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A Day With Vanilla Fudge

The almighty powerhouse that is drummer Carmine Appice and the original lineup of Vanilla Fudge returned to the Detroit area on June 26Th, 2005 to the DTE Energy Music Center for the first time in 35 YEARS!! Yes, you read that right. After three and a half decades, the Fudge reunited with long-absent keyboardist/singer Mark Stein to tour as part of the Strange Days Festival with the Doors of the 21st Century, the Yardbirds, Steppenwolf, and Pat Travers. Carmine, along with guitarist Vince Martell, and bassist Tim Bogert have toured on and off in recent years with a different line up of Vanilla Fudge, but this ‘reunion tour’ with Mark was something special indeed.

Although maybe not as well known as the bands they spawned, Vanilla Fudge (named for their unique brand of ‘white soul’, that mixed R&B with hard rock and a precursor to 70’s ‘jamming’) very directly influenced Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Both bands, as well as outfits like the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart, went on to capitalize on the guitar/organ/drums format that Mark, Tim, Vince, and Carmine had developed in the mid to late 60’s. But one thing that these bands didn’t have was the soulful vocal harmonies that permeated the sound of every song Vanilla Fudge played. Singing in three and even four-part harmony, all four members of the band were (and still are) not only absolute virtuosos on their respective instruments but they are also all very capable lead vocalists!

This new tour brought them back to Detroit for the first time since 1969, and they very literally sound like no time has passed!

On the afternoon of the show, Carmine Appice did a Master Class drum clinic to a private audience at a cool shop called Planet Drum in Centerline Michigan. Almost as skilled as he is on the instrument, Carmine is quite a teacher as well. Patient and thorough, he took plenty of time to not only demonstrate his mastery of the drums but to also break down everything that was played in an easy to understand and entertaining forum.

Whether you were an experienced drummer or just a fan of Carmine’s this was an awesome experience to witness his playing in such an intimate way. He answered questions from the audience as well and demonstrated his answers on the drums. He was even able to make rudiments (drum basics) fun and showed ways to incorporate even the simplest of exercises into killer grooves.

There was also a give away that included many prizes from Sabian, Aquarian, and Vic Firth all of which Carmine endorses. Everybody left with something! He also spent time with fans afterward, signings autographs and chatting with each person. What a great way to experience this legend in person!

Then it was off to the show! We had a 40-minute drive to the venue with Carmine who was very down to earth and easy to talk with along the way. He always has great stories to tell, and the ‘off the record’ ones are even better! When we pulled into the venue with Carmine, Pat Travers was in the middle of his set.

About an hour after we arrived, and after excitedly seeing other members of both Fudge and the Doors walking around backstage, we went out to the seats in time to see Vanilla Fudge take the stage. What an impressive display of vocals, jamming, musicianship, harmonies, and performance this band is live! They took some already great standard songs from the 50’s and 60’s and turned them into hard rockin, soulful epics! Carmine took the lead vocals on People Get Ready while standing up from behind his kit. This guy can sing!

Each member took a turn on lead vocals at least once, and when they weren’t singing lead they were singing amazing harmonies!

Of course, they closed with their killer version of You Keep Me Hanging On. This is their signature tune and when you hear it live you know why. They also played Season of the Witch, although they only had a short 40-minute set they made the most of it with plenty of jamming. I can’t emphasize enough the amount of talent in this band. I don’t use the term ‘virtuoso’ lightly. Carmine Appice is truly Bonham level drumming. Tim Bogert is just a master on bass and played a beautiful red five string. Mark Stein’s Hammond stylings have brought us the likes of Jon Lord. Vince Martell’s tasteful playing is icing on the cake. Did I mention these guys can sing like you wouldn’t believe?!?!!

Afterward, we caught up with the band in their dressing room and eventually sat down to talk ‘on the record’. Carmine is always very honest and candid, and Mark and Vince turned out to be very genuine as well.

Q: So how did the original four members end up getting back together?

Mark Stein: Well the Doors manager Tom Viterino put the Doors of the 21st Century together and he had a vision that he thought could work to bring some good classic rock to the people. He’s had a very successful thing going with the Doors obviously, and he had the same approach to putting Vanilla Fudge together with all four original members. He didn’t want to do it unless it was all four original guys because that’s where the real magic of this band is. So he made a couple of calls, was really patient and waited for people to get back to him. To make a long story short, Carmine, Tim, and Vinny flew down to Florida and were kind enough to meet with me, because I did have that spinal surgery a few months ago so I was having a tough time traveling. When they came to see me I thought “Man, they really mean business”. We got excited when we saw each other, and it was from the heart. I just think it was something in the hands of fate that was meant to happen. We started rehearsing and it sounded really cool. The energy and excitement were there. Tonight in Detroit was the last gig of the first leg of the tour, and we’ve had a tremendous response all over the east coast. People have been really happy to see us, and I am just very excited to be doing it again.

Q: Has it been pretty seamless? You guys have been out on the road with various lineups in recent years. Does it feel like that missing piece is back in place with Mark in the band again?

Carmine Appice: The band sounds a lot better. It sounds like the original band. The vocals sound a lot better, and the band has the dynamics that we used to have. Mark is a master of sound on the organ. So all the sounds that helped make the Vanilla Fudge sound were back. And the dynamics were so important in this band.

Q: The vocals and harmonies in the band are just amazing by the way!

Mark: Thanks a lot.

Q: I mean three and four-part harmonies, there’s just no one that does that anymore.

Mark: It’s all back to roots and influences that we’re all from.

Q: Are they black influences primarily?

Mark: Absolutely! When I was a kid I was a street corner singer.

Carmine: That’s why we’re ‘Vanilla Fudge’ dude! We’re white soul!

Mark: I was a street corner doo-wop singer when I was 12 or 13 years old.

Carmine: Yeah we used to sing doo-wop, me and Mark.

Mark: We used to do it in the car, that’s how we learned to sing.

Carmine: On the streets and the subways…

Q: Don’t let me hold you back right now! Do you remember any?

Carmine: I got doo-wop: (he sings) Thank you…

Vince: (in harmony) Thank you…

Mark: (also in harmony) Thank you…

Q: Look at that, on request!

Mark: (still singing) For all you’ve done…

Carmine: Thank you. Fuck you!

(All laugh)

Mark: You know, you can take Carmine out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take the Brooklyn out of Carmine!

(More laughter)

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Carmine: That’s what we used to do when we would drive thru the tolls we would all say “Thank you” and they would think “Oh how nice” than we’d drive away and (holds up middle finger). It was great!

Q: Tonight on stage you said that this was the first time you have toured together in 35 years, but didn’t you guys tour in 87?

Mark: Yeah but not the original band.

Q: I thought you were in it then.

Mark: Yeah but Vinny wasn’t on that tour.

Vince: Yeah, but I caught two of the shows on that tour. I thought I would come and check you guys out.

Mark: That was weird that night you came out. It felt so strange. It was very uncomfortable for me.

Vince: Mark is a very spiritual kind of person, he feels peoples vibes and things. Which is what makes him so great.

Carmine: Hey this is an interview, let’s not get off track!

Q: No this is the real deal right here!

Mark: This is the best shit! This is the kind of stuff you don’t get.

Q: Ok, I have to ask this. I know you guys were present for a certain Led Zeppelin ‘happening’ that was videotaped. Does that exist?

Carmine: All lies! It wasn’t videotaped, it was filmed!! There wasn’t video then.

Q: But does it exist? I heard you guys were the ones that filmed it.

Carmine: It exists, but it was bought by some friend of ours. We developed it, and there was nothing on it. He bought it for like fifteen grand or something like that. I don’t know how he found out that it this was the authentic film. I was there and Tim was there and Mark and Robert (Plant). I told (Frank) Zappa about it in the airport afterward and then he wrote the Mud Shark song. We were in the airport in Chicago and we just happened to run into him “Hey Frank what’s up! We just had the wildest time in Seattle!” We were all in shock over it actually.

Mark: I was on the road with my super 8 camera just being naive and filming the mountains and all that. (laughs) I just happened to walk into Bonzo’s room, and John Bonham and Jimmy Page were fishing out the window. I’m telling it the way I remember it. I just had the camera going, and they were all excited they caught this shark or snapper or whatever it was. And (motions to Carmine) you can tell the rest of the story…

Carmine: The girls would have to leave! All I’ll say is I’m writing a book and it will all be in there in full glory.

Mark: Don’t spell my name wrong!

Carmine: You had nothing to do with it, you just filmed it!

Q: But sometimes the documenting is the most important part!

Carmine: Well he documented it, then 40 years later it got developed! (Laughs)

Q: Was Jimmy in the room?

Carmine: No Jimmy wasn’t in the room.

Mark: Plant was in the room because I can see his blond hair shaking around in my lens right now!

Carmine: Plant was in the room. John Paul was in the room. Then the room was vacated and we went to my room. That’s when it really got weird. It was so weird that I wanted to leave and realized it was my room, so I had to go get all my bags and I went and hung out with Timmy for the night.

Q: Did it blow your mind today at the clinic when that guy with the tattoo’s who had to be at least 20, who was a drummer in a band and didn’t even know what a paradiddle was?

Carmine: That blew my mind. I don’t get that. The little kids knew what a paradiddle was, and he was talking about playing gigs and his bass player is too loud. I was thinking “You’re playing gigs and you don’t know what a paradiddle is?”

Q: Last time we spoke there was supposed to be a Blue Murder reunion.

Carmine: There’s always a Blue Murder reunion on the horizon. It’s always Sykes that never gets it together.

Q: Well he just did a live thing in Japan billed as Blue Murder, but released as a Sykes live album.

Carmine: That was supposed to be Blue Murder with me and Tony, but he never contacted us in time. It was something along those lines, so we never went. It was originally billed as ‘John Sykes with Blue Murder’. First of all, I wouldn’t go over there with that billing. My last gig with Tim over there we played the Budokan, so why would I go there as a sideman to John? He owned the name Blue Murder, it was his band, he put it together. But for this year, we said: “Let’s put April aside (this was last October)”. I was in Europe with Pat Travers promoting our album Travers and Appice ‘It Takes a Lot of Balls”, we did a week at the end of September there. We recorded a live DVD that’s coming out in August, and the soundtrack to that will come out in July. I was in some wild place like Lithuania, and Sykes left a message on my cell phone, and we got an email saying that maybe would should do Blue Murder. So I talked to him and said that the only way we’re going to do this is put April aside (which was six months away), and every time we do that it never happens! He’s got a new manager. Tom Viterino was interested in putting Blue Murder back together, but we’ll see. I actually just talked to Sykes a few days ago and mentioned it again.

Q: When you joined Blue Murder, did you get the demo’s with Cozy Powell and Ray Gillen doing the songs?

Carmine: I heard them, but I don’t have them. I think, in the end, the Blue Murder that came out was the best version. Cozy was good, but he played everything pretty straight. For Blue Murder (the song) he played it real straight with a high hat overdub. He never would have played something like Billy the way I played it with those “diddle in the middle” grooves. I was bordering on jazz-rock with Sykes. Cozy doesn’t play like that. So the Blue Murder that came out, I think was the best it could have been. I added a lot to what they were doing. I was very creative with the drum parts. I made sure every drum fill was different.

Q: Another project that you were involved in that was great was the Queen tribute album where you did Get Down Make Love with Jake E Lee, Glenn Hughes, and Tony Franklin.

Carmine: Oh yeah that was fun, but those albums don’t start out like that. It starts with Bob Kulick playing guitar and a bass player. Then one by one everyone else is added. I never knew who was going to be on it. I never saw Jake. Another one I did was an Alice Cooper one with Roger Daltry, me, Slash and Michael Inez. I never saw any of them!

Q: Well at least you got placed with cool people.

Carmine: Yeah, well it’s fun because I can name all these people I played with and they were never there!

Q: What was the time frame for Cactus?

Carmine: 70 to the summer of 72.

Q: Did you guys get any big tours?

Carmine: Oh yeah. Ten Years After. Playing arenas with Rod Stewart and the Faces in 71 when Maggie May was a huge hit and they sold out Madison Square Garden and a ton of places. We played with Procul Harem in big arenas. The Who. Our first gig was with Hendrix. We played the Isle of Wight and went on before Hendrix.

Q: Man you saw everything in the first 5 years of your career!

Carmine: I did it all.

Q: Do you still talk to Beck?

Carmine: Not much. Once in a while. He’s getting married next month so I’m going to send him a wedding card and say “Thanks for inviting me!” (laughs).

I asked the band later if there were plans for a new Vanilla Fudge album and they said “Yes”! So fans can look forward to that historic collaboration in the not too distant future.

It was an amazing day of Carmine and the Fudge! Do not miss this show if it comes near you in July and August on the next leg of the tour!

Thank you to Carmine, Rebecca, Mark, Vince, and Casey for making this very memorable day come together!