Todd Rundgren has been hailed as a genius—as a producer, as a multi-instrumentalist and as a songwriter. His all-around creativity has helped him become a significant influence in rock music.
He’ll be performing at Spotlight 29 on Saturday, Jan. 9.
During a recent phone interview, Rundgren cited a couple of specific influences who made him realize innovation was possible.
“As far as music in general, I’m wide-open,” Rundgren said. “I’m influenced by a whole range of different styles. When you pare it down to simply the instrumental realm—and the guitar is really the only instrument I have any confidence in to play live—I guess the first big influence was Jeff Beck. Certainly a lot of guitar players were influenced by George Harrison, because before that, guitar players didn’t get so much work. The Beatles tended to put a guitar solo in every song, and that was the first time you became aware of what a lead guitar player was. I got into more technical players, and what George was doing was great, but it was limited because he was always playing an eight-bar solo.”
Rundgren has produced albums for Badfinger, Patti Smith, The Psychedelic Furs and, most notably, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell album. He said he really didn’t see any potential success for that particular album. Of course, it went on to become one of the best-selling albums ever—with an estimated 43 million copies sold worldwide.
“None of us did at the time,” Rundgren said. “I was the producer as the last resort. They had essentially demo-ed for everyone in the business; they said, ‘The songs were too long,’ ‘The singer is too fat,’ and ‘It’s not for us.’ When they demo-ed for me, they were kind of a bit desperate at that point. I had a reputation at the time for taking on unusual projects. Having said that, when we went through all the preparations to make the record, and before we go into the studio, Meat Loaf tells me he doesn’t believe his label understands him—and wants off.
“I was more than the producer of that record—I was the financier of that record by default. As the result of that, I was the most handsomely compensated person involved in it.”
Being a producer sometimes means needing to be the bad guy. Rundgren produced Bad Religion’s 2000 album The New America, and bassist Jay Bentley has said the experience wasn’t pleasant.
“It’s interesting when you have a band that has a legacy, and at the same time, they’re trying to move that legacy along a little bit, and they struggle in how they see themselves,” Rundgren said about Bad Religion. “I don’t think I was entirely successful in finding out what that was. It’s a funny combination of personalities. Greg Graffin … actually has another job as a college professor. It’s not as if everyone in the band wasn’t a professor or genius of some kind, so that balance was something I had a hard time understanding. In the end, some of the guys in the band got the impression that I didn’t care. … Greg was a fan, and that’s why he thought I was able to help them. But there was not enough space in there. They would have been happy if I’d just engineered it and never gave them my opinion.”
As for the current rock ’n’ roll landscape, Rundgren is not optimistic.
“I imagine no dragons—let me put it that way,” he said. “Bands have gotten so calculating in a way that I sort of feel sorry for the fans. There are no bands out there like the Ramones—and I’m not a big Ramones fan, but I realize that some people like it real simple, basic, and straight from the heart and the groin. It’s so calculating now that I can’t listen to it. I can’t listen to the music on the radio, it makes me angry.”
Does Todd Rundgren have songs that he’s tired of playing on a nightly basis? Absolutely.
“I don’t know how some people do it!” he said. “Some people are such slaves to their catalog; I would consider suicide if there was certain material (I) had to do every night. We actually kind of mixed this set up on this tour to prevent us from getting into that sort of rut about the material. It is important for us to feel like we are creating something on a night-to-night basis rather than just going through the motions. I think the audience can take it for granted that I’m not settling into one thing for the rest of my music career.”
An Evening With Todd Rundgren takes place at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 9, at Spotlight 29, 46200 Harrison Place, in Coachella. Tickets are $35. For tickets or more information, call 760-775-5566, or visit www.spotlight29.com.