interview written by Robert Silverstein
Anybody still remember 1968? One of the memorable pop events from
the year that saw return to the roots albums by The Beatles (The
White Album), The Beach Boys (Wild Honey) and The Rolling
Stones (Beggars Banquet) remains the 68 album debut
from Philadelphias power pop sensation, The Nazz. Simply called
Nazz, the album turned the pop scene onto the rapidly developing
talents of the quartets songwriter and guitarist Todd Rundgren.
Both musically and fashion wise, The Nazz took their cues from hip
60s Britpop trendsetters like The Who and The Yardbirds and
in that respect Rundgren & company were light years ahead of most
American bands from that period. Ending on a down note, the band managed
nevertheless to release two excellent power pop albums and a collection
of what he now calls odd-ments entitled Nazz III.
If there was an up side to the breakup of The Nazz it was the arrival
of Rundgren as a solo artist, recording studio wizard and trendsetting
pop pundit. The 1972 double album masterpiece Something/Anything,
1973s A Wizard, A True Star, and his 75 Faithful
album still shine as favorites from the early years, and
when one considers the sheer number of albums released, its
apparent that post-Nazz, between 1970 and 2000, Todd has released
a prodigious array of solo worksthis in addition to the numerous
albums recorded with his fusion rock band Utopia. In late 2002,
thirty three years after the 69 Nazz Nazz album came
out on Screen Gems Records (through Atlantic Records), Rundgren
remains a perennial topic of interest in the music world. A new reissue
agreement with Sanctuary Records has brought forth a superbly packaged
double CD Nazz set in addition to an ongoing series of various live
Rundgren archive CDs and DVDs entitled The Todd Rundgren Bootleg
Series. The first two CD titles in Sanctuarys Bootleg
Series include the double CD Live At The Forum - London 94
and the first CD release in the Utopia Bootleg Series - KSAN
95FM Live 79. Uniformly packaged with good liner notes and
rare photos, both "boots" sound fine and offer a rare, detailed
glimpse into Rundgrens legendary prowess as a performing musician.
Speaking to us live from Hawaii on December 11, 2002, Todd was in
a pretty humorous mode as he spoke of the Nazz period, the Bootleg
Series, his underrated and overlooked 2000 studio album One
Long Year, his fondness of the internet, his guitars and his lifelong
appreciation of The Beatles.
Todd Rundgren: TR
Todd, its Robert Silverstein from 20th Century Guitar magazine
TR: How you doing?
RS: How are you today?
TR: Not so bad.
RS: Amazing to be able speak with you. Youre in Hawaii now?
TR: Yes...the modern marvels of science! (laughter)
RS: Which island do you live on?
TR: On Kauai, thats the western most
RS: Dont you miss the snow?
TR: So far, that I havent missed. I get to the mainland enough,
Ill see plenty of snow.
RS: Isnt there snow on Maui this time of year?
TR: The big Island (Hawaii). The big Island has some tall volcanoes
on it and on the top of one of them it does snow.
RS: We had a blizzard here on Long Island last week and today were
getting freezing rain so were under the ice so to speak!
TR: Lovely! And it isnt even winter yet.
RS: I really miss Hawaii. How long have you lived there?
TR: Six and a half years now.
RS: I remember Haleakala and driving up the Hana
Road. I speak sometimes with the great Hawaiian guitarist
whos in Oahu. Did you ever hear his stuff? Hes one of
the greatest Hawaiian guitarists/composers Ive heard.
TR: Yeah, I know of him. I havent met him personally but I know
of the Beamers.
RS: Its great to see The Nazz albums reissued in 2002 as a double
CD retrospective called Open Our Eyes - The Anthology. How
did the deal with Sanctuary Records to release your archival music
The Nazz technically isnt archival. If we knew that the masters
had existed they probably would have belonged to Rhino. In point of
fact, The Nazz...there are a few demos and stuff that existed, but
The Nazz didnt do a whole lotta stuff in the studio that wasnt
eventually released already by Rhino. But I think that because of
the deal that we made with Sanctuary over the archive they evaluated
and felt there was enough there to do a whole series of releases.
For completionists, theyve gathered together all of that Nazz
stuffI cant imagine that theres anything else existing
in the world that they havent collected. (laughter) The rest
of the archivethat could be said to be almost a bottomless pit
(laughter). I dont even know whats in it and Sanctuary
probably has as good an assessment of whats there as anybody
does but they havent given me a whole collated list. They just
say, okay, heres a show from 1980, will you approve this
and let us release it?. And the other difference, I think is
that Sanctuary is concentrating on the DVD releases. Therell
be alot of video as well as some of the more standout live shows in
the last several years.
So, have you been involved with these releases, overseeing them?
TR: Well I dont fully oversee them. They decide first of all,
which shows they want to put out. I just tell them whether I think
the show is of adequate qualitysound and performance wise. Sometimes
therell be, oh a few numbers in a show that just arent
going to pass muster! (laughter) And sometimes the people who put
these together, theyre what we call completioniststhey
dont care how badly the song is performed. They just want to
have a copy of it. (laughter) But my standards havent changed
simply because the show is a part of history. I think we still dont
want to put out anything thats blatantly awful just because
it presents something you havent heard before. (laughter)
RS: So Sanctuary will be doing DVDs too? Have they come out yet?
TR: No they havent but the first two DVDs are in the works as
I understand it. And I havent seen the video part, Ive
only been given the audio part to approve. I probably have seen the
video at one point (laughter) but they dont give me the full
DVD, they just send the audio for approval.
RS: I was one of your first teenybopper fans out here on Long Island
who bought the first Nazz album when it came out I guess in 68
and then in 69 I bought the red vinyl Nazz Nazz Lp.
TR: Oh great.
RS: Whose idea was it to release the Nazz Nazz Lp on red vinyl?
No one had done that before!
Well when I was growing up, I used to listen to these 45 rpm records
that were recordings of The Boston Pops Orchestra doing sort of light
classical music like Chicken Reel and The Skaters
Waltz. And I had a whole collection of those that I used to
listen to when I was 2 and 3 years old on a little 45 rpm record player.
And I would listen to the music and I would gaze through the colored
vinyl records. And when I finally had an opportunitywell I wasnt
in a position to demand, but I beseeched that we get a record put
out on colored vinyl. And I guess the whining worked, at least for
one record, and then years later when I put out Something/Anything
I pulled the same trick. One record was blue vinyl and one record
RS: My copy had two black vinyl records at the time.
I think it was only the first 5000 records. The excuse the record
company usually uses is that virgin vinylwhich is necessary
for these colored releaseswas in short supply. As the 70s
went on, that was another casualty of the oil embargo that we had
in the late 70s. Thats when the quality of vinyl records
started to go down because they began using more recycled vinyl and
the problem with recycled vinyl records is that sometimes they cant
get all the paper off where the label was. Melt the vinyl down and
then itll have little bits of paper in it whichll cause
the record to skip.
RS: I remember the first two Nazz albums, and especially Nazz Nazz
were very high quality vinyl pressings.
TR: Well, I hope so because its...virgin vinyl! (laughter) Never
been used before.
RS: You mention The Who and The Move as being a couple big early influences
on The Nazz. Could you mention some of your other early musical influences?
TR: Well The Yardbirds were a big influence. We were always into the
rave-up kind of thing. Let me see now...The Beatles of course, but
The Beach Boys were an unusual influence in that we were into sort
of the heavy guitar stuff. At the same time we were just as inclined
to do these thick harmonies behind our lead vocalist. So it was unusual
I guessthe combination of things. On one hand, The Who and The
Yardbirds and these other sort of rave-up bands from England and then
at the same time the more harmonious part of The Beatles and The Beach
Boys...that kind of thing.
RS: Do you remember the first record you bought?
TR: The first record I ever bought. Well let me see. The first pop
record I ever bought was, I believe was The
Beatles Second Album.
RS: That was the American one right?
TR: Yeah, the American second album (laughter), not the British one.
It was a clooge of two different albums at that point.
RS: Thats the one with Roll Over Beethoven on it.
TR: Yeah, I remember that. I used to sit down and listen to that.
At the time I was fascinated by the bass drum on it.
RS: Its interesting that the lead off song on the Nazz Open
Your Eyes box set, Loosen Up - is a song spoof
of the Archie Bell & The Drells Tighten Up. Where
does that song fit in the Nazz repertoire?
TR: Yeah, we were some fun-loving guys for a while. Wed crack
a joke. A few of our songs were tongue-in-cheek in a way (laughter)
so...by the time we got into the studio for the second time yeah,
we were really into goofin off a little bit.
RS: Was that song supposed to be on the Nazz III album?
TR: Well what was the second Nazz album was supposed to be a double
album. The label was disinclined to release a double album so we had
to split the record up into what turned out to be the second album
and then remnants which were collected and came out in various versions
as a third album. But there were not three sets of sessions. It was
only two. We only went in the studio to record two albums (laughter).
RS: Was that why the order of songs was changed on the box setto
reflect the original double album concept for the second Nazz album?
TR: I think so...and I dont even remember where our original
running order might have been. At this point its probably moot.
Most people remember the second album as it was released and the third
album is kind of an unusual collection of odd-ments.
RS: Its amazing that Hello, Its Me, originally
from the first Nazz album, is actually the first song you wrote.
TR: Yeah, it was. Curiously enough it was a ballad but I was kinda
always moping about some girl at some point. And I dont think
the fact that it came outor was known as the first Nazz singlewas
something that happened by design either. We put out Hello,
Its Me as the b-side of Open My Eyes and Open
My Eyes didnt take off for some reason and eventually
they flipped it and Hello, Its Me did. And that
caused the band to sort of last a little bit longer then it would
have naturally. I was going out and meeting the band to do gigs after
I had quit (laughter) because Hello, Its Me had
become successful enough for us to make some money at it. So the band
would sort of get together and go do a gig or two, make a little money,
and then go our separate ways again and that didnt last for
very long either.
RS: Looking back on it, the lead off track to the Nazz Nazz Lp,
Forget All About It A While has got to be one of the
great lead-off album cuts from the 60s.
TR: At that point, I was into doing something of a concept album.
It wasnt supposed to be Sgt. Pepper per se, in that we
werent all dressing up in weird costumes and adopting some sort
of fictitious pseudonym (laughter), pretending to be another band.
But by that point I was starting to think in terms of a greater concept
in terms of albums instead of singles. The Beatles were the first
band to sort of redefine the record market in terms of...one factor...it
was originally 45s. You couldnt be successful unless you
sold alot of 45s. And then just around Sgt. Pepper I
guess The Beatles proved you could be successful separately from how
successful you were selling 45s because Sgt. Pepper had
no singles on it at all. And that woke alot of people up to the possibilities
of doing long form records, made up of songs still, but doing long
form records that didnt depend on hit singles to be musically
RS: Its great that theres a web site that has the complete
lyrics to all The Nazz stuff. (http://RoCeMaBra.com/todd/lyrics)
I finally figured out the lyrics toForget All About ItIf
you haven't got time to rest, then take the record off now! (laughter)
TR: Ah-ha...It was sort of a demand for full attention! Kind of petulant
in a way. (laughter)
Forget All About It
Everyone's got to have a cause or two
No one's changing enough to help you
There's something basically wrong
Everywhere, we revolve out of our time
And we know that's there's
nobody listening to people like us
But for now, for awhile
We just forget all about it awhile
Forget all about it awhile
Thoughts of life, lots of women, thoughts of love
These are things that we can't be sure of
And every minute you live takes you
a minute towards when you must die
And we know there are
times when I'm not even sure I'm alive
But for now, for awhile
We just forget all about it awhile
Forget all about it awhile
No one's fit to run the world, as far as I can see
The only person fit to run my world is me
But that's just one of my own personal crusades
And for now I'm not complaining, not campaigning
If you haven't got time to rest, then take the record off now
RS: Also the Nazz Nazz track A Beautiful Song was
the first rock song I heard on an album to run nearly 12 minutes!
TR: (laughter) Jimmy Webbs fault probably! Yeah, someone
left the cake out in the rain.
RS: Any reflections on how you created A Beautiful Song?
TR: Well, I always had musical designs that transcended rock form,
I guess. Id always wanted to be a musician but until Beatles
came along, the only way you could be a musician was to be a serious
musician and learn how to play an instrument so you could get a job
in an orchestra perhaps. But The Beatles proved that you could play
a guitar and make a lifelong avocation of it, more or less. Or make
enough money to retire on (laughter) I guess. So, from that point
on of course I wanted to have a band and to be in a band but I never
gave up these sort...my fascination with classical composers and composing
for the big unit, you know, the orchestra. So, that was another indulgence,
that having an album budget allows you to exercise. And I did it on
both the Nazz records and on rare occasions on my own records as well.
RS: I was also always interested in knowing the story behind the Nazz
Nazz song Meridian Leeward.
TR: I really dont know, actually. Some things are so far in
the murk. It may be just some words that I heard and then figured
Oh, Ill write a song about this, what ever it is...(laughter).
Im trying to replay the lyrics in my head to see if I recall
anything significant, except for maybe a hostility to policemen. (laughter)
It was just supposed to be a silly love song (laughter), just a goofy
RS: It was kind of Zappa-esque and showed another side to your early
TR: Quite possibly if we were into demonstrating our musical deftness
that we might attempt something like Frank Zappa but I dont
think we were ever that overt. You know, I was a big Frank Zappa fan
but never imagined that I would be in a Frank Zappa like band. But
then years later of course, we had a Mahavishnu-like band (laughter)
with the first version of Utopia for instance.
RS: The Nazz double CD box set features quite in depth liner notes.
Its great that you were on hand to supply so many great memories.
TR: You mean still alive? (laughter)
RS: Did The Nazz get to play any prime time TV shows like The Tonight
Show with Johnny Carson?
TR: We did no really big TV shows. I know that our video got played
on American Bandstand and we might have been on there as well (laughter).
American Bandstand you never did anything live, you lip-synched. We
did a couple of local shows including one including one that was hosted
by Terry Knight, in the Michigan area. I remember doing that. And
I remember thinking it was sort of like a cheesy Hullabaloo and
remembering afterwards how much we hated lip-synching and wished to
avoid it. Let me see now...yeah the video archives on The Nazz are
pretty slim. Theres not a lot, I dont think.
RS: I was reading in the Nazz box notes that the first gig The Nazz
played was supporting The Doors in Philadelphia in June 18, 1967.
TR: Well it was sort of the first big gig, not the only gig.
RS: Any stories from that concert? Did you get to see The Doors play
TR: Yeah we did. We got to watch them from the wings. I wasnt
that impressed with them. I was interested in what Ray Manzarek was
doing because that was sort of something unusual. Covering the bass
with his left hand on this funny keyboard thing and playing the organ
at the same time. He had a particular style, you know it was interesting.
So I think for us, we were more interested in the other players in
the band than we were in Jim Morrisons histrionics which we
thought were kind of amusing. I always thought he sang sort of like...not
like Frank Sinatra, more like Dean Martin (laughter). He had this
croon-y quality that, I dont know, I just didnt think