By John Benson
Mariano Longo has been on one long, strange trip ever since he left Howland nearly 30 years ago.
While today he’s making a good living as a Las Vegas arranger-conductor, the journey started in the early ’70s when the talented musician started playing out around his hometown.
“Back in those days, you could play six or seven nights a week because all of the hotels had live venues,” said Longo, 57, a 1973 Howland High School graduate. “Back then, Youngstown and Warren were huge. So the journey musicians from Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania were quite busy at that time.”
Calling himself a street player then, Longo said he was instilled with persistence to make ends meet on his own musical terms.
The early ’80s brought a new set of challenges as gigs dried up. Sensing a change was needed, Longo moved to Rochester, N.Y., and spent the next decade working for a major regional agency producing music for other artists. In essence, it provided him an education as an arranger that he still uses today.
Eventually, Longo believed he was ready for a big- time move.
He considered New York City, Nashville, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. In the end, Sin City won out for obvious reasons.
“I was more interested in the entertainment business than, let’s say, the recording business,” said Longo, who still has a home in Niles. “Certainly what moving to Vegas did was put me in touch with a tremendous amount of touring entertainers and concert recording acts that were coming through the showrooms. It enabled me to apply my skill set because I understood the entertainment business but I also understood pop music. So as an arranger, I could help a lot of these artists with their music.”
For the past 20 years, Longo has worked with who’s who of Las Vegas, arranging and conducting shows for headliners such as The Scintas and Clint Holmes, as well as Sonny Turner and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.
In fact, it was while touring with the latter that Longo’s next door of opportunity opened. He’s currently touring with classic ’60s group The Buckinghams.
“We did a lot of the oldies shows together, and I’ve always been a fan of their music,” Longo said. “They’re still doing it and doing it quite well. So as I began orchestrating for a number of different artists, I then approached The Buckinghams. It’s a logical next step for that act to move into the symphony pops market.”
Today, The Buckinghams, known for its definitive Windy City horn sound and No. 1 track “Kind of a Drag,” is on the road reworking its catalog that also included charting tunes “Don’t You Care,” “Hey Baby,” “They’re Playing Our Song,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” “Susan” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”
The ’60s band, with Longo in tow, returns to Stambaugh Auditorium on Friday. Longo said he can’t wait to bring the current Buckingham show to the Youngstown area.
“Anybody who is familiar with the ’60s and ’70s is going to be delighted not only by the music itself, but in the way it’s presented,” Longo said. “The Buckinghams are a class act still playing really, really well. The audience is going to be really thrilled.”