You always knew when you were around my old rock’n’roll friend Tom Santo that sooner or later something bad was going to happen, and now he has gone and died on us.
I hadn’t seen him since our band split up in the early eighties, but I got a call from one of the other guys in the group last night. Tom had had a seizure, gone into a coma, come out of it, was recovering, then got some kind of infection and was gone by morning. I said I’d been thinking of Tom and wished I could have seen him, but I couldn’t track him down. Turns out he didn’t want anyone to track him down.
I met him when he joined the wedding band I was playing with in 1975. We were thrown together in a showbiz twist of fate: in order to mount a tour of Japan, he needed a band and we needed a singer. Playing hard rock for concert audiences in a foreign country seemed like a good idea to us, compared to what we were doing, but there was just one catch: We had to leave in five days. I would learn that with Tom, everything happened fast. He was always late, and always in hurry.
The promoter pulled strings to get us passports in two days instead of three weeks. We had a couple of days of frenzied rehearsals. I could tell that we were not ready musically, but Tom wasn’t fazed. I’m sure his mind wasn’t on such details. He was no doubt thinking of adoring crowds and cute Asian girls. Before any of us were fully aware of what we had agreed to, we were on an L-1011 bound for Tokyo.
That trip was a blur of liquor, limos and laughs. I’d like to say I’ll never forget it, but the fact is I don’t remember much about it. I do recall that Tom was clearly the star of the show and the center of attention from the start to the finish. He wasn’t the eye of the hurricane — he was the hurricane.
The next time I saw Tom was when he brought his new band into my studio in Hollywood. This was around 1978, I think. We were recording a lot of L.A. punk bands: X, The Alley Cats, Black Randy and the Metro Squad, The Weirdos, and “New Wave” was just starting to happen. Tom was oblivious to all that, and his band played good old fashioned straight ahead rock, written by Tom himself. We recorded six songs, and before that project was finished I had gone from engineer to band member. As with so much of my involvement with Tom, I still don’t know how that happened.
That band became The Rev, and played the whole L.A. punk/new wave scene: Madame Wong’s, Club 88, The Hong Kong Cafe. It was exactly like being rock stars, except we didn’t have a record deal, so we never got ripped off by a record company. But we worked hard, played our asses off and partied like crazy. Basically, wherever Tom was, there was a party, and it was crazy.
After a couple of years with no big breaks, The Rev disbanded. Once again, the collapse happened fast and I don’t really know the reasons. If I did, that story would have to wait for another post anyway.
I never saw Tom again.
After a few years I heard he was doing a cabaret show at The Dresden, but I couldn’t find the time to check it out. Over the years I asked old band members and friends if they’d seen him and how could I get in touch with him, but there was always something.
The last time I saw Tom we were in our thirties and he had more energy than any three teenagers. When I’m rockin’ and rollin’ on stage these days (yes, I still do), sometimes I get a glimpse of myself, maybe in the mirror behind the bar, maybe just in my mind, and I wonder what the hell I think I’m doing, and how long can this go on? The next time I think that, I’ll remember you, old friend, and I’ll answer the question as I’m sure you would have:
One more time!
I don’t have a picture to post, but I can see Tom in this recording. Maybe you will too.
Â Â Â Click the blue button to hear Sooner or Later, by The Rev, featuring Tom Santo, circa 1981.