Saturday, January 30, 2010


Review by Bill Kopp
Covering the life and career of Todd Rundgren is a serious, sprawling undertaking (trust me!). The prolific multi-instrumentalist has recorded and released several dozens albums, first as a member of proto-powerpop sixties group Nazz, then as both a solo artist and member of Utopia. He's been at the forefront of technology (sometimes too far out in front) and has made important contributions in the fields of recording, internet content delivery, interactive media, video and computer software. As a producer for hire, he's worked the boards on some of the most popular and/or critically acclaimed recordings of the rock era.

Along the way, he's had some hits and some misses, but his career has never made for less than a compelling story. His legion of fans (relatively small in number, but as dedicated in their own way as Deadheads) follow his every move. Past age sixty, Rundgren is still turning out new and interesting material.

That said, and despite a few high-profile hits ("We Gotta Get you a Woman" in 1970, "Hello, It's Me" in 1972 and "Bang the Drum All Day" in 1983) Rundgren's iconoclastic approach guarantees that he'll remain a cult artist. He's revered by those who know his work, but unknown to most in the mainstream.

For the former, Billy James' work is a gift. Musician/author James has tackled musician bios before: he has written books about Captain Beefheart, Grand Funk (Railroad) and others. But Rundgren's oeuvre requires a detailed and lengthy approach. So it was that James published the first volume of A Dream Goes on Forever: The Continuing Story of Todd Rundgren in 2002. That book covered Rundgren's life and career up to 1976. The thick volume was full of interviews with many who had worked with Todd over the years; review and article reprints; and the author's own perspective.

In the mid 1990s, Rundgren himself was reported to have begun work on an autobiography; there's been no update since then. And no autobiography has appeared. So those interested in delving deeper into Rundgren's history are left with James' books (Rundgren was not involved on any level with the project).

The second volume was published in late 2009. Subtitled The Utopia Years, Volume 2 picks up where the previous volume left off and runs through the group's dissolution in 1988.

James uses the same approach (interview quotes, article and review reprints etc.) in this latest volume. In many ways it's a superior book; perhaps because it covers a more recent time period than the first volume, many of the quotes are first-hand (rather than sourced from the previous work of other writers). The book charts the rise and fall of the four-piece version of Utopia, with equal weight given to coverage and discussion of Rundgren's solo work during that period.

Plenty of ink is used covering the internal and external tensions that ultimately derailed the band, but while Volume 1 relied greatly on interviews with personalities who, shall we say, had an axe to grind (Moogy Klingman, for example), most of those involved in the period covered by Volume 2 have, on balance, a positive outlook about the period.

Some of the book's extensive research was conducted by noted Rundgren collector Tony Rogers; in Rogers' afterword, he makes slightly petulant remarks in response to reader complaints about the first volume. Specficially he dismisses concerns about editing and binding of the volume. In truth, both were serious issues in Volume One; while well-written and organized, the book was rife with errors. And the binding did fall apart readily. But neither of those kept that book from being an essential read for anyone with more than a passing interest in Rundgren's career.

Both of those problems have been addressed (to some degree) in Volume Two, and the result is an even better book. Those hardcore fans will want both, but since James helpfully starts out Vol. 2 with a capsule summary of the first book, Vol. 2 is the one to get.

At the rate he's going, James will likely need two more books to bring the story up to date. And since Todd's as busy as ever, depending on how long that takes, who knows -- we may some day see Volume 5.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Todd Rundgrens' Johnson tour dates

FRI 4/2/10 Engelwood, NJ Bergen County PAC
SAT 4/3/10 Salisbury, MA Tupelo Music Hall
WED 4/7/10 Newark, OH Midland Theater
FRI 4/9/10 Pittsburgh, PA Palace Theater
SAT 4/10/10 Uncasville, CT Mohegan Sun - Wolf Den
SUN 4/11/10 Ridgefield, CT Ridgefield Playhouse presale 2/1 onsale 2/5
TUE 4/13/10 Alexandria,VA The Birchmere
WED 4/14/10 Baltimore, MD Rams Head Tavern

more to come

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

News on Todd and The Rogue's Gallery in Sydney >rehearsal

Kings of the Rogue - TODD RUNDGREN..Peter Garrett and Tim Robbins steal the show in rehearsals with Marianne Faithfull and the stellar line-up of Rogue's Gallery - a concert tribute to songs of the sea

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Q&A: >Todd Rundgren on recreating A Wizard, A True Star

Q&A: Todd Rundgren on recreating A Wizard, A True Star
How his 1973 prog opus returned to stage

Terry Staunton, Tue 26 Jan 2010, 8:50 am UTC

As well as touring with the likes of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band, producing just about every rock staple from New York Dolls to Meat Loaf and being name-dropped and sampled by today's geeky hipsters Simian Mobile Disco and Hot Chip, Todd Rundgren's solo records remain among his most celebrated works. None so more than 1973's seminal A Wizard, A True Star.

As Rundgren prepares to bring his prog opus in its entirety to London's Hammersmith Apollo on 6 February, we caught up with him about what it takes to recreate a classic on stage.

Have you played the whole of the album live before?
TR: "I've never attempted to do the whole thing, although I had done segments of it with backing tapes. But it was never an option to do the entire record until now. The genesis for this idea came from a promoter who had noticed the record was getting a lot of name checks from younger artists, most noticeably Hot Chip, but it seemed it was generally getting discovered by a much wider and younger audience."

"The London show was gonna be the first time we did it, but word got through to my American fans and we thought it wouldn't be right to make them go all the way to England for the premier. So we did about 10 days worth of shows in the US last September, which was probably a good thing."

"[A Wizard, A True Star] was getting a lot of name checks from younger artists, most noticeably Hot Chip, but it seemed it was generally getting discovered by a much wider and younger audience""If I'd had to mount the show for the first time in a town in another country that I wasn't so familiar with, I might not have had the support mechanism in place that I would have in America."

Did the US run help iron out any problems you might have had? The whole undertaking seems quite a challenge.
TR: "Well, it was a challenge, but that was fairly soluble by making sure I had the right group of musicians. I had to get the right band around me, but we also had the advantage of technological evolutions over the last 30 years or so."

"There was no way I could have played the whole record live around the time it first came out. There are so many sounds that would have been difficult to reproduce back in the day."

Can you give any specific examples of that?
TR: "Not really, because I kind of cheated along the way. We have samplers nowadays, so it was easy for me to go back to the original master tape and lift any sound I wanted off it. We did that a bit, here and there, but not too extensively. We were able to get fairly close to most of the instruments without recourse to that."

"In some cases there are sounds or treatments to instruments where we no longer have access to the original devices, but I don't what to give too much away. I don't want to dissect what we've done before the London audience has a chance to hear it."

Next: recruiting the band and "anti-conceptual and neo-Dadaism

How did you recruit the band for these shows?
TR: "I think one of my most astute decisions was to get Greg Hawkes from The Cars to play a lot of the synthesizer parts, because he actually owns a lot of the same instruments I used in the studio back in 1973. I don't have them any more, I parted company with most of them over the years, but Greg is more than capable of reproducing most of the peculiar noises!"

"The concept of the album was actually anti-conceptual, a kind of neo-Dadaism. There weren't supposed to be a lot of standard rules, and if there were you were free to break them""It was also great to get Kasim Sulton on bass and Prairie Prince on drums, because although they weren't on the record it kind of gives the fans a little Utopia reunion, a little added bonus. We've also got Ralph Schuckett on keyboards, which is a nice link to the original record."

You've said in the past that you don't like the record being described as a concept album. Why is that?
TR: "The concept of the album was actually anti-conceptual, a kind of neo-Dadaism. There weren't supposed to be a lot of standard rules, and if there were you were free to break them. There was a method to the madness, in a way. I'd made Something/Anything? the year before and had got three hit singles from it, but I didn't want to be an artist who'd found a formula for success and just carried on mining it."

"I was already making more money as a producer. It was never in my mind to build myself and comfortable and commercial base, to become a household name. Critics were starting to refer to me as the male Carole King, and as much as I love Carole King I didn't want to be marginalised in such a way."

"Aside from that, I was just thinking differently about the possibilities of the studio and what habits I'd developed as a songwriter - and if it was possible for me to escape those habits. The studio shouldn't be a place where you go to just record your songs, it should be approached as a musical instrument itself and you owe it to yourself to explore the possibilities it holds."

"Making A Wizard... helped me realise that there doesn't have to be a standard song format, that the music you make doesn't have to even be musical in the traditional sense. I just wanted to utilise the sounds of my own environment, like the sounds of my dogs fighting with each other, for example."

"To continue recording standard songs would have been like filling in a form. There's more to life than a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus about a relationship that went bad. I'd done that, it was time to do something different."

Next: something for the "hardcore fans"

Have you been to see other artists recreating complex albums, such as Brian Wilson with Pet Sounds or Smile, or The Zombies with Odessey And Oracle?
TR: "I didn't catch any of the Wilson shows, but I saw The Zombies not long ago and it struck me as being a little lounge-y. It maybe wasn't altogether their fault, because they were playing in a casino and I think a lot of the audience just wanted some background music while they ate their dinner."

"I'm not sure those kind of shows are meant for anyone but hardcore fans, so it was kind of a waste of their expertise. Everyone was sat still in their seats for the whole thing. You come and see me and I'll get you on your feet right at the start and keep you there!"

Todd Rundgren performs the British Premiere of A Wizard, A True Star at the HMV London Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday 6 February 2010. Box Office: 08700 603 777. Book Online:

RundgrenRadio tonight airs this Tuesday night at 8:30pmET with a special show featuring the entire "Forum's Worth of Toons" fan tribute CD including the artists comments about their particular song(s)! It's gonna be a good one folks so don't miss it!