Compiler of JOHN ENTWISTLE Rarities Set – “There Isn’t A Bass Player Alive Today Who Hasn’t Been Touched By What John Entwistle Did”
April 21, 2023, a month ago
Nicknamed ‘The Ox’ and ‘Thunderfingers,’ it is universally agreed that John Entwistle remains the most influential, groundbreaking, and just plain old best rock bassist of all-time (heck, I even agreed in my 2018 book, The 100 Greatest Rock Bassists) – especially in his classic work with the Who and solo recordings. But after Entwistle’s passing in 2002 at the age of 57, few releases or compilations of unreleased rarities or live recordings have surfaced. But that is all about to change.
Entwistle’s friend (and drummer who performed and recorded with the bassist from the late ‘80s until has passing), Steve Luongo, has compiled the recently-released Rarities Oxhumed: Volume One, via Deko. And as its title states, features unreleased tracks, demos, and live recordings – including a tune from the ‘70s that features the late/great Keith Moon on drums.
Luongo spoke with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato about the set (which is also available in several different limited bundles here, as well as what it was like playing with the legendary bassist, and an unusual way the master tape of the track featuring Moon was discovered.
BraveWords: How did you and John first cross paths and begin playing together?
Steve Luongo: We were introduced by a mutual friend – the front of house engineer for my band at the time, and he was a guitar player that did a lot of demos at trade shows. He happened to be able to play with John Entwistle at Musikmesse in Germany, and he said, ‘John, I know a band in the States that you’d love to jam with.’ And when John came to the States for that NAMM show – which was in Chicago at McCormick Place, the weekend of June 27th, 1987 – we met. We were scheduled to meet him and were introduced, and said, ‘Hey man. Would you like to jam?’ And he said, ‘Anytime, mate.’ So, that really was a license for me to go make that happen in whatever way I could. And ’87 was a weird time, musically – John hadn’t played with the Who in years, things for my band were starting to wane a little bit. When you jam with somebody, you don’t think, ‘Oh, we can be friends for the rest of our lives!’ You lose everything else, and it’s just about the music. So, when he said, ‘Anytime,’ the NAMM show is like the car show for music. And there is every piece of gear you could ever want for any kind of music you could ever play – all in one big convention center. And all of the stars that endorse the companies are there – if you play guitar for Kramer and you’re Eddie Van Halen, you come and do a personal appearance.
“And John was a big fan of that, because when you’re in the Who, and the Who isn’t playing…I mean, he tried a bunch of different things over the years – he just wanted to play. So, he and I connected as a rhythm section that first night, and we realized, ‘Hey man, this is rare. You don’t just find another musician that thinks like you and feels like you, and has the desires musically that you have.’ And when you find one of those guys – especially later in your life, I was 35 – the resume is great, it’s great that he was in the Who and that he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and that he lives in a castle. That doesn’t have anything to do with me. What has to do with me is, ‘Let’s jam.’ And we did. And it was comfortable. After we did the jam at the NAMM show, he thought we were going to play in a nightclub to like, 150/200 people, and I wound up maneuvering us onto the stage at the Vic Theater – in front of thousands of people, with a full stage of gear, and a whole compliment of guests…I think Eddie was on that bill, Neal Schon, Leslie West, Dweezil Zappa. It was the biggest show of the convention. And when you click as a rhythm section, that’s it. That’s the best thing in the world. So, after that show in June, at the end of the night we were hanging out and telling jokes. And I’m not really talking to ‘the bass player in the Who’ – I’m talking to a guy I just played with, that made my performance experience extraordinary.
“So, that’s what got me excited. And I was leaving because I had an early flight, and I said, ‘It was great playing with you,’ and he handed me his number and said, ‘Let’s stay in touch’ – which we did. Because we had similar senses of humor. And over the next few months, we developed a friendship on the phone. We were sending faxes back and forth, just being silly. And then I got a call from Kramer – who we played for at the NAMM show – asking if John would play at the K-Rock and Roll Up Your Sleeves Blood Drive, to be broadcast live from the Bottom Line. So I rang him up, and said, ‘Hey, they want us to do this thing. We should put some dates in front of it so we can warm up.’ He said, ‘That’s fine.’ I said, ‘Well, since you’re coming…how about we put some dates after it, too?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, go ahead.’ On that tour, that cemented our musical relationship and our personal friendship – we realized that we had something in each other that we needed. And that gave way to him asking me to join his band – which I did for a year – and we just found ourselves inventing ways to work together.
BraveWords: How did the idea come up to assemble Rarities Oxhumed?
Steve Luongo: I had been being asked by the fans for years, ‘Is there anything else? Can we hear some more live shows?’ And for way too many years, the loss of John…in 15 years, the guy became my older brother, my mentor, my best friend, my bandmate – that’s a big loss. And it affected me to the point that I couldn’t even address putting out a record. I finished something we were working on before he passed, but to do something just out of the box, it wasn’t in my head to do that. And before I know it, 20 years has passed since he’s gone. And I said, ‘The fans have been asking for this for years, I have our entire archive’ – we wrote a lot together, we exchanged a lot of demos, we wrote down ideas, he scored different things. We had big plans, because we knew we enjoyed working together and we worked well together. So, we used to talk about when were too old to do this, let’s do some movies, or this that and the other. It was all about ‘What’s coming next?’ Right up until the end. In fact, one of the greatest honors of my life was being asked by the Who and John’s family to read the eulogy at his memorial service. It was an honor, but man, it was surreal. So, from the minute we met until the day he left.
BraveWords: Let’s discuss the track ‘Bogey Man.’ When was it recorded, and is that Keith Moon on drums?
Steve Luongo: It was recorded in the ‘70s, because it started out as just John playing bass with a drum track, and then there is a mock horn track in the middle, and John’s vocal. That’s all there was. It was actually a demo for the Who. And when he played me the track of it back in the ‘90s – on a cassette or something – it was already 20 years old. And I said to him, ‘Who’s playing drums?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘That sounds like Keith Moon’ – because you’re hearing all these flurries through it that another drummer would recognize. And he said, ‘Oh yeah…it’s him.’ I said, ‘Well, we should use this! It’s amazing. We get to finish a song 20 years after you recorded it – I don’t know who’s ever done that.’ He searched out the multi-track tape – which is what you need to be able to add the tracks – and found it under somewhat spooky circumstances. He said he was looking for it for an hour up in his tape room, and one of the tapes falls over and makes a bang – and it was the tape he was looking for! He said, ‘That was spooky.’ And then we finished the track – we added some guitar, percussion, and vocals. It was great to record with John from whatever – ’78. Because his tracks were done – the vocals were solid and the bass track was done. It was fun.
BraveWords: How would you describe playing with John on stage?
Steve Luongo: Liberating. He gives me such a playground to run around in – rhythmically. Playing with John, besides musically, the chemistry of it, and we had a chemistry that developed even further, but it was like always there. I knew where he was going to go, and what he was going to do when he got there musically. And I could play along with that. So, it was very much listening – give and take. But unspoken. John considers himself a lead bass guitarist and I consider myself a lead drummer. I like keeping the beat…just not for too long. [Laughs] But playing with him seemed like it always should have been that way, but then there was the other side of it – ‘Wow. That’s the bass player from the Who.’ No matter what, you just can’t deny that. It was fantastic – it was like a trip that lasted 15 years almost to the day. He gave me the latitude to do whatever I wanted and we pushed each other. If you can imagine being in a situation where you would push John Entwistle, that’s pretty rare. And if you’re the guy pushing, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself – in a humble way.
BraveWords: Will there be more volumes of rarities coming up?
Steve Luongo: Yes, there will – hence the name, Volume One. How I came on to it was simply I felt enough time had passed, I connected with a great label and distribution in Deko/Warner. I had access to this archive because I had it since we were working on it together, and I really believed it was time for the people who loved his music as much as they did, and his sound and his presence, that they should have something. And I had it. I have unreleased tracks, demos, the whole thing. So, why not? As long as it can be done respectfully, why not?
BraveWords: Do you think John was the greatest rock bassist of all-time?
Steve Luongo: Yes, I do. But not just because that’s the common opinion. The guy who’s the best to me is the guy that influenced…when you think of all the guys Hendrix influenced, everybody – Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robin Trower, the list goes on. Was Hendrix the greatest rock guitar player of all time? In my opinion he was, because I saw that happen and I was there for that period. Someone else may say Eddie Van Halen, or someone else may go backward to Steve Cropper. But why I think I can say that he was is because he gave the bass a wide open field – ‘Do whatever you want.’ You want to be Flea and do that whole thing? Go ahead. He just changed the game. Even [Pete] Townsend said he changed the instrument. He reinvented it. And one of the things I said after he passed is that there isn’t a bass player alive today who hasn’t been touched by what John Entwistle did. So, I think that qualifies him. And I’ll tell you a funny story to that point – we were watching an episode of Seinfeld. And you know how they bump in and out of the episodes with that bass thing? True enough, I said, ‘You know what, man? If it wasn’t for you, that wouldn’t exist. That wouldn’t be like that.’ He turned to me, and said, ‘You’re going to blame that on me?’
Rarities Oxhumed - Volume One tracklisting:
“Darker Side Of Night”
“I'll Try Again Today”
“When You See the Light”
“Back on the Road”
“Left for Dead” (Alternate Version)
“I Wouldn't Sleep With You”
“Don't Be a Sucker”
“Life Goes on” (Demo)
“Where Ya Going Now” (Demo)
“Trick of the Light” (Live)
“Under a Raging Moon” (Live)
“Shakin' All Over” (Live)