NO CAPACITY CROWD IS TOO LARGE!
by Sam Leighty
The Nazz stood out in their time and they knew it. They played music which combined elements of The Yardbirds, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Kinks and Cream. Their name "The Nazz" came from a Yardbirds song called "The Nazz Are Blue." This particular Yardbirds track was a "B" side on an American single and an album track on the so-called Roger The Engineer vinyl album in England. The term "The Nazz" also has obscure religious and social meaning. Lord Buckley used it in one of his monologues.
The Nazz themselves came out of Philadelphia and they began to make a big splash late in 1967. They were unusual for their time. They were a current band in 1968 and 1969. Just as groups like CSN&Y and Santana were starting to climb the charts and the Woodstock Nation loomed nearby, with everybody sporting beards, mustaches, T-shirts and jeans, the guys in the Nazz looked like The Tremeloes or The Small Faces. They certainly played their own style. It had many idiocyncracies of its own, which were earmarks of the very loud and downright impressive Nazz sound. They did kind of borrow from American garage rock to The Move to the The Creation to The Hollies, which reminds me that The Nazz did certainly affect a great deal of British Invasion airs, yet they did so gracefully. For instance, they sometimes mimic'd The Who's stage act. We've all seen 80's heavy metal bands do this, yet the guys in The Nazz made it all come off better than most of them could.
The group consisted of Todd Rundgren, Robert "Stewkey" Antoni, Carson Van Osten, Thom Mooney. Mooney was in a band called The Munchkins just prior to joining the Nazz. Stewkey was in a band called Elizabeth when he was asked to join The Nazz in 1967. There's a story about Bob Antoni's curious nickname of Stewkey. When Antoni was in Junior High and he was with some guys putting together their first band everybody thought they should choose names which sounded "English." Bob said call me "Stewkey" which he recalls was a takeoff on Ringo Starr's real last name of "Starkey" and it stuck. In an interview years later Stewkey Antoni looked back on this bit of silliness as "immature" but Nazz fans know Antoni as 'Stewkey.'
As a side note, Alice Cooper's first band circa 1967-1968 was called The Nazz. As it ended up, Alice Cooper decided to use The Alice Cooper Band name instead. I don't know if legal action was threatened or not.
The Nazz were managed by John Kurland and produced by Michael Freidman. The band's first gig was as an opening act for the Doors in 1967 and their first major label record release was "Hello It's Me" b/w "Open My Eyes" in January of 1968. It wasn't a great big hit but it did chart and get some sporadic airplay. The guys had hoped that "Open My Eyes" would be the song everybody went for. It's a killer hard rock tune with it's "whirlwind" or "flange" effect, soaring harmonies, blistering lead guitar and rotary speaker organ, electric piano. Musician and writer Lenny Kaye included "Open My Eyes" on the Nuggets garage rock compilation. But it was the Todd Rundgren compostion "Hello It's Me" that got most of the airplay. "Hello It's Me" featured a more subdued sound with Stewkey's slightly John Lennon styled lead singing. Todd Rundgren wrote this song when he was 17 and in the seventies he reprised it on his Something/Anything solo album. Either version is interesting.
Their first album was released in October of 1968. It was titled simply The Nazz. It's a classic although one of the band members remarked years later that Michael Freidman "softened" the music way beyond what the group would've prefered. All of the songs are originals by the Nazz, written by Todd with a few numbers written by other group members. Curiously, one of the oddities about the group was that the guys were heartthrobs in magazines like 16, Datebook and Tiger Beat while Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy had barely heard of them.
It can be said that if The Nazz had a Graham Nash or a Brian Wilson, it was Todd Rundgren. Yes, Todd was important. He eventually got very involved in the production of the group's records and he was very crucial in the group's overall image and direction they were going in. And he was a great guitar player. I've thought so ever since I heard "Under The Ice" not long after they broke up! Or how about "Forget All About It" or "When I Get My Plane"?! or "Kiddee Boy"?! He was also a great singer/songwriter. But all of The members of The Nazz were very talented.
Todd came from a Philadelphia suburb called Upper Darby. He began to play electric guitar when he was about 14. He played slightly pre-Beatles top 40 stuff. Then The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan and he also took an interest in Philadelphia R&B. He got into The British invasion heavily and was interested in roots music like B.B. King and Muddy Waters. After graduating high school in 1966 Todd joined Woody's Truckstop which was kind of a folk rock-ish blues band of sorts. He developed a following in Philadelphia because for one thing, he played slide guitar. Todd eventually left Woody's Truck stop. they recorded at least one album after Todd split that I know of. It's a very good album and it's worth about $15-$20 in pretty good shape.
Todd roamed around Philadelphia in the early weeks of 1967 with his red Gibson SG guitar. Superb bass player Carson Van Osten and Todd were freinds at that time and they were thinking about starting a band. Carson had been a member of Woody's Truckstop along with Todd. They met Thom Mooney at a Philadelphia club and they jammed together. Mooney was a very exceptional and creative drummer. Todd, Carson and Thom started hanging out together and they were slowly developing the overall context and concept of The Nazz in their conversations. They were all from The Philadelphia suburbs. Todd Rundgren and Thom Mooney were 18 while Carson was a couple of years older. Todd and Carson found out The Who were coming to Philly on tour promoting the Happy Jack album, along with The Blues Magoos and Herman's Hermits so they went to the bar at the hotel where they were staying just to sort of promote themselves, get girls, see if they could get a autograph or get a chance to talk to one of their heroes. They saw Roger Daltrey at the bar, and the two struck up a conversation with Daltrey which Carson recalls "I know he was pretty bored with it." After 15 or 20 minutes went by, a man who had done a lot of promotional stuff for The Mamas and the Papas named John Kurland aproached Rundgren and Van Osten. "He thought we looked sort of Mod." Kurland talked to the two of them and said he was interested in the band which they were just getting started with Mooney. Not long afterward a very fine singer and keyboard player from Boston named Bob Antoni, aka "Stewkey," made it a foursome. The four of them spent a lot of time just jamming at a house they rented in Great Neck, NY.
The strange thing is The Nazz only gigged aproximately 30 times from the time they formed in the spring of 1967 until 1969 when they broke up. That figure varies a little bit depending on which ex-Nazz member you're talking to or which freind of the band you're talking to. But the general consensus is that The Nazz only played between 18 and 30 concerts and "the figure can't be much higher or lower than that" according to one of the band members. You can be sure these concerts were the maximum in kickass rock and roll. Nazz could play all of the songs from their albums onstage and 10 times louder and better than the records. All four members sang while Antoni handled most of the lead vocals. Todd sang lead once in awhile and took an ocaisional verse lead. Todd played lead guitar, Carson played bass, Stewkey played piano and organ and Mooney played drums. There are a few TV clips of the group which can give you a very slight glimpse of what I'm talking about, although these video clips ain't like being there! There is a lip-synched "Open My Eyes" in color from 1968, parts of it are very Who-ish. The group appeared on Happening in 1969 miming to "Not Wrong Long." I don't know what's up but it looks like it's a substitute bass player and not Van Osten. The song is keyboard-oriented, with Todd is decked out sort of like one of the Hollies and playing an electric piano while Stewkey plays a Hammond Spinet and sings lead.
John Kurland and Michael Friedman were responsible for a great deal of that "New Beatles" image in which The Nazz were being promoted, although Todd, Stewkey, Carson and Thom did sort of want a Vox and Rickenbacker image all the same, so all this was fine with them. One of the reasons why Nazz concerts were few and far in between was they were trying to get a certain capacity of crowd at venues in NYC and Jersey-Philly and they many times couldn't get it, because while it's true that a lot of people had heard of "that English bubblegum group," the records were only getting sporadic and scattered airplay. Further, Kurland and Freidman thought inaccessability would breed fan interest and demand. The four members of Nazz were the recipient of a record company advance in 1967 or 1968, which they lived on for quite awhile at that house in Great Neck. They even made a trip to London at one point, mainly to buy unusual clothes. The group wore uniforms, the first little while they were together in 1967. This was at a time when things like beards, mustaches, Levi Jackets and Cowboy boots were slowly starting to come into vogue. By that time, uniforms and matching suits were considered a bit "Searchers" or "Monkees" but there were plenty of fans who I'm sure admired what The Nazz was doing.
The Nazz recorded their second album after returning from that trip to England. It was originally titled Fungo Bat which is a type of baseball bat used only for practice. The album ended up being released as Nazz Nazz. Some of the pressings were issued in red vinyl. The ex-members of the group along with a large portion of the fans are almost unanimous in pointing out Nazz Nazz as being the best Nazz album. Todd Rundgren had always had a thing for Lauro Nyro and soul ballad stuff with piano and a lot of pretty instrumentation. There were a couple of tracks featuring the whole band lineup and another 10 or 15 songs with Todd singing lead and overdubbing all the instruments. These songs I'm talking about were left over from the sessions for Fungo Bat aka Nazz Nazz. Stewkey was brought in to overdub the vocals on most of these "Laura Nyro" and "Carole King" Rundgren songs by SGC, the band's record label and the whole thing was edged out of the frying pan and slapped onto the dinner dishes as Nazz III. Let's be clear, Nazz III is still a way above par set of recordings.
Nazz Nazz was released in the spring of 1969 and Nazz III came out in 1971 a fairly long while after The Nazz anounced their breakup. The three Nazz albums are each and every one of them gems, I think. They were all three reissued in 1983 and now that they don't make vinyl anymore, you can find them all three in CD's online. All three of those albums were worth about $50 in the original vinyl pressings about 25 years ago IF they were in pretty damn good condition with the jackets in one piece. Those prices have probably climbed over the years but they may have held steady at $50 or $60. What's important is how very listenable their music was. All of it. Ballads and Rockers. Stewkey's voice has been described as like "liquid crystal," Carson and Mooney have been called a whirlwind rhythm section and Todd has been hailed as a genius and a great guitar player.
Maybe a rock and roll group like The Nazz wasn't meant to last. They were too good to be true and they left behind quite a legend. I've gotta say there was some minor league temperament here and there between a few people in the band but the picture that's been painted in some of the post-Nazz magazine articles is worse than the actual reality. Starting with the band's first album, Todd went to work teaching himself production and engineering and jumping in right alongside Michael Freidman. Todd produced an awful lot of the Nazz' output. And he may very well have sensed the precariousness of The band's cult following status and its garage rock obscurity. Therefore he assigned himself this producer role in order to keep The Nazz afloat in the music business. He would have split sooner or later, all the same. He was starting to develope the keyboards-oriented balladeer thing. He did and still does pull out an SG or a Les Paul and he knocks out plenty of those Yardbirdsy-Nazz licks but mostly he started to move, in part, in a somewhat different direction after he was in The Nazz for about a year. A lot has been made of this but Todd had some doubts about Stewkey and Mooney. Mind you, these didn't turn into "worst enemy" styled conflicts. He had some concerns about Stewkey's degree of comittment because he liked to party often.They argued a few times but it didn't get out of hand. Todd also found that Mooney could be a little obstinate about being asked to play brush strokes or small percussion. Thom says Todd was putting over musical ideas which weren't in the style of, for instance, "Open My Eyes" or "Under The Ice," which is the sort of playing style everybody in The Nazz wanted to be known for.
The Nazz broke up in 1969. Rundgren and Van Osten both left after Nazz Nazz was released. Nazz Nazz was intended to be a double album and much of the material that Todd had labored over got moved over and slated for 1971's Nazz III by SGC. A couple of the band members do say that gradually, the four of them could see the band quietly coming to the end. They all four dropped into that house in Great Neck one day and sat down together. They all probably understood there was something a bit non-commercial about what they were doing, yet at the same time it was like nitro glycerin or uraniam isotopes. It was almost too weighty and too heavy to handle. But maybe they really didn't know that. They had kept it together for almost three years and they were, in their own way, a critical success. They got themselves up from out of nowhere and showed you didn't have to be an established showbiz entity to rock the joint and burn the house down. Normally, I think FM rock radio is for people who are hellbent on spending four dollars for a cup of coffee or for those who sneak into the Orange Julius restroom to smoke beechnut cigarettes but actually it's at the general time frame that The Nazz called it quits when FM classic heavy rock stations picked up on The Nazz' albums and they still do give those albums a lot of play. Three ex-members of The Nazz are still in the music business and there are several websites keeping up with news and information about it.
The breakup of The Nazz was announced in 1970. Stewkey was still touring and using The Nazz name at that general time with various good musicians coming and going. He was joined on a couple of occasions by Mooney. Briefly around 1970, Stewkey had a band called Fuse which included future Cheap Trick members Rick Neilson and Tom Petersen. They toured relentlessly sometimes billed as The Nazz and sometimes were billed as Fuse.
Stewkey has been fronting a band billed as The Nazz since 2006 and he communicates with Nazz fans on a regular basis. He has remarked at least once that he would be interested in seeing the release of at least a handfull of live tracks by the original Nazz group from back in the sixties. Nazz were dynamite in concert. Both band members and people who were at those gigs all say that they really sizzled. Mooney went on to play drums for various bands including Tattoo, Curtis Brothers and Paris. Thom was also in Rita Coolidge's band for years. Van Osten is an illustrator and animator for comic books and cartoons. He has been for years. Carson had studied art in Philadelphia and he became an animator for Disney after The Nazz broke up. Todd's solo career doesn't require much explanation or clarifying. Todd has recorded 20 studio albums and a whole slew of singles. Todd has fronted bands such as Runt, which was a trio with Hunt and Tony Sales. He also fronted Utopia which had three keyboard players, not to mention his rep as a top-flight producer (Meatloaf, New York Dolls, XTC, to name a few). Once the equipment was set up properly and everybody had rehearsed their chops at home and in group rehearsal, The Nazz were really all about a good time and hitting you over the head with what Jeff Beck would call "rude sounds." Mooney recalls, "we would play for hours everyday."
THE NAZZ DISCOGRAPHY
- Nazz (SGC Records-SD 5001-October 1968/reissued by rhino-1983(LP/Cassette)&1988(CD))
- Nazz Nazz (SGC Records-SD 5002-May 1969/reissued by Rhino-1983(LP/Cassette)&1988(CD))
- Nazz III (SGC Record-SD 5004-July 11, 1971/reissued by Rhino-1983(LP/Cassette)&1988(CD))
- Best of Nazz (Rhino-RNLP/RNC 116-1984(LP/Cassette)/R1-70116 1989(CD))
- Thirteenth and Pine (Distortion Records)
- Open Our Eyes: The Anthology (Sanctuary Records 2002)
BOX SETS/RARITIES SETS
Nazz Nazz/Nazz 3: The Fungo Bat Sessions (Contains both Nazz Nazz and Nazz3 albums on 2 CD's and many unreleased tracks)
Also see our 2008 Nazz article, our article on Utopia and our interview with Rundgren
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