Into The Doll House With Todd Rundgren
My surprising '70s revelations after dishing with the New York Dolls and their producer, 5 years apart.
👉This article was originally published on Substack on August 5, 2021. It was the debut…the actual launching-off point for FRONT ROW & BACKSTAGE! Now, after 730 days and 312 articles, I thought it was time to dust off this inaugural gem, give it a proper face-lift, up-date it with music, and maybe add a few more photos!
Thanks for joining us to celebrate!🥂
Hello, It’s Him
Todd Rundgren, 2021 Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame inductee, produced the New York Dolls’ self-titled 1973 debut LP for Mercury Records (above).
Todd and the Dolls recorded the album at The Record Plant in New York City in April 1973. Todd had just wrapped recording of his A Wizard, A True Star album in January ‘73, with Bearsville/Warner Bros. releasing it in March. The album’s lead track:
Despite then-reported tales of conflicts (between Todd and the band) during the recording sessions, lead singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain (shown below) were later quoted as saying Rundgren successfully captured how the band sounded live:
In September 1973 (and newly graduated from Houston’s Bellaire High School), I drove from my University of North Texas dorm room in Denton to my hometown to see the Dolls, widely acclaimed as being the influential American punk rock bridge between Detroit’s Iggy Pop and the Stooges and fellow New Yorkers The Ramones, themselves both 21st century Rock Hall inductees.
Their weekend stint was at the legendary downtown venue, Liberty Hall, demolished shortly after its 1978 closing to allow for parking space for the Toyota Center, the Houston Rockets’ home court.
Mall Shook Up
It was backstage after Friday’s show that Sylvain asked me if I could recommend a Saturday outing for the band. Stunned at his request, I nevertheless suggested a personal tour of my old high school hangout, the Galleria (shown above), a southwest-Houston suburban three-story shopping mall with an ice skating rink at its center.
Sure enough, at noon the next day, there emerged the Dolls onto the second-floor Galleria concourse. Space City suburbia was doubtless altered forever when the lads showed up in full Dolls stage regalia and their typically sloppy, campy makeup. Mothers covered impressionable kiddos’ eyes, and shoppers stood and gawked while tightly holding their Neiman’s and Judy’s bags!
Ice skating would have been nigh unto impossible in knee-high, stacked-heel boots, but that didn’t stop me from offering. We wandered around the three rectangular concourses for around two hours before the lads and I parted ways.
Dallas ‘n’ Wonderland
The weekend following their Houston gig, the Dolls appeared for four nights (September 17-20, 1973) at Gertie’s Club on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas, and so did I, curiosity in tow (Gertie’s closed in ‘75, but moved up Lemmon a few blocks four years later). Local punkers, The Werewolves, opened.
Memories of that weekend linger, still, of meeting a lithe, fetching member of another New York punk outfit, Teenage Lust (and lusting, if nothing else, over his red, bedazzled “Teenage Lust” t-shirt), and somehow ending up sleeping on the floor of the motel room of a couple (whom I’d just met at the show) who, themselves, had just met.
In a desperate attempt to move off the floor, I even asked if I could make their little tryst a ménage à trois. Amid their grunts and moans, they managed a disinterested “nah,” and while I remained on the floor, they sweatily proceeded to tryst the night away.
Tryst to Trust
Having gained the Dolls’ trust in Houston (as well as all their autographs on a massive Mercury Records promo poster, and a handful of playing cards Johansen threw to the crowd, mid-show), I decided to probe a little bit and asked for Sylvain’s opinion on Todd’s production of their album. Without missing a beat, Syl replied, “My grandmother could’ve done a better job!”
Cut to about five years later, sometime around 1978: I ran into Todd after his Houston show which I attended. Perhaps following a tip, I found him post-concert, at the bar in Houston’s downtown Whitehall Hotel.
We chatted briefly over drinks, and as I was recalling Sylvain’s diss about Todd’s production, it was all I could do to bite my tongue to avoid spilling those deliciously hard-won beans.
Sylvain, who succumbed to cancer in January 2021 at age 69, might’ve appreciated my restraint back then. Todd, now 75, might wonder where that restraint went…especially now that I’ve spilled those particular beans!
More Todd: Glove is the Answer
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