CRAVEN: A production wizard & a true star
Free Press Music Columnist
If ever there was a personality too large to fit into a 500-word column, it has to be Todd Rundgren.
As a man, Rundgren has been a witness to history, rubbing shoulders with the likes of John Lennon and David Bowie, and acting as a father to actress Liv Tyler.
(Tyler, the biological daughter of Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, grew up thinking Rundgren was her “real” dad until she learned the truth at the age of 8.) As an artist, Rundgren has been rocking, rolling and influencing countless subsequent musicians for close to half a century, and also made big waves in the world of video production and multimedia.
But it is as a producer that Craven would like to talk about Todd Rundgren today. Simply put, there is no one, alive or dead, with a production C.V. like “the Runt’s.”
Rundgren got his start behind the knobs early in his career, while still playing with his garage band, the Nazz. While the Nazz’s first album’s production is credited to Michael Friedman (the partner of the band’s manager, John Kurland), the production on their subsequent releases was credited to “the Nazz” — which meant, mostly, Todd. When the band broke up in 1969, Rundgren launched a long and often successful solo career, crafting hits like “I Saw the Light.” But he also began producing other acts almost immediately.
In 1969, Rundgren took his first producer credit for another artist when he worked on the debut record of the American Dream, a Philadelphia band best remembered nowadays as being the band which included actor Nick Jameson in its ranks. (Jameson would later make memorable guest appearances on shows like “24” and “Lost,” and provided the voice of Emperor Palpatine in the animated “Star Wars: Clone Wars” series.) Rundgren next produced the classic “Great Speckled Bird” album, which represented folk duo Ian and Sylvia’s one foray into rock-inflected country.
The following few years found him working with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Badfinger and the Band, among others. He oversaw debut albums from Sparks and the New York Dolls, and also gave Grand Funk Railroad their biggest hit by producing “We’re an American Band” in 1973. During that decade, he produced for Fanny (one of the first all-female rock bands), former Gong guitarist Steve Hillage and Hall and Oates, before helping create one of the all-time best-selling albums of pop music history: Meat Loaf’s epic debut, “Bat Out of Hell” (which Rundgren helped finance, and which he perceived as a parody of Bruce Springsteen).
In the 1980s, Rundgren produced albums for everyone from former girlfriend Patti Smith to Shaun Cassidy. He famously fought with singer Andy Partridge during the making of XTC’s 1986 album, “Skylarking,” but the album became the band’s most successful ever.
In recent years, Rundgren’s work as a producer has taken a back seat to his career as a performer, but he has continued to find time for occasional albums from artists as disparate as Bad Religion and the Paul Schaffer Band. His most recent credit as a producer was with the band whose first album he also produced, the New York Dolls. One can imagine that when Rundgren called the band to talk about the job, all he had to say was: “Hello, It’s me.”
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog and also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog at http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog/. You can also find him on Facebook.
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