Welcome to Our World
The fingerprints of the visionary musician/producer/songwriter Todd Rundgren (b. 1948) are all over the Bearsville Center. The Philadelphia native had left his band Nazz when, in 1969, Albert Grossman’s staffer Michael Friedman offered the 21-year-old a job as staff engineer and producer at the forthcoming Bearsville Studios and the soon-to-be launched Bearsville Records label. Grossman promised Rundgren he’d become the highest paid producer in the world – a promise that came true when “the boy wonder” produced Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re an American Band in 1973.
One early project was engineering the Band’s Stage Fright (recorded live at the Woodstock Playhouse), a Number Five album in 1970. Nonetheless, Rundgren did not take the same approach as Grossman toward commercial success. Rundgren’s attitude for his Bearsville Records releases was to “make the record [I] wanted to make and then hope the label can find a way to promote it.” His third album, the double-disc hit, Something/Anything?, was partially recorded at Bearsville with former members of Janis Joplin’s band, among other local musicians.
Rundgren’s influence on Bearsville – the studio, the record label, the development of the buildings – is incalculable. In his time there, he released 16 albums either solo or with his prog-synth band Utopia. And he engineered and/or produced over 70 albums for artists as eclectic as Meat Loaf (Bat Out of Hell), the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Sparks, and XTC.
Following a break in 1976, Rundgren opened the Utopia Sound Studios in a converted barn at his home on Mink Hollow Road (name-checked on his 1978 LP, Hermit of Mink Hollow) in Lake Hill, near Bearsville. For the next six years, this remained his base, where he gardened and reportedly “tried to make the property Zenlike.” In 1979, he opened the seminal Utopia Video Studios in a Bearsville Center building, with high-tech video equipment and designed by John Storyk (designer of Electric Lady, Jimi Hendrix’s studio in New York, and later the Bearsville Theater). Some of the first MTV videos were shot at Utopia Video, including a Rundgren single. Over the years, the video studio hosted recording and/or rehearsals by Phil Lesh, Gov’t Mule, Natalie Merchant, Blues Traveler, Chrissie Hynde, and Splendor, among others.
Rundgren continued to produce recordings at his Utopia Sound Studio into the 1980s. His last album on the Bearsville label, in 1982, included the hit “Bang the Drum All Day.” After he sold his Mink Hollow home, eventually relocating to Hawaii, Rundgren occasionally returns to the Woodstock area, including performing at Woodstock ’94 and at periodic area concerts into the 2010s. His 2017 album, White Knight, features Woodstock resident Donald Fagen.