Interview- Todd Rundgren’s Tour Director Mary Lou Arnold

Mary Lou Arnold
Todd Rundgren’s Tour Director
By: Thom Jennings


Over the years, Mary Lou Arnold has been constant presence in the Todd Rundgren fandom. If you have ever met her, you will be struck by what can only be described as her beautiful spirit. Along with her husband, Jesse Gress, Mary Lou is always willing to talk with Todd fans. Mary Lou has always been generous in honoring my media requests, and when I was thinking about someone that I would like to interview for ToddFan magazine, she was at the top of my list. The result is a tender narrative about many of the things Mary Lou loves, her daughter, singing, Todd, and her husband Jesse.

Thom Jennings: You and I spoke very briefly backstage at the Hard Rocksino in Northfield Ohio when I was with Nancy Wilson, and you gave a brief synopsis of how you came to work with Todd. So if you could just start from the very beginning how you wound up working with Todd Rundgren, the strange path I guess if you will.

Mary Lou Arnold: Oh, how I met him and that sort of thing?


Mary Lou: Sure. Okay, well it goes, it goes kind of far back, over thirty five years now. I had been living in Chicago, I used to be an art teacher but then I left that to study music at the Center for New Music in Chicago and was lead singer in a theatre company that did rock operas, very 70s. So I did that for a while in Chicago and I have a daughter that I was raising as a single parent so I moved to Phoenicia, New York which is this little hamlet of a town near Woodstock, just about a little bit west of Woodstock, New York. And I figured that would be a good place for my daughter to grow up when my parents sold our house on Long Island and moved up there year around, so she would have grandparents and cousins, you know extended family instead of being isolated in Chicago.

So there we were in the mountains and I had my own band. Let’s see, first it was called Mary Lou Arnold and the Brick Oven Band, kind of like a take-off on Arnold Bread and then I had the Mary Lou Arnold band and I used to play all over New England and Woodstock. But that was getting tedious, you know going away every weekend doing gigs all over the place, in bars, you know what most singers end up doing. So I decided I had better look for some work. I had a friend who was working for Albert Grossman, and she said “There is this rock star who is going to open a music video studio.” And I thought, “Hmmm, I have a degree in art and music, it was perfect you know, music video.” So I just walked in there and said “Do you guys need any help?” When the place was just opening and that was in January of 1980. I just walked in and they were just starting the first video, “Rock Love,” and so they put me to work. They said, “What can you do?” I said, “Well I have a background in art and music, what do you need?” So they had me cutting gels and wiring lights, stuff like that and I became Bob Lampel’s assistant who was the production manager then.

And we did the” Rock Love” video and I organized the opening gala party and worked on the “Healing” video; there were a few more that we did before MTV came along and then Todd kind of lost interest in it and moved on. But the weird part is that I didn’t know who he was when I walked in there, they had to point him out to me. I was like, “Where’s Todd Rundgren?” So it was kind of good because I didn’t go in with any expectations or anything, so I got to know him by in the beginning just experiencing what he does, his music and I was pretty blown away. I was like, “Whoa, this guy is huge.”

So, then one day, it must have been two or three years after the video studio, Roger Powell said, “Todd wants you to be our tour manager.” I said, “What does a tour manager do? Huh?” “We want you to be the tour manager.” Okey-dokey, I guess I’m going on the road. And it was kind of good timing because you know my daughter she was cool with school and I had my parents so I could go away. I remember going to Newark airport and I just turned to Todd and I said, “What do I do?” He said, “You’ll figure it out.” I was like, that was it, I was just this shy Long Island girl, I grew up in Long Island and I had never done anything like this. But I guess the rest is history because I guess I did a good job because then I ended up doing that for years. I missed singing so I was really happy when he had me sing in the “Acappella” tour because I got to sing. That’s like my ultimate moment, I love singing so that was like, okay just keep going, maybe he will let you sing again. And then we did the orchestra show and I got to sing then, the first one, no it was actually the second one.

So it’s been a long career with him and wearing many many hats, you know personal assistant, tour director, tour manager. I still put everything together but I don’t go on the road anymore because after a while health issues prevented that and the doctors were like, “You know you can’t keep this up, you don’t get any sleep”, it’s grueling. Actually, honestly it’s pretty exhausting, I don’t know how Todd does it except I would always be the last to bed, I would be putting notes under their doors for what the next day was to be and then I’m the first one up, paying the bills and all of that. So it’s a little harder for tour managers than it is for performers.

Thom: So his sound guy is his tour manager now, right? Is that how it works?

Mary Lou: Well, that was weird, when I couldn’t tour anymore, he said okay, and they did a tour, Todd did a tour with Hall and Oates and there was this guy, Todd Goldstein, he was the tour manager and the front of the house engineer, so he did both jobs, and Todd went, ah! Todd Goldstein actually did, I think he did a couple of tours for us where he did that. Robert Frazza was another one, the front house engineer, he was also tour manager and he toured with us for quite a while and I mean he did Europe and US tours, he tours with Tony Levin and does the same thing, he does it all, he’s the tour manager, front of the house engineer, production manager. And George Cowan had worked with Todd years back and I met him I think in the very early 80’s because he was an engineer, he is an engineer, recording engineer. And so that’s how, George had come in doing front of the house sound, but then, I’m trying to remember which tour it was, it might have been the “Liars” Tour, Prairie said, “Well listen Mary Lou are you going to come?” And Todd goes, “You don’t need a babysitter.” And of course I’m a lot more than a babysitter, but it was like no you know, Robert is going to be the front of the house engineer and he’s going to be the tour manager and you guys will just have to buck up and take care of yourselves more, I guess that was what he was thinking. And he never replaced to me, it was like from that day on the job has always been whoever takes it does more than one job. But actually George is tour manager, production manager and the front of the house engineer. Yeah, it’s not that uncommon in this day and age because everything is getting so expensive, you know it’s like everybody’s trying to save money and everything costs so much that if you can keep your crew compact like that. And Todd expects people to be grown-ups, I mean come on guys, just pay attention and you’ll know what time to leave the next day, don’t be late, we run a tight ship.

Thom: If we could I would like to go back to the day you met Utopia what was the dynamic amongst them when you first started working with them? How did they get along and coexist as a band?

Mary Lou: Back in the 80s?

Thom: Yes.

Mary Lou: Oh, when I first started with them? They got along fine. There were a lot of things that I didn’t know, because again, I hadn’t done this before so I was ill prepared for the lifestyle. And in those days, they would stay up really really late and I would be expected to deliver all the leftover food from the dressing room. I’d get it in boxes and I’d be dragging it through the hotel lobby up to my room and they would all come to my room and we would stay up for hours, watching TV, drinking beers, drinking, well at that time it was vodka, whatever, you know, just partying. So that’s what kind of got tiring.

Thom: Yeah, I can imagine.

Mary Lou: But they were great together. It was like, such different personalities but it clicked. They each brought something unique to the situation, and to the sound of the band, to the music and they were easy to work with in the sense that, nobody had an ego the size of a barn, I mean they were rock stars of course, but they were great guys, it was fun working with them, it really was.

Thom: I read around the time they started working with the Tubes that that was kind of the beginning of the end. Did you sense that it was the beginning of the end, during that era?

Mary Lou: When we did the “Love Bomb” tour you mean?

Thom: Yes.

Mary Lou: Yeah, there had been some friction developed in the recording studio. They were recording in Todd’s studio and there had been some friction between Todd and Willie. Roger was gravitating towards the computer world, to Apple computers and everything, and he would have discussions with Todd in the car about how at some point you have to make a choice because to just be a musician, because it’s so consuming. Roger had a strong interest and talent for working with the technology and was excited about the new technology. Not that Todd wasn’t, I mean we all know that Todd was like scary intelligent about understanding the technology involved with computers and he had developed a paint system for Apple and he could to do things that not very many musicians can do in that sense. But Roger kind of was gravitating more and more towards “Well I’m going to get a job in this technology world.”

And yeah, I could sense it, I could feel it; it was a shift. And I think for Todd he was starting to be interested in working with other musicians, like when we did “Nearly Human” you know and “Second Wind”, those bands were amazing. You know with Urbano on the drums Vince Welnick on keyboards, Bobby Strickland on horns, he’s brilliant. I mean I think for Todd it was exciting to work with other musicians and go into other areas of the music that he couldn’t do in just a four piece, so, yeah, he’s always exploring and doing something new.

Yeah, we did the Redux tour, we did in Japan and we got together and played again, but I think for Todd it’s always like, like with the “Global” thing that’s another departure from what people expect. But it’s like amazing, I mean he’s just amazing, he just comes up with these new approaches, he’s not one to be like the bands that just go out and just repeat whatever was the high point of their career and their hits, kind of like oldies bands, I don’t know what you want to call it.

Thom: Heritage bands is what we call them.

Mary Lou: Heritage bands, is that what you call them now?

Thom: That’s what you call them, they play the same set from the 1980s that they’re playing now. There is a huge market for them in casinos and other venues.

Mary Lou: That’s so not Todd, it’s so not him. So it was just time for a change. Utopia had a long run, I mean they really did. I didn’t know about them in the 70s. And when I was studying music in Chicago, I was totally into the Mahivishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, yeah. I was singing rock operas but the music that I listened to, well I had become friends with some of the guys with Mahivishnu, they were my personal friends, so that was kind of a thrill but totally different genre of music, you know. We all listened to Judy Collins and all that kind of folky stuff, and I sang that stuff too. But I never really you know, I think I didn’t really figure out what do you want to do Mary Lou? What’s your musical identity?

At one point when I first moved to the country, I was singing with a Country and Western band and I had never sung country music in my life, never listened to it, never sung it. These guys give me a stack of records and say “Here, take these home and learn the songs.” And I did, to make money. And I sang at a dude ranch every weekend for a while, but I was kind of, I guess you could call it eclectic. But now I sing classical music, except when I get to sing with Todd.

Thom: With the orchestra tonight…

Mary Lou: Yes, I sung with orchestras back home in New York. We would do four concerts a year, two in the fall semester and two in the spring and usually one is without orchestra and one is with so it’s like two with orchestras. So it’s familiar territory to me, but I just love singing Todd’s music, I mean his sense of melody and harmonics is so amazing, I mean really, his harmonies, the structure of his music, once you get into it and you start learning it, well Jesse of course hears it and studies it, but it’s just, he has a unique gift, he really does.

And when you think about all of the songs that Todd’s written, my God. And when I pulled the lyrics for these 34 songs that we had to do for this event, I go on the TR connection, Roger Linder’s connection, to get my lyrics and you see the list alphabetically, it’s stunning. I mean how many songs this guy has written, oh my God and so many of them so incredibly beautiful or really intense rock songs, he’s covered it all. So it would be interesting to see what he does next.

Thom: It’s always interesting to see what he does next. There’s a couple more topics I want to hit on before we wrap it up. You talked about “Acappella,” gosh one of my favourite tours in the world, I remember the first night in Kingston it was like, it was a mind bending. What was that, I mean from a touring standpoint , driving around with the voice orchestra and everything was that any more difficult than say any of the other bands that you work with, just cramming that many people on the road, because…?

Mary Lou: Yeah, well that was a big group and so were the “Nearly Human” and “Second Wind” bands, big big groups and the group dynamics, I had the babies and the grown-ups. I knew which people I had to have pushed and disciplined a little and which people would take care of themselves. It’s a lot, it’s a lot of people for me to take care of by myself, no assistant or anything.

The “Acappella” group, yeah that was a lot of us. I think for me the challenge of being the tour manager, and in those days I was collecting all of the settlements in cash, and so I would strap it to my back before I had to go on stage and you know once I was on stage I was like blissed out, because what I love to do is sing. But then after when they are all eating and drinking champagne I am back settling up the box office and working and so that was a bit of a challenge, doing both jobs.

Thom: I can imagine.

Mary Lou: But it was worth it to get to sing. And I loved that show, it was like it didn’t matter where we played you know if we were walking into a bar or a theatre, you just knew when you stepped out on that stage and started to sing, everybody would be like wow. You know there’s something about, I have always loved singing with choruses. When I was studying art in Buffalo, New York, getting my degree in Art education, I sang with an acappella chorus. So I sung in art school and college with an acappella group and we toured the state of New York and then before that in high school of course, you know I sang Glee Club and chorus and was the lead singer in the plays that we did in the talent shows. And before that in junior high I sang in a girl’s trio and in elementary school my dad made me these little sandbox and I played the sandbox for the sleigh song. So it goes way back.

Thom: I didn’t know you went to Buffalo, I live near Buffalo.

Mary Lou: Yeah, my daughter was born there, in Buffalo.

Thom: Oh, that’s pretty cool.

Mary Lou: Yeah, Buffalo State.

Thom: That’s where my son’s going to school right now.

Mary Lou: Oh my gosh.

Thom: Small world.

Mary Lou: What’s he studying?

Thom: Science. He’s a drummer though so I did instill some music in him.

Mary Lou: Well, yeah, I was Art education. Well I wanted to be a singer but my parents, I lived a very sheltered life when I was growing up and my mother said, “Oh no that’s not a good life, you have to be a teacher”, because I could draw and paint. So off I went to Buffalo to learn to be a teacher, but my heart was in music, so it took me a while to get back to it, but I did, I’m stubborn.

Thom: I have always been curious about you and Jesse and how you wound up together. I believe he started working with Todd on the “Second Wind” tour?

Mary Lou: Yes, he replaced Lyle Workman.

Thom: Maybe just a bit of, kind of a broad overview, but you know when Jesse started work he seems to be, aside from Kasim, the one guy that Todd’s just always worked with when he can. Maybe you can start with the relationship between him and Todd and then of course how that evolved into you and Jesse.

Mary Lou: Yeah, well Lyle recommended him to Todd and I remember Lyle telling me there were other guys that were being considered. Lyle wanted to branch off, he was doing a solo album, then he ultimately moved to L.A and became very successful, but he wanted to pursue his own career. So, I remember the phone call and Lyle said, “Well you know so and so is really good, but the guy that should get this gig is Jesse Gress, he should have the gig.” And Jesse had learned every song and recorded it on a cassette tape, he just gave his tape to Todd because he had learned everything. So when he came to rehearsals, he knew all the material. I mean he knows the language of music, he’s a transcriber, he reads it, he writes it. So that’s how Jesse came into the band. Actually it was funny, Todd told me to go ahead and hire him and I don’t know, I was busy and I didn’t call him, and I think I had called him the day before rehearsal, I don’t remember exactly and I said, “Oh by the way, you’ve got the gig.”

Thom: Oh gosh, that’s funny.

Mary Lou: But he grew up in Pennsylvania not too far from where Todd grew up and I swear they were like brothers. It’s like at one point they were playing at B.B King’s and Todd said sometimes Jesse was left brain, or right brain, I don’t know, it’s like they share this common thing, they kind of balance each other. So, yeah, “Second Wind,” remember I mentioned that there were the babies and the grown-ups?

Thom: Yeah.

Mary Lou: He was one of the grown-ups, he was so polite, and he would always ask can I carry this briefcase, this Samsonite heavy as shit briefcase that I carried all of the time, you know as tour manager. And that was before we had rolling computer bags and things And he would always say, “can I carry something for you? Can I carry your briefcase? Can I help you with anything?” Very polite I would think, grown up, he was in the grown-up category. And during the duration of that tour which was pretty long, I guess I remember we were on the road quite a bit that year.

Thom: That was a long tour.

Mary Lou: That was a long one, yeah. And during the process of being on the road, I went through a divorce with my second husband, I’m almost like Zsa Zsa Gabor, I’m on my third marriage, and so that marriage was falling apart and it ultimately fell apart and I was, oh God, here we go again. And that’s okay, it was meant to be. And at the very last show, the very very last show, because I had a rule, “Do not fraternize with the band members.” That is not a good thing to do, as some women and men get tempted to do, so I always had this rule. But he asked me if I would like to come over, his roommate was off somewhere and he said, “Why don’t you come over, I ordered a pizza” and he was watching this weird, he liked science fiction movies, Godzilla or something. And so I said, “Okay, I’ll come over.” And that was the beginning, it was like wow, okay. And I felt like maybe this is not a good idea but I didn’t think I was going to see him again because it ended and it wasn’t the kind of band where Todd was going to pick that band up necessarily again, you know what I mean? It was like, it was everything was changing and I forget what the next thing was that Todd did, but I just thought what a nice guy, I probably won’t see him again; I got home and he sent me a dozen red roses. I was like, huh? I wasn’t used to this, you know, a dozen red roses?

I lived in Woodstock New York and he lived in San Francisco, so there was a lot of telephoning, long conversations on the phone. And then, he said “Come to San Francisco”, and I flew out to San Francisco and visited with him, and then he flew to Woodstock. His parents were living in Bethlehem, New York, so that was around Thanksgiving and then the rest is history, it was just very sweet and I mean just very innocent and I had no idea I was going to get so involved, but it’s been, what, 20 years?

Thom: I was trying to figure out, that tour’s got to be…

Mary Lou: I think it was 1990, or 91…

Thom: ’91, so it’s 20, 24, 25 years.

Mary Lou: So I would say that dozen red roses got him pretty far.

Thom: An accidental investment by Jesse Gress. That whole band, I don’t know who the babies were, but they played together well. I think of the two bands “Nearly Human” with that polished sound and everything, but the “Second Wind” group just had a little bit more oomph to them you know.

Mary Lou: Well when I say grown-ups and the babies, they were on the consummate musicians, that’s understood, I mean they were all brilliant. But in those days we had quite a bit of drinking and carrying on, sometimes, myself included, I mean, I remember the 80s, it’s like whoa, hang on. But the ones that worried me, turned out great, like Bob Strickland, he was so out of control, he would leave his horn on the sidewalk and I was like, “Dude, come back down here and get your horn. I’m not bringing it to you.” But he turned out, like he’s such an amazing human being, I mean, he was young, we’ve got to keep that in mind. Some of these people were really young and just you know full tilt and now he is married, has beautiful children. And I know that Todd adores him, he’s just the best horn player, I mean the best…

Thom: Yeah, in recent years, some of those shows that he’s done have been really really good.

Mary Lou: Yeah. I mean he is, I mean he amazes me and several, I mean not just one, like all wind instruments, he’s just a brilliant. But when I say babies, I mean like the ones that in the early days we actually had bags delivered to their rooms like, they would just get off the bus, walk into their room and then I just, you can imagine with 14 people how many suitcases there are, and I would be in the lobby and try and explain which went to each room. I had a chart to try to follow, but delivering all their bags to their rooms, of course, that didn’t last forever, we don’t do that. When Mary Lou is no longer there, they had to pull their own bags. You know, there were little things like that, where, just like okay, enough of that, people can get this suitcase to their room on their own; pull it, whatever you need to do, but don’t expect somebody to deliver it.

Thom: That’s funny, I just didn’t really think about some of that stuff. You definitely had your hands full in the day, huh?

Mary Lou: Oh god, yes. Oh yeah, absolutely. You know and just keeping them altogether, we’d stop, the bus would stop on a highway, you know you would go to a rest area and it was like herding chickens you know, like trying to keep them all, make sure your back on the bus at this time. But I have been a teacher, so I kind of knew how to handle kids. [Laughter] Herding the puppies. But there was always that level of real camaraderie and fun, everybody got along, really, they really did. With all of the diverse personalities it was still like we were all friends kind of thing.

Thom: Well that’s good. You’ve got to figure living in close quarters for that period of time it must have…

Mary Lou: That big a group, yeah, absolutely. You know, and it’s just me trying to keep it all under control, tricky business, but it was quite a time in my life. I look back at it and I think wow, who knew, I walked into this video studio looking for some part-time work and they immediately had me working 16 hours a day, you know, it’s like whoa. And now I’ve had such an interesting life, traveling all over the world, Todd’s taken us all through Europe, places I probably wouldn’t, if I was still teaching art, my life would have been so different.

And for me there’s the thrill, I’m just a closet showbiz girl, because I really like being involved in the show aspect of it, you know, it’s like something about it when they take the stage or when I take the stage or when they take the stage, or when Todd takes the stage, it’s exciting to me. It’s like showtime! You have to have the bug to understand that, but it is definitely like, you know, you get a rush out of it, it’s really really great and I never get tired of hearing Todd sing. He is, I told him last night, he’s my inspiration, I mean my God that guy’s a great singer, he really is, he really, really is. And I’ve studied voice and I have studied music theory, and you know and sung all kinds of music, even the Bach and classical stuff and when I hear him. I just go, oh my gosh, how does he do it? You know, he just, he’s a brilliant, brilliant singer. Not that his guitar playing is shabby, it’s not, he’s a great guitar player but I am particularly drawn to voice and when I hear him sing it’s just like chills, I love it. He’s really good.

Thom: I agree, he was, last night he was sounding so just amazing.

Mary Lou: I only got to see two “Global” shows but I was pretty blown away by his singing, his voice was so perfect when I heard him in New Jersey. I went to Englewood, New Jersey and , what was the other one? I know I saw two. Oh, I went to the New York City show, of course. But yeah I mean it’s just, I have a real appreciation for a musician that can sing that well and , it’s just super amazing.

So I hope everything, we are going to, I guess okay to talk about it now because we didn’t want to cause a conflict for the ticket sales for the current shows, but he is going back out with the band, Woo hoo!

Thom: That’s great news.

Mary Lou: Well it’s Jesse and Kasim, Praire and John…

Thom: Oh, John is coming with them?

Mary Lou: A full band, yeah.

Thom: Okay. So it just going to be like the greatest hits tour…

Mary Lou: Well, we don’t even know what to call it, it’s technically An Evening with Todd Rundgren, that’s what the contracts say. But it’s totally up to Todd what material he chooses to do. And his catalog is so vast I’m sure it’s not going to be the same songs that they did the last time they played together. And seeing the songs that he chose to do for these shows, these two shows, I think he’s reaching down into the catalog and pulling out songs that people haven’t heard in a long time and that’s thrilling, it’s great to hear them do that. So it would be very interesting to see what he comes up with for a set list for the guys. You know, it’s not likely that it will just be the usual, Todd’s not the usual kind of artist.

Thom: Yeah, I thought it was funny, even when “Global” came out, I was lucky enough to get an advance copy on it and listen to it and it’s funny. There’s an old recording I have of him where he talked about how whenever he came up with a new album somebody says “oh this album sucks, it’s nowhere near as good as the last one”. And there just certain people that criticize the fact that he’s always changing his music, but he’s always changed his music. So that’s where it gets confusing. So you come out with an album like “Global,” which is clearly off the beaten trail, but if you go through the history and even songs like, what was I listening to “Junk Rock (Million Monkeys)” from “Swing to The Right,” that has very much that keyboard rappie type electronic sound…

Mary Lou: You know, you are right, I never really thought about that…

Thom: And you know it’s not like it’s that much of a stretch and instruments are little bit different and what not but then, like you said, those heritage bands, those groups that can go out, REO Speedwagon, Grand Funk Railroad a lot of these bands…

Mary Lou: Jefferson Airplane, the list is endless…

Thom: Same set for years.

Mary Lou: And the thing is, they’re selling tickets…

Thom: Oh, they sell lots of tickets…

Mary Lou: Because there’s a huge audience, older folks like me, I hate to admit it, I’m an older folk now, but they want to hear those songs that they heard in their youth, but that’s not Todd. And I’m sure that there are some people that will get disappointed, but I find it refreshing and wonderful that he stretches out and does something totally different…

Thom: And that’s why these weekends work because it’s people that again they love music, they love the excitement, the fact that you’re going to get something a little bit different. And that over the course of, I mean if you think about, you talked about the catalog and if you consider over the last six years, seven years if you counted the number of unique songs that he’s played, you’ve got the “Wizard” album, you’ve got the “Todd” album, you’ve got the “Healing” album, he did the whole “Arena” album when he toured, he’s done most of the “Global” album, most of the “State” album. And then all of these other little nuggets, even last night, he threw in “Hideaway,” and you’ve got “Rock Love”…

Mary Lou: It was great.

Thom: The numbers got to be over 100 songs he’s performed over 7 years, when you’ve got some bands that literally, they don’t even have to rehearse anymore, they just fly in the talent and they just play, it’s just the same set.

Mary Lou: Yeah. I know. When I saw “Rock Love” on the list . It was sort of nostalgic for me because that was the first Todd Rundgren song I have ever heard. In the video he had these dancers and some of them could dance well and some of them couldn’t, my daughter was a young teen, she’s a great dancer, she’s in the video…

Thom: Oh wow.

Mary Lou: And so it’s like, he chose half of them, kept half of them and she was one of the chosen ones. And then he did this video trick where he doubled them, it’s like learning and seeing that whole process and seeing how you do a music video, just the fact that that was the first song I ever heard, and my daughter’s in it, I was like yes, let’s do “Rock Love.”

Thom: Oh, that’s cool. That was probably one of the best songs from my first show, it was the first time I saw Utopia, on the Suits Tour and…

Mary Lou: Oh god. The Suits tour

Thom: Was that not a good tour?

Mary Lou: Oh man. We did some flying around on that tour and that was my early days, you know, I think that was my first tour and I had to carry these suits, they were on hangers, on wire hangers and shirts, and get them cleaned all the time and I be going to the airport getting these big dents in my hands, like carrying them on the plane, because they weren’t in bags or boxes or anything to check, you know, I just thought I had to carry them. And I would give those shirts, I had to find girls at the hotel and pay them you know, please wash and iron these shirts for me, I have to have them by tomorrow. Because you don’t have time to send them out to a cleaners, and I would wash their socks and have them up in my room. They’d be handing on the window sill, their socks in my room…

Thom: So they just had one set of those? I assumed…

Mary Lou: They didn’t have a lot of…yeah, they had a couple of sets, yeah, like two shirts and socks and I have to keep getting them cleaned, getting them cleaned and carrying those damned suits. And then one day, maybe it was Kasim or Roger said, you know there are boxes that you could put those suits in. I didn’t know, I didn’t do a lot of flying around before I met those guys, I was like, oh, okay. So it’s okay if I check them, put them in a box and check them? Oh gosh, those suits. They were hot too, man. We had them made in New York, they were all custom fit but they were like pretty heavy fabric. I just remember, them sweating, those shirts would be soaking and then I had to get to them washed and ironed before the next show. It was a blessing if we are in town long enough to have cleaners do, you know, occasionally that I would luck out, but the socks thing was funny, people would come to my room, what are all these socks you’ve got… I tried to dry them with the hotel window opened a crack, then I would just hang them on the windows, wash them in the sink.

Thom: That’s hilarious.

Mary Lou: [Laughter] Sorry, I got carried away

Thom: Oh, no. You heard “Suits” and you just…

Mary Lou: I just, oh gosh the Suits tour, yeah. Oh my lord. But they were a great bunch of guys, they were so fun to work with, it was a whole new world for me. I had no idea what I was getting into. That was, “I don’t know, what do you want me to do?” “Oh, you’ll figure it out.” “Okey-dokey”.

Thom: That’s great. You know, after all these years I’m surprised that Willie and Todd haven’t played together since the 1990’s.

Mary Lou: Oh, you never know. I mean, it could happen. It’s ironic that one of my best friends, she was in music school with me at the Center for New Music in Chicago and became one of my close friends. She married a guy that’s close friends with Willie, it’s like you know how things just connect. They live in LA and they are r friends with Willie, so even though I haven’t seen Willie in a long time, I know he’s doing great.

Thom: Yeah, I know, he’s doing really well.

Mary Lou: Because they tell me he’s doing really, really well. Roger I think, that’s a concern because of his arthritis. I don’t know, physically it’s so demanding to tour again, so maybe they’ll have Jesse playing some of those parts…

Thom: It makes sense, Jesse and or Greg with the original four, I don’t know if they would go for it, it would still be a great show.

Mary Lou: Yeah. Yeah. The four guys up front, but yet have a Greg, Jesse just filling in some parts, it’s not too gruelling. Willie’s probably fine, I mean from what I hear, he’s in good health and would probably love to play again. He was a funny guy, he used a crack me up. Yeah, it would be wonderful to see them all again. Well we did that one, we had the Utopia thing but not with Willie.

Thom: Yeah, it was Prairie.

Mary Lou: It was Prairie, yeah, that’s right.

Thom: Three out of four was great, but I missed Willie.

Mary Lou: Yeah, I guess if Todd did decide to do it, it would probably draw well as far as the fans are concerned…

Thom: We were just talking about it last night, that’s sort of the big one. Next year is the 40th anniversary of the four piece.

Mary Lou: Is it? Wow.

Thom: Yes, 2016. Because “Ra” came out in ‘76.

Mary Lou: I remember seeing videos of that show. I was like he did what? Oh my gosh. I’m still friends with Chris Anderson because he still lives in Woodstock and I never left, Todd just kept moving west…

Thom: Yeah, I guess they tore down the house they lived in the last time I was down there by there, it’s crazy we drove by there and it was gone.

Mary Lou: Awww, that made me so sad. Not sad because… I don’t know if “sad” is the right word, but it just really brought home, oh it’s the end of an era, and just to not be able to see it, they just, they even flattened the studio, but they left the chimney, what, I mean, why? What, I don’t know. I think the people behind it bought the property and they just made it into this big long lawn.

Thom: Yeah.

Mary Lou: But, you know, Todd wouldn’t think about that. Everything is, you stay in the present, you know, it’s not about living in the past, it never is, it’s stay in the present and life is good. I’m not, I don’t get too hung up on things about the past, I’m excited about what’s happening right now.

Thom: Same here. Same here.

Mary Lou: Staying healthy, good life, so it’s about… and I’m grateful that I’m still working with Todd. I can’t believe it, I mean, who knew? People are always amazed, oh you, 35 years with one artist? Go figure.

Thom: Yeah, that’s very cool.

Mary Lou: Well, we’ll see what the future holds, right?

Thom: We’ll keep our fingers crossed. If you can put a bug in his ear, maybe you’ll get him to think about it some more.

Mary Lou: Oh gosh, I know, I wish I could…

Thom: But you know, like you said Todd does what Todd does, so that’s why we love him so much.

Mary Lou: Yeah. It’s no putting bugs in his ear.

Thom: Yeah, no I…

Mary Lou: He has his own vision. It’s like…

Thom: I joked with him once, it was covering the show in Buffalo and he came out back and he said a little stuff and we were talking and I said, “Man one of my favorite shows that you ever do was that first night of the “Acapella” tour, that was absolutely magical.” And he looks at me and he goes, “Yeah, I have done a lot since then, you know.” [Laughter]

Mary Lou: Yeah, there you go, there you go…

Thom: I just kinda, I was like, ”Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Mary Lou: Yeah, I mean that’s a very good example.

Thom: Yeah, I agree, it was a funny moment.

Mary Lou: That’s why we’re not, what did you call it, a heritage brand.

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About Joseph Suto

Location: Buffalo, NY Photographer/Reviewer
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