You’ve Got To Have Friends: R.I.P. “the Wizard’s apprentice”, Moogy Klingman
This morning I heard that Todd Rundgren’s longtime musical associate, Mark “Moogy” Klingman had succumbed to the dreaded Cancer after a long decline, during which time he had remained active in music until he could no longer make it to the stage. In fact, it may be argued, and I’m inclined to agree, that he was kept alive as long as he was by his sheer passionate love for music’s redemptive power.
He loved music and it guided his life, right up ’til the very end.
Klingman was an early Todd Rundgren cohort, the two had met in Greenwich Village, on the sidewalk outside a jam session at the Café A-Go-Go in 1968. Moogy discussed their meeting when we talked for my book, A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio. I use some full excerpts here.
MOOGY KLINGMAN: “We were waiting for the Paul Butterfield Band to show up at the Café A-Go-Go cause he was taking guitar lessons from Elvin Bishop. Elvin was a friend of mine that I was jamming with a lot so we’re both waiting outside. We started talking and he told me that he had a band, Nazz, that was living in Great Neck that he had gotten this big advance with Atlantic. And at the time I was with a group called The Glitter House that was on Bob Crewe’s label DynoVoice, and Bob Crewe was a very big record producer at that time, he produced all the Four Seasons, and Frankie Valli and Mitch Ryder, Lesley Gore, he just had a lot of hits at the time I signed with him and so we were both working on our first original albums with our bands. When Todd told me he took the Nazz advance and moved to Great Neck, it was funny because he moved a few blocks from where I lived. I had grown up in Great Neck, in fact I had left Great Neck because I had created a riot at the high school during a concert, and the principal tried to force me out of the school. The vice principal would force me out of Great Neck so I could go to school in the city so I had left Great Neck because of music. I couldn’t understand why Nazz were out there when it was all happening in the city… but Todd had this vision of the Nazz as being isolated from everyone else and just them living in a house and dressing alike and looking alike and having the same hairstyle and just you know some kind of bonding thing. [Later] when I went out to visit them there, they knew no one out there. We were both about 19 or 20 at the time.”
According to Moogy, the shy young Todd quickly bonded with him and was eager to meet some of his musician friends.
MK: “I was out there, and Todd told me he had been a nerd in high school and he played with his train set in his room when he was working on his music. I just think he was completely isolated in his town like his social skills were undeveloped. He saw me as a guy that could maybe help him at least with musicians, get him out to work with other musicians because about a year later we bumped into each other again… or maybe we stayed close… I’d see him occasionally at [Steve Paul’s club] The Scene which was a happening spot. Todd always wore British rock clothes, so he didn’t, like, fit into the village roots funky music scene so much, cause he looked like he came from London or something, you know?”
After Todd left Nazz, Moogy became his go-to guy for rustling musicians to play on his earliest record productions. Among these, was Ian & Sylvia’s Great Speckled Bird.
MK: “I think Amos Garrett was in the band possibly and then [Todd] had me play on some singles for James Cotton. Cotton was blues and Ian and Sylvia were country, and with Todd’s British influence… clothes, you know they were taken a little aback with him. For the James Cotton single he had me hire the rhythm section from the first time, which is what I would be doing with Todd a lot… hiring all the musicians or finding musicians for his bands in many instances… for the James Cotton sessions I got the McCoys… Randy Zehringer on drums, Ricky Zehringer’s brother, Rick became Rick Derringer, and Randy Hobbs on bass. They went to Johnny Winter after the McCoys broke up and became Johnny Winter Band. I was closer to McCoys, I was closer to a lot of musicians, I just made friends a lot with everyone from Jimi Hendrix and James Taylor to the McCoys and Traffic and Moby Grape. I would just see their shows, I’d hang out with them, they’d invite me to their recording sessions. I was young and they just dug me. And I played some good harmonica and I play some good blues piano so I could always jam with people, pick up a harp, sit down at the piano. So I got the McCoys on the James Cotton sessions and we made some really good tracks. Todd wrote some horn charts, which were pretty amazing… he couldn’t really read or write music but he could do it enough to write these horn charts for some of the songs. And we recorded one of my tunes, Todd liked one of my songs so he had James Cotton record it. He was pushing me as a songwriter and I was helping him get the musicians and make the tracks. And then during his first sessions for Grossman.”
Rundgren continued to do productions for Bearsville, while Klingman set up his own band, Moogy and the Rhythm Kings. When Todd ventured back into recording his own material, he looked up his old pal Moogy for some help.
MK: “On Runt, I helped with “I’m in the Clique” I’m on one cut and he brought in the bass player and he hired this drummer Bobby Moses, who was playing with Keith Jarrett at the time, so he knew that Keith Jarrett was my absolute idol I had taken some piano lessons from Keith Jarrett and he booked Keith Jarrett’s drummer. And on “I’m in the Clique” with Bobby Moses, I think he did it as a favor to me because he knew I loved….
Around the time of Rundgren’s second Runt album, The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren, he enlisted Klingman, along with Tommy Cosgrove, Stu Woods and Norman Smart, to back him on tour.
MK: “The second album didn’t sell, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. There were no gigs to be had, so the thing broke after. We were all living in his house for a while which he liked that stuff. He liked his whole thing in his house, somewhere in the Hollywood hills and he was a horrendous driver, he would drive really fast, it was the round corners, up these you know in the hills where you turn corners really quickly it was just scary to be in the car with the guy. He drove really fast.”
After recording three sides of Something/Anything?, in Los Angeles, Rundgren booked himself into The Record Plant, in New York, for a Sunday marathon ‘live in the studio’ session to work on a live-ish “side four.” Once again, Rundgren contracted Moogy to pack the studio with the best players he could find on short notice. “Moogy would play organ on the sessions,” says Rundgren, “because I was playing the piano on that day. We did three songs in a row, over one 16-hour session; it was a busy day.”
Klingman recalls getting the call from Rundgren on the previous Friday night, to rope everyone in for Sunday. “He needed to get a full band by Sunday morning. He wanted horns, singers, everything, so I made a ton of phone calls. I got Rick Derringer on guitar, but he couldn’t come for the first song so I also called a guitarist friend I knew from high school, Robbie Kogale. Stu Woods played the bass but also couldn’t make it for the first song so I got my friend John Siegler. We had John Siomos on drums, and I brought in a great horn section – Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, and Barry Rogers – and any singers I could find.”
Klingman’s singers included Richard Corey, Cecelia Norfleet, Dennis Cooley, Hope Ruff and Vicki Sue Robinson (who later recorded the disco hit, ‘Turn the Beat Around’). The three songs recorded that day were ‘Dust In The Wind,’ a Klingman composition which, in light of his passing, takes on an a kind of a sort-of self-eulogizing quality:
That day, Klingman also helped Rundgren with ‘You Left Me Sore,’ a light-hearted paean to sexual transmitted diseases, and a radically updated arrangement of his Nazz near-hit, ‘Hello It’s Me.’”
“I was hearing the song in my head a different way,” says Rundgren, “more up-tempo with a different feel, so I thought I’d give it a try with this new arrangement. It was the first song I ever wrote, so I thought why the hell not. Maybe I could finally get it out of my system, all these songs about some fucking girl who dumped me in high school.”
The new recording of ‘Hello It’s Me’ would become Rundgren’s major league calling card and, for better or worse, the song most commonly associated with him. Given the caliber of the musicians assembled, Rundgren recalls giving them carte blanche to wail as they pleased.
“Despite whatever else made ‘Hello It’s Me’ a hit,” says Rundgren, “it was all live and we didn’t slave over it, you know? There were no charts written out, people were faking what they were playing, and all that horn business at the end was just an impromptu thing that the horn players just started playing. The singers just started repeating, ‘Think of me’ on their own, I didn’t tell them to do that.”
Moogy recalled, in our interview, the hectic atmosphere at the session.
“Todd would be singing and playing,” says Klingman, “ and still trying to engineer. He’d show people their parts and then go back and forth to the booth to get the sounds and levels right. He had [Dan Turbeville] in there working for him, but everyone knew it was Todd’s concept. I remember that, for putting the band together, I was paid triple time in contractor’s fees, because it was a Sunday. I got a check for $2,200, for one day’s work. That was a lot of money back then.”
By 1973, when Rundgren and Klingman began using Moogy’s mid-town Manhattan loft to rehearse and record, the two decided to convert the place into Todd’s first proper studio, Secret Sound.
MK: “I had a loft on 24th street that I had, it was a rental, I gave the guy very little fee money, I think around $250.00 in key money, and he had built a studio he had a studio room and a control room with the glass in the front half of the loft and the back half was more for living. You know I had to really work on the back half to bring it up to speed for living. But the front half was already a control room and a studio. We were able to play all night because it was an industrial building no one lived there. So my band Moogy and the Rhythm Kings would essentially use it for rehearsals. Todd said he wanted to build a studio in my place and he wanted me to start backing him up on Todd Rundgren tours and TV shows with my band. So we were doing both things. So we took like two or three months and Todd decided he wanted to wire up the studio all by himself. I didn’t really know anything about wiring so he would just actually come into the control room and he bought all home equipment, home equalizers, home this and that and he would wire it up. He made his own board, he bought the faders and he just spent months wiring while his record was number one, he was in this little room wiring away for months, he should have been out on tour. But he’d just be in that room by himself and I would be in the back playing my piano. I didn’t really help him with the wiring, you know other stuff whatever was needed in terms of muffling for the studio or equipment I would be working on stuff like that. He just had all this equipment brought in you know, sets of vibes, organs, other keyboards, a Stevens 16 track machine, it was one of the early sixteen tracks by an independent entrepreneur which was a sad thing because it was breaking all the time and this Stevens was the only guy who knew how to fix it. You’d have to try to get this guy on the phone and he would tell you over the phone how to fix the machine. That studio was really put together with band aids and bubble gum. It just barely held together.”
One of the first things they made there was Rundgren’s A Wizard A True Star album. Klingman recalled for me the birth of that now legendary album, right there in his loft.
MK: “So one day Todd said ‘Okay I’m gonna start recording. He was in the room by himself with the bass and he laid down the bass part to “International Feel” and then he started adding on to it and the first part was very noisy sounding you know I said wow he’s making some really weird noisy sound, he’d been wiring for months he had like a top three record, he spent his whole time just wiring making this really weird sounds which was the opening for “International Feel” and then he was overdubbing and it started to sound like something and he said okay Moogy I want you to bring your band in Moogy and the Rhythm Kings. And were gonna do the track, some of the albums gonna be me, and they came in the first track we, one of the first tracks we did was “Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye” but he’d changed it to “Da Da Dali” and it was about Salvador Dali. We spent the next month or so recording A Wizard, A True Star with Todd as the sole engineer. We didn’t even have an assist to just watch the levels and bring things down a bit, but that’s how he liked to work he was a solo guy, he was a hermit nerd.”
Since Todd was now using Moogy & The Rhythm Kings on a lot of the band tracks for his solo albums and productions for other clients, it seemed logical that they would become the core of his progressive/near jazz rock concept, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. When I interviewed Moogy in 2008, I made the suggestion that Utopia were Rundgren’s version of Phil Spector’s backing group, The Wrecking Crew. Klingman shrugged it off though, because the analogy fails to consider that Utopia didn’t just make the records, they went out on the road as well.
MK: “Phil Spector never toured, he didn’t have his own band called Spector’s Utopia you know?
Throughout the early months of 1974, Klingman and Todd Rundgren’s Utopia composed and recorded the selections that would appear on their debut album. Rundgren recalls that the band’s flexible and informal schedule was attributable to the fact that he and Klingman owned the studio. “We could get together whenever we wanted,” he says. “For the most part, our routine was to go out in the evenings and do stuff, to Max’s or some other musical venue, and then next afternoon we’d show up at Secret Sound and work out something and probably record it. It was like ‘Hey, anybody got anything?’ Somebody would have just a little idea they’d been working on, or somebody else would have a whole song, and we’d figure out if one part could fit into the middle of another.”
According to bassist John Siegler, Rundgren had built, in Utopia, “a playground for himself, where he could explore his musical ideas and go wherever he needed to.” To which drummer Kevin Ellman adds “While it was definitely Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, it wasn’t just the Todd Rundgren Show, either.”
Their all-hands approach culminated in the 30-minute opus ‘The Ikon,’ which, Rundgren recalls, presented unique organizational challenges: “The hardest part was figuring out how these fragments were supposed to segue together, and each of them had some internal things that were challenging enough to play. Once we’d learned them, we could start thinking about how they went into a larger context.”
“All those musical pieces were recorded separately,” says Klingman, “it was five or six different pieces we had developed by jamming. I had this piece called ‘The Conquering Of The West,’ then Ralph and John started writing material for it. Eventually Todd named the whole thing ‘The Ikon.’” (Excerpt below)
“There wasn’t a whole lot of actual jamming on the final record,” says Rundgren, “but in concert, that 30-minute piece was like an hour and a half. By the time all the keyboard players and I had our turns soloing, the songs would start to seem just endless!”
Klingman and Siegler worked up the music for the ten-minute long ‘Freak Parade,’ over which Rundgren added his Zappa-like call to all the freaks among us to “get off the sidewalk” and join in the parade. “It was extremely clever stuff,” says Klingman, “and he had encouraged us to write some weird, wild music. So I had some musical ideas and John wrote the middle section, which is the funky section that has the vocals over it. Todd helped us arrange the pieces, and then he put the vocals by himself.”
“When we came back and heard Todd’s vocals and words,” says Siegler, “I just couldn’t believe how great they were. At that point, Utopia was a real band. Anyone who had music they could think of could bring it in. Todd was totally up for it.”
Keyboardist Ralph Schuckett categorizes the band at this time as a benevolent dictatorship: “Todd had really good judgment, though, so I’m not complaining. It’s just that you couldn’t really call it democratic because he had the final word. But he’d let the band record our compositions, which was generous of him both artistically and monetarily.”
Klingman also worked with Bette Midler, producing her Songs For The New Depression album an co-writing her signature song, “You Got To Have) Friends”
Klingman was also instrumental in bringing Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf to Rundgren. It would become one of Rundgren’s most successful ventures.
MK: “Yeah what happened was Todd, right after I left the band I would still try to procure productions for Secret Sound. I had the Bette Midler album out and I wanted to do more production and I was getting certain calls to produce things but not any major albums. And then I would be listening to the acts and I went and I heard Meat Loaf sing at Reno Sweeney’s with Jimmy Steinman on piano, and they did the whole Bat Out Of Hell album with just Jim Steinman on piano and Meat Loaf and I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard I told them I wanted to produce. They said they already had a record deal they were looking for a producer, told them I had just done Bette Midler and I was playing with Todd and they said oh Todd Rundgren we love Todd Rundgren they said look if you can get Todd involved in the project we’ll do the album with you.”
Sadly, Steinman became more interested in working with Todd directly, and Klingman was quietly dismissed, a fact which hurt him for years. His relationship with Rundgren was chillier for a while after that, as business arrangements clouded their friendship. But they did work together around this time.
MK: “I left the album and then it took a year or two for that record to come out and it came out and it was starting to sell somewhat and Todd called me and invited me to do the Back to the Bars tour with them so I had toured with them with Back to the Bars. He let me do one of my songs on the show and then he was doing a song of mine called ‘Lady Face’ which was supposed to be on the album and I thought the song I was doing was gonna be on the album too and it turned out when the album came out neither of those songs were on the album. So that was that.”
It took many years for he and Rundgren to thaw out their relationship. Perhaps it took Klingman’s illness to expedite their peace treaty, but over the last year, he and Rundgren, and various members of the original Utopia began doing reunion shows, primarily in the Eastern States. Some of Klingman’s last gigs, onstage with a clearly energized Rundgren, were among his greatest moments. Playing may have even prolonged his life just long enough to squeeze out a little more music.
So goodbye to Moogy, the Wizard’s apprentice. You were and remain a unique character, part foil, part Salieri, but a true original. The wheel of life keeps turning and we can’t stop the hands of time…
Some people say life’s like a merry-go-round
I think it’s more like a ferris wheel
’cause sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down
Sometimes you just don’t know what to feel
And just when you think you’ve got the game figured out
And you say you’ve had enough
The mysterious mad man with his hand on the lever
Don’t seem to never ever want to let you off
You can’t get off this wheel of karma
You can’t stop the hands of time
We’ll leave you now with a live version of Utopia’s The Wheel, featuring Moogy, from the reunion show at the Highline Ballroom, NY, January 30th 2011.