It may be April 1st as I make this blog entry, but the following Fool story is not a hoax.
Back when I was writing my book, A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio, in 2008, I eagerly sought and eventually landed, interviews with all three core members of XTC in regard to their work with Todd on one of their best albums (his and theirs) Skylarking. Whereas lead singers and songwriters Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding opted to speak with me (at great length) over the phone but their ace guitarist, Dave Gregory, chose instead to write me a letter answering all of my questions. At first, I was let down, I wanted to talk to him, but then I received the 10 pages of detailed diaries and equipment lists, written in a very lively and engaging manner that was almost a shame to have to edit to fit into the manuscript. But I had to fold it into the commentary by Partridge, Moulding and Rundgren, not to mention additional input from drummer Prairie Prince and Utopia Sound engineer Chris Andersen.
My book came out in 2010 and is still in print, but this being April Fool’s Day, I wanted to excerpt a passage from Dave Gregory’s letter regarding the Skylarking sessions, and specifically the time he got to play Rundgren’s psychedelic Gibson SG, famously painted by Dutch art team, and Beatles colleagues, The Fool (Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger) for one of its original owners, Eric Clapton. The Fool, as the SG became known, had many subsequent owners, Clapton handed it down to George Harrison, who gave it to Apple Records’ singer Jackie Lomax, who passed it on to Todd Rundgren. Todd had very much enjoyed Clapton’s solo on Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” and promptly gave the SG its alternate nickname, “Sunny.” Finally, while XTC were recording at Rundgren’s studio in Upstate New York, Gregory had found The Fool and eventually played the solo for “That’s Really Super, Supergirl” on those storied frets.
In Dave Gregory’s September 19, 2008 letter to me, he wrote:
Half-way between the bungalow and the house stood a large, glazed timber shed with a stone chimney stack in one corner; Utopia Sound Studios!
The studio was open so we went inside, where we found a variety of instruments and amps gathering dust, and looking somewhat neglected. A 1968 Vox Super Beatle amplifier – impressive looking, horrible-sounding things we never got in England – stood against a wall on its chrome stand. A grand piano stood in one corner, next to an ornate screen that a fan-dancer might have used; there were some Indian instruments hanging on the chimney breast, including a sitar; and lurking in another corner was the much-vaunted Chamberlin, which we had been promised would be a suitable replacement for our (absent) Mellotron. Opposite the Chamberlin stood a shelf containing boxes of 2” master multi-track tape reels, many of them Todd’s own recordings. I could hardly believe I could actually touch some of this stuff! On the wall behind the wooden stair-case that led to the control room was a blown-up painting of the “wizard” cartoon that adorns the back of the Runt LP.
The biggest surprise for me, however, was entering the control room and discovering Eric Clapton’s world-famous Gibson SG guitar, complete with its restored Fool artwork, sitting on a stand. It was still Todd’s main guitar and had taken up permanent residence at his place of work! Since Clapton’s sound with Cream had been among my biggest influences as a guitar player, to see the actual instrument he’d used right in front of me was a like a bolt from the blue. I decided that I’d finally reached rock heaven – all my musical dreams and aspirations were about to come true!
Later in the letter, Dave gets his chance:
I really, really wanted to play the Clapton SG on something, and Todd agreed to let me use it for this solo. Of course, it sounds more Todd than Eric, but that’s OK! It was strung with acoustic bronze-wound strings, which he allowed me to remove. While changing the strings in my room, I took the opportunity to remove the pick-guard and control rout cover, in order to examine the artwork more closely. I was surprised to discover that the paint had been applied directly on top of the factory cherry lacquer, which was still visible beneath the pick-guard. At some point the guitar must have been dropped vertically, because there was a serious crack in the wood under the controls; it would have been possible to break a corner of the body clean off. It was only the cover plate that was holding it together!
We recorded the solo in the control room, neck pick-up via the Scholz Rock Man and whatever devices Todd used to produce that uniquely Utopian effect. That SG felt very comfortable to play, the neck has a nice profile even with all the paint covering it (Clapton quickly scraped the paint off the neck, but Todd had it restored). Months after the album was finished I was listening at home to Utopia’s “Ra”, when Roger Powell’s ascending trumpet lines in the middle section of ‘Magic Dragon Theatre’ struck a familiar chord. I noticed that subliminally, I’d borrowed the same little 5-note runs for part of my solo! Todd can’t have considered it important enough to mention…
NOTE: On April 14, 2014, Andy Partridge’s APE House will reissue the so-called “corrected polarity” remaster of Skylarking, with his original cover design, available through Burning Shed. Click here for details.