They only had one hit, but what a hit it was! We are talking about the group Steam and their record "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye". In 1969, that song went all the way to number one. We spoke with lead singer Gary De Carlo about Steam and his current projects.
Q - Gary, I was rather surprised to find out that Steam was not a real band. I was disappointed. The band on the record was made up of studio musicians. What happened when you went on the road? You had to put a band together when you went on the road, didn't you?
A - No. That was a road band that was just hired to go out and promote the record. What happened was, I had four sides with a friend of mine, Paul Leka, who was a co-writer and the producer. I knew Paul and Dale (Frashuer) for years. I was in a stand-up vocal group with Dale called The Glenwoods, The Citations and The Chatuaus, which we caught a couple of records back in the late '50s, early '60s. When I went into New York City. I hooked up with Paul who was at Buddah Records at the time and we recorded four things. He had office space up at Mercury Records. So, what happened was Paul, Dale and myself, we started doing things together. We were supposed to be like a small Motown (Records) where we were all going to help each other record and do all different things. Whatever it took. Backgrounds, writing, whatever, but when a guy named Irwin Schuster came up, he brought "Workin' On A Groovy Thing", which I believe was Screen Gems. That was written by Neil Sedaka. So, when I heard that, I flipped out. I said, "Wow, man! This is really good. I really want to do this." I expected that to be my "A" side. So, we went in and cut the four sides. "Workin' On A Groovy Thing" came out pretty good. We were all set to put it out and The Fifth Dimension beat us by one week. So, that kind of threw some water on the fire. Then we needed another song, which the company and Paul decided on "Sweet Laura Lee", which was written by Larry Weiss. That was a ballad which I really didn't want to lead with that, but they said "Don't worry about it. We'll work the thing and you'll be okay." So now we needed a "B" side for that. So, back in the early '60s we got an office in Bridgeport (Connecticut) above the bus station and that's where "Na Na" was written, but it didn't have the chant. It was just a Blues shuffle. It was just "Kiss Him Goodbye". So, when we needed a "B" side I said, "Let's do "Kiss Him Goodbye". So, we went into the studio that night, took a drum track from another Neil Sedaka song that I had recorded which was one of the four called "Sugar". That was the drum track. Everything was laid on top of it. It was just piano over-dubs, organ over-dubs, vibes. I played percussion on a board and then we did the background parts, which is when "Na Na" was born. Paul went through it. He had everything "Na Na" and I threw the "Hey Hey" in and then I went over the vocal and went in at 7 o'clock that night in New York City at Mercury Records and it was done at 5 o'clock in the morning, just the way you hear it on the radio. But now when the record company heard it, they wanted to split the record. They wanted to put "Na Na" out on it's own and "Sweet Laura Lee" out on its own. But Paul already told me that I could be both acts. He said, "If and when you need a group, I will get you that group from a booking agency in New York City. It's not a problem." So, when the record company wanted a group to go out on the road, he never got me a group. So, what he did was, he hired these guys from this area, I think their name was Special Delivery. Something like that. They were the road group. So, all they did basically was go out and when they did the video, they lip-synched. And when they went out and did the shows, people would say to them, "How come you don't sound like the record?" That's because they didn't. There was no guitar on the record. There was no bass on the record. So these guys didn't even know what they were doing. So what happened was, Paul wanted me to sing everything on the album now and let these guys take the credit for it and I said no, I wouldn't do that. So that drove a wedge between Paul and myself as far as our friendship and business relationship. He made it seem like it was no big deal to let them go out and do that, but I said, "Look, whether you like my voice or not, it's my voice." He didn't think it was any big deal. Think back to Milli Vanilli when people found out that these guys weren't singing. That was a big deal. People don't like to be fooled. You're paying money to go out and see these guys perform and they're not the real deal. So obviously I walked away from it. That should clear up what you mean about being a studio group. I was just the three writers. All the guys that played on the album, the guys in the group that went on the road, they didn't even play on the album. All they wound up doing was singing a few vocals because I wouldn't sing 'em.
Q - Now, that song came out in 1969, didn't it?
A - Yeah. We recorded it sometime around my birthday in June. I believe it was put out late August, early September and then it just shot up the charts. It became number one December 6th of 1969. So this coming December (2015) it'll be forty-six years.
Q - Did you ever cross paths with Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix?
A - The only one was Jimi Hendrix. At one point when we were doing our album he was at Mercury and he was recording Buddy Miles. He was in the 16 track. We recorded in the 8 track. That was it. I met him and his wife, Ann Tanzi. I guess it was his wife. The McCoys used to hang out up there. Gary Puckett And The Union Gap, 'cause we were all on the same label at that time.
Q - How long did it take you to write "Kiss Him Goodbye"?
A - Oh, it didn't take long at all. It was something that was done probably in actually one sitting. Three, four hours maybe.
Q - That song could've been recorded by a girl, couldn't it?
A - Oh yeah, absolutely. There was a version out in England. It went number one in England. A girl singer did it in Bananarama.
Q - What can you tell me about The Glenwoods? You said you made some recordings.
A - It was a stand-up vocal group, Doo Wop. We recorded a thing called "That's The Way It'll Be" and the "B" side was "Elaine". Then we changed our name to The Citations. Then we went to The Chateaus and recorded something called "Summer's Here, School Is Through". The "B" side of that was "Honest I Will". That was on Coral. "That's The Way It'll Be" was on Jubilee. They were regional hits. They didn't cross over. They didn't go national. From what I understand they're going for like $10 to $12 a copy at this point. They're pretty rare.
Q - "Kiss Him Goodbye" has sold how many copies? I read six and half million?
A - Yeah. I would say it's over that.
Q - Did you receive any royalties?
A - Oh, yeah. I still get my writers royalties. They stopped paying me my artist royalty in 1974 when I left there. They gave me a contract that was supposed to be something where we both agreed that I would no longer get any money on future things that I did because I was no longer writing and no longer involved in the song structure or whatever, but what happened was the way the thing was worded, they said I signed myself out of it, which was bogus, man. That wasn't supposed to be that way.
Q - Did you have legal representation when you signed that contract?
A - Yeah, because I was with these two other guys that had me under their management. They took it to a lawyer and said it was okay. It was the way it was supposed to be. After I signed it and found out they were under Paul's umbrella.
Q - When you struck out on your own, did you write songs for other artists?
A - No. I did another single called "I'm Gonna Give You All My Love", which was almost identical if you listen to it, you'll know it was the three people that did "Na Na". But what happened was there was a big change in the music at that point. It went into the Folk music, the Head music. The people weren't dancing anymore. They would sit in an audience like a painting. Nobody moved. The whole dance thing went right down the drain. It was like performing to a painting. There was no movement to it at all. That was discouraging for me because I like rhythm and I like to see people enjoying themselves, moving. I don't care if they tap their foot or their hand on the arm of the chair or whatever. Chair dance. But they weren't doing that.
Q - So, what did you do then after you left?
A - I hooked up with a couple of producers. I did a thing with a guy called Ted Cooper, Teddy Cooper. He did Elephant's Memory and I had a thing out called "Mama Is Uncle Clayton Johnson Sleeping Here Tonight?", but the radio stations wouldn't play it because they said it was too suggestive. So, that was a dead issue. Then I hooked up with Hank Medress, but at the time Hank Medress was still in The Spinners and he was still in Tony Orlando And Dawn. So, they kept saying they were waiting for a good song for me and they put me on the back burners. So, I waited around for awhile but I realized that if anything came through that was a good song, it's gonna go to The Spinners. So, I asked them to give me a release, which they did and then I moved on again. I bumped into a lawyer that listened to something I had recorded and he liked it a lot. I went to California and I recorded a couple of sides for United Artists. A thing called "I Fall In Love Again" and "Tomorrow Is Another Day", which came out really well. But again I was sandwiched in-between War and Paul Anka. So, when the promo guys would go to the radio stations to get something played, they weren't going to play me because as far as they were concerned I was unknown, especially at that time because nobody really knew that I was the singer on the record until I did, a little over four years ago, the P.B.S. Special for T.J. Labinsky in Pittsburgh. When I did that, people saw and heard that and realized I was the voice on there.
Q - Surely that would've led to more work for you, correct?
A - Unfortunately there are still a lot of people out there that are skeptical. They don't believe it, but they feel what what they saw and read that these other guys that were the road group on the cover of the album, once they see it and read it, they feel it's gospel.
Q - Is that road group still playing today?
A - No. Not at all. I think at that time, when I left them, they were probably on their third or fourth Steam group. They just kept changing groups because because they would run out of steam, (Laughs) and then they would just change and start with another thing. When I walked away from it, I think they had one more record or maybe not. Then there was a guy from White Plains I believe that was booking Steam. Paul had given him the right to go out and book, so I never really went out to trademark the name because I felt that Paul and his partner, Bob Reno, owned it. So, come to find out that some guy in Long Island had it and he just basically went online and sent them a ticket stub that was torn in half that said his name on it and they gave it to him. He had it since 1997 or something 'cause he felt he could make some money with it. But again, he couldn't sing. So, that didn't really net him anything. So, I would up finally getting it from him. I own the trademark now. Again, I can't can't get booked. People won't book me. I have no idea why.
Q - I don't understand it either. You could now be billed as Steam: Featuring Gary De Carlo, Lead Singer Of Kiss Him Goodbye.
A - There's quite a few people that contact me. They want me to go to Canada. They want me to go down to Florida. They want me to go to California. They want me to go to the mid-West, but the booking agents won't book me. They're booking these other acts. They'll hire me, but they won't hire a band. I've got to work with the house band. I had two bands. I tried to keep them together, but I couldn't get enough work to keep them with me. So they wound up working with other people, but I have a few things in the fire right now. If they pan out, they could really be good. I could have a really interesting 2016.