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Vanilla Fudge

One of the first heavy-ish bands to re-arrange classic soul, folk and blues standards into harmony-addled rock, VANILLA FUDGE have made the simple idea of covering contemporary pop hits into an art form. Their po-faced, psychedelic 60s/symphonic rock often degenerated into dirty, leaden dirges and “Vanilla Sludge” would’ve been a more appropriate moniker for this proto-metallic combo. Never quite giving up the ghost and with a raft of farewell gigs under their belt, 2015 saw a refrigerated version of the band dish out a comeback set, fittingly entitled `Spirit Of ‘67’; for 48 years probably frozen in psyche/subconscious of Messrs Stein, Martell and Bogert, the saying “full-circle” was never so better defined.
Formed in Long Island, NY, Mark Stein (vocals/organ) and Tim Bogert (bass/vocals) abandoned no-hopers Rick Martin & The Showmen, deciding instead to rope-in Vince Martell (lead guitar/vocals) drummer Joey Brennan and opt for a YOUNG RASCALS-esque sound. Originally adopting the name The Pigeons (a version of WILSON PICKETT’s `(In The) Midnight Hour’ was issued in ‘66) the quartet switched to the psychedelic-friendly VANILLA FUDGE, in the process swapping Brennan for drummer extraordinaire Carmine Appice.
Premiering their act at the Village Theater (Fillmore East), the band were signed on the spot by producer George “Shadow” Morton for Atlantic Records. Unique, if nothing else for their unqualified heaviness, the VF enjoyed chart success with their first release, a characteristically over- the-top, drawn out rendition of The SUPREMES’ `You Keep Me Hangin’ On’. Their self-titled debut parent album, VANILLA FUDGE (1967) {*7}, followed later that summer. It contained similarly overblown and atmospheric covers of The BEATLES’ `Eleanor Rigby’ and `Ticket To Ride’, The IMPRESSIONS’ `Get Ready’, The ZOMBIES’ `She’s Not There’ and Trade Martin’s `Take Me For A Little While’. Progressive rock was either born here or over the Atlantic Ocean with The NICE (`Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack’).
Lending the title and song from SONNY BONO, THE BEAT GOES ON (1968) {*5} was a tad too experimental for some to take. Not so much songs but collages melded into each other. Morton sliced and spliced the ‘Fudge into trippy snippets of Mozart, Stephen Foster, Cole Porter, ELVIS and The BEATLES. An interesting artefact or self-indulgence at the hands of their producer, further `Beethoven: `Fur Elise’ & `Moonlight Sonata’ shenanigans (on “Phase Two”) or 8 crackle & hiss minutes of taped world leaders on `Voices In Time’ (“Phase Three”), the term experimental-pop would be an understatement.
Leaving out the classical element on RENAISSANCE (1968) {*4}, the band’s original material such as `The Sky Cried / When I Was A boy’ and `Faceless People’ fell woefully short of matching the strength of the minor hit covers (`DONOVAN’s `Season Of The Witch’ and ESSRA MOHAWK’s `The Spell That Comes After’), but the album still scraped into the Top 20.
A stark improvement on their previous expedition to downsville, NEAR THE BEGINNING (1969) {*6} raided the vaults of Motown again for JUNIOR WALKER’s `Shotgun’, while there was subtle beauty in their rendition of LEE HAZLEWOOD’s `Some Velvet Morning’; the need then to self-indulge on a side-long, improv-like live jam, `Break Song’, was probably in response to stable mates IRON BUTTERFLY’s lengthy `In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’.
On the back of a summer ’69 Seattle Pop Festival turn at Woodenville, Washington, ROCK & ROLL (1969) {*4} was their fifth album in just over a couple of years; workmanlike yes, quality control no. In self-penned group tracks, opening salvo `Need Love’ probably came off best, but this time their treatments of GOFFIN & KING’s `I Can’t Make It Alone’, Rudy Clark’s `If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’ and MICHEL LEGRAND’s `The Windmills Of Your Mind’ (all 9 minutes of it!), were ill-conceived and misjudged.
The following spring, VANILLA FUDGE had melted into the musical stratosphere, saying their ta-tas in concert on March 14, 1970 at Phil Basille’s Action House. Stein was left holding the baby for a while (roping in bassist Sal D’Nofrio and drummer Jimmy Galluzi), but as he duly chose to form Boomerang, both Bogert and Appice re-grouped as the short-lived CACTUS (alongside Rusty Day and Jim McCarty); a little later the umpteenth supergroup was born under the bad sign of (Jeff) BECK, BOGERT & APPICE.
As time wore on, in-demand session players Bogert and Appice re-formed VANILLA FUDGE in 1982, with Stein and newbie lead/rhythm guitarist Ron Mancuso, releasing the soul-inflected MYSTERY (1984) {*3} before thankfully splitting again; the aforementioned JEFF BECK guested (as J. Toad) on Louis Merlino’s `Jealousy’ and The SUPREMES’ `My World Is Empty’; one further cover came through BACHARACH and David’s `Walk On By’.
Carmine would keep the ball of confusion going from 1987 to 1988 (with guitar man Paul Hanson), and it was the drummer again that would defy the odds in 1991 with a cheeky THE BEST OF VANILLA FUDGE – LIVE {*5}; the band now consisting of TED NUGENT-ites Derek Holmes (guitar/vocals), Martin Gerschwitz (keyboards/vocals) and Tom Croucier (bass/vocals).
The need to duly thaw out the original VANILLA FUDGE was never so much a necessity and, as the new millennium approached, fans of the legendary psychedelic group were ecstatic to see Appice, Bogert and Martell find time for a belatedly-released reunion album, THE RETURN (2002) {*6}; Stein’s berth was filled by Bill Pascali. Mixing up the old medicine with fresh cover versions of pop hits, `Tearin’ Up My Heart’ (‘N SYNC), `I Want It That Way’ (BACKSTREET BOYS), `Ain’t That Peculiar’ (MARVIN GAYE) and `Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ (co-penned by Appice while with ROD STEWART’s band), the ‘Fudge were cooking with gas again.
Martell again out of the picture, Teddy Rondinelli filled in for 2005’s German-only ROCKS THE UNIVERSE: LIVE IN GERMANY 2003 – Part 2 {*4}, while the 2004-recorded EXTENDED VERSIONS (2007) {*3} saw Martell and Co going the motions once again.
All four main/original members together for the first time in 37 years, one could almost forgive them for “Fudge-ing” up a full set of LED ZEPPELIN covers on “proper comeback” record OUT THROUGH THE IN DOOR (2007) {*6} – a play on words of the classic rock band’s swansong offering “In Through The Out Door”. One hell of a gamble and sure to rile up die-in-the-wool Zep fans, VANILLA FUDGE cake-walked through a hard rock karaoke of their greatest hits, including `Immigrant Song’, `Trampled Under Foot’, `Dazed And Confused’, `Dancing Days’ and `Your Time Is Gonna Come’.
As other outsider projects once again got in the way of progress; Bogert and Appice were posted missing when CACTUS re-formed briefly between 2008/9; their respective places filled on tour dates by Steve Argy and Jimmyjack Tamburo. The main four continued until 2011 until Bogert made way for former auxiliary member Pete Bremy.
SPIRIT OF ’67 {*6} was not, as suggested, something heavy and funky from the flower-power era, but VANILLA FUDGE getting heavy and funky as in 2015! Proof that the quartet were not quite ready to cash-in their pension plans, they powered their way through 10 golden nuggets that every true pop/rock fan should recognise, from `I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ and `The Letter’ to `A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ and `Ruby Tuesday’; the odd one out, the finale piece `Let’s Pray For Peace’, from the pen of Stein.
© MC Strong 1994-2000/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2015

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