Todd Rundgren: TR
Century Guitar wanted me to ask you about Eric Claptons SG, the
1961 Les Paul SG that you bought from Jackie Lomax in 1971.
TR: Yeah, that guitar.
RS: Didnt you auction it off at Sothebys last year?
TR: Im not allowed to talk too much about that incident because
I got into a legal thing with Sothebys over it. Basically I didnt
think they did a good job. Yes the guitar did get auctioned. To whom
I dont know. But it was surrounded with some unpleasantness (laughter).
I cant go into the details of the auction. All I can say is that
I did own the guitar.
RS: I was reading that Clapton had recorded Disraeli Gears with
TR: Yeah, I believe he did.
RS: What other guitars were you using early on in your career?
TR: Let me see now...early on I did have an SG of my own, a red one
that resembled that. I also had a Flying V as I recall that I would
play alot. Not an original one, one of the second or third generation
reproductions. I probably had a Les Paul guitar that was a holdover
from when I was in a blues band, but I dont know how long I had
that or used it. It was principally the Flying V and the Les Paul Junior
style guitar that I was playing.
RS: Do you remember your first guitar?
TR: The first guitar I ever owned was probably Korean made, a twenty
five dollar acoustic guitar that you got for cheap if you bought guitar
lessons. My parents bought me just the minimum number of guitar lessons
necessary to get the guitar and then I stopped (laughter).
RS: So, just jumping around in time, Sanctuarys Todd Rundgren
Bootleg Series looks to be a pretty interesting proposition moving
forward. The double CD Live At The Forum London 94 is amazing.
Ive never heard a more animated performance from you.
TR: Oh, Live At The Forum. That was what we called the No
World Order tour and set-up. It probably is fairly lively and animated
because it depends so much on audience participation for the show to
come off successfully. Those showsevery single one of themwas
completely improvised. So some nights we would have a good crowd and
I would get into a good groove and wed have a great show and (laughter)
then some nights one or the other might not be on. But the show in London
was pretty much an ideal night. We had an audience that was totally
into the groove from the beginning of the show and peaked at the right
time. And I had a fairly good shownot the best one I ever hadbut
it was a good show. And the whole basis of that was the audience and
the performer driving each other. I think that show reflected pretty
much the ideal that I was going for. So yeah, and that was ten years
ago so I was a little bit more spry then. (laughter)
RS: That was during the TR-I days.
TR: Yeah, well that one actually has been released on DVD...I believe.
I know that it came out on VHS.
RS: So that was a one man show?
I had some dancers, but otherwise it was just me and a whole bunch of
electronic gear and a thing that looked like a space ship. And unlike
the usual show that I would do, instead of being on a persinium stage,
it would be set up in the round and the audience would surround it.
RS: Even though you were using the Mac computer to program everything
you did play some guitar that night.
TR: Yeah, still gotta get some guitar in (laughter). Well actually theres
one point in the show thats the most guitar-laden and thats
a song called Secret Society. And what happens is that I
would start that and play for a while and then essentially we would
turn it almost into guitar auditions. You know, anyone who thought they
could play the guitar could come up onto the center stage and play along
with the songs. Sometimes we had some really good guys and (laughter)
sometimes we had some guys who just thought they wanted to play guitar,
yknow, till they got it in their hands and suddenly discovered
they couldnt (laughter).
RS: Are you still wrapped up in high-tech things these days and what
do you think the future holds for music, computers and the internet?
TR: Well I really depend on the internet and computers to distribute
what I do and to stay in contact with my fans. I dont know what
it would have been like moving to Hawaii without something like the
internet that allows you to keep a more or less global presence going.
And I take as much advantage of it as I can. I have a whole subscription
service for my kind of hard core fans. They get to hear music that Im
working on before it gets released and things like that so yeah, Im
into the internet, internet music distribution and trying to sort that
whole thing out.
RS: I guess the current condition of the planet is not a hospitable
place for futuristic technology.
TR: Whos got anything good to say now? (laughter). It doesnt
take much to carp. But we have a view of the world thats kind
of centered around ourselves. And if we dont think things are
good for us, we dont think things are good for the world. In that
sense, Ive lived through times that I thought were just as bad
(laughter) I guess. I dont have any solutions or magic bullets.
In my philosophy of life it isnt governments and things like that
have control over the world, its the way people live and think.
If I have any input or anything to talk about from my standpoint, its
just the same old thingits human self-centeredness and stupidity
and stuff and sometimes those people are running whole countries.
RS: Yeah in a way weve kind of lived through stuff like this before.
TR: You know there were times in which we werent sort of like
in the front lines though we were still involved in some wayat
least tangentiallyin the world of terrorism because of our support
of Israel or whatever, you know, wed be at least in the line of
fire if we werent taking the full brunt, you know? And they tried
to take down the World Trade Center before, they just didnt figure
out how to do it. (laughter)
RS: Yeah, the first time they were six parking spaces too far to the
TR: Yeah, something like that. Its not a brand new thing. I think
that just people feel that because the other guy had some success with
us that the world is different. It was always our position to run roughshod
over everybody else (laughter). And from that standpoint, I mean our
economy...they say its gone flat, but its still way better
off then most people in the world.
RS: Well Id vote for you for president!
TR: Yeah, I dont know what power I would have. But I know I aint
as ignorant as that guy in now (laughter). You could say that about
2000 album One Long Year is your first album of the 21st Century.
It came out on Artemis Records and I guess youre no longer on
TR: Well, it originally was supposed to be released independently by
another label and indeed was for some window I believe. Or maybe not,
maybe we changed it just before the release date. The album was made
in an unusual way in that instead of going into the studio and recording
a whole album at once, I just let the songs come one at a time till
I had an albums worth. And to a certain extent thats the
way that I record now although Im going to be getting into a little
more accelerated phase here because Ive spent so much time concentrating
on other things that I have to do a little bit more concentrated recording.
But the idea was that instead of being a reflection of where my head
is at in a one month window, its more the evolution of where your
head is at over a longer period of time. So that the songs represent
snapshots along the way. I dont know whether they assemble a coherent
picture per se, but they are not necessarily the product of me sitting
down and saying, okay now Ive got to come up with a whole
albums worth of stuff. They just come when they come (laughter)
and thats it.
One Long Year I really enjoy the remake of Love Of The
Common Man which is one of the bigger production numbers on the
TR: It sounds that way because its actually a leftover from the
album that I completed before that which was called With A Twist.
And that was all standards of mine I guesssongs that I had
performed and that other people had associated with methat I had
done in a bossa nova style with a full orchestration. And that song
just didnt seem to fit on the record so it got held over and I
decided that people still would want to hear it so I included it on
the subsequent record One Long Year.
RS: Love Of The Common Man featured excellent performances
from keyboardist John Ferenzik and guitarist Jesse Gress. Those guys
TR: Oh, theyre some great players. They were in my band previous
to that, the one that performed songs from The Individualist. That
was an album that came out in the earlier 90s, I guess around
92 or 93. And that was the band that I had and when I got
the opportunity to do this bossa nova album I called them all up and
had them come out to Hawaii and we recorded the album together and then
toured subsequent to that. And the only personnel change there was Kasim
Sultan playing bass. Previous to that it was Larry Tagg.
RS: The With A Twist album, that came out on the short lived
Guardian label, was that inspired by your moving to Hawaii?
TR: Well I guess there was an element to that, but it was more an interest
in Latin music and the Latin market. That came about because we had
been approached by a Latin American publishing company who wanted to
acquire my catalog and it got me thinking, the Latin market, I
know that they sell alot of records but now that theyre sort of
like, crossing over, or merging, maybe I ought to think about doing
something in the Latin vein (laughter). So oddly enough, within a timely
period, I got offered this opportunity to do a record of my old standards
and I thought, well heres my chance to go bossa nova!.
RS: You also mentioned you were inspired by the lounge music sounds
of Martin Denny and Esquivel.
TR: Oh yeah, well I was building up my collection before Id moved
to Hawaii. It was sort of coincidental that alot of that isparticularly
Arthur Lyman and to a lesser degree Martin Dennyassociated specifically
with Hawaii. So yeah, we still play that music (laughter). We still
RS: I thought that was one the best things to come out of the 90s...
TR: The lounge revival, yeah.
RS: One Long Year starts off with I Hate My Frickin
ISP and closes with another song that sounds like a homage to
the ocean or surfing the internet, The Surf Talks.
I wrote here that Ive come a long way since my 99 dial up
with bway.net (laughter), so weve made some progress on the net.
TR: The song isnt as relevant now but it is still relevant.
I know when I go out on the road still alot of hotels only have regular
dial-up. Bad enough as it is trying to get connected at home, doing
it on the road in a hotel where they charge you a buck fifty every time
you pick up the phone. Thats a real annoyance. That was a kind
of a setting of I Hate My Frickin ISP because I dont
have to deal with the same problems when Im at home now. We have
a high speed connection.
RS: And on The Surf Talks you have the double entendre where
youre almost comparing the vastness of the ocean and the internet.
TR: Yeah, well it is. And that one was a song that was inspired by the
Hawaiian environment. Had alot to do with ruminations I would have while
walking on the beach and at the same time my whole connection, once
I moved to Hawaii was dependent, my connection to my fans was dependent
on the internet. It wasnt like I was going out to nationally covered
local events (laughter)...places kind of like Alabama. Its really
rural. Yeah, the whole song is a paean to the powers of the internet
and metaphorically what the ocean is like. You know the fact that the
ocean connects. Even though we say there are seven seas, its one
continuous body of water and people are connected by it. People all
over the world are connected by this body of water so... I had this
image of like, I was standing ankle deep in the water and I suddenly
realized that the oceanif you look at it as an entity, in the
way that the internet is looked at as an entityif you connect
with anybody else youd have to be standing in it at the time.
So that was like a metaphorical image I had.
RS: I also enjoyed the Hawaiian flavored remake of Bang On The
Drum which on One Long Year you call Bang On The
Ukelele Daily. You throw in a few licks from The Lion Sleeps
Tonight. How about Hawaiian guitar music, like slack key or pedal
into some of it and then some of it Im not so much into. The more
traditional base slack-key stuff and lap steel stuffif its
played well, is really thrilling music. Unfortunately, contemporary
Hawaiian music is not (laughter) thrilling at all. Its just kind
of watered down Jamaican style music that, instead of having a political
edge to it, is singing about coconuts (laughter) and things like that.
Contemporary Hawaiian music really needs some help cause its too
much dependent on this Reggae thing.
kind of guitars are you using on the One Long Year CD?
TR: The guitars that Ive been using lately...the one that I use
principally is actually a Stratocaster style guitar that I believe is
made by Fernandes under the label P Project, and I got it in Japan.
I didnt actually buy it. There was a time when the Japanese economy
was healthier than the American economy. And the Japanese have a lovely
custom of giving you gifts and if theyre doing well, the gifts
can be really nice (laughter). And so I would be coming back from touring
Japan with like five guitars that various people would give me. And
one day I just went through all of them trying to find the one that
I thought played and sounded the best and it turned out to be this,
more or less a knock-off and with a little bit of modification its
been the guitar that Ive played for the last ten years at least.
RS: So thats the Stratocaster Fernandes?
TR: Yeah, its a Stratocaster style buts its got an
odd pickup configuration. Its got two Strat style pickups and
then a wide Humbucker at the bridge. We put a few switches in there
to get all the possible pickup combinations (laughter). The five position
switch wouldnt give us enough. Let me see now what else do I play...?
I play a Takamine acoustic guitar. I used to play an Ovation 12 string
but my hand couldnt take it for a whole set.
RS: Also from One Long Year, the song Mary And The Holy
Ghost is a pretty scary song...
TR: Scary? Its supposed to be a Christmas carol! (laughter)
RS: The song with the line war time coming - gonna be a son of
a gun? Even though the album came out a couple years ago, it kinda
sounds like whats happening right now.
TR: Actually, that song is supposed to be a relatively pleasant tune
(laughter). Its got a heavy underpinning to it but its mostly
a Christmas song. I recorded it for a Christmas collection and then
included it on One Long Year. And its supposed to be about
the appearance of the Holy Ghost to Mary before the birth of Christ.
RS: How does the instrumental sound fit in with what you do these days?
Are you still into instrumental music?
TR: I am and I think that there will always be a portion of the records
that I make thatll mainly be focused on the instrumental. There
was a point, like for instance on The Individualist, where there
would be large, orchestrated instrumental passages and to accommodate
that the songs would be hugely long. Theyd be like seven, eight
minutes long. Nowadays I feel just as comfortable doing an instrumental
song that doesnt have any vocal component at all.
RS: One Long Year also harkens back to the Something/Anything
sound with the pop sound of Where Does The Time Go.
TR: Yeah, that was a song I did as a demo to get re-signed to Warner
Bros. for a three album deal. That was in the late 80s I believe.
I did it knowing they would like it but it didnt fit into the
album that came after that, or the two albums that came after that.
It just kind of languished. That first album that I did after moving
from Bearsville to Warner Bros. was Nearly Human and that was
a 14 piece live band thing. And the album after that was similarly construed
and the album after that was No World Order (laughter). So the
song went for a long time without fitting on anything and then I decided
I would finish it up and put it on One Long Year because that
was an album that was meant to be sort of odd-ments that came from different
times and places.
RS: Who owns your albums that are in Bearsville catalog?
TR: Bearsville still owns them but I believe Rhino has some control
over how theyre distributed.
RS: Werent the Bearsville albums remastered and reissued on CD
recently with bonus tracks?
TR: Well weve had redistribution deals with a company called Castle
Records who did a big re-release a few years ago. I did ten hours worth
of recollections for new liner notes and stuff like that and it came
out in a beautiful set about three CDs at a time. If you bought all
the CDs they formed a picture along the spine. So that was a real nice
re-release. But as far as the ongoing availability of catalog material,
it mostly goes through Rhino I think. But Rhino, Im not sure of
the state of, at this point (laughter). The founders have left and I
dont know what the future of Rhinos gonna be so...
RS: I know they just moved their offices.
TR: Maybe they moved into a Warner Bros. owned building or something,
cause I believe theyre part of Warner Special Products now.
RS: The first concert I saw you do was at Carnegie Hall with The Hello
People after Something / Anything came out in 72. Do you
remember playing Carnegie Hall?
TR: I remember. I played Carnegie Hall a couple times I think. I played
Carnegie Hall with Utopia as well, the original seven piece configuration.
RS: Moving to Warner Bros. for Something / Anything must have
had a huge effect on your music...
TR: It was good to be distributed by somebody who had the kind of clout
that Warner Bros. did. We didnt technically move to Warner Bros.
I was still signed to Bearsville and if you went outside the United
States the records could appear on any label. Bearsville reserved the
right to make X U.S. distribution deals to anyone they wanted to. And
those would change every couple years. It was a real nightmare. It made
it hard to get established internationally.
RS: Did you meet Mo Ostin at Warners? You couldnt have picked
a better time...
TR: He was still the president at the time so I imagine he must have
had some voice in it. Yeah, the label was great in those days when Mo
was still firmly in charge and they hadnt been fully conglomerated
into Time Warner and all that other stuff. Gulf & Western...(laughter)
Companies that had nothing to do with music who were gobbling up all
the labels because they were making so much money.
RS: As good as Something/Anything is, I think your 73 follow-up
A Wizard, A True Star is another milestone of 20th Century pop.
I saw you play at C.W. Post college on Long Island after that album
TR: I vaguely remember it. I think we played there a couple of times
but that was pretty early in my musical career. Anything that happened
in the 70s, I always question my recollection (laughter).
RS: Whose idea was to do that funny die-cut album jacket on A Wizard,
A True Star?
TR: Well I always like to invest a little more in the packaging. I figure
itll enhance the shelf appeal but also increase the value over
time to the people who owned it. It would stand out as something unusual
to them. And with die-cutting again its something thats
kind of expensive but after the success of Something / Anything,
the commercial success, they were willing to go along with me on
a few things and that included the packaging on A Wizard, A True
Star. Unfortunately, there were no breakout hits on A Wizard,
A True Star. In fact, it (laughter) upset a lot of people when it
RS: Well the album did have International Feel and Just
One Victory. Those are as good a songs as anybodys ever
TR: Well they still appear and are still requested in performances although
some songs have been a little played out for me. But the album has,
in retrospect become more successful than it was. It was considered
a failure because it was too ambitious and didnt follow up on
the commercial success of of Something / Anything.
RS: You took over as the producer of the Badfinger album Straight
Up after George Harrison left the project. What kind of influence
did George Harrison have on your guitar playing?
TR: Well as far as guitar playing, I wasnt even aware there was
such a thing as a lead guitar player until The Beatles came out. George
Harrison sort of defined this, had this job description that changed
the lives of alot of guitar players who thought they were just going
to strum away for a few years and then go get a serious job. And I think
I could be beholden to him for that, at least. The Badfinger thing was
just logistical. I didnt have hardly any interaction with George
at all on that. He had run out of time. And he was indeed the second
producer on the record. They had already had Geoff Emmerick try to do
a record. And they werent satisfied with that. And then George
started up a record but didnt get more then a couple songs in
before he was distracted by the Bangla Desh project. So thats
when I came in and it was pretty much recording half an albums
worth of new material and reworking the various things the other producers
had left uncompleted.
RS: Have you thought of producing any other artists like Jeff Lynne
or Paul McCartney?
TR: Jeff Lynne, obviously, hes a producer, hell produce
himself. And Paul McCartney doesnt write songs like he used to,
so I never really thought (laughter) oh, I gotta produce a Paul
McCartney album. He pretty much produces himself. He may get another
person involved but its a matter of record of how involved he
gets in the process and how strong an opinion he has about what happens.
Most of the productions that Ive done, or a good percentage of
them are artists who have never made a record before or who have made
records that are failing to satisfy them and their listeners. And so
often its not a famous artist. And working with a famous artist
or a well known artist or one who has established a recognizable style,
there are responsibilities and liabilities in that, that shouldnt
be taken lightly (laughter). So I dont go around asking people
to produce their records. They have to have the desire and the belief
in you in the first place before you can assume that position.
RS: I probably was thinking not only to produce them but to record with
them as well.
TR: Well, thats always fun! Anytime I get an opportunity to do
something like that, yeah I would take it on, but it doesnt happen
so much partly because Ive always stayed out of the limelight
and lived in fairly remote places. So Im not around. And if youre
not around people dont think of your name and say, hey (laughter),
why dont you come in and do something with us?
RS: What are you listening to these days?
TR: Well I listen to music that I hear occasionally that I enjoy. I
did discover something I liked when I was on the road. It was a band
called The Gourds from Austin, Texas. Ostensibly theyre a country
band but they dont do country songs. Well they (laughter) do do
country songs but they do some non country songs in such a peculiar
way that they really appeal to me. But for the last several months...Ive
bought property out here and Ive been living in, not a temporary
dwelling but a place thats meant to be temporary in a sense and
were in the process of moving out of that house and are building
a new house so things have been real chaotic for me for the past six
months trying to keep this project going and do all the necessary research.
I kind of like, havent been listening to music very much lately
(laughter). And the radio is no solace...
to Todd Rundgren @ www.tr-i.com,
Mary Lou Arnold, Jolyn Matsummuro @ The Brookes Company - www.brookescompany.com
- Louanne Lisk @ www.toddisgodd.com
and Bas Hartong @ Sanctuary Records - www.sanctuarygroup.com