Todd at the Grammy Museum

Review by Tom Scarillo (Switch to

I was among the lucky 200 or so that scored a ticket for Todd's appearance at the Grammy Museum, at the downtown LA Live Complex. This particular night was part of an ongoing/regular series in which artists, producers, record co. executives, music industry figures and the like come in and discuss their careers, do a little Q&A with the audience, and (for artists) perform a couple of songs. The events are taped for posterity and added to the Grammy Museum's collection for future reference. I'd previously attended the excellent discussion with Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman, so when I saw that Todd was sitting for the program, I jumped at the chance to attend. I was not disappointed.

With a nice introduction and jumping-off questions from the moderator, Scott Goldman (VP at the Museum, who seemed well-versed in Todd's history), Todd was pretty much off and running, relating his earliest experiences with his first bands (Woody's Truck Stop, and the Nazz) and assimilation of various styles (blues, R&B, soul, British Invasion-style rock, etc) as influences. He told about the Nazz' setup to be (basically) teen idols, via 16 Magazine, and how he came to notice that music was almost secondary -- the band was primed in the press for nearly a year, doing appearances at parties, premieres, without having released a note of music, then encountered musician union problems in the UK that prevented them from actually recording there on their first trip. The discussion went into depth on how, post Nazz, he came to have a hand in engineering for The Band and producing Badfinger, and he also talked quite a bit about "Bat Out Of Hell". All of these were quite interesting -- he talked about how difficult it was to work with The Band, in the sense that they were simply hard to get all in the room at the same time (due to various reasons, including Garth Hudson's narcolepsy and various other members, uh, partaking of certain substances). Badfinger was basically a 'takeover' project for him, after George Harrison left to do the Bangladesh concert and album. "Bat Out of Hell" was a project that many producers (and record companies, after it was finished) turned down, and Todd saw it through as almost a parody approach to "Born To Run"'s production bombast -- that they could basically take the mythos of Springsteen's content (cars, switchblades, motorcycles, etc) and have an overweight guy delivering songs along similar lines, with a similar production style, even using some E Streeters to play on the record. Afterward, at the meet and greet, I told Todd that I found this particularly amusing, as I'm a huge Bruce fan and did always see "Bat" as basically a Bruce-style album (if not an outright companion piece), sonically and thematically -- so he confirmed my long-held belief. He also spoke about his development as a producer -- from basically learning a lot of stuff by simply fooling around with a tape machine (he accidentally discovered how to create phasing on his own, when most US producers didn't use it), taking the reins on production while with the Nazz, and his dislike of overly-complicated overdubbing and 'not having everyone in the room, playing together' (citing problems with Mutt Lange's slow-paced technique that seemed to drag out recording Def Leppard albums, for example). Todd tended to work fast -- he said he finished his part of the Badfinger record in about a week, and is known for bringing projects in under budget. While relating these stories from the early 70's, he touched on some anecdotes re: Phil Spector, leading to an amusing aside -- "I'd say Phil is a friend, though I, uh, haven't visited him lately....'

For the Q&A, a great question, which I wondered about myself, was if Todd had any particular production done for any artist, that he considered either a favorite or one that 'really got it', and he surprisingly said that he didn't really see his work and productions in terms of favorites -- they all had some merit. Joe Walsh of the Eagles was in attendance, and asked Todd for some insight into the "Healing" album (which is a favorite of Joe's, it turns out). Todd elaborated a bit on the record being made at a point in his life where he was questioning a lot of stuff, wondering what it's all about, etc., and that he's in a position where he can explore such ideas, and if he likes them, can share them. Another question was if Todd had favorite version of one of his songs that were covered by other artists, or at least, one that really stood out, and he replied that it was the Four Tops' version of "We Gotta Get You a Woman", if only because, 'wow -- holy smoke -- it's the Four Tops covering one of my songs!' Todd also opined on the missed opportunities of server-based music services -- he was involved in an early failed attempt by Time Warner Cable to provide a direct-to-home service in the early 90's (no record company would sign on) , and, well......I think we all know how that ended up.

Songs performed were (acoustic) "Love of the Common Man" and "I Don't Want to Tie You Down", and "Bang the Drum All Day" on ukulele.

Afterwards, most of the crowd lined up to get their copies of (mostly) the Johnson CD to get signed -- I myself had him sign my copy of "Arena" (and I thanked him for the Bat/Born to Run story). He chatted a bit with everyone -- all in all, a great night and I feel privileged to have been there. My ONLY complaint -- we didn't get more discussion of the post-S/A? period and albums (Wizard/Hermit), the Utopia era (thru the mid-80's), and some other production projects (Patti Smith? XTC? Cheap Trick?) but the program lasted the better part of nearly two hours as it was. I could've listened to another two hours......

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7/18/2011 - Grammy Museum - Los Angeles, CA

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