romantic verse which is the last verse, you can’t say “the bitch, she poisoned me.” That’s just not Saturday, you know. So, we had to rewrite those lyrics and re-record the thing and what’s on this, the version that you have, is the original version where the spy does die and the guy does sleep with the sheriff’s wife and no one ever heard that because we had to change it. So, I dug it out and the interesting thing. At the end of the spy verse, we played a little bit of the James Bond theme, and at the end of the cowboy verse, we played a little bit of (The) Magnificent Seven, and at the end of the romantic verse, we run out with John’s song “My Wife” which is what that big long jam at the end is. No one would ever hear us do that. It would get faded out in the first thirty seconds, but I left it up because people are buying this to hear John Entwistle play. So, play Johnny, play (he laughed).

SFL Music: The story with “Bogey Man”, I keep calling it boogyman, where he was looking for the missing tracks and he heard a loud noise?
Luongo: Yeah, it’s a great story and a hundred percent true. Bogey man and Boogeyman are the same thing. We’re just Americans. Bogeyman is the English version. So, it’s the same guy, it’s just got a little different accent.

SFL Music: I didn’t know that. That’s very interesting.
Luongo: Yeah, I don’t want to re-write English folklore. That’s the way it was explained to me. So, when we were looking for material. The reason Volume One and Volume Two and whatever comes after can do that, the reason why is, I have so much material that we traded back and forth to develop for whatever reason, we wanted to have a catalogue. So, we traded demos. I would send him pieces of song that I had started and he would do the same thing with his songs. And I heard “Bogey Man” and when I heard the original version of it, it was just John’s voice with a bass, playing the bass part and the drums in the background. There were no guitars. None of that other overdub stuff that you hear on that track. The tracks were wide open. You could hear everything on it and its great vocal from John back in the seventies, and I said, who’s playing drums? And he said, “oh, I don’t know.” I said, that sounds like Keith Moon, and he goes, “oh yeah, it’s him.” So, I said, ok. Do you have the multi-track, which is the tape. You know, you need the master so you could put more tracks on it. He said, “Yeah. I have it in the tape room.” I said, well, you got to find that and we’ll finish this when I come back.” So, I go back to the stage and he goes up, I mean it’s a tape room. It’s like a library, only it’s got all of his tapes and recordings in it, and he’s looking around for the tape and he can’t find it. Then, he rings me up and tells me the story that as he’s leaving the room, he’s been in there probably for an hour and a half if I know John obsessing “where is it? Where is it? Up on a ladder and so on and so forth and as he’s leaving, one of the tapes falls over. Now, these tapes being two-inch tapes, I should have brought a two-inch tape. They’re heavy, so when they fall over, they make a noise. And he said, just as he was leaving, a tape slammed over and scared the crap out of him. He said when he turned around and looked at what it was, it was that tape that had been labeled on the wrong side, but when it fell over, he could see it was “Bogey Man”.

SFL Music: Wow! That’s a great story.
Luongo: And a hundred percent true. Let me tell you what, that house, you’ve seen the album cover right?

SFL Music: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that.
Luongo: What’s on the back of it (he holds the album cover up to show me), never say I wasn’t prepared. On the back of it, this over here (he pointed), that’s his house and the snake fountain and all of the stuff that’s in here is all relevant to John. There’s things that I hid all over the place. I did it with his son. All the pieces from different albums and things like that, but that’s the house and we’re sure its haunted. I’m not trying to get on unexplained phenomena or anything, but there were more than one unexplained experience there. So, I don’t doubt that Keith Moon didn’t say, “wait a minute. Here it is. You’re not leaving me off this record.”

SFL Music: That’s very, very cool!
Luongo: Yeah, it is.

SFL Music: How did you and his son Chris (Entwistle) come up with the album cover?
Luongo: Well, it’s a great story and so very in-line. So very Entwistle-esk. I had decided that I wanted to do a Rarities. I had this stuff. It’s been twenty-years. I figured that’s a respectful amount of time before I took on a project like this. I had to be in the right place, right time. Deko (Entertainment) was absolutely the right label for me. You know, when the planets line up in this business, you go with it. So, I called Chris up because I’ve known Chris since he’s sixteen years old and I truly have a deep affection, love for him. It’s John’s son, and so we stay in touch and anything that I do with regard to the estate, I do with Chris or under the scrutiny of the estate which is simply Chris. So, I called him up and I said, I’m gonna do a Rarities album. I said, and I just don’t want to call it John Entwistle Rarities. I said, have any ideas? Without missing a beat, as if he was reading it off a script he said, “oxhumed.” John was ‘the oxe’ and we’re digging up his old stuff. So, oxumed and that was so totally Entwistle. It’s almost as if John would have said it himself. John was, he had a really dark sense of humor and he was as funny as he could possibly be. So, I said, oxhumed. We have to dig up all of the things that would be exhumed if you dug up the history of John Entwistle, and even that building in the background on the front. That’s meant to be an old Tower Records that just fell apart. So, all of the things on that album cover are things that meant something. They are from a particular time in his career or they’re characters from one of his album covers or you know, things that all have some significance. When I came up with the idea of doing like an excavation thing, I ran it by Chris, ‘cause you know, it’s his dad. I’m not just gonna go take, even though I know I could and I know Chris would encourage it, it’s just the protocol. I called him up and I said, man you know, I’m gonna dig up a whole bunch of stuff. We’re going to have a glowing shovel and then he said, “Oh, well you’ve got to put this and you have to put that.” It was good. It was positive. The last couple of things that I’ve done involving John have been difficult from an emotional standpoint. It’s my friend and I miss him, and I also miss the thing that we did together which was music and creativity and we had a lot of plans for all this music that we had. It was an honor and at the same time, it seemed totally natural ‘cause we had so much fun. It was like we were doing it forever.

SFL Music: What got you into playing drums and choosing this for a career?
Luongo: I don’t think I had a choice. This is another one of those kinds of weird stories. I have a friend named Janice who moved down. She lives in Naples. I live in Fort Myers. She’s not that far away. I’ve known her my entire life. We grew up in the same complex together, went to school together and one day she told me a story that I had totally forgotten about. She said, “do you remember when the high school band came to our school?” I was in kindergarten and I said, yeah, I think I do remember that. she said, “do you remember what you said to me?” I said, no. I don’t remember what I said to you. And she said, “the minute the drums started playing, you turned to me and said, that’s what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life.”

SFL Music: Wow! That’s impressive.
Luongo: My mother told me that even before that, when I was an infant in the car. She took me for a ride in the car in the rain and the windshield wipers were on. I would cry in the car, suns out whatever until she put the windshield wipers on. I don’t have a recollection of that, but I’m thinking I was doomed from the start. That was it. Hearing the drums in that auditorium and the resonance in the room, something just lit up. I don’t want to get too crazy about it, but I knew at that point and it made school hard for me because you’re in an elementary school or junior high school and you tell them I want to be in a rock band or I want to be a musician. They’re telling you your nuts. You’re like fifteen years old. You don’t know what you want to do, and I understand that might be true for a lot of people, but it was absolutely not true for me, and I just followed that path and that’s really how I got here.

SFL Music: Did you take formal lessons?
Luongo: I tried. Well, understand too, how old are you four or five in kindergarten? They wouldn’t let us take lessons until fourth grade, and by the time I was able to take lessons which I couldn’t wait to take lessons, by the time I was able to do it, I was already playing past the level that they were gonna teach me. So, I got very bored with it very quick and kind of didn’t go with it. Then in junior high school, I thought I would try it again. This is a great story. I’m in something called Percussion Ensemble where everybody gets a drum in front of them or a piece of gear and everybody reads the same piece of sheet music. I hated reading sheet music, so I always went down to the end of the line because by the time the four guys in front of me or five guys played it, I knew how it went and just played it. I did it. I just did it by ear. I was slowed down by the writing. So, one day the teacher decided to, all proud of me that I get everything right, and put me first. And now I’m like a stuttering idiot, going ut, ut, ut ‘cause I can’t read which eventually later in my life, I went back and learned how to read because I wrote a book, and the teacher got so mad at me because he realized I was playing everything by ear. He told me, “you don’t have what it takes to be a professional musician. Forget about it.”

SFL Music: He’s eating those words now, right?
Luongo: Well, there’s a story that goes with that too, but that’s for another time. You know what? I’ve lived such a charmed life. There’s no perfect life. There’s nobody that’s happy twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. That’s not even reality and if it was, happiness would get boring, but the things that have been great, have been great! I feel very blessed and very fortunate to have done those things. There’s no peak without a valley.

SFL Music: That’s a great saying. Was the book you wrote a music book?
Luongo: Yeah. I mean, I’ve been writing journals for most of my career, but the book that I’m talking about was, yeah it was an instructional book called Take Two. They still publish it in fact which is you know, a proud point for me. Published by Hal Leonard, and it was at a time in my life where the business itself was changing and if you’re a musician and you’re a lifer, it’s not like, oh well, things aren’t going so good in the venues. I’m gonna go and shoot pool for a living. It just doesn’t work like that. You have to reinvent yourself in order to stay viable ‘cause somebody wants to be entertained. You just have to do the thing that they want to be entertained by, and so I wound up trying all sorts of things over the years just to keep working. Necessity is the mother of invention.

SFL Music: There’s a book that goes with this album and it has never seen before photos. Where did those come from?
Luongo: Well again, it’s just from my archive and Chris’s archive. You know, certainly the baby pictures of John were from the estate and the one of John and his first wife. Most of the live shots, we had a photographer named Terry McBride (Terrence McBride) on the road with us taking pictures constantly and his work is just fantastic, and I have endless pictures from him. He would either develop it and send me a stack of photos or I’d have digital TIFFs or JPEGs and I thought you know; this is fantastic work! Again, people should see it. They should be able to share it because those were moments of John’s career and it’s funny, almost in every picture, he’s in the same pose (he laughed). You know, with different wardrobe.

SFL Music: Are there any other videos that are going to be released?
Luongo: Yes. The short story is yes. We did two music videos when we were doing the T.V. show and there are a few live videos out there that we did. One has been released already. It was John Entwistle Live 1999 and then there’s an illegitimate version of us at Woodstock that we never signed off on, but you know, people do what they do. I have, the Detroit show. We did a fantastic show at Pine Knob which is down at DTE Center in Detroit, and what I’m thinking about doing is putting like a compilation. John and I, we started working on a documentary when he was still alive. So, I have all the outtakes from that. I’ve got three and a half hours of Pete Townshend and I talking about John after John passed which I haven’t used near any of that, maybe twenty minutes of it has been used. There are so many live shows that people shot and that venues shot. I think it would be very easy to put a collection together, so that was kind of a long-winded way of saying, yes!

SFL Music: That’s great for people to look forward to. What would you recommend to an up-and-coming musician to be successful?
Luongo: Really either be absolutely the best at what you do and make sure it’s something that people want to engage you to do, or be flexible enough to use your talents in the ways that they’re needed. If you’re Rod Stewart, you’re not going to sound like Tony Bennett. So, do Rod Stewart. That’s indicative that you know, you’re the best at what you do, especially if you’re the only one that does it. So, be original, be accessible, and be visible. And honest. You have to be honest.

SFL Music: That’s good advice. Is there anything live you are going to be doing?
Luongo: We’re constructing sort of a one man show for maybe off Broadway which would be me, sort of in conversations with John using all these assets that I have. I won’t do anything that isn’t respectful or worthy of Entwistle. There’s a lot of things that I could do, but I will only do them if they would make him proud. That’s a tall order ‘cause he was a genius and his standards were as high as they could be, but I think I understand those boundaries and I’m gonna try to put this together for next year.

SFL Music: Was there anything else you want fans to know about the record or anything?
Luongo: Well, I think the thing that they already know, but that I’ll reconfirm is he had such a deep affection for his fans. He counted them as extended family. He would open himself up to anybody that wanted to take a glimpse behind the curtain. He was a fantastically giving guy and so incredibly creative and original creative. Again, if I had to give advice, you got to do you and that’s the best way. If you do you and it happens to work in the world, then you’ve got it. John always did John. John was always about tonight and tomorrow. He had hundreds of guitars and basses. If you asked him which his favorite was in the collection, he’d tell you, the one I’m playing tonight. And he was always about redefining his rig, inventing something new. He’s responsible for a lot of musical innovations with regard to the gear. Roundwound strings. It’s time that people really got to know what this man did for music.

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