July 26, 2010

Monday Music


Todd Rundgren was born in Philadelphia in 1948. Even as a youth Rundgren showed tremendous playing and songwriting abilities, and at the age of 18 he joined the local Woody’s Truck Stop, a band modeled after the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. It proved to be not such a good fit and Rundgren moved on after less than a year.

In 1967, along with former Woody's bassist Carson Van Osten, Rundgren formed a garage band that would quickly become regionally popular. After a few months, keyboardist Robert "Stewkey" Antoni joined the duo, followed by drummer Thom Mooney. The band was good, and in less than six months from it’s inception, Nazz opened for Jim Morrison and the Doors in a July 1967 appearance at Philadelphia’s Town Hall.

The foursome signed with a label but cut only two albums together. Their eponymous 1968 album enjoyed very limited success, as did their first single, “Open My Eyes.” The flip side of that single, however, has become required fare on classic rock stations, and one of Todd Rundgren’s signature songs.

After the first album Nazz did a short tour in Britain before the release of the second, redundantly titled album, Nazz Nazz. This release contained more of the same uninteresting bopper music as their first, and suffered similar commercial failure.

Originally planned as a two-disk compilation with a good bit of experimental Rundgren – Van Osten work,manager, Michael Friedman and their label cut all of the creative work and reduced the album to single disk of Beatles-esque, Monkee-esque stuff - the kind of stuff that fit the image under which they were trying to market the group. 

This was not the direction Rundgren and Van Osten wanted to go, so the album and the lost works became the catalyst for the group’s breakup. Rundgren departed almost immediately with Van Osten not far behind. The band, with Stewkey now at the helm, continued and soon released yet another redundantly named album, Nazz III. There is nothing on that album worthy of remembering, and even though a group calling itself Nazz still tours and rehash CD's of old material still appears on store shelves, the band known as Nazz died in 1969, not long after their appearance at the October Texas International Pop Festival.

Van Osten continued playing, but never again with anything except informal groups. He became employed by Disney Studios as an artist, drawing and creating Mickey Mouse comics. Eventually Van Osten became the head of Disney Studios Comic Art Group, which is where he remains today. 

Rundgren went on to become a very well known musician and respected solo artist, writing hundreds of tunes and cutting many records. Last year he was invited to participate in a lecture series at DePauw University. Speaking to a sold out auditorium, Rundgren described his life in music.

Rundgren's work is a multi-course meal of musical style and shifting genre. He still performs. Hello, its me and Can we still be friends are still on his play list wherever he goes.

And he still breaks out some of the more experimental stuff from time to time.

It would have been very interesting to see the direction Nazz would have gone had Friedman and SGC Records not pulled the plug and tossed Rundgren's early stuff.


EMSNetwork said...

Thanks for jogging the ole memory bank and opportunity to listen to Rundgren again.