A Tale of Two Rockers Embracing Soul Roots
Growing up in the sixties and seventies, I loved and listened to all kinds of music — including pop, rock, R&B, soul, funk, new wave, and show tunes; not so much country or disco. Several mainstream artists who came of age during the sixties were also heavily influenced by R&B and Soul music — two great examples are Todd Rundgren and Paul Stanley (of KISS), both of whom have been touring and recording soul-infused projects. Both artists grew up with parents who believed in exposing their kids to all kinds of music so both grew up well-rounded and aware of the dynamics of different genres influencing each other.
Many of my readers know my history of working closely with Todd Rundgren on his many digital endeavors over the years (particularly during the mid-to-late 90s when we launched the earliest artist direct-to-fan model dubbed PatroNet). When Todd and I first connected a couple of decades ago, he had just come off of working on an ambitious CD and tour entitled “Nearly Human” with a large backing band featuring all original songs as an homage to his passion for soul. Having been born and raised near Philadelphia, “Philly Soul” came to him honestly; it was in his DNA and would factor into his work and lifelong friendship with Hall & Oates among others.
Todd has just wrapped up a high energy virtual tour dubbed “Clearly Human” where he broadcast 25 shows to a local region online in their time zones throughout the US from a base in Chicago, and reprised the “Nearly Human” tour complete with a full backing band, several members of which were with him the first time around 30 years ago. That CD and tour was always my personal favorite of Todd’s MANY projects hands-down, and it (and this more recent tour) showcased the influence of soul on his work throughout his career in a multi-sensory experience with great sound, lighting, visuals, costumes, and more.
From a technology perspective, at a time when live touring was cancelled during this past year plus, owing to the pandemic, Todd took matters into his own hands and decided to launch and curate the first live “virtual” tour. In typical fashion (for him) he controlled the sound, designed his own lighting, staging, visuals and leveraged other key elements to deliver a robust, immersive and thoroughly entertaining experience. The reviews bore this out; many of his fans attended multiple shows throughout the tour. The experience was highly interactive, and for those who purchased a VIP “meet and greet” experience, fans had the opportunity to engage with Todd as well.
Another artist who is embracing his passion for the influence of soul music is Paul Stanley of KISS. Several years back, Paul decided to embrace his longstanding enjoyment of R&B and Soul music when he noticed there isn’t that much of it on the air currently — and he wanted to showcase it to ensure that younger audiences would also get a taste for what these musical styles which have influenced so much of the great music we’ve enjoyed for decades. So he assembled a powerful group of 15 talented musicians, all of whom had worked with legends like Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Natalie Cole, Stevie Wonder, the Spinners, Temptations and others — and he called it Soul Station.
The group toured in the US and Japan for several years and were having so much fun that they decided to record an album called “Soul Station: Now & Then” (just released on March 19th) as an homage to the Motown sound featuring 9 cover tracks of well-worn and much beloved classics, along with 5 original tunes in the genre. I have to admit when I first heard “I, Oh I” for the first time recently (one of the originals written and produced by Paul), I couldn’t tell that it wasn’t from something in the vault; it sounded so good and was definitely in the vein of the other selected cover tracks.
Some may find it strange that Paul Stanley, who has rocked us as the leader and frontman of KISS for nearly five decades, could (or would) pull off something in the soul genre. But like Todd, Paul grew up heavily influenced by songs in that style.
“Long before I ever heard the great British bands, I grew up listening to Philly Soul, Motown and so much more,” says Paul. “I was lucky to see Otis Redding and Solomon Burke among others. That music and its storytelling gave me strength and hope even in some tough days. The great classics of that era are magical medicine for most and I felt myself drawn back to that era for some sorcery I think we could all use.”
Flanked by his very impressive band members, Paul does a fantastic job at covering these much-beloved classics — and it shows. He and the band are having a ball performing these tracks which they do with ‘respect and accuracy’ while managing to inject and showcase their own unique personalities and talents; do check out the videos to experience it firsthand.
It’s uplifting to hear this musical genre again beyond listening to relevant channels on Sirius XM and when PBS showcases this category and features documentaries on some of the individual artists. And it’s also wonderful to witness the multi-faceted prisms of both Todd and Paul stepping out of the “lanes” most would attempt to slot them into — and to showcase their musical talents and passions as the great artists and performers they are, cross-genre.
I strongly encourage you to check out both of these current projects in the different formats available both ‘live’, on video, on YouTube, and of course on their CDs/DVDs. I’m fairly confident you’ll enjoy them as much as I have, and that they’ll give your spirits a much needed boost. You may even be inspired to get up and move!