I Was Born This Very Morning Singing This Here Song – Happy Birthday Todd Rundgren
Todd Harry Rundgren was born June 22 1948 in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, and almost immediately became enamored with recorded sound via the meager album collection of his parents, Harry and Ruth, which consisted largely of show tunes and symphonic pieces. Harry had even built his own hi-fi system, with his bare hands; a feat that surely made an impression on the young Todd. As a result of this exposure, he and younger brother Robin, and sisters June and Lynette were granted early immersion into the symphonic language of Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Gustav Holst, along with the musical theatre stylings of Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein and, significantly, the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan.
By the time he was 16, Rundgren had grown as attracted to music and records as he was alienated from his domestic life and family. Music had been a logical avenue of expression for Rundgren since the age of eight, when he had taken some guitar lessons after a less-than-successful dalliance with the flute. He had started on his father’s disused guitar, which he found hidden in the basement, but eventually broke the thing trying to tune it with a pair of pliers. Next, he acquired a cheap Japanese electric guitar, but no amplifier, but that was lost when the naïve youngster had lent it to a stranger whom he never saw again. By 17, Rundgren was ready to make his first steps on the path to musical expression when he and his best friend Randy Reed put together, with Randy’s younger brother, a makeshift band they called Money.
“We used Randy’s tape recorder to record our meager performances,” Todd told me last year, in interviews that will appear in my book A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio (Jawbone Press, October 2010). “I remember one evening when the three of us went down to Lower Broad Street, where the Cameo Parkway Records offices and studios were. It was kind of Philadelphia’s label, and it was the only label we were aware of. It was the golden era of the dance craze song and they all came out of the Cameo Parkway Studios.”
By 1966, the 18-year-old Rundgren left home to take a serious stab at being a professional musician. He packed a few belongings into an old typewriter case and boarded a bus to Ocean City, on the New Jersey shore where he met a drummer named Joe DiCarlo, who took him to see a local band called Woody’s Truck Stop. Having learned that the band would be playing later that same weekend at the Artists’ Hut, back in Philadelphia, Rundgren and DiCarlo introduced themselves and somehow wrangled themselves into positions in the group.
“By then,” Todd recalls, “I was able to play a convincing slide guitar, which nobody in the band presently did, so they agreed to let me in because it made the line-up of the band an exact duplicate of the Paul Butterfield Band. Over the course of weeks, we became like the hottest thing there.””
Rundgren says he was advanced a little money from Woody’s Truck Stop to pay down his first serious guitar, a used gold top Les Paul with ‘soap bar’ pickups, which he found in a pawnshop on Philadelphia’s notorious South Street. “It was still a borderline neighborhood then,” he says. “All pimp clothes, hock shops, and luncheonettes. I got the thing for $85. I don’t think the guy in the store knew how much it was really worth.”
With increased live work, Rundgren began to show real talent on the slide guitar, but as he became a sensation within the band, tensions developed between himself and bandleader Alan Miller. “People would come to see me,” Todd told me, “and I think he was also pissed off that I was considered ‘cuter’ in those days. We kind of became the most popular band in town and we had enough gigs to be making some money so that was enough at the time. I mean, we probably thought it would be great to make a record but we were doing mostly cover songs. How were we ever going to get to make a record?”
Of course, he did get to make his own records, first with Nazz and then his first solo album, Runt.
Chomping at the bit on that album, Rundgren created a nine minute song/suite, a sampler of styles, that is still as stunning as anything he (or anyone else) has ever done. The song was called “Birthday Carol” and it is used in this birthday video created by longtime Rundgren videographer, Ed Vigdor.
“Birthday Carol” by Todd Rundgren
I was born this very morning
And my brother he was also born,
In our first nine months we learned to speak
And we have been listening since early morn.
I love no one but my brother
Who spent those months with me
I hate no one and no other has so far hated me
But it isn’t yet the afternoon,
And things are still to be,
And when evening comes we all will see.
I am not very old and I won’t live long.
I was born this very morning singing this here song