VANILLA FUDGE Frontman MARK STEIN Talks Touring with ALICE COOPER - "He's A Real Regular Guy Off The Stage"
January 30, 2018, a year ago
In a new interview with music writer Joel Gausten, legendary singer/keyboardist Mark Stein (Vanilla Fudge) discusses a variety of topics including his time touring with Alice Cooper in the ‘70s and working on the late Tommy Bolin’s final album, Private Eyes. An excerpt from the chat appears below:
Joel Gausten: In many ways, Tommy Bolin’s an artist who – even 40-plus years later – doesn’t get the recognition he deserves for his time here. You were part of that final album; when you look back at that period, what stands out for you most in terms of working with Tommy on that particular project and where he was at that stage of his life and career?
Mark Stein: "Tommy was an amazing talent. He was gone at 25; he just couldn’t overcome his demons, unfortunately. Many people who were close to him, including myself, tried. This was ’75 I think; I was pretty much a kid myself at 26. He was just a terrific songwriter, not just a great guitar player. His style of playing was just so fresh and different. We blended really well together. Narada Michael Walden from the Mahavishnu Orchestra was the original drummer in that band, along with Reggie McBride, the really cool bass player from Stevie Wonder’s band back then. We had Norma Jean Bell, the great and sax player from Frank Zappa’s band. It was a real eclectic group of musicians, and we rocked the house. A lot of Progressive musicians like John McLaughlin and Jan Hammer – and a whole host of people – used to get drawn to this band. It was short-lived, but it sure had a lot of energy. I can’t imagine where he would have been if he was still with us as far as a writer and a player. That was a great loss. As far his legacy, I disagree; I think his legacy is pretty strong. You’ve got a legion of Tommy Bolin fans; the remains of his family keep everything alive with Tommy Bolin Fests every year in the Midwest. I’m constantly seeing it and commenting on Tommy Bolan events on Facebook and other stuff going on in the internet. For somebody who was only around such a short time, I think he left a pretty decent legacy, actually."
Joel Gausten: You mention that Tommy had his demons during that time, and I know Alice has been very open about that particular time in the late’70s when he was having his ups and downs. How would you characterize him during the time you were working with him?
Mark Stein: "I’ll tell you, back in ’77 when I did the Welcome To My Nightmare tour in Australia and New Zealand, he was deep into those problems. I’m not going to get specific, but we pulled it off; the shows were great with great production. He was one who overcame it, and he went on to live a great life. He’s still doing fantastic. He’s a great guy – a real regular guy off the stage. Every time we’ve run into each other over the years, he’s always made time for me, which I really appreciate. He’s a tremendous performer and one of the true icons of rock. No question."
The complete interview is available at this location.
In the small Swedish town of Nörje near Sölvesborg, on July 9th, 2016, in front of an audience of thousands, four American musicians gave a blistering performance that would encapsulate five decades of rock’n’roll history. The performance was at the legendary Sweden Rock Festival; the band was Vanilla Fudge.
Now a complete audio and video document of that much-acclaimed show is available for everyone to hear, see and enjoy. As they celebrate a half-century of cutting edge music and live performances, Vanilla Fudge have released the CD/ DVD of Live At Sweden Rock- The 50th Anniversary.
Released on December 8th, 2017 on MIG Records and distributed by MVD, Live At Sweden Rock presents the band in its rawest and most honest setting. Guitar, bass, drums and keyboards hold down the music, while the perfectly blended voices of the group provide the color behind the compelling lead vocals of Mark Stein. The result is a band that sounds just as strong and relevant today as it did in 1967.
“Quite honestly, even though Vanilla Fudge has been together for half a century,” says lead vocalist and keyboardist Mark Stein, “I really never tire of playing these songs and arrangements because the energy level never seems to dissipate. It is that very energy that we feel from the audience that keeps us always feeling young and inspired.”
Adds drummer Carmine Appice: “It was a great time playing the Sweden Rock festival. To see all those people enjoying our set was a great feeling.”
The album features powerful psychedelic re-workings of classic songs from The Doors, The Monkees, Spencer Davis, Donovan and Led Zeppelin, along with the Fudge’s distinctive musical take on the Motown and R&B classics, “Shotgun” "Take Me For A Little While" and “You Keep Me Hanging On.”
“It was our European Woodstock,” says guitarist Vinny Martell. “On the day we played Sweden Rocks, I met fans who had been trapped behind the Iron Curtain across the Baltic when we first became famous. They finally had a chance to see the band at Sweden Rock; when they were young they had only heard our recordings on Radio Free Europe.”
With Stein, Appice and Martell in place, along with bassist Pete Bremy, Vanilla Fudge is one of a handful of 60s bands who are still intact with most of its founding members.
Originally formed in 1967 out of the ashes of The Pigeons, with Stein, Appice, Martell and bassist Tim Bogert, the band was soon renamed Vanilla Fudge, because of its musical concept of four New York-based white musicians playing re-vamped rock versions of popular soul hits. Sold out world tours; hit albums and singles; and a reputation as a group steeped in cutting-edge musicianship has allowed Vanilla Fudge to be one of the most influential acts to rise from the revolutionary 1960s. The group has remained together off and on ever since, with Bogert departing in 2006 after a motorcycle accident and his decision to retire.
In addition to playing together (including appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show), the members also reached considerable success over the years as solo artists, in their own right. Among the band’s biggest fans is musician Paul Shaffer, former leader of the Late Night with David Letterman Show band for decades: "The Vanilla Fudge slowed down ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ and with that one soulful record, effectively invented progressive rock.”
“Playing with Carmine and Mark now is like waking up in the middle of a long solo that started in 1967,” laughs Martell, who, is also a US Navy veteran. ”Is it tomorrow? Let’s call it Vanilla Haze…”
Upon the release of Live At Sweden Rock- The 50th Anniversary, Vanilla Fudge will resume its schedule of live performances, including an appearance on the Rock Legends VI Cruise, with Sammy Hagar and Bad Company, among others.
“I hope we can reach our next anniversary at 55 years,” says Appice. “We plan to keep playing, recording and moving forward.” Mark Stein agrees: “I can only hope that Vanilla Fudge continues to move forward by playing as many shows as we can while we still can. I believe the only way to stay youthful at our age as a rock band is by continuing to do that.”
“We should spread our message of unity and peace in this chaotic world,” says Vinny Martell. “The hippies were right, man.”