An Interview With Sly And The Family Stone Remixer, John Luongo

Jack Riedy speaks to the storied Disco/Dance DJ about his 1979 Sly Stone remix album arriving to DSPs, inspiring the creation of Off the Wall, almost signing Madonna and more.
By    March 25, 2024

Image via John Luongo

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Jack Riedy has said it before and he’ll say it again: Beach Bunny >>>> Rolling Stones.

I was only half-right when I thought I spotted an unheard Sly Stone album in the bins at the Reckless Records in Wicker Park. I had become a fan of Sly working backwards through Prince’s influences, but unlike the Purple One’s seemingly bottomless vaults, Sly was going on four decades of radio silence. Ten Years Too Soon was not a lost work by Sly himself, but instead was a 1979 remix compilation conceived by Epic Records to revitalize interest in Stone’s catalog via the disco craze while the artist was signed to another label.

The album’s thesis is self-evident from the first track. “Dance to the Music” opens with iconic gang vocals from Sly and the Family Stone that give way to anachronistic synth drums. “Everyday People” boasts grimy guitars, adding a dash of Bowery cool to the Bay Area utopia. “Family Affair” is remade as a proto-house track, Sly’s murmured vocals are buried under whirring drum loops. Beyond those, there are few dramatic changes, mostly extending the tracks and adding claps and sixteenth-note hi-hats to play better on dancefloors. But those changes mark the Ten Years Too Soon tracks as a product of their time, just as the Family Stone’s brass stabs and organ swirls scream late ‘60s.

The compilation received negative reviews from critics like Robert Christgau and Dave Marsh, put off by the label’s attempt at cashing in on unauthorized updates to Stone’s work (and perhaps weary of the disco “fad” just a few months after Disco Demolition Night.) In his memoir published last fall, Stone wrote “A month after [1979 Warner Bros. album] Back on the Right Track [Epic] released a record called Ten Years Too Soon, which had disco versions of old hits, remixes designed for the dance floor. Disco was bigger than ever that year, which took some of the air out of the sails (and sales) of the new record.”

Disco has been resilient as a sound and a communal ideal, including a post-pandemic resurgence in pop music. John Luongo is a true believer. The Ten Years Too Soon remixes were born of reverence, like the hundreds of other tracks he completed in his career. “I was always respectful,” he said. “All my records sound like the person that I worked on could have actually recorded it that way.”

Luongo was born in the post-war baby boom in Boston and raised in a nearby suburb. He became a key player in the rise of disco and dance club culture through his DJ sets, as well as the music magazine Nightfall and Boston record pool that he founded. Luongo DJed on the air for Northeastern University’s WNEU, MIT’s WTBS, and WBOS, and at clubs like Whimsey’s and The Rhinoceros in Boston andnd legendary New York clubs Studio 54 and Paradise Garage. He was contemporaries with Larry Levan, Jellybean Benitez, and Arthur Baker, the latter praised Luongo as “technically the best DJ I ever saw.”

Luongo transitioned to the studio as an engineer and producer. Working with reels of tape, he created some of the original remixes, beefing up the rhythm section, looping breakdowns, and layering in sirens and other sound effects based on his experience watching crowds react to his sets. He coined the term “additional production” to cover his work, and he claims to have done the most remixes ever second only to Tom Moulton. Often working under strict label deadlines, Loungo remixed Gladys Knight and the Pips, KC and the Sunshine Band, Patti LaBelle, Santana, Queen, Cheap Trick, Barbra Streisand and more, in addition to unreleased tracks like a Prince remix featuring Big Daddy Kane.

As he tells it, he scored his first DJ gig by volunteering his services despite zero experience, and in conversation it was clear that sense of hustle never left. At one point he busted my balls about the pressure of turning a song into a hit in three days in contrast to my day job in marketing. He was prone to exaggerating his chart placements and just as quick to dispense advice about longevity in the music industry: make yourself useful, do your best, say yes to every opportunity, as he had worked in A&R, artist management, royalty recovery, and licensing.

It’s easier than ever to revisit Luongo’s work. Ten Years Too Soon was recently added to streaming, and he has curated two separate compilations: the digital The Essential John Luongo and the physical Dance Masters box set. I spoke to John Luongo by phone late last year about reworking Family Stone classics, inspiring Off the Wall, almost signing Madonna, and more.

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

I appreciate you getting on the phone because I’m excited to hear some stories. I’m specifically interested in this Sly Stone project. I’ve been doing some deep diving into his whole discography recently because he has a memoir out. How did you first get involved with this project?

John Luongo: I went to college as a civil engineer. I graduated with a Bachelors of Science from Northeastern University. And as I was doing that, I was spinning records in nightclubs and became real successful. And eventually, when I graduated from college, I took a job as a Project Engineer for AJ Lane in Worcester, Massachusetts. I did it for a year and I broke the record: I put up an 8 story, 175 unit apartment building. They said, “Oh, you’re gonna be a star. We’re gonna send you to Worcester” and I go, “Nah, I don’t think so.” You think that’s bad, then you try telling your mother. I said, “You know, Ma, listen, I told you I’d go to college, graduate, and I’d work. And I did that. And now I’m going to quit to spin records in the nightclub.” Oh my god, there we go. Lighting statues and turning candles upside down and prayers. I told her “I’m fine.”

So I started straight in my career doing that, got involved in mixing and became really successful. I also had a promotion company at the time. That was doing great because I’m spinning in nightclubs, I’m on the radio, we have a promotion company, and I’m just very enthusiastic to build something great.

Cheryl Machat was one of the product managers at CBS, and she sent me this tape by Melba Moore called “You Stepped Into My Life.” I said, “No, we can’t promote it. It’s too slow. You got to speed it up, you got to add claps, you have to add a little bit of percussion.” She said “Tell me what you’re talking about.” So I took the tape she gave me and I put it on a turntable and I recorded it on my reel-to-reel, my TEAC, and I recorded it slower so when you played it at the right speed, it would speed up a little bit. On one side, I clapped. On the other side, I used a salt shaker, that was my shaker, and two spoons as my tambourine. So I sent it down to her and she said, “Okay, can you do this?” I go, “Son of a bitch.” And I learned one thing, Jack, never say no. Anything in this industry, the words no do not exist. “Sure I can do it” and you learn to swim later, right?

I look at the back of the records I like and a lot of them are done at Media Sound in New York. Go there and meet an engineer, Michael Barbiero, who was only an assistant back then; he never really engineered any major session. Back then I wasn’t as well versed in EQs and everything. So I told Michael “I want a bass drum to be this big and hit me in the chest.” So I put a circle on my chest and showed him where I wanted it to be. “I want the bass to be this big and hit me in the groin and then I need a percussionist.” So, I mean, I can imagine myself at the beginning, I must have been perceived as really intellectual, but he had no idea what was going on, so I’m his first pay day. He introduced me to a percussionist named Jimmy Maelen. We go in the studio, I start mixing the record and I say “Jimmy hit the claps I want.” We went in there and clapped together. He started playing the percussion pattern and I said, “No, no, that’s wrong. I want it to be like this.” And he lets me know, he’s the guy that just worked on the Doobie Brothers, Kiss, and Roxy Music, and I’m telling him what I want. I’m saying I know what the clubs want because I was always spinning in clubs. He asked me if I was a percussionist and I said, “No, I just know what I like to hear.” So long story short, we finish it. I give it to Epic. I fly back to Boston. I get a phone call a couple of days later from a friend of mine who said, “John, you’ve got a big hit in New York.” I say “What are you talking about?” He said, “I played it at the Paradise Garage and they went crazy. It’s going all over New York now.” So “You Stepped Into My Life” by Melba Moore became a big hit. It actually relit her career completely. They call me back. I did another one called “Pick Me Up, I’ll Dance”, the record went right to the top of the charts. [Ed. note: The single peaked at #22 on the dance charts). We’re killing it.]

Epic and CBS kept giving me these projects because they thought, well, he must know what he’s doing. Nobody else knew dance music back then. The only person that had really mixed any dance records was a guy named Tom Moulton. Tom used to take recordings and he extended them, just took what was there, didn’t add any instruments. He’d take a 2 minute song and make it longer, or he’d take “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)” and do part one and part two and edit them together. But I was the guy who coined the phrase “additional production.” It was always “mixed and additional production by John Luongo.”

Everything I’m doing, knock on wood and not being a pompous jerk, was becoming a hit. I just had a knack for it. I did Melba Moore, I did Patti LaBelle, I did Jacki Moore, and these things were all killing it. Frank Rand,who was the head of A&R for Epic, said, “You know, Luongo, I got an idea. Sly Stone was ahead of his time. Do you think you can take these tracks and maybe mix these tracks and do something with them so they can get played in the clubs again?”

CBS had never really listened to the tapes, multi tracks and things. So what Sly would do is, sometimes they’d finish the album and they’d pass in incomplete tapes that didn’t have all the recordings and overdubs on them. So you may have a couple of vocals here of one line there, but the label didn’t have all of the elements that we needed on the 24 track tapes. Well, it’s not there, I guess I gotta come up with something that’s really unique.

They didn’t have click tracks and things back then. So when a band would play, they would speed up, they would slow down. When they got excited near the end, they would really take off. And that was wonderful because that was the living, breathing, interaction between the players and the band and the emotion which was coming out of them at the time of creation. So I went into the studio and I actually got Paul Shaffer to come in and do some parts in it. I got Neil Jason to come in on bass. I also had Allan Schwartzberg on the drums, Jimmy Maelen on the percussion, Steve Love playing the guitar. And the thing they loved about it is, I gave them plenty of latitude. I said, “Alright, we’re gonna have fun with this.” Jimmy would tell all these players, “You got to play with Luongo. You got to be in his sessions because he’s really innovative and creative.”

On “Dance To The Music,” I knew I was going to keep that Larry Graham on bass because [Makes a bass sound with his mouth] nobody’s ever gonna replace that. I got a couple of the drum fills that were in there. I kept them. I kept the vocals that I had from Little Sister. I had the keyboard [makes organ sound with his mouth] that organ part. I kept all those because those were touch points. But I had to do something that was going to take the song and make it more applicable for the clubs at the time. So what I did is, I put a drumbeat from Allan Schwartzberg in there and he played right to the tracks we had, which was difficult because there wasn’t music playing all of the time. Allan had to keep the beat so when the music came back in, he was still there.

Then this really crazy little guitar part in the beginning. I said, “Steve, I want you to do [replicates melody with his mouth].” So he played that on the guitar at a little bit of a muted part. We kept elements of percussion that were on the track there but Jimmy Maelen added to it in such a beautiful way that it sounded like he was part of that band back then. I really did this with reverence. You see a lot of people go in today and they just take a vocal track and they say, “Just give me the stems.” And then they add this garbage around it. They put a 4-on-the-floor, there’s no thought. I said I gotta come up with an arrangement that will drive people crazy, but will be unpredictable and get them really excited. And then we put a Syndrum on there, that Jimmy would play like a tom that added some power to it.

When we finished it, I had all the parts that I wanted, but the timing was a little bit slow, and then it went fast and then it went slow. That’s no good for the clubs. So what I had to do is, I took the quarter inch tape back to my apartment, which is my office, and Jellybean Benitez is over there watching me do this, I was taking out sixteenth-of-an-inch pieces of tape so that the drumbeat throughout the song would be even, especially in the opening. I cut them out, I put a little piece of blue tape over the back and then I put a big long piece of blue tape to hold it all together. If you see the master, there’s probably about four or five feet of blue tape goes by that’s holding my 1/16th inch edits. And I’m telling you, I was really good at editing, with a razor blade, man.

Then I went to the next track. I did “Everyday People” and I did “You Can Make It If You Try” and I wanted to make sure that I captured the essence of the group but gave them a ballsy, fresh new sound. I’m really proud of these tracks. I put “This is Love” on there because I loved it. It was just a two minute little piece, just a pretty little thing. I just want to make this sound as pretty and beautiful as the way it touched me when I was a kid first listening.

About four years later, I actually had the pleasure of working with Larry Graham on a group called Fortran 5. And I flew down to his house, I think it was Bermuda, we worked in a studio, and he’s just the nicest, greatest guy in the world. I told him “Graham Central Station. I loved you when you did ‘One in a Million You.’” He’s just a tremendous guy.

I actually met Sly in the Oakdale apartments, I believe, in California. And he was there and he was all screwed up at that time. That really felt bad. This poor man went right down the tubes and ended up with so little, yet was such an important part of history.

I will follow up with you to make sure I get all these names correct. But that’s great to hear the full band you put together. So you did get a chance to meet Sly. Was that later in the ’80s?

John Luongo: Yeah. He loved what I did. Whenever I do a mix or a production, and it’s been a lot—I don’t know how much you know about what I do, but maybe after Tom Moulton, I’m probably number two with the most mixes ever. But the key is, I’m the most diverse mixer. I work on Queen, Kiss, Huey Lewis, Greg Kihn, Peter Schilling, Dolly Parton: I just did all these things because, as a kid growing up, I was influenced by pop radio and pop radio was a little bit of everything. It really meant a lot to me to be able to listen to it and try to make the audience feel good. My key when I made these records was to try to envision what it would do to the audience from the DJ’s point of view when he played the record. I wanted to give the DJ as much help as I could in making sure the song would have an impact. And I did.

The thing that’s really nice for me is that they still sound as strong as anything before or after them. My sonic excellence was very important to me. I didn’t use compression like everybody else because that makes it sound like it’s really squashed. It’s like looking at a big screen TV and then all of a sudden you see a little peephole in the middle and that’s where the sound is coming from. I said “We’re gonna work twice as hard, you’re not compressing any of my records.” I would compress one or two elements in them, maybe guitar or bass or something. But you never put compression across the whole thing. It was like putting a condom on it. It doesn’t spread out, you gotta let it breathe.

It’s funny to hear you talk about the process of cutting the tape physically. Would you say that you were the pro at making those tape edits at that time? You said Jellybean was around at that time, too, so you were with a good crew of people.

John Luongo: He had no idea. I’d hang out with him at The Funhouse and he’d come by and he would want to see what I was doing to try to learn. But he couldn’t edit. I learned how to edit—this is really funny. What I wanted to do, since I didn’t have any turntables to try out mixes at a club, I would record on my sister’s console. I’d record a song up to a certain point on a tape and then I’d press pause. Then I put a new song in and at the point where I thought it would edit it, or I want to hear what it would sound like, I’d take that pause and record a little bit of that song. Then I would take the cassette and I would pull the tape out and cut it with scissors and tape the two pieces of tape together with scotch tape. So when I had the razor blade, haha, this is child’s play. And I could edit anything. I could edit quarter inch, half inch, two inch tape. Michael Barbeiro started it but he realized that I was really good.

And sometimes it’d be a nightmare though, we didn’t have automation. So you go to certain points, stop it, record a piece, stop it, and then you have all these pieces of tape hanging in the studio and now you forget, what the hell? What is the next piece? Sometimes though, once again, you turn your scars into stars. I would put a piece in and it was backwards. I’d say, “Oh, no, this is so good. We’re not taking this out.” I remembered a lot of it from Jimi Hendrix early on when he did “Are You Experienced?” and he had that tape going backwards. So I would make the backward piece work and then I would figure out what point in the backward piece I would pull it out to go back to the song forward. If you listen to Peter Godwin, “Babies in the Mountains”, there’s a section in there where I use that trick. It was a mistake in the beginning but then I kept it and the whole thing went [mimics sound with mouth]. So the greatest thing about being in the studio is the mistakes. If you’re smart enough, and you’re creative, and you got courage, you can turn one of those things into an unbelievably, non-recreatable moment that will make the record.

The reason I did a lot of editing in my home studio after the fact was that, at $275 an hour, it can be quite costly. I would record different pieces, different breaks, different instrumentals, and if I couldn’t finish the song, I would take them all back and I would put them together to arrange the song over four or five days. If I knew back then what I know now, I would have probably gotten song credit on about 60% of the songs I did.

It was wide open and creative for me and that’s the way I wanted it. Some people didn’t like that because you have too many choices. But I like choices. Sometimes you want to rip your hair out and jump out a window, and that’s why you should only be one flight off the ground. But when it’s done and you look back, you’re like, “Wow. Damn, that’s good.” So Sly was one of those things that, to see people talk about it now, more than ever, it really makes me feel good, you know?

Absolutely. Do you have any specific memories of recording any of the other tracks? It sounds like you put together the first few in pretty quick succession. How did the rest of the album come together?

John Luongo: I knew I wanted “I Get High On You” to be aggressive. I wanted it to be mean. I wanted it to be like a bulldog walking down the street. The original version was funky but it had a little bit of a crawling motion. With me, I wanted it to be like Kong walking down the street. So I made sure that I put in Syndrums in that one. We added some keyboards to the keyboards that were on there, we put in some killer percussion, and then accentuated the groove with a lot of overdubs and some outboard gear like Pultecs that made it growl. So if you put on, “I Get High on You”, you’ll see it. It’ll punch you in the face.

With “Stand!”, I love that song and I thought it was a brilliant song in itself. I had a majority of the tracks from the original session but the ones that I added on that one were to support the vocals because I thought the message in that song was really, really powerful. I wrote all these.

“Sing a Simple Song”, I just wanted that one to be more three dimensional. I put a Syndrum on there and I put keyboards that raised, almost like a siren. It just built. And you had Little Sister singing, “Sing a simple song!”, it whacked you in the head. As you can tell, I get a little aggressive on some of these. But I liked that. I just thought these songs were so good and they stood up to anything that was out there.

“You Can Make It If You Try” was something that I really wanted on there because of the message. I was very sure that if they heard it, if a new generation listened to these songs, they would still appreciate Sly Stone. This wasn’t John Luongo, I didn’t want it to be mine, you know what I mean? I wanted to do something to validate the songs, to make them have club applicability and to allow people that maybe would never hear this in a club to be able to hear it. If you played the original “Dance to the Music” in a club, I mean, it’s a wonderful song but it just wouldn’t hold up in today’s clubs. What I did is I allowed these songs to stand up and hold their own against anything that was played before or after them. And, like I said, when I finished it I heard from Sly and Larry Graham, they were all so pleased.

Did you hear Sly out and about then when you were DJing?

John Luongo: You could play the original versions early on in the clubs. Early on, there wasn’t really dance music out there. In the early days of the club, music would get played, it was popular, that you could dance to, but they weren’t geared for dance music. When I did mixing, it really changed the world in many ways because I brought the 12 inch mixes and extended versions to everybody around the world from what I was doing. You could play “Dance to the Music” because you’d probably be playing The Isley Brothers “This Ol’ Heart of Mine” and Martha and the Vandellas “Heatwave” and Steely Dan “Do It Again” and “Brandy” “by Looking Glass or “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’” by Crazy Elephant. So, sonically, they all fell in and it wasn’t that drastic of a change when you played them back then. But if you moved the competition forward and you tried to put those songs against the music in ‘79 and the ‘80s, well, now it’s going to sound a little bit lesser. It’s going to sound like it’s less powerful, less punchy, less dynamic and the arrangements are like two and a half, three minutes long.

Yeah, they’re quick, they’re such short songs.

John Luongo: “Dance to the Music” might have been around three minutes, maybe, and I made it 6:47. And “Everyday People” was like three minutes and I made it 5:58. “Stand!” was 6 minutes.

You know what’s funny? I ended up doing a record for Joan Jett. She did “Everyday People” on one of her records, and they said, “Well, John, can you do this? Because we want to get it on BLS.” Can you imagine the audacity of thinking you can get Joan Jett on WBLS? Well, guess what? I did the mix. I gave it to Frankie Crocker. “Ladies and gentlemen, Joan Jett, Everyday People.”

The Jacksons were coming into town. Ron Weisner, their manager, said, “We need BLS to get on this record, but he can’t play it the way it is.” I said, “Oh, son of a bitch. When do you need it?” “I need it by Monday.” Today was like Friday. I got a weekend to get it done. I go in and I work on the record “Walk Right Now.” I had everything. I put in a rising siren. It sounded like an air raid coming in. And I put in these giant kettle drums and balls’d up the song with percussion. I did an arrangement and gave it to Frankie Crocker. On Monday, it’s on the air, Madison Square Garden sold out Friday. I always had the pressure. The pressure was good sometimes, not all the time, but I liked what I did and I knew that I was gonna call my company 911 Productions at one point.

Just think about this. You got a song that people have worked on for months and months and months. They work, they have a chance to listen to it over and over, they put it up, they study it, they change it, they tweak it, they make it perfect. Now I gotta go in, listen to it one time, understand the song, understand what elements can be brought to life to have a greater impact in the clubs, add the overdubs, do anything I have to do, edit it and finish it in three days. I had three days to do something and it’s got to be better or at least serve a purpose or I wouldn’t have a career.

It’s funny to think about a time where it might be hard for the Jacksons to sell out Madison Square Garden.

John Luongo: They wanted to make sure that they had enough advance promo to make sure it was done because it was a last minute announcement. Originally I got a call from the head of Epic A&R. His name was Lennie Petze. He said, “John, we got a song here I want you to listen to and see if you can help us. The band has a giant pickup that we have to exercise or otherwise we’re gonna have to drop them. The record isn’t doing so good and we’d like to see if you can do anything with it.” So I do my usual, which is add the things I want and do the arrangement. Record comes out, goes from #60 on the R&B chart and now it’s rocketing up, it’s up to #20.

[Ed. note: “Despite the Mick Jackson original reaching a No. 61 peak on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1978, Epic Records that month released the Jacksons’ version of “Blame It on the Boogie” as the advance single from the Destiny album. Although “Blame It on the Boogie” returned the Jacksons to the Hot 100 after five flop singles, it was not the single to effect a major comeback for the Jacksons, peaking at #54; it would be the follow-up, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”, which would briefly restore the Jacksons’ Top Ten fortunes.[12] However, “Blame It on the Boogie” did reach No. 3 R&B and would be coupled with “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” on an extended club play single which would reach No. 20 on the dance charts in 1979.”]

And they said, “Okay, can you do it again? We have another one for you.” So they give me another song from the same album. This one was a little bit harder. I added…remember brake drums? When cars had brake drums on them, those metal things? I hung two of those from a setup rig that would hold them up in the air. I got Jimmy Maelen to play the back of his mallets that he used on the vibes. Then I said, “Let’s open this one with a siren, too.” Because sirens, I knew, were big in the clubs. And I said, “Instead of the clubs having to play it, let’s put the siren in the record. Everybody will hear it and they’ll go crazy.” I changed the beat. I added a bass to the bass. I just worked my tail off. This took us like 26 hours in the studio. We did so many edits. By the time that was through, the record was about one inch over the reel.

I’m looking down and saying, “Jesus, we gotta be careful.” So I tell my engineer, “Michael, let’s try to wind it back because we’re winding it off. It’s gonna break.” So what he said was “Alright, I’m gonna hit rewind and we’re gonna go backwards. When I tell you, you hit rewind, play, and stop at the same time.” That way it won’t stop suddenly, it slows down a little bit. He said, “I will throw my hand in the reels and I’ll stop the reel before it snaps the tape.” It’s me and Michael at 4 in the morning. I’m going “Oh, yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” We do it. He throws his hands in there. A little blood coming out here and in the reel but that’s okay. We get it off, finish it, give it to Epic. They said they hate it. I said “Okay, no problem. I don’t care. My job was to give you the best I could and that’s it. I didn’t want to give you the same thing. I gave you something different.”

Well, now the record’s supposed to go to Los Angeles to be destroyed. They send it to CBS Canada by mistake. A guy up there named Dominique Zgarka gets a copy and he says, “Oh, John Luongo, let’s put it out.” Sends it to England. This all happened so fast, they put me down as Jim Luongo on the record. The record comes out in England. A copy gets into the United States and goes to WDAS in Philly, the biggest black station there with Joe “Butterball” Tamburro as the program director. His phones are lighting up. Retailers are calling him. I get a phone call from Epic, Frank Graham, and he says “We’re going to sue you.” “Why?” “Because I told you we did not want this record out. We didn’t want to release it.” I said “I’m looking at my copy. It’s on my desk. I’m looking at it here.” So they find out what happened. They had now shipped like 250,000. The record was called “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”. Went number one. They sold millions and millions of copies. I get a phone call from the product manager Cheryl Machat, she said, “Joe Jackson said to tell John Luongo, ‘thank you for saving my sons’ careers’”. Epic re-signed them and Quincy Jones told me after a panel, he says, “I used your ideas from “Shake Your Body” on Off the Wall’s ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’.” So that’s pretty good.

Yeah, no kidding!

John Luongo: But anyway, I didn’t want to give you anything boring. I know you’re tired. I said, “Poor Jack. He’s gonna fall asleep, he’s gonna be dead, he won’t know what to do.”

Oh, you’re kidding. No, I’m eating this up. I appreciate it. That’s a crazy story, especially when you think about the international nature of it all. I’m glad that it ended up in Canada.

John Luongo: And the best part is that I just stuck to my guns and I did the record that I wanted to do that I thought was the best record that I could do. Because if I’m going to fail, I’d rather fail at my own hands. I don’t need anybody else’s advice to teach me how to screw life up or something. If you go down and you go down swinging, that’s ok, right? You can take that. I didn’t want to lose because I was timid. If you’re timid, you’re going to fail in this business. It’s a business of “Get it right.”

So what was it like to get to a point where you’re out at the clubs and you’re hearing your own edits in the mix? Were you playing your own work when you would do your own DJing? How did that go?

John Luongo: Early on, I did and it was fun. You get a little nervous. I always used to get sick every time I went in the studio. Especially if you start having success and you start thinking, “Well, I got a number one record. I gotta do it again.” You don’t wanna go from a number one record to number 30, right? So I did Bryan Adams “Let Me Take You Dancing” or Gonzalez “Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet”. Put it on in the club, everybody’s going crazy. It just made you feel good because you worked so hard in the studio. When you work with the sensitivity and the love of the audience, then you’re hedging your bets because you’re doing something based upon your instinct and your passion.

I used to hear from many DJs, they said, “When new records came in on a Friday, the only ones we’d take in the club from that pile before we auditioned them were the ones that said “Mixed by John Luongo”. And that’s a hell of a compliment. Because they said, “We knew that it was a really good chance that it was going to be great.” So yes, I played my records in the club, and I enjoyed later hearing them on the radio, it’s great. You’re driving around, you’re working on stuff, and you’re hearing it come on, and you’re very critical. I wouldn’t leave the studio until I thought it was perfect. And even if it went over budget…I realized “It may go over budget, but if it’s a hit, nobody’s going to remember.” So that’s the way it happened. I spent the extra hours to make it a hit. I said, “Welp, I’m at the land of no return now. We have just enough gas to go forward or go back and I ain’t going back.”

I used to be a radio programer so I understood what people wanted and when I made these records, I would put that in there. So I would make sure that the intro is ten to fifteen seconds, but that it provides a wonderful backdrop for the DJ to give you his patter again. “This is brand new from Earth, Wind and Fire. Ladies and gentlemen,
‘September!’” I used every trick in the book. I still do it to this day when I do stuff.

When did you get involved in the licensing business? How did that pick up in comparison with your actual production work?

John Luongo: CBS wouldn’t let me sign a lot of the acts I wanted to sign early on. They wanted to keep me in dance, they were putting me in a box. As you can tell, I’m not really comfortable in boxes. You can’t hold me down by telling me what I can’t do. That is not going to happen. I tried to bring them some stuff. We had success with a group called Fantasy, The Quick’s Zulu. We released the Phil Spector Christmas record. In the beginning, I spent so much time trying to be an executive that you couldn’t be creative. But I finally got enough under my belt and realized the balance. I brought them a girl named Patti Smith. I still have the tapes with me here. I said, “She’s a star.” They passed on me, but they ended up signing her with [her band] Scandal, so you tell me something wasn’t going on.

Then I bring them a group called Full Force and I said, “I want to sign these guys to my label.” They said, “Oh, no, you can’t. They’re black.” “Yeah. So what? What the hell? Since when does that mean anything?” They wouldn’t let me sign Full Force. Full Force goes on to sell 3 million records. They turn down Samantha Fox and Lisa Lisa, another one that they ended up signing but they signed it directly instead of letting me do it. My friend named Steve-O from the UK comes to me, said, “Lu. I have a group that’s signed all over the world but we have the US and Canada available.” I said, “Listen, this is great.” I played it for the label head of the associated label and the head of promotion. They both looked at each other and they won’t let me sign it. I said, “But this is a hit.” Well, that little record, you might have heard of it, “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell. 6 million copies later, there’s no happiness in my voice.

Now I’m getting really pissed. My friend Mark Kamins calls me from Danceteria, Mark Kamins. “Come on down, listen to the production I’m working on.” I said, “This is great. Can I meet the person?” So he brings her down the next night. I’m dancing with her at Danceteria. In the works is Russell Simmons from Def Jam and Michael Rosenblatt, who was working with Seymour Stein at the time. So I said, “I want to sign her”. We have a champagne toast on Friday that I’m going to bring her to CBS on Monday. I get a phone call late at night, I think it was eight or nine o’clock in my apartment on West 57th Street. She tells me “I’m behind on rent and I need money for food. And I have a firm offer of $6,000 from Sire. So I said, “Well, you gotta do what you got to do. I don’t want to hold you up on this because I’m afraid that they’re gonna say no, again.” That was Madonna. I got a demo tape here. So you want to kill yourself? There you go.

So now I say I want to get out of my lane and they say no. I said “Why? You won’t let me sign anything.” So my contract said I couldn’t do stuff in the US and Canada. because that’s where I was signed to. It didn’t say I couldn’t do stuff in the UK. So I go to England, and I start working and say, “Okay, f*ck you.” Blancmange, Ultravox, Visage, Steve Strange, Cabaret Voltaire, The The, Soft Cell. Psychic TV, Bananarama, Junior, all these other bands. So I managed some success over there.

I finally said, “You know, I don’t want to do this label stuff anymore.” I had a friend who used to live in the building with me, Stevie Van Zandt, and he and I got together. He always wanted to have a record label that would be good for artists because none of them were. We would talk and he said, “BMG said I’m not relevant anymore and my music is no good.” I said, “Don’t listen to them. They don’t know what the f*Ck they’re talking about. No record label does.” So he says, “I’m gonna go try out for this part in this show in New Jersey. The show is called The Sopranos.” So he’s got his record label going, and I went over to Wicked Cool and I was in charge of signing the bands. He picked them, I’d tell him if I liked them, and we’d sign the ones he wanted.

I signed a band called Len Price 3. And I said, “You know what? We own the masters. We own the publishing. Why don’t I go to the advertising agencies and see if I can get them to place this?” So long story short, we signed Len Price 3 for about 10 grand. I go to the advertising agencies, and I said, “I’ve invented something. One stop shopping. You know how somebody brings you the master, you like it, but then the publisher comes in and says ‘No, I want more money.’ So you can’t really keep your costs in check. I can guarantee you we own the masters and publishing. Let’s put a deal together here and I’ll guarantee that the price that I give you here is the price that we will go with.” Well, we get this band on with The Gap, a commercial with Old Navy, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Southern Comfort. By the time I’m done, this band generated $250,000 in licensing on a $10,000 investment. So I said, “Well, I’m pretty good at this.” I liked the agencies. So I met everybody at the agencies. I knew the people at the record labels and publishing and the masters. When other people couldn’t get something licensed, they’d come to me and say, “Can you do this?” and I was really good at negotiations.

Trecter Entertainment, we’re considered the best when it comes to this. Experts in the field. Our clients love us because we do the impossible. I also do royalty recovery and collection. “I got screwed once by an attorney.” Oh my god, what a shocking statement to make. That’s par for the game. So I said I’m not gonna let that happen to other people. We represent the Dan Harmon estate. We represent the Dan Hartman estate, Bobby Eli, who just passed, MFSB and Salsoul Orchestra. People from The Stylistics. We have Christine Wiltshire, who was Musique and Class Action and also sang with Luther Vandross. Don Freeman, who worked with Michael Jackson playing keyboards. Robert Margouleff, he did the four biggest Stevie Wonder albums of all time, including Songs in the Key of Life and Talking Book. So I represent all these people. We take care of their royalties and recovery and make a deal with them. A lot of them, the reason they don’t really go after people is because it’s so expensive and they can’t afford it. So I make a deal where I’ll work on the project for a participation fee that goes on, but you won’t pay me a dime. So I’ll do all the work, I’ll take the shot and if I fail, I fail I like that. And I want to do a book at some point because I think there’s a couple of interesting stories I have.

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