Todd Rundgren was born on the outskirts of Philadelphia. He formed the garage-rock band Nazz in 1967 with drummer Thom Mooney and keyboard player/vocalist Robert "Stewkey" Antoni. Their first gig was in July 1967, opening for The Doors
at the Town Hall in Philadelphia.
Nazz was the first outlet for Todd's song "Hello It's Me.
" Todd recorded a new version of the song on his certified gold 1972 album Something/Anything
"Hello It's Me
" was the first song Todd ever wrote, and ultimately became his best-known. He explains its sophistication as being because he'd been such an avid listener.
Singer-songwriter Laura Nyro
asked Todd to be her bandleader in the '60s, but despite admiring Nyro's work Todd couldn't abandon his band Nazz, which had just signed a record contract.
During the Nazz years Todd didn't touch drugs or alcohol, which caused clashes with bandmates who got inebriated during rehearsals. By the time he was writing his solo album A Wizard A True Star in the 1970s, though, Todd was experimenting with psychedelic drugs and their effect on his music.
After leaving Nazz, Todd moved to New York in 1969 to produce other artists' albums. One of Todd's early production gigs was to produce a track sung by Janis Joplin
and backed by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at CBS Studios. (here's the Songfacts interview with Blues Band founder Elvin Bishop
). Todd expressed frustration with the date because the Butterfield Blues Band wasn't able to arrange their parts on the spot - and Todd also had trouble getting a performance out of Joplin; he says in retrospect that he didn't understand playing the role of coach and therapist to his artists at the time.
An early production gig was The Band's Stage Fright album. Todd states that he felt the band was unimpressive: slow, scared, and overrated. Out of eight hours of available recording time per day, the group managed about two hours of actual playing because locating all five members was difficult on any given day. "It wasn't that I hated them," says Todd. "I just had a certain work ethic."
Todd cites Burt Bacharach
as a major influence. He spent a lot of time deconstructing the songs Bacharach wrote with Hal David that were recorded by Dionne Warwick.
describes Todd as "A pocketful of constellations." The two are good friends. Todd admires Patti, and says that he believes her rock band limited public perception of her other dimensions as a poet and artist.
Rundgren's single "Time Heals
" was the eighth music video to ever air on MTV. Rundgren started Utopia Video Studios with money he earned producing Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell
album, and used that studio to make the video.
Always fascinated by the cutting edge of media technology, Todd is also a programmer. He created the Apple II computer paint program called the Utopia Graphics System and codeveloped Flowfazer, a screensaver with psychedelic video effects. He also enthusiastically adopted Newtek's Video Toaster software, using it to produce his own videos for "Change Myself," "Fascist Christ," and "Property."
In the mid-1990s, Todd harnessed the rise of the internet to launch his "Patronet," severing ties with record labels and distributing his music directly to fans and patrons via a subscription model. At the time this was a visionary move, predating the iTunes store or even Napster by years.
Rundgren composed scores for several comedy films and shows, including the show Pee-Wee's Playhouse and 1994's Jim Carrey film Dumb and Dumber.
John Lennon's killer Mark David Chapman was similarly obsessed with Todd Rundgren. Chapman revealed that before the murder, he went looking for Rundgren at his home in Woodstock, New York. In a jailhouse interview, Chapman, who was arrested wearing a promotional T-shirt for Rundgren's Hermit Of Mink Hollow album, said, "I cannot overestimate the depth of what his music meant to me."
A reformed lineup of The Cars
called The New Cars featured Todd on guitar and vocals in 2006.
Todd was dating Bebe Buell when she had an affair with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith
, and got pregnant by Tyler. Buell told Rundgren that he wasn't the father, but Todd still raised the child, Liv, as his own and supported her even after he split with Buell. Liv didn't find out that Tyler was her real dad until she was 11 years old. She developed a relationship with Tyler and appeared in three Aerosmith videos, but considers Rundgren her "spiritual father."
He has three children: Rex, Randy and Rebop. Rundgren had a bad relationship with his father, and was determined to be a better dad to his own kids. He has stated that his children always come before anything else in his life.
His "Runt" moniker comes from the name kids used to tease him with: "Runt Green."
In 2008, to celebrate his 60th birthday, Rundgren (actually his wife, Michele) organized the first "Toddstock," where a few hundred fans joined them on his property in Kauai, Hawaii for music, food and comity. Conceived as a "mini Burning Man," it went over well, leading to future Toddstocks every five years at various locations.