How Bassist Kasim Sulton Almost Left Utopia

Danny O'Connor
Todd Rundgren's Utopia headlines the Paramount Theatre on Thursday, May 24.
About six months after Kasim Sulton joined Todd Rundgren’s rock band Utopia in 1976, the bassist was ready to quit. Up until joining Utopia, Sulton had been knocking around in bar bands in New York City, and he says he wasn’t familiar with how things worked on a bigger scale.

“I was completely out of my comfort zone and felt that maybe it wasn’t the right thing for me to do,” Sulton says. “I was twenty years old. I was a hothead. I thought I knew everything and how to do it.”

While he was at the house of his girlfriend (who would later become his wife), Sulton called Rundgren and told him he was quitting the band but that he’d finish out a few more shows of the Utopia tour at the time.

“He’s like, ‘Okay, fine, no big deal. We’ll survive. We’ll find somebody else,'" Sulton recalls Rundgren saying. "During that week we went to England and we played with Led Zeppelin. I had a conversation with Todd — which to this day I cannot remember what we said to each other — but he convinced me to stick it out a little bit longer, and I wound up staying. That was a good move on my part. There was no real reason to leave other than I was just a little too cocky for my age.”

While Sulton would go on to work with Blue Oyster Cult, Meat Loaf, Hall & Oates and a number of other bands, he says that Rundgren has remained the one person that he’s worked with consistently over the past 42 years, both with Utopia and as part of Rundgren’s band. Rundgren, Sulton and drummer Willie Wilcox, who first joined Utopia in 1975, hit the road last April as part of Todd Rundgren's Utopia's first North American tour in more than three decades. Keyboardist Ralph Schuckett, who played on some of the material that's part of the new seven-disc box set, The Road to Utopia: The Complete Recordings (1974-1982), was originally slated to be on this tour but had to back out because of health and personal reasons and was replaced not long before the tour started by new recruit Gil Assayas, who was discovered by one of Rundgren's sons.

Sulton honed his playing of the Utopia material by doing three East Coast shows in February under the name Kasim Sulton’s Utopia.

“The funny thing about those shows that I did was that it all kind of came rushing back to me like I had played the songs a week before with the original band – the four-piece Utopia,” he says. “It’s indelibly burned into my memory, those songs, because I spent ten years of my life in the band and, for lack of a better term, my formative years, from the time I was twenty until I was almost thirty. That’s where I cut my teeth. That’s where I learned the majority of the things that would take me through the rest of my career, which thankfully isn’t over yet."

When preparing for the current tour, he and Rundgren went through versions of what they wanted the set list to be. At the upcoming show at the Paramount Theatre, they'll be digging into material not only of the era when Utopia was a quartet but from the seven-piece version as well. They’ll also play a few tunes from Utopia’s 1974 self-titled debut. Sulton says that when Rundgren originally formed Utopia as a power trio, it included Soupy Sales’s sons, Tony and Hunt, who would later perform with Iggy Pop and form Tin Machine with David Bowie.

Sulton says not long ago, he saw a photo of Rudgren and the Sales brothers wearing what looked like motorcycle helmets. “It’s extremely reminiscent of Daft Punk,” Sulton says. “So if you see this picture of Todd, Hunt and Tony with these helmets on and it looks just like Daft Punk but it’s from 1973 — that was the first version of Utopia.”

The Sales brothers were also on Runt, Rundgren's 1970 solo debut. Sulton says that Rundgren — who released a number of other solo recordings over the years — wanted Utopia to be more than his side project and instead be a full-fledged band.

"That meant that each person had a say in the direction of the band," Sulton says, "The material that the band chose, the writing, you know, the soup to nuts. The band would have full input; the four of us would have input into all aspects of being a touring and recording entity."

Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, 7 p.m. Thursday, May 24, Paramount Theatre, 303-623-0106, $39.50-$89.50.