Todd Rundgren will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Oct. 30.
But first, he plays Capital Turnaround on M Street Southeast on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18.
“I’ve never been much into the Hall,” Rundgren told WTOP. “It’s never been high on my list of priorities, but my fans have always wanted it, so when it finally happened, I was glad for them and I was glad for myself because I wouldn’t have to go through it anymore. … If you’re still a working musician, Hall of Fame doesn’t make sense because you’re not done!”
Born in Philadelphia in 1948, Rundgren grew up listening to a range of music.
“My dad was a music fan and liked to listen to contemporary classical music and Broadway musicals, so I got exposed to symphonic and stage music at a very young age,” Rundgren said.
“While so-called rock ‘n roll was on the radio, it was also mixed with a lot of junk, Frankie Avalon and that kind of thing, so the station we preferred to listen to was … mostly R&B.'”
In 1967, Rundgren formed the psychedelic rock band Nazz as a teenager.
“Nazz only last about 18 months,” Rundgren said. “We were all in our late teens and not particularly mature. The oldest guy in the band was Carson and he was actually attending art school at the same time we were trying to be successful as a band. He decided to return to art school, so he was the first to leave, then shortly after I decided being in a band didn’t work for me.”
He bounced around between friends apartments in New York City.
“I was installing lights in a discothèque, doing anything to survive,” Rundgren said. “Then I got contacted by the Albert Grossman organization because … I started taking over the production duties and doing some engineering. … They brought me in to modernize the records their artists were making because I had an interest in cutting-edge technologies in where music was going.”
After engineering a few projects, Rundgren asked the label if he could record some of his own songs. As he puts it, he “accidentally” had a hit song with “We’ve Gotta Get You a Woman” (1970).
His third album “Something/Anything” (1972) featured the hit single “I Saw the Light” (1972).
“It took me about 20 minutes [to write],” Rundgren said. “If you break it down, it’s not a particularly complicated song. The changes in the chorus are almost incidental. The chorus is hardly a chorus at all and the rhymes are really lame: ‘moon, June, spoon’ and ‘light, night, fight.’ … Part of the reason it was so easy to write was because it’s such a shallow idea to start with.”
The same album also included the hit single “Hello, it’s Me” (1973).
“It was the very first song that I ever wrote,” Rundgren said. “I had a musical idea and a lyric idea, put them together and ‘Hello, it’s Me’ was born. It became the B-side of our first single ‘Open My Eyes.’ … Radio flipped the record over and started playing the B-side. … Years later making a solo record I thought the song could use an update, a little peppier tempo and an R&B arrangement.”
Around the same time, he formed the band Utopia running parallel to his solo work.
“The reason why I formed Utopia was because more of my writing had become focused around the piano, but I had invested so much into becoming a decent guitar player that I didn’t want to lose those chops,” Rundgren said.
“I had two careers at that point: my solo career that would focus on usually more of my piano-based material, then Utopia, in which I was the guitar player.”
He found another hit single with “Can We Still Be Friends” (1978), which found new life years later in “Dumb and Dumber” (1994), for which Rundgren composed the entire original score.
“That’s actually my most covered song,” Rundgren said.
“Rod Stewart did it, Robert Palmer did it, Colin Blunstone did it from The Zombies. I’m plagued by ballads. It seems like there’s no way I can get a song on the radio that isn’t a ballad of some kind. I’m just happy that people appreciate the songwriting and think that it’s got a universal enough appeal that they can represent it.”
Still, his most popular song is the goofy upbeat anthem “Bang the Drum All Day” (1983).
“My subconscious will start writing music without any help from my conscious mind,” Rundgren said.
“I essentially dreamed the song. I was asleep and the song was playing fully realized in my head. I woke up and went down to the studio and quickly recorded everything that I could remember of it, then filled it out with new lyrics. … It was a gift from somewhere.”
The song was featured on “Jock Rock” and is still played constantly at sports stadiums.
“First it was hockey games, then it became a football anthem, particularly for the Green Bay Packers who still play it every time they score,” Rundgren said.
“When the Rams were still in St. Louis, they used to play it every time they scored. So there’s this vast audience who knows the song but has no idea why they know it. The payoff came when suddenly it’s a party anthem.”
Has he ever been standing in a sports stadium when the song comes on?
“I have heard it played because I conducted it at Notre Dame,” Rundgren said.
“I did a residence in Notre Dame like five or six years ago. One of the things I did was a homecoming game at Notre Dame in the actual stadium and I conducted the marching band doing ‘Bang the Drum.’ The year after that I was essentially the homecoming king. I got to ride around in a convertible.”
Today, he continues to crank out music with his new album coming out later this month.
“Me and the Roots will have a single out sometime in October,” Rundgren said.
“We’re both from Philly, so it’s a Philadelphia thing. It’s another record of collaborations. The previous single I put out was with a rapper named Narcy, one was with Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, and one was with Sparks, so this will be the fourth single on there, and there’s another eight songs on the record.”
Beyond the actual music, he’s renowned for pioneering music technology over the years with electronic music, music videos, music software and internet music delivery as well.
“My dad was an engineer,” Rundgren said.
“He worked at DuPont, so technology was a part of our lives. He would bring home stuff from the lab. … When I saw ‘Forbidden Planet’ with Robby the Robot, I decided I wanted to build myself a robot pal. … When I got out of high school, I could go to tech school and learn how to program computers or I could become a musician.”
It’s safe to say that his fans are glad that he chose to become a musician.