Raritan Borough native son Tony Bongiovi, founder and former owner of the influential Power Station recording studio in New York City and cousin of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee Jon Bon Jovi, has made good once again.
At 16, Bongiovi discovered in his parents’ Raritan home a way to improve upon Motown’s legendary soul-pop sound of The Temptations, The Supremes and others. Before he had graduated from high school, he started working for the label at the request of founding owner Berry Gordy.
Then, after improving the legendary Record Plant studio with the “Bongiovi sound” and engineering recordings by Jimi Hendrix, The Ramones, Talking Heads and many more, Bongiovi founded the Power Station in 1977.
There, some of the greatest records by Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Madonna, The Rolling Stones, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Sting, Cyndi Lauper, Meatloaf and many others were made.
But because of the bad business dealings of a partner, Bongiovi was forced to sell the studio, whose name was changed to Avatar.
That is, until now.
Last month, Berklee College of Music announced a new chapter in the history of the studio and the college. With the support of New York’s Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and the city’s Economic Development Corp., Berklee will renovate the studio and transform it into a state-of-the-art recording and video production facility.
The Power Station at BerkleeNYC will host free and tuition-based educational programs, performances, and resources for local musicians, not only with Bongiovi’s original design intact but with the studio legend personally and professionally involved.
And in recognition of his groundbreaking influence on recording technology, Bongiovi will be given an American Master Award from the music school Oct. 19 at the Power Station at BerkleeNYC.
“That’s exciting that they’re recognizing what I’ve done with studio design,” Bongiovi said, “and for the all years I’ve put into the business. I’ve gotten gold records for working with The Ramones, Talking Heads, Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne and so many others, but gold records creep up on you. It’s not a big splash. And the Grammy Awards, I’ve never won one of those … so for me, this is an important, meaningful gesture … to acknowledge and recognize what I’ve done.”
Among those appearing at the awards ceremony will be Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Nile Rodgers, whom Bongiovi recorded in Chic; Seymour Stein, founding chairman of Sire Records, for whom Bongiovi recorded The Ramones and many other music acts; comedian Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling; and Grammy-winner Paul Shaffer.
Bongiovi’s relationship with Berklee predates the Power Station. For 40 years, he has provided recording and acoustics seminars to the Boston-based music college. He also has provided many of the students with internships and jobs at the Power Station in New York City and the second Power Station he opened a few years ago in Pompano Beach, Florida, as part of Bongiovi Acoustics. The new company provides state-of-the-art sound technology to the automotive, aeronautic, consumer electronic and other industries.
With the school’s expansion to Power Station at BerkleeNYC, opportunities for students will grow, Bongiovi said.
“I turned over all the blueprints to the studio to them and explained how I did what I did,” Bongiovi said. “I’d never done that before because I didn’t want anybody to know. They now will have the most comprehensive acoustics program of any university teaching recording science. It’s a different time now, so it’s appropriate for me to say, ‘This is how I did this.’ I’m going to fit in however I can fit in. It’s going to be fun. I can’t wait.
“I started working in this business when I was 17, and now I’m 69, but I’m working with kids who are 22 or 23. That’s how I keep things alive.”
Family and roots
The news that the Power Station will be restored to former glory and that Bongiovi will be honored for his impact sandwich the nomination of cousin Jon for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Eligible for the Rock Hall as a nonperformer, the studio wizard said he is rooting for his famous family member to be inducted.
“It think that it’s fantastic,” Bongiovi said. “He should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s nice that they got around to him. It also gives credit to the work I had done trying to establish him as an artist. I worked with him from the ground up, and now he’s a great success. They’ve had enough hits and have been in the business long enough, so I think they definitely deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Bongiovi’s family includes his sister, Anna, who still lives in Raritan in the house in which they were raised. The home is on Bell Avenue, adjacent to their parents’ Bongiovi Funeral Home, which Anna runs.
“I was in Raritan last week,” Bongiovi said. “I have a house in Wildwood. When I come up from Florida, I land in Atlantic City, rent a car, go down to Wildwood for a day or two, then stop off to visit my sister. Then I go to New York for a couple of days, then come back to Raritan to spend a couple of more days with Anna.
“Nobody is there that I went to school with, but the town is still the same. We’re in the process of making a documentary about the Power Station. We videotaped in the house where I made the phone call to Motown, and the phone I used to call is still there.”
For the documentary, director Mark Haefeli also shot in St. Joseph R.C. Church’s former school, which Bongiovi attended for nine years.
He said it was strange sitting in the same desk he sat in during eighth grade.
“Mark’s done a really great job bring out these nuances of my life and career that I had forgotten about,” Bongiovi said.
After 52 years in the recording industry, Bongiovi said he isn’t about to retire because he enjoys working too much.
Applying cutting-edge recording technology to burgeoning industries while finding new ways to market and promote music within the waning record business is exciting, he said.
“When you find something you really love to do as a career or anything for that matter, you can’t just stop because if you do, that’s when you die,” Bongiovi said. “It keeps me very young. I was very young when I started.
“Also, things are constantly changing with technology and programs that we have with Bongiovi Acoustics. It keeps me going with something new. But the general love for it is what makes me want to do it. That’s the motivating factor.”
Staff Writer Bob Makin: 732-565-7319; email@example.com