A mainstay with Rundgren and Utopia, Sulton is part of “The Individualist, A True Star” show that plays GLC Live at 20 Monroe on Friday. The Local Spins interview with the acclaimed bassist.
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For Kasim Sulton, returning to live performances is a pleasure –- and almost a necessity.
The pandemic scuttled most tour plans for the typically busy musician, but the longtime bassist and vocalist with Todd Rundgren didn’t take the past 18 months off. He worked steadily on his own music and other projects, while playing some small-scale shows.
Now he’s back on the road to Utopia, or at least to Grand Rapids.
He’s part of the backing band for one of the newest members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, whose “The Individualist, A True Star” tour stops at GLC Live at 20 Monroe on Friday. Tickets are $25-$125 and available online here. Doors open at 7 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show.
Sulton said he’s been ready for quite some time, though given the past year-and-a-half, it’s different to what he’s been accustomed.
“On the one hand, it’s like riding a bike. On the other, it’s strange,” Sulton said. “I was home for the longest period since the ’80s. I got used to mowing the lawn.”
Not that he’s been idle.
He’s worked on his own music (more on that later), and even played a series of shows with Rundgren that toured the country – all from Chicago.
“We did the virtual tour. It was a lot of fun,” said Sulton.
The “Clearly Human” tour further demonstrated Rundgren’s never-say-die attitude, and his ability to think outside the box. While many artists did streaming shows from home, he put together a band that recalled the tour behind the album “Nearly Human” back in the 90s, and played a set very similar to that.
Accompanying him were Sulton, keyboardists Gil Assayas and Elliot Lewis, Bobby Strickland on reeds, Steven Stanley on trumpet and trombone, longtime Rundgren drummer Prairie Prince, guitarist Bruce McDaniel, and a trio of comely backup singers, including Rundgren’s wife, Michele.
The band performed live from a shuttered venue in Chicago with a small in-person audience and a select group of live-on-video attendees, with the live proceedings then streamed to audiences around the country.
“It was really fun,” said Sulton. “We did 27 shows from one venue.”
The club where the band performed had opened just a few months before it had to shut down, so it benefited the club, Rundgren and his fans.
A DIFFERENT RUNDGREN SHOW AND A NEW SULTON SOLO ALBUM
Now he’s back on the road with a completely different show, though some of the band members remain. Sulton, Prince, Strickland and Assayas are still on board, while regular Rundgren guitarist Jesse Gress is back after a successful lung transplant. He’d gotten pneumonia and influenza, then developed sepsis and an incurable lung disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
“He’s doing well. He’s back into it and playing like nobody’s business,” said Sulton.
The show itself is broken into two parts. First is a hits-heavy set (or at least hits for Rundgren) dubbed “The Individualist.” It’s made up of familiar songs like “Real Man,” “Love of the Common Man,” “I Saw The Light” and others well-known by his fans. The second set is one side of his 1973 epic, “A Wizard, A True Star.” He switches from Side 1 to Side 2 nightly.
“It’s always a lot of fun. It’s never the same tour. I love working with Todd. He keeps you on your toes,” says Sulton, who joined Utopia in 1976 and has been an associate of Rundgren’s ever since.
He’s played on all of the Utopia recordings and tours since then and most of Rundgren’s solo output, as well as many of the albums Rundgren produced, including efforts by Steve Hillage, Rick Derringer and Meat Loaf. He later served as music director for Meat Loaf’s band, as well as being a longtime member of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, while touring and performing with everyone from Shaun Cassidy to Blue Oyster Cult.
Sulton and Rundgren most recently played 20 Monroe Live in 2018 with the reconstituted Utopia, alongside drummer Willie Wilcox and then new recruit Assayas on keyboards. Former Utopian Ralph Schuckett had been announced as the keyboard player, but health problems kept him off the tour; he passed away in April of this year.
Sulton also manages to work in some shows as Kasim Sulton’s Utopia each year, playing some smaller venues showcasing the songs he recorded and performed with the four-piece Utopia. He typically enlists Rundgren associates like Gress and Assayas, along with other stalwarts such as Brand X keyboardist Chris Clark.
Beyond his work with Rundgren and his own Rundgren-approved Utopia, Sulton has a couple personal tricks up his sleeve.
One is his solo album “21,” released last month. Available on streaming services such as Spotify as well as physical CDs, it showcases bright pop-rock not dissimilar from much of his efforts with Utopia, with nods to heavier work such as Jett’s output. (Scroll down to view the official music video for Sulton’s “More Love.”)
“It’s always a juggling act,” he said of maintaining a solo career while playing with Rundgren and assisting on recordings by other artists. “It’s really, really difficult for artists like me (who are) independent. I have to divide my time as well as I can. I want to do solo (work), then the phone rings.”
Another new effort is a serialized podcast, “Unsung,” loosely based on Sulton’s life.
“I had an idea for a television pilot,” he said. He and his manager developed the idea into a podcast which explores the life of the (semi)fictional Alec Sulton.
The real Sulton has had his share of highs and lows in the business, such as playing at Madison Square Garden a month after joining Utopia and exchanging bass tales with Paul McCartney.
“It’s the juxtaposition of a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle and real life with responsibilities,” said Sulton, speaking of both the podcast and his real life.
VIDEO: Kasim Sulton, “More Love”
VIDEO: Todd Rundgren, “The Individualist, A True Star” (Live in Washington D.C.)
Copyright 2021, Spins on Music LLC