Todd Harry Rundgren (born June 22, 1948) is an American multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and record producer.
Hailed in the early stages of his career for both his own material and for his production of other artists, supported by the certified gold solo double LP Something/Anything? in 1972, his career has produced a diverse and eclectic range of recordings often both as a solo artist and as a member of the band Utopia. Rundgren has often been at the forefront as a promoter of cutting edge recording technologies.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Rundgren engineered and/or produced many notable albums for other acts, including the Band‘s Stage Fright (1970), Badfinger‘s Straight Up (1971), Grand Funk Railroad‘s We’re an American Band (1973), the New York Dolls‘s New York Dolls (1973), Hall & Oates‘s War Babies (1974), Meat Loaf‘s Bat Out of Hell (1977), and XTC‘s Skylarking (1986). In the 1980s and 1990s, his interest in video and computers led to his “Time Heals” (1981) being the eighth video played on MTV, and “Change Myself” (1991) was animated by Rundgren on commercially available Amiga computers.
His best-known songs include the 1972 singles “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light“, which have heavy rotation on classic rock radio stations, and the 1983 single “Bang the Drum All Day“, which is featured in many sports arenas, commercials and movie trailers. Although lesser known, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” has had a major influence on artists in the power pop musical genre.
Rundgren was born in Upper Darby, at the western city limits of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Ruth (née Fleck; b. 1922) and Harry W. Rundgren (1917–1996). His father was of half Swedish and half Austrian descent. Todd’s grandfather Johan Sigfrid Rundgren (1883–1951) was born and raised in Norrtälje, Sweden, and his grandmother Sophie Brandweis Rundgren was born and raised in Austria. Both immigrated to America in the 1900s.
He began his career in Woody’s Truck Stop, a Philadelphia-based group in the style of Paul Butterfield Blues Band. However, Rundgren and bassist Carson Van Osten left prior to Woody’s Truck Stop releasing its eponymous first album  to form the garage rock group Nazz in 1967 with Thom Mooney (drums) and Robert “Stewkey” Antoni (vocals and keyboards). The group gained minor recognition with the Rundgren-penned songs “Open My Eyes” and “Hello It’s Me“. (He later recorded a solo, uptempo version of “Hello It’s Me”; it became one of his signature songs.)
Nazz released three albums during this time – Nazz (1968), Nazz Nazz (1969), and Nazz III (1971). “Open My Eyes” gained belated recognition thanks to its inclusion in Nuggets (1972), the genre-defining anthology of American 1960s garage punk and psychedelia compiled by musician Lenny Kaye. The group’s second LP was originally intended as double album (titled Fungo Bat), but instead a truncated version was released as Nazz Nazz in April 1969. Rundgren and Van Osten left the band shortly after. Under Stewkey’s leadership the band continued (with new members) until 1970, and their label released a third LP Nazz III, on which most of Rundgren’s vocals on the unreleased songs from the Fungo Bat sessions were replaced by Stewkey’s.
Rundgren’s distinctive style was inspired by a wide variety of musical influences—British pop-rock & baroque pop (notably Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Who, The Yardbirds, Cream and The Move), the intricate vocal harmonies of The Beach Boys, classic American rock and roll, Broadway musicals, the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan and American soul and R&B, but as his music evolved he demonstrated an increasing interest in other genres as well, such as hard rock and the guitar work of Robert Jay Bruner experimental music.
Particularly during the early years of his career, Rundgren’s songwriting was heavily influenced by the music of singer-songwriter Laura Nyro:
- “I knew her fairly well. I met her right after Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. I actually had arranged a meeting, just because I was so infatuated with her and I wanted to meet the person who had produced all this music. We got along, and we were kind of friendly, and actually, after I met her the first time, she asked me if I wanted to be her band leader. But the Nazz had just signed a record contract and I couldn’t skip out on the band, even though it was incredibly tempting.”
Rundgren’s debut solo album Runt (1970) includes the strongly Nyro-influenced “Baby Let’s Swing”, which was written about her and mentions her by name.
Nazz manager Michael Friedman, who had joined Albert Grossman management brought Rundgren to the firm where he became both a solo artist and producer for many artists in the Grossman stable.
Production work, 1970–75
Rundgren’s unhappiness with the production on the Nazz recordings prompted him to educate himself in audio engineering and production, and after leaving the Nazz in 1969, he relocated to New York, signed with Albert Grossman and began working as a producer for other groups, as well as recording his own material, which was initially released through the Ampex Records label (a short-lived joint venture between Grossman and the Ampex company). He also apparently considered working as a computer programmer. Subsequently, he became one of the first artists signed to Grossman’s Bearsville Records label (distributed through Warner Bros. Records).
After signing with Bearsville, Rundgren worked almost constantly on production projects through the early 1970s and he rapidly became one of the most sought-after and acclaimed producer-engineers of the period. He quickly gained a high reputation for his creative approach, his no-nonsense, “can-do” approach, and for his ability to solve problems, work very rapidly and bring projects to completion on time and on budget – although he did occasionally come into conflict with some of the performers with whom he worked, due to his intense work ethic and his rather sarcastic, aloof manner in the studio. Rundgren’s first project for Bearsville was a Philadelphia band called The American Dream, followed by a trip to Nashville to produce Ian and Sylvia Tyson’s group Great Speckled Bird, with a backing band featuring guitarist Amos Garrett, pedal steel player Buddy Cage, pianist David Briggs and bassist Norbert Putnam and drummer N. D. Smart, with whom Rundgren worked on several later projects. During this period, Rundgren also made an abortive attempt to record with Janis Joplin and her band for Joplin’s next studio album, but the sessions came to nothing and the project was eventually taken over by Paul A. Rothchild; the result was Joplin’s swansong LP Pearl, which Rothchild pieced together from the incomplete session tapes, following the singer’s untimely death from a heroin overdose.
Albert Grossman recommended Rundgren to Robbie Robertson of The Band as the engineer for an album Robertson was producing, by singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester, who was at the time living in exile in Canada to avoid the draft. This was followed by a live album for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Having impressed Robertson with his work on the Winchester LP, Rundgren was then asked to engineer The Band’s third album, Stage Fright, which was recorded in an often fraught series of sessions at the Woodstock Playhouse. One of these was attended by a budding New York writer called Patti Smith, and their chance meeting led to an enduring friendship. Smith became an ardent champion of Rundgren’s early solo work through her reviews in the rock press, and the friendship came full-circle in 1979 when Rundgren produced the final Patti Smith Group album Wave.
His work for The Band was followed by a second album for Winchester (which was then shelved for two years) and the album Taking Care of Business by the James Cotton Blues Band. This project resulted in another fortuitous meeting for Rundgren, introducing him to Cotton’s keyboard player Mark “Moogy” Klingman, who in turn introduced Rundgren to keyboard player Ralph Schuckett, and both would work extensively with Todd over the next few years.
Runt and solo career, 1970-1972
Although he had originally intended to concentrate on production rather than his own music, in 1970 Todd formed the ‘band’ Runt, consisting of himself, teenagers Hunt Sales on drums, and his brother Tony Sales on bass (the Sales brothers, sons of US comedian Soupy Sales, were in a short lived band called Tony and the Tigers and went on to play with Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and Tin Machine). Rundgren himself wrote, produced, sang and played guitars, keyboards and other instruments. Whether Runt is best described as a band or simply as a pseudonym for Rundgren as a solo artist is unclear—for the album Runt (1970) the group appeared to be a bona fide trio, but on their second album Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren (1971), Hunt Sales plays only on two tracks and is replaced by N. D. Smart on the rest of the album. Furthermore, only Rundgren is pictured on the covers of both albums, and both albums have been subsequently reissued with the same titles and cover art, but bearing the artist credit “Todd Rundgren”. Whether a solo project or a band, Runt had a No. 20 hit in the United States with “We Gotta Get You a Woman” in 1970, and two other Runt songs placed in the lower reaches of the Hot 100.
By this time, Rundgren had effectively moved his base to Los Angeles. As he prepared for his second solo album, he was introduced to aspiring L.A. band Halfnelson, led by brothers Ron Mael and Russell Mael and guitarist Earle Mankey. After attending an elaborate, self-staged ‘showcase’ performance by the group at their L.A. rehearsal space, Rundgren became intrigued by their music and agreed to produce their debut album, originally released as Halfnelson and later retitled Sparks. The brothers later credited Rundgren as being instrumental in launching their career and in 2010 Russell Mael commented that when reviewing the album in 2008 they were still “… really happy with the way it sounded. There’s nothing there that really sounds ‘of an era’ because it didn’t exactly sound ‘of an era’ at the time.”
By 1972, the Runt persona/band identity had been abandoned, and Rundgren’s next project, the ambitious double LP Something/Anything? (1972) was credited simply to Rundgren, who wrote, played, sang, engineered, and produced everything on three of the four sides of the album. Something/Anything? featured the Top 20 U.S. hits “I Saw the Light” (#16; not to be confused with the Hank Williams song of the same name), and a remake of the Nazz near-hit “Hello It’s Me”, which reached No. 5 in the United States and is Rundgren’s biggest hit. The former song featured Rundgren on all vocals and instruments. On his ensuing concert tour, his backing band was the Hello People, whose own album he later produced.
Changing style, 1973-1975
The Something/Anything? period marked a significant change in Rundgren’s lifestyle. Up until that time he neither drank nor took any drugs:
- “I was a complete teetotaller. I didn’t take any kind of drugs or drink or anything. In fact, I had found the behavior of my peers, while they were high, to be somewhat questionable.”
However, he began to change his views after a visit to Philadelphia to see Randy Reed, his closest friend from his school days. Reed introduced Todd to cannabis, and he credited this with having a big effect on his songwriting for his second solo album, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. In the lead-up to his third album, Something/Anything?, he was experimenting with various mind-altering substances including cannabis, and a range of psychedelics including DMT, psilocybin mushrooms, and peyote – although he says he never (to his knowledge) took LSD. During the recording of Something/Anything?, he began using the stimulant Ritalin and he later said that it had a marked effect both on the style of his music and on his productivity:
- “It (Ritalin) caused me to crank out songs at an incredible pace. ‘I Saw the Light’ took me all of 20 minutes. You can see why, too, the rhymes are just moon/June/spoon kind of stuff…”
Speaking of the effect on A Wizard, A True Star (1973), Rundgren commented:
- “With drugs I could suddenly abstract my thought processes in a certain way, and I wanted to see if I could put them on a record. A lot of people recognized it as the dynamics of a psychedelic trip—it was almost like painting with your head.”
Though he often revisited the classic popular song format, during the early 1970s Rundgren’s music began to incorporate elements of progressive rock. The transitional A Wizard, a True Star (1973) marked the beginning of this trend, which came to fruition with his next two solo albums Todd (1974) and Initiation (1975) and the early recordings under the aegis of his new group project Utopia.
Shortly after he had completed work on Something/Anything?, Los Angeles was struck by a strong earthquake, and Rundgren was sufficiently unnerved by this to move back to New York. His return east led to a long and fruitful working relationship with Moogy Klingman and the pair collaborated extensively over the next few years. They built a recording facility in Manhattan which they dubbed Secret Sound Studios, and a large proportion of Rundgren’s solo and production work was done there, until his relocation to Woodstock in the mid-1970s.
A Wizard, a True Star (1973), which was sequenced as a continuous medley, featured a wildly eclectic range of songs set in dazzling arrangements and production, with Rundgren experimenting with the synthesizer and exploiting virtually every studio effect and technique then available. Backing musicians included renowned horn players Michael Brecker and Randy Brecker, guitarist Rick Derringer and several other musicians, who subsequently joined the original incarnation of Utopia. Although it featured predominantly original material (including the anthemic “Just One Victory”, which became a concert favorite), the album set a pattern followed on subsequent solo albums, with Rundgren recording cover versions of his favorite songs – in this case, “Never Never Land”, from the Broadway musical version of Peter Pan, and a medley of soul classics, including a unique version of the Capitols’ “Cool Jerk” played in the 7/8 time signature. The album was also notable for its extended running time – over 55 minutes in length, compared to around 40–45 minutes for a typical pop-rock LP of the period. This reflected Rundgren’s skills as a mastering engineer, since this extended running time took the album close to the practical maximum for an LP. Due to the inherent physical limitations of the vinyl LP medium, on records with running times over 45 minutes there is an unfavorable trade-off between duration and the audio quality and volume. On the album cover, packed with his handwritten notes, he advised listeners to crank up their Victrolas accordingly.
Todd (1974) continued in this vein and featured similarly diverse material. Alongside originals such as “A Dream Goes on Forever” and “Heavy Metal Kids”, both of which became concert staples, Rundgren also satirized his chosen profession with the song “An Elpees’ Worth of Tunes” and revisited his teenage obsession with the music of Gilbert & Sullivan in a rendition of “The Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song” (from Iolanthe). “Izzat Love?” was sampled by Indie artist Neon Indian on their song, “Deadbeat Summer” in 2010.
By contrast, Rundgren’s work with Utopia (see below) and his next solo album took him decisively into progressive rock. Initiation (1975) addressed cosmic themes, showed a strong interest in spirituality (particularly Far Eastern religion and philosophy), and displayed the musical influence of psychedelic rock, as well as the avant-garde jazz fusion of contemporary acts such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa. Once again the original LP issue saw Rundgren pushing the medium to its physical limits, with the side-long suite “A Treatise on Cosmic Fire” clocking in at over 35 minutes.
Touring and equipment
When touring, Rundgren presented the music in a lavish stage setting that echoed the ambitious space-themed shows of acts like Parliament/Funkadelic and he adopted an outlandish space-rock image on stage, including multi-colored dyed hair.
During 1977 and 1978, Rundgren attempted to tour with a true quadraphonic sound system, however it proved ultimately unworkable – despite successfully delivering high-quality sound in a concert setting – due to the enormous technical requirements involved. Since most concert arenas of the day were ill-equipped to host large towers of sound equipment in the rear of the halls, the speakers often had to be hung from the ceiling rigging. This installation could take up to two days to complete, meaning that it was necessary to send two separate sound systems, each with its own, complete set-up crew, out on the road, so that they could “leapfrog” and allow Rundgren to play dates on consecutive days, which would have otherwise been impossible. The system featured a then-new technology called “signal analysis”, which required white and pink noise to be pumped through the speakers, in order to set the active equalizers so as to minimize feedback and distortion. The pink and white noise analysis had to be performed twice: once with the hall empty, and then again with the audience present, which many concertgoers found annoying. Additionally, Rundgren’s insistence on personally overseeing the acoustic set-up of the system left him exhausted and unable to continue, and he pulled the plug on the experiment.
During the mid-to-late 1970s, Rundgren regularly played the eye-catching psychedelic Gibson SG (known variously as “Sunny” or “The Fool“), which Eric Clapton had played in Cream. After he had stopped using it ca. 1968, Clapton gave the guitar to George Harrison, who subsequently ‘loaned’ it to British singer Jackie Lomax. In 1972, after meeting at a recording session, Lomax sold the guitar to Rundgren for $500 with an option to buy it back, which he never took up. Rundgren played it extensively during the early years of Utopia before retiring the instrument for a short time in the mid to late 1970s, which in that time he had the guitar restored having a lacquer finish applied to protect the paint and replaced the talpiece and bridge to stabilize tuning, bringing the guitar back out on tour during the 1980 Deface the Music tour and using it on and off throughout the 1980s until 1993 when he permanently retired the guitar, eventually auctioning it off in 1999; he now uses a reproduction given to him in 1988 by a Japanese fan.
If I get that one minute of total illumination then I don’t care if my whole career goes down the drain. I’d know there was an answer to everything—to existence, to death.— NME—September 1974
Faithful, Hermit of Mink Hollow and Back to the Bars, 1976-1979
The 1976 album Faithful saw Rundgren marking his tenth year as a professional musician by return to the pop/rock genre, featuring one side of original songs and one side of covers of significant songs from 1966, including The Yardbirds‘ “Happening Ten Years Time Ago” (the B-side of that Yardbirds single gave Nazz its name) and a nearly identical recreation of The Beach Boys‘ “Good Vibrations“.
In the latter half of the 1970s, Rundgren moved to Woodstock, where Bearsville Records established a studio under Rundgren’s direction. He bought a home nearby and a property adjoining the studio was taken over as accommodation for artists who used the studio. The Woodstock complex became Rundgren’s base until his eventual relocation to the Hawaiian island of Kauai in the 1990s. That move was in part prompted by a violent home invasion at Woodstock in the late 1970s, in which Rundgren and girlfriend (who was pregnant at the time) were tied up while the house was ransacked by a group of armed men. According to Rundgren’s account, the men appeared to believe that he possessed a large quantity of cocaine (which he never used); although the family was unharmed, the men stole some valuable items including a custom-made Alembic bass guitar. Todd recovered it years later after Alembic staff spotted it for sale on eBay and it was returned to him, but was by then so badly damaged that it could not be restored.
Faithful was followed by Hermit of Mink Hollow (1978); this included the hit ballad “Can We Still Be Friends” (covered a year later by Robert Palmer), which reached No. 29 in the United States (Palmer’s version reached No. 52) and was accompanied by an innovative self-produced music video, and the album became the second most successful of his career (after Something/Anything?), reaching No. 36 in the United States. During 1978, Rundgren undertook an American tour playing at smaller venues including The Bottom Line in New York and the Roxy in Los Angeles; this resulted in the double live album Back to the Bars, which featured a mixture of material from his solo work and Utopia, performed with backing musicians including Utopia, Edgar Winter, Spencer Davis, Daryl Hall and John Oates and Stevie Nicks.
Subsequent solo releases included the album-long concept work Healing (1981) and the new wave-tinged The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (1982), which included a cover of The Small Faces‘ hit “Tin Soldier“. The latter album also marked the end of Rundgren’s tenure with Bearsville Records. He then signed with Warner Bros. Records, who issued his next album, A Cappella (1985), which was recorded using Rundgren’s multi-tracked voice, accompanied by arrangements constructed entirely from programmed vocal samples. “Bang the Drum All Day“, from The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect was a minor chart hit, which has become more prominent in subsequent years, having been adopted as an unofficial theme by several professional sports franchises, notably the Green Bay Packers, and becoming popular on radio, where it was often featured on Friday afternoons. “Bang…” was also used prominently in a Carnival Cruises television advertising campaign. It is now considered one of Rundgren’s most popular songs. In 1986, Rundgren scored four episodes of the popular children’s television show Pee Wee’s Playhouse.
Nearly Human (1989) and 2nd Wind (1991) were both recorded live—the former in the studio, the latter in a theater before a live audience, who were instructed to remain silent. Each song on these albums was recorded as a complete single take with no later overdubbing. Both albums marked, in part, a return to his Philly soul roots. 2nd Wind also included several excerpts from Rundgren’s musical Up Against It, which was adapted from the screenplay (originally titled “Prick Up Your Ears”), that British playwright Joe Orton had originally offered to the Beatles for their never-made follow-up to Help!. 2nd Wind was Rundgren’s last release through a major label and all his subsequent recordings have been self-released.
After a long absence from touring, Rundgren hit the road with Nearly Human—2nd Wind band, which included brass and a trio of slinky backup singers (one of whom, Michele Gray, Rundgren married). He also toured during this period with Ringo Starr‘s All-Starr band.
The next few years saw Rundgren recording under the pseudonym TR-i (“Todd Rundgren interactive”) for two albums. The first of these, 1993’s No World Order, consisted of hundreds of seconds-long snippets of music, that could be combined in various ways to suit the listener. Initially targeted for the Philips CD-i platform, No World Order featured interactive controls for tempo, mood, and other parameters, along with pre-programmed mixes by Rundgren himself, Bob Clearmountain, Don Was and Jerry Harrison. The disc was also released for PC and Macintosh and in two versions on standard audio CD, the continuous mix disc No World Order and, later, the more song-oriented No World Order Lite. The music itself was quite a departure from Rundgren’s previous work, with a dance/techno feel and much rapping by Rundgren. The follow-up, The Individualist (1995), featured interactive video content, that could be viewed or in one case, played; it was a simple video game along with the music, which was more rock-oriented than No World Order.
Rundgren returned to recording under his own name for With a Twist… (1997), an album of bossa-nova covers of his older material. His Patronet work, which trickled out to subscribers over more than a year, was released in 2000 as One Long Year. In 2004, Rundgren released Liars, a concept album about “paucity of truth”, that features a mixture of his older and newer sounds.
Rundgren released the live compilation album, For Lack of Honest Work, in 2010. The album was advertised as a collection of bootleg recordings, that were approved by Rundgren himself.
April 2011 saw the release of Todd Rundgren’s Johnson, a collection of Robert Johnson covers, which had been recorded more than a year earlier. On another 2011 release, scheduled for September 13, a further album of covers entitled (re)Production sees him performing tracks he had previously produced for other acts, including Grand Funk Railroad‘s “Walk Like a Man” and XTC‘s “Dear God”.
In April 2013, Rundgren released his 24th solo album, State.
On April 7, 2015, Todd released his 25th solo album, Global, with a vinyl release of the album on April 27. He started a US tour to promote the album on April 10 and is planned to continue through June including an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on April 27.
Rundgren’s back-up band for A Wizard, a True Star (1973) evolved into the first version of Utopia, a larger prog-rock ensemble, which included multiple keyboards, synthesizers and brass and featured a character completely disguised in a silver suit, “M. Frog Labat” (Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi) on synthesizers, who also put out his own electronics/keyboards-based solo album. This incarnation premiered on Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (1974), which was book-ended by the 14-minute “Utopia Theme” (recorded live in concert) and the 30-minute suite “The Ikon”, which occupied the whole of Side 2 of the album. Like Wizard, the album also showcased Rundgren’s skills as a recording and mastering engineer, clocking in at over 30 minutes per side.
A slightly altered version of this group performed on the eclectic live album Another Live (1975). It featured three new extended progressive tracks (which appear only on this LP), a version of “Heavy Metal Kids” (from Todd) and covers of “Something’s Coming” (from West Side Story) and “Do Ya” by The Move. By the time this album was recorded, the Utopia lineup included keyboard player/trumpeter/vocalist Roger Powell and drummer John “Willie” Wilcox.
In 1976, Siegler left Utopia and was replaced by Kasim Sulton (bass, keyboards, vocals), who had previously played with New York singer-poetess Cherry Vanilla. This formidable ensemble was widely regarded as one of the best live acts of its day—all four members were highly accomplished on their main instrument as well as being able to play multiple other instruments, and all four could sing lead vocals.
After the prog-rock fusion homage, Ra (1977), Utopia moved toward a more concise pop-oriented style with Oops! Wrong Planet (1977), which included “Love Is the Answer“, later a hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley, followed by the more successful Adventures in Utopia in 1980, which spawned the hits “Road to Utopia”, “Set Me Free” and “Caravan”. During that year, Utopia also acted as the backing band for the Rundgren-produced Shaun Cassidy solo album Wasp.
Other releases include Deface the Music (also 1980), an uncanny Beatles homage, that borders on parody; the more politicised Swing to the Right (1982), incorporating more new wave elements; their pop-referenced, self-titled album Utopia (1982), as well as Oblivion (1984), which showed a cynical side of Utopia, sporting a black cover. The album P.O.V. (1985) includes “Mated”, later a staple of Rundgren solo tours. Rundgren eventually disbanded Utopia in the mid-1980s; they released Trivia (1986) as their “swan song” effort. However, in 1992, a brief tour of Japan reunited the Rundgren/Powell/Sulton/Wilcox lineup, and Redux ’92: Live in Japan was released on Rhino Records.
Eventually, the compilation Oblivion, P.O.V. and Some Trivia was released in 1996, an effort by Rhino Records to re-release selections from the Todd/Utopia discography. In addition, many Utopia concerts from the mid-1970s onwards were taped (e.g. their 1975 London debut, recorded by BBC Radio) and these were widely bootlegged by fans, although some have since gained an official release and can now be obtained as commercial digital downloads from iTunes.
Production, video and other work
In addition to his own recordings, Rundgren has engineered and/or produced albums for many notable acts. Sparked by his dissatisfaction with the sound quality of the Nazz albums, Rundgren learned how to engineer and master his own records and since 1970, he has overseen production of all his solo recordings and those by Utopia. His earliest outside credits were as producer on a long-unreleased Janis Joplin track (recorded with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band) and as recording engineer for the LP Stage Fright by The Band (1970). Other notable production credits include Halfnelson (first incarnation of Sparks), New York Dolls, Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, Hall & Oates, Ian and Sylvia (on their Great Speckled Bird album), Meat Loaf, Patti Smith, Shaun Cassidy, The Tubes, Tom Robinson Band, XTC, Bad Religion, John Sloman, Cheap Trick, Hello People, Hiroshi Takano, Bourgeois Tagg, Dragon (aka Hunter), 12 Rods, The Pursuit of Happiness, The Psychedelic Furs, Steve Hillage, The American Dream and many others.
The difficult XTC sessions produced the album Skylarking (1986), now considered a high point for band and producer despite its acrimonious origin. Rundgren’s production of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell (1977) (on which he also played lead guitar) helped that album become one of the top selling LPs released in the 1970s. The industry regard for Rundgren’s production work has been a lofty one: Jim Steinman, with whom Rundgren worked on Bat Out of Hell, has said in interviews, that “Todd Rundgren is a genius and I don’t use that word a lot.”
Rundgren has long been on the cutting edge of music and video technologies. His music video for the song “Time Heals” was among the first videos aired on MTV, and a video he produced for RCA, accompanied by Gustav Holst‘s The Planets, was used as a demo for their videodisc players. His experience with computer graphics dates back to 1981, when he developed one of the first computer paint programs, dubbed the Utopia Graphics System; it ran on an Apple II with Apple’s digitizer tablet. He is also the co-developer of the computer screensaver system Flowfazer.
In the 1990s, Rundgren was an early adopter of the NewTek Video Toaster and made several videos with it. The first, for “Change Myself” from 2nd Wind, was widely distributed as a demo reel for the Toaster; he also used the system for videos from No World Order (songs “Fascist Christ” and “Property”). Later, he set up a company to produce 3D animation using the Toaster; this company’s first demo, “Theology” (a look at religious architecture through the ages featuring music by former Utopia bandmate Roger Powell) also became a widely circulated item among Toaster users. Most of Rundgren’s Toaster work is available on the video compilation The Desktop Collection.
Rundgren composed music for the 1986 television series Pee-wee’s Playhouse and Crime Story as well as the movies Undercover (a/k/a “Under Cover”) (1987), and Dumb and Dumber (1994), plus background cues for several other television series. He hosted a syndicated radio show called “The Difference” in the early 1990s.
In 1986, he sang a duet with Bonnie Tyler: “Loving You’s a Dirty Job but Somebody’s Gotta Do It“, released (also as a single) on Bonnie’s album Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire.
As the Internet gained mass acceptance in the mid-1990s Rundgren, along with longtime manager Eric Gardner and Apple digital music exec Kelli Richards, started Patronet, which offered fans (patrons) access to his works-in-progress and new unreleased tracks in exchange for a subscription fee, cutting out record labels. The songs from Rundgren’s first Patronet run were later released as the album One Long Year. Since then, Rundgren has severed his connections with major record labels and continues to offer new music direct to subscribers via his website, although he also continues to record and release CDs through independent labels. (However, as of November 2007, the PatroNet.com website offers the following message: “PatroNet is undergoing a major software revision and is not accepting memberships at this time.”)
In the summer of 2001, Rundgren joined artists such as Alan Parsons, the Who‘s John Entwistle, Heart’s Ann Wilson and Ambrosia’s David Pack for the tour “A Walk Down Abbey Road”, in which the musicians played their own hits alongside Beatles favorites. They also did a short tour of Japan in the winter of 2001, and another the following year, which included Jack Bruce of Cream, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, Christopher Cross and Eric Carmen.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks Rundgren created the score for the film A Face to a Name, directed by Douglas Sloan. The film depicted the many photographs of NY’s missing, that were displayed on Bellevue Hospital’s ‘wall of prayers’ following the attacks. The film was part of a special screening at the Woodstock Film Festival in 2002.
Rundgren toured the United States and Europe in 2004 with Joe Jackson and the string quartet Ethel, appearing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien performing their collaborative cover of the Beatles song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps“. (video)
In 2009, Rundgren produced Cause I Sez So by the New York Dolls. In October, in one of the last concerts at the famed Wachovia Spectrum, Rundgren and Philadelphia area musicians the Hooters and Hall & Oates headlined a concert titled “Last Call”. Tickets were as low as $6.00, the deep discount reflected ticket prices in 1967, when the Spectrum first staged concerts.
The year also included a lecture at DePauw University in Indiana, in which he discussed “Music, Technology and Risk-Taking”.
In late-October to early-November 2010, Rundgren was the IU Class of 1963 Wells Scholars Professor at Indiana University. He taught a course with IU Professor Glenn Gass entitled ‘The Ballad of Todd Rundgren’.
The New Cars
In late 2005, the Boston-based band The Cars were planning to re-form despite bassist Benjamin Orr‘s death and lack of interest on the part of former lead singer Ric Ocasek. Rumors followed that Rundgren had joined Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes in rehearsals for a possible new Cars lineup. Initial speculation pointed to The New Cars being fleshed out with Clem Burke of Blondie and Art Alexakis of Everclear. Eventually it was revealed that The New Cars were to complete their lineup with veteran bass player and former Rundgren bandmate Kasim Sulton and studio drummer Prairie Prince of The Tubes, who had played on XTC‘s Rundgren-produced Skylarking and who has recorded and toured with Rundgren.
In early 2006, the new lineup played a few private shows for industry professionals, played live on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and made other media appearances before commencing a 2006 summer tour with the re-formed Blondie.
Rundgren has referred to the project as “an opportunity … for me to pay my bills, play to a larger audience, work with musicians I know and like, and ideally have some fun for a year.”
The New Cars’ first single, “Not Tonight”, was released on March 20, 2006. A live album/greatest hits collection, The New Cars: It’s Alive, was released in June 2006. The album includes classic Cars songs (and two Rundgren hits) recorded live plus three new studio tracks (“Not Tonight”, “Warm” and “More”).
Tours from 2009–13
In April 2009, Rundgren discussed his career during an Ubben Lecture at Indiana’s DePauw University. In September 2009, Rundgren assembled a very limited-engagement tour with Jesse Gress, Kasim Sulton, Prairie Prince, Greg Hawkes, Bobby Strickland, and Roger Powell (and his wife Michele as costume designer and back-up singer for the concerts finale’), covering his album A Wizard, A True Star (1973). The shows included a complete, start-to-finish rendition of the album, with multiple costume changes and theatrical props to accent the songs. The opening band for the shows was Utopia, with Roger Powell, Kasim Sulton and Prairie Prince.
In December 2009, Rundgren once again took the AWATS Live show on the road with four shows in California. Roger Powell returned to his real job in the computer/software industry and was replaced by Ralph Schuckett, who played keyboards on the studio recording of the original album.
The A Wizard a True Star show has had two European dates as well; playing in London, England at the Hammersmith Apollo on February 6, 2010, and the Paradiso in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on February 8, 2010. Rundgren opened the London and Amsterdam shows by showcasing his new project, entitled ‘Todd Rundgren’s Johnson’; consisting of Rundgren, Jesse Gress (guitar), Prairie Prince (drums) and Kasim Sulton (bass) reworking Robert Johnson songs.
In January 2010, Rundgren gave his first ever concert performance in Australia as a participant in the Rogue’s Gallery show, produced by Hal Willner for the 2010 Sydney Festival. In October 2010, Rundgren returned for a three-date tour of Australia performing his ‘Johnson’ project, with concerts at The Basement, Sydney, the Great Southern Blues Festival at Bateman’s Bay and the Corner Hotel in Melbourne. The band consisted of Todd, guitarist Jesse Gress, Australian bassplayer Damien Steele Scott and Australian drummer Mick Skelton of Baby Animals.
A Photographic Journal of each American show was created by rock photographer J Bloomrosen.
Rundgren participated in the Hollywood Bowl’s “Beatles Celebration” concert held July 9–11, 2010 along with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins. Featured guests over the three nights also included Patti Austin, Bettye LaVette, Rob Laufer and Brian Stokes Mitchell. He performed “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, outfitted in an outsized top hat, fake walrus mustache, black waistcoat, white gloves and white spats. He amped up the show’s rock quotient with “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey,” and took over the guitar solo in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, which he preceded with a nod to Ringo Starr’s 70th birthday (which had been just two nights earlier). Finally, his performance of “A Day in the Life” concluded his set.
In October 2010, Rundgren was selected as the Class of 1963 Wells Scholars Professor at Indiana University. In that capacity, he taught two weeks of a four-week, one-credit hour honors seminar designed for 22 Wells Scholars (HON-H300: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren). Co-teaching the class was IU Professor of Music Glenn Gass—whose relationship with Rundgren helped make the professorship possible—and IU Distinguished Professor of Sociology Bernice Pescosolido, who was instrumental in helping to plan the course.
In September 2010, Rundgren performed his Todd and Healing albums live for the first time ever in Akron, OH and followed that up with five more of the album concerts in Muskegon MI, Indianapolis IN, St. Louis MO, Glenside PA, and Morristown NJ. A large LED display and lasers were on display throughout the shows with Rundgren and the band dressed in extravagant costumes. Rundgren brought out his SG Gibson “The Fool” replica guitar and also performed a few songs on the piano. The band consisted of Jesse Gress, Greg Hawkes, Prairie Prince, Bobby Strickland, and Kasim Sulton. Led by Choir Master Dirk Hillyer, local choirs from near each venue joined the band during parts of the “Healing” album set, which added a brand new element to the music for fans, that had only heard it by listening to the album. The shows closed with the song, “Sons of 1984”, which included fan participation even after the band left the stage. In March 2011, Rundgren took the Todd and Healing albums live concerts back on the road for a mini-tour and included stops in Hartford CT, Boston MA, Red Bank NJ, Toledo OH, and Columbus OH.
In January 2011, a reunion of the most of the members of the 1974 Utopia personnel (Rundgren, Klingman, Schuckett, Siegler, and Ellman) was held for two nights in New York City, with proceeds to defray medical treatment for Klingman, who was battling with cancer. Material was drawn from the 1972–1975 catalogs of Rundgren and Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. Both shows sold out in just three days, which may have influenced the idea for a full tour, that took place in November 2011 as “Todd Rundgren’s Utopia”. The original plan for the tour included Moogy Klingman but his health condition worsened during rehearsals and he died before the 12 concert tour was finished.
In September 2011, for the first time ever with a symphony orchestra, Rundgren performed two concerts in the Netherlands (Amsterdam and Groningen) backed by the Dutch Metropole Orchestra. On June 1–2, 2012, he performed in two concerts accompanied by the Rockford Symphony Orchestra at the historic Coronado Performing Arts Center in Rockford, IL. The concerts were Rundgren’s first ever symphonic shows in North America.
Rundgren toured with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band for the third time and for the first time in 13 years, starting in the summer of 2012, and continuing to 2015.
In November 2012, Rundgren again collaborated with the Dutch Metropole Orchestra. At the Paradiso venue in Amsterdam, he was also backed by three backing vocalist, including Dutch singer Mathilde Santing with whom he sang a duet that night. This concert was released as a bonus cd with his cd State.
In August 2013, Rundgren performed with the Akron Symphony Orchestra and Akron Youth Symphony at the Akron Civic Theatre under the baton of conductor Levi Hammer. This was his first concert with a youth symphony orchestra.
Rundgren has three sons; Rex (born 1980) and Randy (born 1985) with his long-term girlfriend Karen Darvin, and Rebop with current wife Michele. Rex is a minor league baseball player (Infield position), who, as of 2012, plays for the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Drillers.
From 1972 to 1979, Rundgren had a longtime relationship with model Bebe Buell. During their cohabitation, sometimes they were on-and-off. In 1976, Buell became unexpectedly pregnant from her brief relationship with Steven Tyler. On July 1, 1977, Buell gave birth to future actress/model Liv Tyler. But Buell initially named the daughter Liv Rundgren and claimed that Todd Rundgren was the biological father to protect the child from Tyler’s drug addiction. Rundgren and Buell ended their romantic relationship shortly after Liv’s birth, but Rundgren put his heart and soul into the “white lie”. At age eight, Liv was made aware of her real parentage, that she is in fact Steven Tyler‘s biological daughter.
According to Tyler “…Todd basically decided when I was born that I needed a father so he signed my birth certificate. He knew that there was a chance that I might not be his but…” He paid to put her through private school, and she visited him several times a year.
Tyler maintains a close relationship with Rundgren. “I’m so grateful to him, I have so much love for him. You know, when he holds me it feels like Daddy. And he’s very protective and strong.”
In 1998, Rundgren married Michele Gray (Michele Rundgren), who had been a dancer with The Tubes, performed with Rundgren as a backup singer on the tour for his album Nearly Human which led to a number of appearances on the David Letterman Show as one of The World’s Most Dangerous Backup Singers.
In October 2013, along with his fans, Rundgren founded the Spirit of Harmony Foundation, to provide opportunities for personal development and self-expression through the support of music and music education.