Thursday, February 3, 2011

Todd Rundgren & The American Dream


We've all heard plenty of Todd Rundgren's productions over the years. From Grand Funk, the New York Dolls and Badfinger, to Meatloaf, XTC, Patti Smith and the Psychedelic Furs, Todd, for better or worse, has a tendency to make the artists he's working with sound less like themselves and more like himself. The stories have become legendary. Badfinger hated him. So did XTC, but they came around. Yet, there is no denying Rundgren's genius in the control room, creating hits for established artists in need of a spark.

Paul Myers' book, "A Wizard/A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio" is an excellent document that gets inside the artist as producer and features exclusive interviews with many of the aforementioned people. But one record that gets nothing but a roll call mention, is Rundgren's very first as producer, 1969's American Dream.

I know nothing about this Philly band, except that member Nick Jameson went on to play with Foghat, and I have Steve Simels over at the indispensible Power Pop to thank for that, courtesy of a November post. As a matter of fact, I only recently discovered that "Great Speckled Bird," Ian, Sylvia and Amos Garrett's 1970 release was NOT Todd's first production.

Let's cut to the chase.  I love the American Dream.  The record sounds more than a bit like Nazz, with elements of the Airplane, the Dead, and as Steve mentions in his piece, Moby Grape. It's not a lost masterpiece by any stretch, but it is more than a curiousity. The band could sing and play, and Todd Rundgren's production debut is certainly worthy of repeated listens. The guy was only 21, for Pete's sake.

THE ZIP

16 comments:

Duncanmusic said...

About 4-5 years ago I was working my usual summer part-time job as a Festival Music Director here in Rochester, NY. I was doing my rounds of the 3 stages I booked and minded during the weekend and stopped to spend some time at one that had some shade (the festival was always the first weekend in August and HOT). Next to the stage was a vendor selling very nice high-end deck/patio furniture: cypress, mahogony and such all very nice. There was a shaved bald gentleman who was minding the array of furniture and I asked if I could join him on a wooden glider. We got talking and I asked him if he minded the music. He said, oh no, he was a musician in a former life. Of course, being curious I asked and you could have knocked me over when he said he used to play with The American Dream!
I told him I STILL had (have) my promo copy and we chatted for 10 minuted or so until some paying customer material took back his attention.
For the life of me, I can't remember his name (though I know I DO still have the business card somewhere), but I think he said he played guitar which would narrow it down to Don Lee Van Winkle (which sounds like an alias) or Nicky Indelicato (which sounds like Philly Italian to me). Looking at the LP cover (right now) I'n inclined to say it was Don Lee Van Winkle a/k/a what's-his-name, mostly because he looks like what I remember this guy looking like except that he was (what looks like shaved) bald.
I was a HUGE Todd fan; saw Woody's Truck Stop AFter Todd left, the Nazz before and AFTER Todd left, Todd's first tour AND The American Dream twice while I was a student at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA circa 1969-1971. It was only 60 miles away to Philly by bus which is where I spent a lot of time on weekend when I should have been studying and saving my money. I also went to NYC to see shows by bus, but that's a different story.

steve simels said...

And let us not forget that Nick Jameson has also had a career as an actor -- he played the Russian premier in the most recent season of "24."

Noam Sane said...

Very cool, Sal, thanks.

The biggest surprise in that book for me was that Utopia backed Shaun Cassidy(!) on his debut album. I guess I should have known that...but I didn't, and I've never heard it. I assume you and everyone else has?

Beyond that, my review would state that every one of those records he produced could be a book of its own.

I especially loved the Grand Funk reminisces...as a huge fan of that band in my early teens, I always have a soft spot for the bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher, etc.

The fact that they aren't in the RRHOF underscores the lameness of that venture. They were huge, and influential to an extent, and they fucking ROCKED.

Anyway, cheers.

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks for the story, Duncan. WHat are the odds?

And Noam, it wasn't Shaun's debut, but 3rd or 4th LP.

Check it out:
http://burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com/2009/01/yes-shaun-cassidy.html

DeepKarma said...

Sal, as a life-long Philadelphian who spent about 34 of my 54 years living within 3 or 4 miles of and traveling on the Frankford El, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post. Track #7 is the only song from this album that I can remember, but it has stuck in my brain for 40 years. That sound you heard up in New York was me singing along to this little ditty as soon as the download was finished.

artlazarus said...

Well Sal, you did it. You made me go my basement and retrieve my LP of this classic and long forgotten album, which was filed between the debut releases of Gregg Allman and Argent (of course!). "I Ain't Searchin'" was a Philly FM radio staple (WMMR back in the day). "Frankford El" became a favorite of the local yocals. FYI, the front and back cover photos were taken at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in front of the Commodore John Barry statue (Barry is credited as "The Father of the American Navy.") Interested readers can discover more about this lost album on the following web site:
http://therisingstorm.net/the-american-dream-the-american-dream/

Sal Nunziato said...

Happy to see some people into this record.

FRANCIE said...

I LOVED THIS ALSO, BEING FROM "PHILLY" TODD IS STILL IN MY MIND FROM THOSE DAYS. "WMMR" HAD MY FAVE HUGE D.J. "TODD" FANS. I REMEMBER HIM PLAYED ON "WMMR" MORE."PHILLY" WAS PROUD AND TRUE TO THEIR TODD !!!! IS ANYONE OUT THERE OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER "WMMR" D.J. "MY FATHER'S SON"? NOT FOR ANYTHING, BUT STILL LAUGH AT HOW ALL THE "WMMR" D.J ALL CLAIMED TO BE FIRST TO PLAY "BRUCE". SOOO FUNNY, I VOTE FOR "DAVID DYE" BUT MANY OTHER ALWAYS WANTED CREDIT, "ED SCIAKY" & EVEN "CAROL MILLER" & "MARK GOODMAN" SUCH GREAT MEMORIES FOR ME AS BOTH A "TODD" & "BRUCE" FAN. "PHILLY" MUSIC WAS SO FAB.

Duncanmusic said...

Seeing everyone posting about Philly & WMMR got my juices flowing. I was an Upstate Finger Lakes Region New York boy who went to school in Allentown. My Dad was born and raised in Philadelphia (South Side) and we always did a stop in Philly for Water Ice & Pretzels on the street when we were on our way to Ocean City, NJ. When I went to school in Allentown I got hooked on 'MMR, so bad that I was afraid to listen to my own records for fear that I might miss something that they were playing, like bootleg Beatles or somethingGOOD. You could depend on them.
One more Todd connection. There was a band in Allentown at Muhlenberg that I was friends with and they had a lead guitar player named Kurt who CLAIMED he replaced Todd in Nazz after he left. I never was able to find anything to confirm that. I remember Kurt,. though, because he imbedded an additional 10 pounds of lead intop the body of his Les Paul to make it sound real 'HEAVY'. Just one of those crazy things folks did back then.

Tim said...

First of all, Sal I have this one on vinyl and I won't give it up. Second, they were one of the house bands (along with Edison Electric)at the Electric factory when it was in an actual old factory building at 21st and Arch St. At 13-16 years old I saw them open for some big acts (maybe even Derek & the Dominoes?) and they were great.

I think Nicky Jameson went on to be an engineer at Bearsville and the rhythm guitar player had a series of bands (the best being Winkle and the Wanderers) on South Street until pretty recently.

You can't get to heaven on the Frankford El to this day.

artlazarus said...

Speaking of the great DJs on 93.3 WMMR let's not forget Michael Tearson, who do this day can be heard on SIRIUS. Michael did the 10 p.m. to 2 a.m shift in the days when FM was truly experimental and DJs had the discretion to play whatever they wanted. Michael turned Philly teenagers like me (b. 1954) on to groups like the American Dream, the Nazz, the Blues Magoos, Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys, David Ackles, Andy Pratt, and way too many other artists to mention. I also remember My Father's Son and the Marconi Experiment. And I do believe it was the late great Ed Sciaky who made Bruce a Living Legend in Philadelphia and had a lot to do with getting Bruce exposure in early 1973 around the time of Bruce's first Main Point gigs, which can be found on the Web and downloaded and remain classic concerts to this day.

FRANCIE said...

HI. ARTLAZARUS, I REMEMBER"ED" BEING ALL THE BRUCE TALK ON MMR. HE IS SUPPOSED TO HAVE BEEN THE FIRST TO PLAY "BRUCE". (LIVE MAIN POINT BENEFIT). I THOUGHT IT WAS "DAVID DYE" WHO GOT HIS HANDS ON THE LIVE "FEVER" TAPE BEFORE THAT. I WAS ABLE TO LISTEN TO MMR DAILY AT WORK AND THINKING BACK THERE ARE SONGS FROM THERE THAT I DON'T REMEMBER HEARING AGAIN. MAYBE IT WAS JUST THE ERA?? I AM 57 SO SEEMS WE BOTH WERE THERE AROUND SAME TIME.DO YOU REMEMBER "ED" BEING A "YES" FANATIC? HE DID REALLY FOLLOW BRUCE UNTIL THE VERY END(RIP), HE WAS AT EVERY CONCERT I WAS. GREAT THAT "PHILLY" HAD SO MANY VENUES TO SEE PERFORMERS PRE-STARDOM AND INSTANTLY HEAR THE SHOW PERSONALLY TALKED ABOUT ON RADIO. SO COOL. I COULD GET STARTED ON ALL THE VENUES BUT THAT'S ANOTHER DAY. TAKE CARE MY FELLOW "PHILLY" FRIEND

artlazarus said...

Francie, who knows, maybe we could have bumped into each other at the Point or the Spectrum (RIP) and never knew it! I remember a lot of Yes being played on MMR, but I don't recall who championed the effort. I wore out the grooves on Fragile! One of the great things about coming of age in the era of the late 60s and early 70s was that whenever you heard a song on the radio it inspired you to research the artists' back catalog. This is what happened with Springsteen. He became an overnight sensation with Born To Run, and then people realized he had 2 previous albums that hardly sold, and then those albums went platinum. I left Philly in 1971 to go to college in Boston, so WBCN had to substitute for WMMR for 4 years. By the time I returned to Philly in 1975 the era was over!!!

FRANCIE said...

HI, GOING BACK TO THE "HY LIT" DAYS IN "MT.AIRY,PHILLY" WE ALWAYS HAD OUR TRANSISTOR RADIOS ON. EVEN IN TOP TEN DAYS "PHILLY" MUSIC WAS THE BEST. I ALSO REMEMBER "JERRY STEVENS" AND "GOERGE MICHAEL(RIP),LATER FAMOUS FOR "SPORTS MACHINE". WFIL, WIBG WERE OUR FAVES. SINCERELY, FRANCIE

Anonymous said...

Just picked up a clean copy of the I Ain't Searching/Good News 45 on Ampex at the neighborhood flea market today for $3. I had never heard of them, but the Todd, Ampex, Bearsville connection was enough to intrigue me. Really fun to read all the comments here and get a crash course in The American Dream. My wife and I live in NYC and we spend time in the Catksills when we can. Always cool to drive through Bearsville and see the old Utopia studio still standing. A rock radio station there now. I stopped recently to take a quick picture when I noticed I was passing a street called "Mink Hollow."

Anonymous said...

I have photos of American Dream from the Warehouse- N.O.L.A.-june 1970 if someone in the band wants to see them.