Posted May 2017
Sometimes when an artist of any stripe is described, the word “genius” is used. I’d go so far as to say that it is often overused. However, one artist who more than deserves such a label is Todd Rundgren.
Rundgren is one of those rare artists who require more than one superlative to describe his creative output. Innovative? That’s a given. Prolific? Just look up his discography and the answer will hit you between the eyes. Timeless? Absolutely. All of those certainly work and are quite applicable. I’d also go so far as to describe Todd as being often on the bleeding edge of musical evolution yet has the uncanny ability to create classics that will endure the ages.
How else would you explain his popularity to sell out his own tour, be asked to join Yes on their Yestival tour and the work with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr band for the past six years?
His fans loyalty are the stuff of folklore. Affectionately referred to as “Toddies,” their passion for all things Todd could be to those of Deadheads and Trekkies combined.
prior to a show with Ringo as he fervently looked for some guests who were apparently no-shows. He was desperately attempting to find them so that they could meet the band. In either case, his stardom could’ve garnered disinterest in either story but he and his team displayed incredible graciousness. That’s what makes me a fan.
From a statistical standpoint, Rundgren has a musical catalog that has – and will continue to – stand the test of time. SteveI view Rundgren and his team from a slightly different perspective. For one thing, Todd and his management team have tremendous hearts. They didn’t know me from Adam when I contacted them for an unearned favor to cheer up a friend and loyal reader. Without any question, the obliged. I also watched Todd backstage
Orchard from the radio station, The Frog, in the upper peninsula of Michigan, tells me that Todd’s biggest selling project was his 1972 double album, “Something/Anything,” which included his huge hits, “I Saw The Light” and “I Saw the Light,” and “Hello It’s Me” (his biggest hit that charted at #5). Other Toddie hits include “We Gotta Get You A Woman,” and his remake of the Beach Boys classic, “Good Vibrations” in 1976 which reached #36.
It was for the promotion of his current tour to promote his new CD, White Night, that I had the distinct privilege to interview Todd by phone. While making small talk, I had mentioned that I had interviewed his lovely wife, Michele, a few years ago (here) for her work on a voice training app, he piped up and said, “Well, she’s moved on from that. Now she’s a restaurateur. Ha! Ha! She opened up a tiki bar/exotica restaurant out on Kauai where we live. She’s probably there at this moment.”
With an extensive tour schedule slated for this year – both for his own work as well as with Ringo Starr, I asked if he still enjoyed touring or did he prefer to work in the studio.
“I enjoy being at home and I enjoy the process of making music. But, that doesn’t necessarily require me at home. But touring actually is, I think, a vital aspect of contemporary artists’ life. For one thing, you’re gonna make most of your money touring. You’ll only make a fraction of that selling records. And, so, if you really want to capitalize on any success that you had, you have to go out on the road, anyway.
“But, for me, I think, despite the fact, after a while, you get into a routine of sleeping in different beds all the time and eating different kinds of food all the time. And you start to miss the stability of your own house. Still, being on the road is the best way to communicate with the audience. Also, depending on the kind of show that you do, it keeps you fit. When I’m at home, I just kinda sit around most of the time. But when I’m out on the road, I get two hours of exercise a night.”
As for what Toddies can expect from the shows on his solo and Yestival tours later this year, Rundgren said: “Well, we’re doing pretty much the same thing on both tours. Although, probably a shorter set when we go out with Yes. Our own show, it is close to two hours. It’s a pretty high level of production, this time. A lot of video. Full band and, also, background singers and stuff, so it’s a really big “shoe”, this time.”
As was mentioned earlier, Todd has been working with Ringo Starr for approximately six years. I asked him how working with the former Beatle affected him as a songwriter, performer, and producer.
“Let me see, now. The first time I played with Ringo was actually in the late seventies. We were playing a Jerry Lewis telethon. We put together a little super group just for one gig. Played over on the UNLV campus in kind of a gymnasium or something like that. Jerry would kind of wave to us every once in a while and he would send the limousines full of show girls over to hang out with us, Ha! Ha! in our dressing rooms. That was years and years before he (Ringo) started the All-Starrs.
“He didn’t start the All-Starrs until the late eighties, I guess. I didn’t play with the All-Starrs until the third iteration of it, which was around 1993, I think, or ’92. And, then, I played with him again a couple of years later with a different line-up. And, then, a long time went by and, then, this particular line-up got put together. This is kind of the band that he’s been looking for all these years when he’s been putting together combinations of musicians because this will be the sixth year that the same line-up has actually been playing under the All-Starrs banner.
“So, by now, it’s not the same sort of, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m playing with Ringo!’ Ha! Ha! Because we’ve become, like – we’re in
our sixth year, now. If we go to a seventh year, we’ll have outlasted the Beatles!”
During an interview a couple of years ago, Toto’s Steve “Luke” Lukather (who is also an All-Starr band member) commented about how cool it was to be able to travel the tour in a private Gulfstream jet. When I mentioned that to Rundgren, he added to the comment.
“Uh, yeah! Ringo has a way that he does things – that he’s comfortable with. There are some things that are maybe a little strange or something like that when you’re in the band. But one of the things that definitely – one of his behaviors that we definitely appreciate is the fact that he insists on flying in a private aircraft whenever have to go any distance. He doesn’t like traveling in a bus. He doesn’t even like being in a car for that long. If it’s longer than, like, a two or three-hour drive going somewhere, we’re going to wind up flying. Yeah, an incredible perk!
I said, “It kind of spoils you, huh?” and he replied:
“Yeah, it does! It’s like after you’ve been on the road a month or two months flying in a private plane and the first time you go on a commercial jet, you’re kind of, like, pissed off, ha! ha! about all the stuff you have to go through just to get into your crappy seat and eat the crappy food.”
At the time of our chat, I hadn’t yet received an advance copy of Rundgren’s soon-to-be-released CD, White Knight. I asked him to tell me about it.
“I imagine what’s going out now is links. I don’t know if they’ve got actual hard copies of anything. The record label, Cleopatra, is very much into kind of the material artifact – the old fashioned productized music. They wanted to have an LP come out the same time as the CD and the electronic release happens. So, essentially, it’s the tail wagging the dog process like it was back in the seventies. Ha! Ha! We have to wait for the LP to get made and, then, everything else can happen. Ha! Ha! That, apparently, has the longest lead time – like, almost three months to get an LP made. There’s a lot of demand for vinyl. A lot of vinyl collectors now and a lot of the old plants went out of business. There’s just more demand than there is manufacturing.”
And about the album itself?
“Yeah, an album doesn’t have to necessarily have a singular theme beyond the fact that I’m working with a lot of other musicians. That’s a decision I made when Cleopatra approached me about making a record. I made most of all of my recent records myself out on the island because it’s too hard to call up somebody and have them come on over for a casual session. It requires a different process. But things have come along in recent years in terms of file sharing services and greater bandwidth available to people. It’s become a lot more commonplace to do these kinds of collaborations where you send files back and forth and you’re not necessarily in the same room.
“So, I thought I’d take advantage of that. I started calling up people who I wanted to work with. Whenever somebody agreed, I got the process started. They’re actually more potential collaborators than appear on the final record just because at a certain point you have a deadline. You say, ‘Okay, this is when I have to deliver.’ If somebody doesn’t send in whatever it is – send in their contribution – then, it just doesn’t make it. But, it could possibly come out later. That’s the electronic part. But, as you may guess, by the range of different artists that are on there, the music is, likewise, eclectic. If there’s a musical theme in it at all, I was trying to recapture a little bit of a certain era where funk music and eighties synth-pop overlap. Kind of lush sounds of eighties synthesizers and the funky bass lines of Earth, Wind and Fire and that sort of thing. That’s the area that I’m trying to be rutilant of in a musical sense but the lyrics are any variety of things but certainly more contemporary than that.”
With the music business in a wide bit of disarray, I asked Todd what he would do to fix the industry if he were made Global Music Czar – or did it even need any fixing.
“Global Music Czar. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Well, people tend to think – and especially the public at large tends to think – that whatever they hear at the Grammy’s, that’s what’s happening in music. And, certainly, that’s what’s happening in the industrial part in music. A lot hasn’t changed. I have to say that, in recent years, most of pop music has been dominated by female artists. The biggest artists in the world are like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. And their audience is all teenage girls. Ha! Ha! The music industry has been dominated, quite a bit, by whatever the spending habits are of adolescent girls. They’ve made Taylor Swift the most highly paid artist/musician in the world.
“But there are other things going on that – if you go online and do a little research – you should find out that there are a lot of different ways to approach this; a lot of different levels of success and some of them don’t have anything to do with the traditional record business.
“I know of an artist – his name is Bones – I know him because I knew him when he was born. Ha! Ha! He’s the son of the guy who does my merchandise – who also does their merchandise. They have never sold music. They have never made a record deal and has never asked for any money for the music that they post online. They make all their money doing concerts and selling merchandise. No records at all. They make minute and a half videos and now there’s probably three hundred of them up there. That’s how they popularize themselves – using the internet exclusively and, at this point, they’re making incredible amounts of money without anything that looks like a record label – without any of those issues. I don’t know what they’re doing about the publishing the songs that they write – if somebody covers one of their songs. I’m sure that there must be some sort of publishing arrangement. But they have no record label. They have no masters. No CDs. No video discs. Nothing of that sort of nature. Only t-shirts. They just sell hundreds of thousands of dollars in t-shirts. Ha! Ha!”
With Rundgren remaining neck-deep in the music business, I asked him who was commanding his attention, musically, these days.
“Commanding? Ha! Ha! I happen to be in L.A., now. I’m on my way to rehearsals for my tour but I happen to be in L.A., now, because I am sitting in for a couple of nights with a young band named the Lemon Twigs who are playing Coachella tomorrow night and playing in Pomona tonight. They wanted to have me guest on a song so I will sit in with them in Pomona tonight which will give us an opportunity to work through the song. Then, tomorrow, the Coachella Festival I will sit in on the same song with them. And, then, I will move on to rehearsal for my own thing – then doing some press and PR for a couple of days.”
Todd Rundgren is known to be a great collaborator so I asked who would he like to collaborate with in the future.
“Well, like I say, there’s still an outstanding list of collaborators that we never got anything – we didn’t get anything completed, yet. But things could still happen with some of them. A lot of times people have their own releases and that conflicts, in a way. They want to focus on what they’re doing. So, anything’s possible. But, at this point, I’m on the road. I’m trying to get a show mounted. Things are pretty hectic in that regard. Until we get into some sort of stride or routine with that, I’m going to stay focused on that.”
When you step off the tour bus of life up at that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?
“Well, if you don’t leave a legacy until you die, ha! ha!, that’s kinda sad, you know? If people can’t figure out what you’ve done until after you’re dead, that’s kind of – you really don’t want to have to go to that extreme to get remembered. I would rather be remembered while I’m still alive.
“Musical success is something that comes and goes. You’re popular. People forget about you. Maybe you can come back. Maybe you can find an audience to sustain you for the rest of your career – however long that lasts. The thing that I always wanted to do was to become a father. It’s not like a big public thing that I talk about all the time but, for me personally, that’s the most important thing that I did was to become a father. That, I’ll be remembered through the kids that I have, I guess. Ha! Ha! And what they do in life and their kids, as well, because I’m just part of a lineage of fathers and sons, anyway.”
And, that, my friends, is what makes Todd Rundgren a real man.