Inspired by a variety of British Invasion groups, from the omnipresent Beatles to the cult favorites the Move, Todd Rundgren and his Woody's Truck Stop colleague Carson Van Osten formed the Nazz in 1967. Nazz were arguably the first Anglophiles in rock history. There had been many groups that drew inspiration from the Beatles and the Stones, but none had been so self-consciously reverent as the Nazz. One of their first singles, "Open My Eyes," twisted the riff from the Who's "I Can't Explain," and much of their music felt like homages to Brit-rock from the Kinks to Cream, thereby setting a precedent that was followed by scores of North American guitar-pop bands from the Raspberries to Sloan.
Playing lead guitar and bass, respectively, Rundgren and Van Osten were joined by drummer Thom Mooney (formerly of the Munchkins) and lead vocalist/keyboardist Stewkey (Robert Antoni). The Nazz had their first concert in Philadelphia's Town Hall, July 1967, opening act for a Doors concert. By September, the group received financial support from Jerry Bartoff and Jack Warfield.
Bartoff and Warfield contacted Tony Messina President of American Artists Entertainment to represent Nazz, in-addition to securing venues and begin public relations. Later Nazz came in contact with John Kurland, a record promoter who was looking for a guitar-pop band. Kurland took a shine to the Nazz. who later took control of Nazz management. Throughout the fall, they practiced in their new homebase of Great Neck, New York. Kurland and his associate, Michael Friedman a record producer prevented the band from gigging regularly, believing that a lack of performances would increase demand for the group. They were convinced that the Nazz could be marketed as a sharp, stylish boy-band for the teenybopper audience, and helped the quartet refashion themselves in that mode.
With a wardrobe of clothes and an album's worth of material ready, Kurland and Friedman had the Nazz sign with SGC Records -- an off-shoot of Atlantic Records and Columbia-Screen Gems -- in the summer of 1968. Their debut album, Nazz, appeared in October, supported by the single "Hello It's Me." reaching #71 on the national charts, the single was then flipped to a self-production of "Open My Eyes".
"Hello It's Me" and "Open My Eye's" attracted good notices. Taking these as a cue, the group headed to England to cut their second album, but they became embroiled in work visa problems. Undaunted, they returned to America and began work on an ambitious self-produced double-album named Fungo Bat. By the time it was released in April 1969, it was trimmed to a single album, Nazz Nazz. Although the project's scale was diminished, the music remained dizzyingly diverse, as the record ran the gamut from psychedelic rockers to pop ballads. One problem emerged, however. In the process of editing, much of Rundgren's newer, Laura Nyro-influenced material -- which he had sung himself -- was left on the shelves. Neither the management Nor his bandmates gave Rundgren much encouragement to sing, nor was his new introspective direction warmly received by his colleagues. Faced with a no-win situation, Rundgren left the group not long after their summer 1969 tour; by that time, Van Osten had already departed the band, leaving music and landed a job at Walt Disney studios in Los Angeles as a cartoonist.
Mooney departed the group, later to play with such bands as the Curtis Brothers, Tattoo and Paris. Stewkey joined Fuse, an anglophile power-pop group featuring future Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. Mooney also played with Fuse, but left before Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson joined and the group became Sick Man of Europe.
American Artists Entertainment along with Jack Warfield and Jerry Bartoff represented Nazz. Later American Artists Entertainment represented "Sick Man of Europe" we are proud to be a part of Philadelphia's fine heritage of musical talent and artistic genius. Even today The Sound of Philadelphia in Pop, Rock and R&B is alive, well and shared around the world.
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