Todd Rundgren is a bonafide Rock legend. He was part of the late ’60s Garage Rock wave, he mastered Prog and dabbled in New Wave in the ’70s and ’80s, and he’s known for a handful of Classic Rock radio staples. He’s even produced albums for Grand Funk Railroad, New York Dolls, XTC and Meat Loaf. It’s a career that’s seen him release about 40 albums to date.
So it makes sense that, late last year, Rundgren would publish a memoir, The Individualist, which shares its title with his 1995 album of the same name.
Rundgren’s career began in 1967 when he formed Psychedelic rock group Nazz in Philadelphia. Their first gig was an opening spot for The Doors and they split up three years later, later finding a fresh cult audience after inclusion on Lenny Kaye’s 1972 Nuggets compilation. Their sound was one influenced by The Yardbirds and they even did a cover of “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” which — fun fact - Tiny Bradshaw originally cut for Cincinnati’s King Records.
When Nazz split, Rundgren soldiered on as both a solo artist and eventually with his Utopia project. He’d explore everything from Pop Rock ballads to mind-bending Prog, becoming notorious for an evolving style, prolific production and a few hits along the way. His first Top 40 single came in 1970 with “We Gotta Get You a Woman.” Then “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light,” both from his 1972 double album Something/Anything?, really made waves. Certified gold in just three years, he played almost all the instruments on the LP, foreshadowing a growing desire for greater artistic control.
After Something/Anything?, Rundgren largely abandoned Pop songwriting to explore the dark corners of psychedelia and Prog. With 1973’s A Wizard, a True Star, he influenced a future generation of lo-fi home recording hobbyists.
In 1974 Rundgren introduced Utopia. The group’s eponymous debut blended shades of Psychedelic Rock, Prog Rock and the Avant Garde along with Funk, Jazz and Rock, with no less than three keyboardists in the lineup.
The experiments and music would continue on his solo albums as well, but it wasn’t all demanding, complex work. In fact, his next Top 40 hit came with 1982’s “Bang the Drum All Day,” released as a single and now instantly recognizable as a sports stadium staple. It’s also been featured in films, video games and even an episode of The Office.
Further, Rundgren has been an early adopter of technology’s role in a changing musical landscape, offering subscription services to his fans and utilizing state-of-the-art software and concepts. He’s worked to redefine what we think of a live music experience — with that in mind, consider his upcoming appearance a bit of a book tour/concert hybrid.
“I’m trying to create something that’s somewhat theatrical in the sense there’ll probably be a lot of video in the show and most of the material will certainly be familiar to my devoted fan base,” Rundgren recently said to Billboard. “We have photos and stuff that have never been made public very much, so if I can find some of those rarities they’ll make it into the show somehow.”
One thing’s for sure — Rundgren’s legacy to date is difficult to quickly summarize, with its unexpected twists and revelatory turns, leading fans to dizzying heights with sonic experiments, contemporary Rock anthems and reflective Pop.
An individualist, indeed
The musical wizard and true star will be at the Taft Theatre this Wednesday, June 5. Click here for tickets and more show info.