The Nazz was an American psych-rock band from Philadelphia that released the 1968–69 albums Nazz and Nazz Nazz on SGC. Frontman Todd Rundgren launched a prolific solo career and later fronted Utopia. Drummer Thom Mooney resurfaced in the hard-rock super-trio Paris.

Members: Robert “Stewkey” Antoni (piano, organ, lead vocals), Thom Mooney (drums), Todd Rundgren (guitar, piano, vocals, 1967-69), Carson Van Osten (bass, 1967-69), Craig Bolyn (guitar, 1969-70), Greg Sempler (bass, 1969-70), Rick Nielsen (guitar, keyboards, 1970-71), Craig Myers (guitar, 1970-71), Tom Petersson (bass, 1970-71)


The Nazz formed in Philadelphia in 1967 when guitarist–singer Todd Rundgren and bassist Carson Van Osten teamed with singer–keyboardist Robert “Stewkey” Antoni and drummer Thom Mooney. Rundgren and Osten hailed from Woody’s Truck Stop, an emerging blues-rock act that later (without the pair) cut an album on Mercury. They named their new band after the 1966 Yardbirds song “The Nazz Are Blue.”

(Around this same time, a band from Phoenix called The Spiders moved to LA and renamed itself The Nazz for the 1967 single “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye” on small-press Very Record. When they learned of Rundgren’s band, they changed their name to Alice Cooper.)

On June 18, 1967, The Nazz opened for The Doors at the Philly Town Hall. The Nazz became the flagship act on Screen Gems-Columbia (SGC), a label set up between Screen Gems (the TV division of Columbia Pictures) and Atlantic Records. They recorded their first album in April 1968 at I.D. Sound Studios in Hollywood. Their first single, “Open My Eyes” (b/w “Hello It’s Me”) appeared that July on SGC.

1968: Nazz

The Nazz released their debut album, Nazz, in October 1968 on SGC. It features both sides of their single and six further Rundgren originals, including “If That’s the Way You Feel,” “See What You Can Be,” “When I Get My Plane,” and “Back of Your Mind.” Mooney and Stewkey contributed “Crowded.” The closing track on side one, “Wildwood Blues,” is a group composition.

“Open Your Eyes” opens Nazz with a variation of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” riff: a closed-cadence three-chord pattern rooted in E. From there, a flowing chromatic pattern gives way to the phased, swirling chorus. “Hello It’s Me” is slow and minimal; the famous vocal melody floats on vibes, cymbals, faint bass, and decorative tom fills.

“Back of Your Mind” is a psyched-up blues rocker (in F#) with nimble bass, sinewy guitar, splashing cymbals, and channel-split vocal tradeoffs. “See What You Can Be” is a fluid number with clean, clipped guitar and jazz-tinged drumming. “When I Get My Plane” is a harmonized, phased rocker with thunderous guitar and rapidfire drums.

“If That’s the Way You Feel” is an airy ballad that opens on a harmonized chorus in Cmaj7. It gives way to unrelenting verses with vivid declarations in the heat of an argument (“I’m not in the habit of running my fears up a flagpole.”) Vocals yield to an orchestral-pop arrangement of strings, piano, and drums.

Nazz was produced by American Breed soundman Bill Traut, who subsequently worked with Aorta. Rundgren did the string arrangements on “If That’s The Way You Feel.”

Nazz appeared in a gatefold sleeve with photography by Joel Brodsky, whose images also appear on 1968 albums by 31st of February, Ars Nova, Bear, Circus Maximus, Earth Opera, Eclection, Margo Guryan, and Puff. Nazz presents colorized cutouts of the member’s heads against a black background (front) and grouped in ruffled shirts against a purple wall (back). The inner-gates have a seated outdoor group shot (right) and monochrome face pics and liner notes by Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau (left), who concludes his three-paragraph blurb by stating “before they are through, I think they will tear your head apart, and put it back together again.”

In Canada, where Atlantic flipped the single sides, “Hello It’s Me” reached No. 39 on the RPM Singles Chart. “Open My Eyes” became a garage-rock standard when compiler Lenny Kaye included the song on the 1972 compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968.

1969: Nazz Nazz

The Nazz released their second album, Nazz Nazz, in April 1969 on SGC. It features eleven Rundgren originals, including “Forget All About It,” “Gonna Cry Today,” “Under the Ice,” “Rain Rider,” “Meridian Leeward,” and the 11-minute epic “A Beautiful Song.”

Nazz Nazz sessions occurred in January–February 1969 at I.D. Sound, their default facility after an abortive trip to Trident Studios in London. Rundgren asserted an autocratic role in the Nazz as the album’s writer, producer, and arranger. Midway through its creation, Todd’s musical interests shifted from British rock to the plaintive style of Laura Nyro, who inspired him to write on piano and use major-sevenths in his songs.

The stylistic shift alienated Stewkey, who refused to sing some of the new ballads for the proposed album: planned as a two-record set under the working title Fungo Bat. Osten left the Nazz before the album’s release, which the remaining trio briefly toured with stand-in bassists. Soon after, Rundgren also left the band. Just before the finished double-album hit shelves, Stewkey had it trimmed to a single disc that de-emphasized Rundgren’s newfound balladry.

Nazz Nazz was produced by Thaddeus James Lowe, the Electric Prunes singer whose partnership with Rundgren continued at Ampex–Bearsville.

Haig Adishian designed the album cover: a closeup of the Nazz over-lit before a blue wall (front) and pictured separately in psychedelic attire (back). Adishian designed jazz, psych, and R&B covers for numerous sixties Atlantic artists, including 1968–69 albums by Chick Corea (Tones for Joan’s Bones), Dusty Springfield, Green, Herbie Mann, Steve Marcus (Tomorrow Never Knows), and Yes (self-titled, US version). The photographer on Nazz Nazz, Bruce Laurance, also snapped the back shots on the first Vanilla Fudge album and Rundgren’s solo debut Runt.

SGC–Atlantic lifted “Not Wrong Long” in March 1969 as a single (b/w “Under the Ice”). Initial US copies of Nazz Nazz appeared on red vinyl. In June, SGC issued two songs from the missing second record: “Some People” and “Magic Me.”

After the Nazz

Todd Rundgren became a house producer at Bearsville Studios, where he recorded his 1970–71 solo albums Runt and The Ballad of Todd Rundgren (issued under the band moniker Runt) and produced albums by Badfinger and Sparks. In 1972, he re-recorded “Hello It’s Me” for the double-album Something / Anything. In late 1973, it became his highest-charting hit (US No. 5). As his work grew more experimental with the 1973–74 albums A Wizard, A True Star and Todd, he formed Utopia, which issued ten albums through the mid-eighties, starting with the 1974 Bearsville release Todd Rundgren’s Utopia.

In May 1971, SGC issued Nazz III, comprised of the missing second record of Nazz Nazz. It features nine Rundgren originals, including “Some People” and “Magic Me,” plus “Only One Winner,” “How Can You Call That Beautiful,” and “You Are My Window.” Nazz III also includes two Osten numbers (“Plenty of Lovin’,” “Christopher Columbus”) and the group-written “Loosen Up,” a spoof on “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells. One track not envisioned for the Nazz Nazz double-album is their cover of the Barry Mann–Cynthia Weil anti-drug rocker “Kicks,” a 1966 hit for Paul Revere & the Raiders that Nazz recorded for a cancelled multi-artist label comp.

Mooney, who initially withheld the missing Nazz Nazz recordings, begrudgingly mixed the songs for Nazz III at the insistence of SGC, who owned the tapes. The cover of Nazz III is a photo-negative of the first album’s back cover. A late-1968 outdoor photo of the Nazz in colorful shirts and ascots graces the back of Nazz III.

Osten dropped from the music scene. Stewkey and Mooney joined FUSE, a Rockford, Ill., psych-rock band that pre-dated their arrival with one album on Epic. Later, after their departure, FUSE morphed into Cheap Trick.

Mooney resurfaced in Paris, a hard-rock act formed by songwriter Bob Welch after his time in Fleetwood Mac. Thom stayed for the first of two 1976 Paris albums on Capitol, then joined Tattoo, which issued one album later that year on Motown-subsidiary Prodigal. After appearances on 1979 albums by David Werner, Danny O’Keefe, and John Hiatt, Mooney resurfaced in new wave rockers Noël and the Red Wedge, which released the 1982 album Peer Pressure on Scotti Bros. Records.



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