Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Veteran singer-songwriter Mark "Moogy" Klingman (who, along with Buzzy Linhart wrote the Bette Midler standard "(You Gotta Have) Friends") was recently diagnosed with cancer. His battle to survive is being fueled with what he knows best: singing and playing keyboards for his band The Peaceniks, in and around New York City.

"The medicine that works best is the music," he told AOL News recently, "and what's happening at the end of this month is probably the best medicine the musical gods could have ordered."

Klingman's referring to two shows he'll be part of Jan. 29 and 30 at the Highline Ballroom in New York City. The concerts will be special, as they will feature a reunited version of the revolutionary early-1970s band that helped put Klingman on the musical map: Todd Rundgren's Utopia.

Rundgren and Klingman were friends back then and together created a unique recording studio, The Secret Sound, in Klingman's midtown Manhattan loft. There, Rundgren crafted some of his most memorable work, including the solo albums "A Wizard, a True Star" and "Todd." He also produced albums there for other artists, including the strange-but-satisfying Hall & Oates exploration, "War Babies."

And it was at the Secret Sound where some of Klingman's friends, a group of tight, seasoned musicians, were brought in to play on Rundgren's solo records. The collaborations resulted in the formation of one of the era's most compelling progressive-rock outfits: Utopia.

The band included, among others over the years, Rundgren on guitar and vocals, Klingman and Ralph Schuckett on keyboards, John Siegler on bass and Kevin Ellman on drums.

Together for just a couple of years, from 1973 to 1975, the group delivered two diverse albums that showcased complex, long-form rock 'n' roll epics sprinkled with many other elements including jazz, funk, fusion and early-era electronica -- all subtly flavored with Rundgren's trademark sparkling pop melodies and punctuated with gusts of his ferocious guitar work.

Utopia gradually disbanded in 1975, and Rundgren went on to form a new edition of Utopia.

But for the sake of their ailing friend, all five original players (along with some special guests) will be coming together for the first time in more than 35 years.

And just how faithful are the Rundgren/Utopia fans after all this time? Both shows sold out within two days, and today, there's a frenzied Internet buzz for spare tickets (and a portion of the gate will go toward paying Klingman's mounting medical bills).

"When Moogy asked me to do this, I knew it was important so I told him I'd be there," Rundgren told AOL News. "He's one of the band's charter members, an old friend -- it was a no-brainer."

Today, Rundgren, is involved in myriad musical projects including several productions, a myrecordfantasy session, musical "survival camp" and a back-by-popular-demand mini-tour featuring stylized reproductions of two his most vaunted albums, "Todd" and "Healing."

Back then, it was Rundgren's inventive star power, whiz-kid dynamism and prodigious musical talents that helped the band soar sonically both onstage and in the studio. Now, he is looking forward to rekindling some of the old Utopia fireworks, even if it's just for two nights.

"We had so much freedom back then with our own studio that we basically would be learning things about music around the clock," Rundgren said. "And the guys in the band are exceptional players, so we all pushed each other. As far as these shows for Moogy, as is the case when you choose to play the older stuff, it has an instant effect on fans because it transports them back to a time when they were younger, when there was a sense of optimism, and when music really mattered in their lives. We musicians benefit from that feeling just as the fans do. But first and foremost, this is about Moogy and so our focus will be on making the shows special for him."

Bassist John Siegler -- who went on to play for Hall & Oates for years before settling in to a successful career scoring for TV and film -- echoed Rundgren's premise. "Totally all about Moogy," he told AOL News. "If it wasn't for Moogy back then, bringing in us, his buddies, to play with Todd, all of our lives would have been very different. Moogy is a catalyst like that, always bringing people together. Given his condition today, we all thought we'd bring ourselves together for him."

Keyboardist Ralph Schuckett -- a renowned veteran session player who has worked scoring productions with Siegler for years -- also remembers Klingman as someone who made things happen. "He had a great energy for helping to crystallize that version of Utopia. And then once Todd started leading the band, we took off. That was the era of groups like Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and we fit right in. Todd gave us all so many chances to express ourselves within that band, and so I have incredible musical memories from that period. And obviously, to come back together for these couple of nights to help our pal Moogy is a total privilege."

"I'm highly motivated to practice," drummer Kevin Ellman told AOL News with a laugh. "That's some highly complex music Utopia played so trust me, I'll be practicing a lot."

Though he does play regularly in various bands, Ellman has a day job running the company he founded, Financial Wealth Preservation (he's also a former CNBC-TV financial analyst). "I lead the best kind of double life," Ellman said, "and I know that our coming together for Moogy will be unforgettable."

Klingman said he is touched by what his Utopia friends are doing for him.

"Look, I'm sick, but not too sick to play," he said. "I plan on beating this disease and like I said, it's the music that makes me feel better than any of the drugs I've been given. It rejuvenates me. And since having Utopia together like this is a dream come true, what could be better?"