John Luongo is a good liar. Well, maybe he's good at being tongue-in-cheek.
"I'm bashful," he says at the start of our interview back in October. "You're gonna have to really drag these things outta me, 'cause I'm a little shy!" What follows is about 100 minutes of captivating stories and thoughtful, enthusiastic lessons from one of the most notable names in dance music. The Boston-born DJ and mix engineer made a name for himself transforming dozens of soul and pop tracks for disco 12" singles in the late '70s; so creative was his work that Luongo would help invent a now-standard credit in pop music: "additional production." In the post-disco era, as the innovation of MTV created a new style of rock that was slick but rarely insincere, Luongo became an innovator again, turning guitar-driven songs by American and British acts into another wave of dance floor fillers.
Luongo remains a music business lifer - he remains active as a consultant and company manager, specializing in the challenging fields of licensing and royalty recovery - but his extraordinary past recently caught up with him in the best way. Late last year, in the span of a month, two compilations of his mixes hit the market. There was the third volume of Arthur Baker Presents Dance Masters devoted to his work at the boards, available as a 4CD set and in several vinyl configurations - many signed by Luongo himself. ("God, my hand fell off," he cracked. "I must have autographed about 3500 vinyl - and another two or 3000 of the CD packages. I never thought I'd get sick of me, but...!") And for digital music listeners, Legacy Recordings asked him to curate a different overview of his material for their longtime The Essential series. Different than both the Dance Masters set and a similar 2CD overview from series curator Wayne A. Dickson in 2017, there was no time like the present to revisit his past, with him as a guide.
In this interview, you'll find insight into how Luongo got his start, the mixes he's proudest of, the artists he wished he could have worked with, and some good insight into how to stay active in an ever-changing business so long. He's not shy about his achievements - and he shouldn't be - but he's not boastful, either. "There may be other mixers that are really great and maybe greater in many other areas than me," he said."But I will give myself one title that I think nobody will ever take: I'm the most diverse mixer I think that's ever been." With all the famous names you'll read below, it doesn't seem like he's wrong.
Anyone who knows your story knows you started out as a DJ in the New England area, is that correct?
Yeah. I was born in Boston, came from a suburb called Everett, and I went to Northeastern University for a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering. I DJed on the campus radio station, WNEU, which was broadcast inter-campus. On a break from school, studying for finals, I went with some of my fraternity brothers in Tau Kappa Epsilon. We went to a little place on Beacon Street called the Bull and Finch, which became the exterior for Cheers. We were leaving, and I heard music upstairs on the second floor of this place called the Hampshire House. I walked up this giant marble stairway, opened the door - and there was nobody in there! It was like an old judge's chamber. And we saw a DJ, he's about maybe three and a half, four feet in the air playing in the booth. I said, "I'm John Luongo. I play at the radio station at Northeastern" - which is really being pretty much a jukebox, but - "if you ever need anybody to fill in, here's my number."
Now, you gotta realize this: I had never done this before! There was a genius move: just go ahead and ask for a job that you've never done before. But two weeks later, I got a phone call from the manager: that DJ had left and gave them my number! I said, "When would you like me in?" He said, "Friday" - and it was a Monday. I went to this little store called Everett Music, a mainstay owned by a guy named Freddie Camelot. I started buying records that I thought would be danceable: "Shout," The Contours, "This Old Heart of Mine," "Heat Wave," a lot of Motown, and a couple of rock things like "Mony Mony."
I went in early on Friday and realized there is no queue system: you got two turntables, left and right. You could either listen to both of them out loud, one or the other, but what you couldn't do is listen to something offline because there were no headphones. I'd turn the record until it hit the first note, first scratch; I would use a black Magic Marker to mark it, go back a quarter of a turn. I realized if, on [the count of] one, I hit the other start button on two, by three you'd have music. No one would hear the scratch because they were too busy dancing. I would make these unbelievable mixes and quick cuts - going from one drum beat into the other seamlessly - because you couldn't really blend them. Little did I realize that ended up being the making of my reputation. No one in New England was able to quick cut as fast as me.
I then started blending two part recordings. You know how you used to have, say, Steely Dan come out on a 45? You'd hear part one on one side and part two on the B-side. I'd blend them with the two turntables, so you're essentially hearing the album versions weeks before they'd come out. Now I had all these radio DJs coming to see me, program directors, promotion people. Barry Korkin from A&M would send me Billy Preston's "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Outta Space," things like that.
Everybody came up and asked me what I was playing, and I'd write it down wherever: on a napkin, a matchbook, a flyer. I'd write it on their hand! It started to be a pain in the neck: I'd spend all my set writing down my playlist! Then, a friend said, "Why don't we start a magazine?" I'd never thought of that: my father was a newspaper man, for the Boston Herald Traveler, so it was kind of in the blood. We started a magazine called Nightfall. The first one was maybe eight pages - I still have all my copies! Inside, we'd have a list called TC's Disco Dozen. John "TC" Luongo: they called me "Top Cat," because I was "leader of the band"!
This thing just took off like a rocket. We expanded to an 80-page, full-color arts and entertainment magazine. We really started competing with the Boston Phoenix. And I wanted dance music to be special. I thought, "Every other music has its own awards - but we don't have anything like the Grammys for dance music in our industry." So we started the Nightfall Awards. We did the first ceremony in the Elephant Room of The Mirage, maybe 150 people in a 200-seat room. A few years later, we graduated to The Orpheum. The first winners were The Crown Heights Affair. "Dreaming a Dream" was fantastic. And that was the launching pad for everything that came after.
How did you make the transition into remixing? At what point did a record company hear you mixing these records together and say," Hey, you should be doing this for us"?
So a week after graduation, I got hired by AJ Land Construction. We put up an eight-story, 175-unit apartment building in 11 months - we broke a record. They said, "You're gonna be a star. We're gonna put you to Worcester to put up a 22-story building." And I just said, "You know, I don't think so." I'm spinning records at Hampshire House. I didn't accept the position. My family thought I was crazy: my mother turned statues over and lit candles. If there was a patron saint of the insane to help me! I went from $250 a week - which was going up to $375, I might add - down to $125 a week.
And as I was doing it I would go to the record labels. They'd all give me the records. And I would ask them, "Do you want me to send other DJs here? There's so many other great DJs in this city, guys, girls, everything." "No, no, no, no. We don't want them. They're misfits, they're this, they're that, they're gay, they're black, they're weird." I said, "Well, I'm one of them - I must fall into one of those categories somewhere." So instead of sending them all there, I asked if they'd give me 25 copies of every record. I went back and started a thing called the Boston Record Pool. We were one of the first three in the country. None of us knew about each other: Judy Weinstein did a pool in New York and Jackie McCloy did one in Long Island.
And when you have 25 clubs playing the same thing Friday, Saturday and Sunday, you have your own damn radio station that impacts all of those thousands and thousands of people. And we could influence what radio was playing, because the kids would call up and say what they wanted to hear. We would tip off records months and months before they were ready to be brought to radio and have payola try to get 'em on. You didn't need payola because we had actual proof that people loved it. The only thing stronger than giving people money is giving them a great time and letting them enjoy something and fall in love with it.
In New York, at a Billboard convention, I met my friend Tom Cossie, who was working at Buddah, and Marc Kreiner. They were contemplating getting a record. It was gonna go to Buddah, but they wanted to maybe put it out on their own production company. So they let me hear it. I said, "This is great! Give me the acetate and I will make tapes for everybody." This was a period when Billboard had, I think it was 16 different cities or states that were reporting. I was the reporter for Boston - and when I reported the chart, you would see this record came in at No. 1 without any other state or constituency having it. That was "Dance, Dance, Dance" by CHIC.
They wanted to hire me for their promotion company, MK Dance Productions. I said I'd run it, but I wanted to run it out of Boston. I oversaw Boston, New York and Los Angeles - we were killing it. If we took a song and promoted it, it would go to No. 1. We hedged out bets by having good taste, great song selections and great connections with DJs. We never let them down or forced them to play something that was crap. We took Dan Hartman's "Instant Replay"; we took Wang Chung, all climbing up the charts.
So I got the radios pumping. I got a magazine, I'm DJing on WBOS, one of the first dance stations in the country, a live broadcast from a club called Whimsey's. One day I get a call from a girl named Cheryl Machat, who sends me a record. I said, "I can't play this. It's too slow - it needs some percussion, some hand claps, a few things to spice it up." And she says "Well, can you do it?" I didn't have access to a studio then. What I did was record what she sent me on a two-track, but recorded it slower, so when you put it to the right speed on a regular two-track, it would be faster. On the other side was me clapping, I had a salt shaker, spoons going "dink, dink." I think I remember putting on the "Native New Yorker" hand clap.
I sent it to her and she said, "This sounds really interesting - would you come down and mix it?" I'm thinking, "I can't get away from this freaking thing! What is going on here? I don't wanna mix any records." But they sent me down to New York City - I went to Media Sound Studios because The Stones recorded there, Kool & The Gang, a lot of people I followed as a fan. The manager there, Susan Planer, introduces me to an assistant engineer - he's not a full-fledged engineer yet, but he's ready. His name is Michael Barbiero. He and I hit it off right away.
I said to Michael that I needed a percussionist, and when we mix this, I want the bass drum to be big. I didn't have all the terminology yet, didn't know any frequencies, but I said I want the bass drum to hit me in the chest. He introduced me to Jimmy Maelen, who had just done KISS' "I Was Made for Lovin' You" and The Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes." Jimmy and I got on great. We're clapping together and laughing. We mixed the record in about 16, 17 hours, I passed the tape on to CBS, got on the plane and went back to Boston. About two days later, I got a phone call from Richie Rivera, who played the Paradise Garage and other clubs in the area. He said, "John, you have a giant hit here in New York! This record has just taken off like crazy." It was "You Stepped Into My Life" by Melba Moore. That was the first mix I did.
Tell us a little bit more about your process in the studio.
The fact that you're not that aware of what's going on [in terms of a record's performance] is a great thing. It's like a little hen walking in a lion's den, doesn't know what's going on, picking little ticks off him. I should've been frightened out of my life by now: you not only have to tell them what to do with a record and mix it, then you have the responsibility of making it go No. 1. What could possibly go wrong? So it's good to be kind of naive.
One thing that most people don't know, but this is absolutely true: I am on every single recording that I've ever mixed or produced in some way. I'm whistling, I'm clapping, I'm doing some little percussive thing. I'm the Alfred Hitchcock of mixing! I would walk in the studio and I said, "We have to put a sound on this record that's never been heard by human ears." I would always start a session like that. One day Jimmy says, "I got it." Did you ever see those long hollow tubes, when you turn them over your head it goes "oooo"? A hum-hum. Jimmy spent $1.50 on a hum-hum. If you listen to Melba Moore's "Pick Me Up, I'll Dance," you'll hear it - there's no record in the world that has hum-hum on it! And that was important to me: I wanted DJs to look forward to things I would do that were subliminal. It showed I cared as much about making a mix as they would care when they received it.
I was getting tired of traveling between New York and Boston. So I rented an apartment in a building next to Media Sound. My next-door neighbor was Ellie Greenwich! I'd say to her, "I wanna change the music business. I just wanna make it different and better." And she was so in love with my attitude. She said, "Honey, I don't know if you can do it, but I certainly admire the fact you want to try."
What were the challenges of being an in-demand remixer at this time?
(laughs) How much money do you think I get paid for The Jacksons' "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)"? Now remember, I'm getting pretty hot now. I've done three big mixes in a row.
I'm hoping at least four figures, if not more.
Well, I think you'd be pretty close if you cut one of the figures off. I got $250.
Yep. No points. $250. And I never regretted it to this day. I tell everybody: I got a college education with the greatest acts in the world, and they paid me $250. So I'm the luckiest guy in the world. And that attitude is the attitude I've had all through my life, which is: don't ever look at something you've been compromised on. Just realize how fortunate you are to be doing this, you know? I mean, I was gonna be an engineer. And I got a lot of humility because I realize a lot of people could have been more talented than me that didn't get a chance, or something might have happened that they just couldn't take the pain. Because this is a very painful, beautiful business. It ruins you. It takes people to sacrifice their lives and give up their family and friends and then say, "I can't do it anymore." That common joke I used to hear is: "What's the difference between a pizza and a musician? A pizza can feed a family of four." (laughs)
But I'd be a liar if I didn't say I knew I had something, because I was doing it too many times in a row. And I really wanted to make sure I could do it over and over. And every time I would go to the studio, I would get a little sick because I realized, "Well, let's see: whatcha gonna do to top this one?" So you go in there and that pressure gets to you, but you're trying not to look at it. You just try to be humble and learn. You're always learning.
And I never repeated things. We did Jackie Moore's "This Time Baby," which was gigantic. And Michael and I had a big fight on this, because we had a pattern. I do all the arranging.I'm the guy that's done DJing. I know what a DJ needs for his audience. So I started the record with percussion. And then we came in with a little drumbeat, and then we added some strings. And then we came up to the chorus. And then, when it was going back to the verse, he said, "OK, now we put the voice in." I said, "No. I don't wanna put the voice in." (laughs) He said, "But we always put the voice in." I said, "That's why I don't want to put the voice in, because we always put the voice in! And if we do this, we're gonna be predictable. And if we're predictable, we're gonna be boring and complacent, and it'll be terrible. I want a break." He said, "I don't want to put a break in." I said, "I don't care. If you don't want a break in, I'll do it by myself." Long story short, we put the break in, and then Jackie came in.
It was the format that people to this day still use for a lot of these records, that arrangement, because it was so timeless and it was so unpredictable. And I just didn't want to be complacent. I was afraid that if I ever got to the point where I just, you know, copied myself or phoned it in, that's hard to break. I'd rather torture myself, because doing something uncomfortable is the best way in the world to learn how to be great. Because the process of going from why you are uncomfortable into making yourself comfortable is the creative process that keeps you going for years.
You always have that sense of "I gotta do more. What would somebody else do? What if everybody would do this? I don't want to do this. The audience deserves more." And I would always look at myself as the person, the DJ, looking out at the audience and then listening to what the recording was going to do to the audience to make the DJ pleased. So that keeps your mentality in line, you know?
The other thing I always did, which I know people didn't do up to then, was I loved vocalists. I made a point. I said, "We're gonna hear every goddamn word that they say, because vocalists are the people that are responsible for our future, they're responsible for careers. You're going to hear them breathe, you're gonna hear them burp, you're gonna hear everything." If you listen to everything I mixed, from Jackie Moore to Patti LaBelle, to Gladys Knight, Bobby Brown and John Waite. They are always spectacular. When their voice comes in. I want the screen to split. I want the curtains to part and I want the vocalist to be in your lap. We made a little pocket for them.
So I was learning how to make not just dance records, but great records that you could dance to. And that's a big difference, because that puts pressure on you. I wanted to compete with the people that made the originals. I wanted to be better than them. I wasn't trying to shame them, but I said, "They did what they did. Now it's my turn to give it my twist and see if I could add excitement." And I had nothing to lose. So I could be exciting and crazy and surprising and drastic and bombastic and nuts. And I could only win, especially if I knew what I was doing.
I want to ask you about one of my favorite, unusual works of yours: you did a Sly Stone remix album called Ten Years Too Soon. I think it's such a great, unusual thesis: before there was disco, before Studio 54, there was Sly. I think that was really ingenious.
I appreciate that very much! I worked very hard on that - I edited that in my living room, on West 57th Street! You know who came over to watch while I was doing it? Jellybean Benitez. I edited 1/16" pieces of tape out in order to make the timing right. We had no auto correct. We didn't have any beat mapping or anything of that nature. I was great with a razor blade, thank God. As a kid, to see if my edits worked as a DJ in a club, I edited cassette tapes. I'd record one song, then record a little bit of the other, and pull out the tape and edit it together to see if the beats would be similar, because we didn't have varispeed. That was really difficult. And there's one section of the Sly tape where you'll see about four or five feet go by and I had to put a piece of blue editing tape over all the little edits that I did to hold the track together.
A lot of the tracks on Sly, the masters were only partially there. So I had to recreate things. I tried to keep as many of the original things as I could. And I was well aware I'm messing with something that's classic and revered and, and really great. But I had to do what I had to do. So I came up with that guitar line, I got Steve Love to play, and then I had Jimmy go on a Syndrum, boom boom. And I had Allan Schwartzberg playing the drums, and I had Paul Shaffer in there, and we had Neil Jason doing some bass parts where Larry Graham wasn't there.
I'm so glad Legacy recently put it on streaming. I think it first came out as a box set of three 12"s? It's great to finally get those records to be heard by the rest of the world.
I wanna get into something that, that I think is an important throughline of your career: I think you were very influential in taking what we know of dance mixes and putting that spin onto rock records, particularly as MTV took off. How did that become such a part of your career? If you look at the first disc of Dance Masters, you've got John Waite, you've got Billy Idol, you've got Rick Springfield, Hall & Oates, ZZ Top - all these acts you would not have thought of as club play artists. What made that work stand out for you?
That's a very valid question, and there, really an interesting point there. I was raised in Boston, and when you would listen on the radio - we used to have WRKO. So you'd hear rock and roll, you'd hear country, you'd hear classical, you'd hear pop, you'd hear jazz, you'd hear the best of everything. So I'm listening to contemporary radio at the early stages, and I was influenced by everything. You would notice The Bar-Kays playing something, then Led Zeppelin using a similar bass thing. And then you have Elton John coming home with the pretty stuff. So I put it all together and absorbed it like a sponge.
But then I would listen to WBCN when I was in college, and that was, you know, AOR radio - progressive at its finest. They had the Beacon Street Union, you had Carole King when she first came out, Supertramp - so many different interesting things. I was flooded with everything. Growing up, my sister would be playing Eydie Gorme and Barbra Streisand, and Sergio Franchi; my brother's playing "Duke of Earl" and Frankie Avalon doing "Venus," and I'm trying to play Led Zeppelin. I was overloaded!
But those sounds always got into me. And I always loved pop music because I loved the structure of it. Every time I did a dance mix, I always did a 7" version. I didn't care if they used it. I just wanted to know that taking this sound with this excitement and putting it in the 7" is what will really be the game changer of the world. And sure as hell, everybody started noticing. They would flip from using their 7" versions to taking the 7" versions of my recordings that I made, and making those the primary recordings.
So I was always a fan of rock. The Who, The Kinks, you name it - early groups like The Raspberries and many, many others. I used to meet with Jeff Aldrich, an A&R guy for Chrysalis. One day, he said, "I'm gonna sign this girl. What do you think?" He played me the record; I said, "Oh, she's freaking awesome. You gotta sign her. She's going to be big." That was Pat Benatar. He was killing it. Now he says, "Can you help me with some of my other acts?" He gave me Huey Lewis and The News' "I Want a New Drug." Bob, Clearmountain did the album mix. I said, "Oh, I can kill this one." So he gave me the recording, and I said, "This record just starts, and goes into Huey's voice. That's no good. Let's start this record and let's take this great horn section that only comes in at the end, and let's put it in the intro."
My engineer at the time, Gary Hellman, used to love a lot of the rock sound. We would make Johnny Colla, the guitar player, we would turn his lines into a Hendrix sound. We knew all the effects to use to get those rock sounds. Huey told me later, "That's exactly what I wanted to do with those horns." I'm really getting a reputation for these things sounding great, because Huey had been talking to his friend in the U.K. and said, "I'm telling you, John Luongo, that mix he did - that's fucking great." Now, who was Huey's friend he said this to? Mutt Lange - my favorite producer of all time!
Now, I think, the word's starting to get out in the industry. I got a phone call from Jim Mazza, the president of EMI. He said, "can you work on this record for us?" They have a version on the album, but radio's not really loving it. So I went into the studio - this was Electric Lady, this time - and I added a Linn drum. I added a couple of keyboard parts, and I embellished some lines there. And I took out background vocals which started the song - it sounded like the Oak Ridge Boys - and then I sped it up. I finished the song and the artist said, "Before I listen to it, would you let my friends listen to it?" So Nina Blackwood from MTV walks into my apartment on West 57th Street on the 44th floor. She stays in one room as I'm playing my ½" tape machine from the other room. She sits not on the couch, she sits on the back of the couch. I played it again, and she left. I think, "You gotta be kidding me! I didn't ask if she liked it, because I didn't really know her." I found out a day later: John Waite's "Missing You" was approved. She said, "I can listen to it - it's a No. 1 record."
You even had a label at one time, is that right?
Pavillion, at CBS...I bought them things, but they wouldn't let me sign some of these things. So I really kind of got pissed at them. I brought a record that Ellie Greenwich gave me, on a reel-to-reel. I wanted to sign her - I saw her at Catch a Rising Star. That was Patty Smyth - but CBS had no problem signing Scandal! I bring in another group - a Black group - and was told "You are not Black. We wanted you for dance music." But they had no problem signing Full Force on their own! Then I said, how about this guy, Ron Broomfield? He went on to be Eugene Wilde - and they didn't let me sign him, either.
I had a record from a friend in the U.K., Stevo Pierce. It was between me and Seymour Stein to get the record for the U.S. and Canada. I play it for Tony Martell, and he can't hear it. If you put duct tape over executives' eyes in a room, they go deaf - they wouldn't be able to see the other people moving and reacting to know if what they're doing is appropriate or not. So they passed on "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell.
Maybe worst of all - I met up with my friend Mark Kamins. He said "I want you to hear someone." I heard her on a Wednesday, went out dancing with her on a Thursday. Mark comes over on Friday - we toasted. I was gonna bring her to CBS on Monday. Late Sunday I got a phone call: she needed money badly, so she signed with Sire. And that was Madonna. I at least got a chance to tell Ron Weisner to manage her. He was torn between her and France Joli. When he played me the recordings she did with Nile Rodgers, "Like a Virgin" and "Material Girl," I just cried. My heart sank. But I was glad I helped a friend.
They wouldn't let me out of my deal with CBS, because I think they were afraid they would possibly look bad if I had a hit somewhere else. But my deal was only with the U.S. and Canada; it didn't say I couldn't go outside the world. So I went over to Europe and mixed things for Visage, Ultravox, Blancmange, Steve Strange, Soft Cell, Cabaret Voltaire, Bananarama, Thompson Twins - you name it. It taught me to appreciate different styles of music. I would call my friend Denis McNamara at WLIR and tell him what he should have as the Screamers of the Week, because I was hearing them way in advance.
You're lucky to be hitting two different audiences around the same time, between the Dance Masters box set - more for physical collectors - and this digital Essential title Legacy just put out, too. How did these come to pass at the same time? It's nice that the Essential is more of a complement to the box rather than a cut-down or something.
They came out of the blue, in all honesty! Tim [Smith, A&R at Legacy Recordings] reached out to me first and said they were thinking of doing The Essential John Luongo, and that they felt it would be right if I picked the tracks, to have a feel for what people want. There's a lot more I could have put on there. The Jacksons said no for some reason; Barbra Streisand said no at first, but then I talked to Jay Landers, one of my best friends, and we got it done.
Then I heard from Wayne Dickson. He told me about the Arthur Baker and Shep Pettibone boxes, and they felt I was the perfect person to do next. His whole point was the diversity - that I have a diverse taste, musically, and they felt it would be an incredible package. Neither Demon nor Legacy had any idea about the other. I thought, well, I'll just do my thing - I didn't want either to alter what they were going to do, creatively.
But there was a minimum of overlap, which is great. Who would've known that I remixed Stephen Stills' "You Can't Dance Alone," or the stuff for Cheap Trick, who I love? It was unbelievable that people came to me for all these different things. I liked the challenge of knowing I can do things that other people can't. And the thing I did, Mike: I made sure I was never the star. I wanted the musicians and the artists to be the stars.
I'm so glad the Dance Masters series exists. It was overdue! You think about people like yourself, Arthur, Jellybean, Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero - to give the recognition and the credit is so appreciated, as a fan. In the CD era, some of these mixes would be bonus tracks; sometimes, if you were lucky, you'd get them streaming. At the time, when you all were doing your different work, was there a "scene" or a friendly competition? Were you all paying attention to what each other was doing?
Well, Arthur was in Boston and I was in Boston. New York and Los Angeles are wonderful, but Boston really brought dance music like that to the world. We took that scene and brought it everywhere. I had the magazine, I had a radio show, the awards - there was a platform. And when I got successful, Arthur came to me and I would help him with his stuff. We even worked together: we did "Kind of Life (Kind of Love)" by North End. I was close with Jellybean - we would see him at the Fun House and hang out. I had my label, so I'd try to get airplay or club play on our records. Steve Thompson came in after - Michael and I, we had a bit of a falling out for a time. We're close as hell now. (It was an attorney. I hate attorneys.)
There was always a little bit of competition in some ways, because you wanted to do better. I always wanted to be the best, but I always made sure it wasn't about being the best at someone else's expense. So I would say we had a healthy acknowledgement of one another - but in my case, I just drove myself and put more pressure on me to say, if I'm No. 1, I won't have to worry about looking around my back to find what other people are doing. And that's how I handled it.
That's the perfect way of looking at it. Now, in sort of the other direction: dance music and club mixes are certainly very different today. You've been in the business for a long time - do you see certain acts or producers and mixers as sort of a continuation of the work that you or your compatriots did at the time? Or do you think it's too different an industry to compare?
If you think about it, it's really not different at all. You only have so many sounds that go around. When you had the EDM movement come in with Deadmau5 and Zedd and everything, I explained to my son: all this is, is like "Frankenstein" by the Edgar Winter Group, plus putting a beat under it. It's not that different. There's just gimmicks in between the actual sound and the song itself, which is still traditional. It's all like house music.
The only problem, to me, is that [some artists] spend too much time with chance and not enough time with substance. When you have eight people writing a song, you don't have a song, you have a smorgasbord. And it's not gonna come out as a great song. It's not gonna be memorable. They don't do as much to the melodies as I wish they did. The rhythms are interesting. I can listen to any song today - I don't care what, genre - and I'll show you exactly where it came from a decade ago. There's nothing to change.
I listen all the time 'cause I'm still doing records and I want to be contemporary. But the way to listen is with an appreciation to find the elements of the music today that you like. You can't say, "I can do better than that." That's a shitty attitude. You wouldn't want people doing that to you when you're first coming up.
So I listen trying to say, "Where's the elements of creativity and newness that I can then creatively borrow and learn? And why are they using these things there?" Because until you understand why songs and sounds are the way they are, you can never own them. And if you don't own them, you're never gonna create a song that's gonna connect with people because it's a copy, and it didn't generate from the inside of your heart.
What is some wisdom you'd like to impart from your time working in and around music?
You want to know that you can be as grateful and generous and appreciative to the people that got you where you are. Because, at one point in time, all of these people who wouldn't give you the time of day are people who other people wouldn't give the time of day. You would hope they would cherish the opportunity to touch somebody. I'm always hoping that anything I do, even this interview with you - maybe I inspire some kid, maybe I inspire you. Maybe I make one person see there are still some people who really give a damn and really care about tomorrow, because without tomorrow there won't be a music business. So stop thinking that music lived and died with your generation. You are a lucky person. You got to do one thing now. Inspire somebody, let them bring it to their generation and let's just continue and be immortal throughout music.
The people that impacted our industry really cared - really, really wanted to know about their audiences and the fans and the trends. You can't do it part-time. If you're gonna do it, you're gonna do it 100 percent of the time, day and night. You're gonna live it, breathe it, and you're going to give back what it requires. There had been times, honestly, I was so tired that I thought my head was gonna fall off. I'd have to go to a meeting or I'd have to go to the club, and I would walk out of my house and I'd flick an imaginary switch, and I'd go, "Showtime!" (laughs) You're reaching for that extra little energy - that little bit you have left in the tank. It's part of the job.
The job isn't just to be creative and be good. It's to carry the banner for what you're doing and represent the whole industry as best as you can. You hear the stuff when people say, "I'm not a role model." You are a role model!. And you can be an uninspiring dick if you want to. But I didn't take the uninspiring dick road.
If you had to pick a few favorites of your mixes, which would you choose? Or maybe the ones you would present to people and say, "This is John Luongo."
One is surely "Vertigo/Re-Light My Fire" by Dan Hartman. I think it was a groundbreaking recording. It put together progressive rock and orchestration with power vocal excitement. It had every element going with it, for sure. Another one would be Jackie Moore's "This Time Baby," because that record was innovative. It still gets people crazy to this day. It makes them feel excited - it's a feel-great record, not a feel-good record. Her vocals are great. The arrangements we did were great. The orchestration that Bobby Eli came up with, God rest his soul, was amazing.
One that I really love, because I know what I did to it, was "Right Here, Right Now" by Jesus Jones. If you want to hear what orchestration and what getting chills up your arms are: Roxette's "Listen to Your Heart." On my version I added strings - I became like somebody working with Elton John. (laughs) I certainly would say "Missing You" was up there for sure. I really liked Gonzalez's "Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet" a lot. I liked Sly and The Family Stone's "Dance to the Music." Because I think what I did was take an incredible song and didn't rob it of its history and its heritage. I think I added to that one.
And I think maybe one more would be what I did with Blancmange, "Blind Vision." If you listen to that long version, and if you aren't taken on a journey - I don't know, you're dead! If you don't leave that song being exhausted from the build, the energy, the orchestration, the vocals, the breaks we did, the unique Indian percussion that we put on that record. It will take your breath away.
Finally - I think we've covered it here in places, but I want to make sure we really have it: how do you want your work to be remembered?
I'd like my work to be remembered as work done by somebody who tried to achieve a timeless aspect to it, so that the music was not only considered great musically, but was sonically able to be played by any generation decades after and still be competitive sound-wise with everything out there. I wanted my mixes to be something that sonically captured the excellence of the music, the artist and the creation of sound, but was timeless. And you couldn't just say, "Oh, that was 1974. That was 1990." You'd say, "That's a great sounding record today." I wanted it to be immortal, in that it captured something that was beautiful. The way an architect builds a really unique piece of architecture, and knows that people look up and say "That's fantastic," decades after they're gone.
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