Mark Stein Interviewed!
The following excerpts were taken from an no-holds-barred interview with Mark that was conducted on November 21, 1992. They are reprinted here with the permission of the interviewer, Russell H. Tice. The interview was undertaken as part of a soon-to-be completed book project by Russell and Randy Pratt, tentatively entitled The Birth Of Heaviness. The new book will include more great stories from Mark and Vanilla Fudge, as well as from other groups who made their mark with the invention of true "heavy" music.
Watch their Web site, Electric Randyland, for news of the book's release!
Mark in Milano, Italy, during the Fudge's 2nd European Tour.
YOUNG MARK STEVENS
Russell Tice: What were your first musical experiences?
Mark Stein: [Incredulous] My first musical experiences?
Yeah, you did the Startime TV Show?
Yeah, My God, you're going back to, like four years old. I don't know, I guess it must have been hung over from another life. I started showing musical abilities when I was three years old.
Were your parents involved in show business at all?
My mom, she used to sing on the radio when she was a teenager, you know, when there was just radio. My mom was a singer and my dad used to play the piano and the violin. Yeah, I picked up this and that, it got me on that TV thing when I was a little kid. I used to remember going over to my uncle's house. He used to play piano, it was like, I was four years old and I used to start picking melodies out on the piano with one finger, and people just realized I had this natural ability so it started at a really young age.
When did you first meet Neil Bogart?
Yeah, that's what I'm thinking about now, I guess I was in Grammar school, you know, getting into Rock'n'Roll... Actually I was playing rhythm guitar, and singing... I'm trying to think back here.... What it was, was my dad, he had a lot of balls, a lot of push, and he'd like, hustle me into these places in New York City where they had these Rock'n'Roll shows. I remember one time he heard about this thing.. I must have been ten, you know, eleven years old, he got me this audition, it was this Rock'n'Roll show. I just remember going into this rehearsal hall and being scared, ten years old and all these teenage Rock'n'Roll guys and stuff, you know, and I auditioned and I got the gig, and that's where I met Neil Bogart, who was an MC on the show. I think he must've been about seventeen at the time, sixteen, right? So that's how we started getting to know each other then.
What was the show called?
It was the, uh... you know, you're going back to like 1959. It was the Milt Grant Rock'n'Roll Show. Something like that.
Didn't you put out a record at that time?
Well, see, Neil Bogart and I, we kinda took a liking towards each other, and he wanted me to cut a record, he took me in, and he knew some people. There was famous place called the Brill Building back then, and he took me to meet this one fella, and he got me into this studio with some people he knew. It was actually one of the bands that was on the Rock'n'Roll show. I remember there was a guitar player, a drummer, and a bass player. I just went in and I cut this thing, I don't even remember, we were gonna get a deal with this small record label, and next thing you know I had this record out and we were singing it in the show. We were doing some shows along the East Coast. One thing I specifically remember is this American Bandstand-type thing in Washington D.C., I forget the name of it now, I remember Sam Cooke was on the show. I remember I was real excited. And I pantomimed the records on the show. That thing lasted like a few months and it was over. I was still in grammar school and my mother was like freakin' out because I was missing school, you know what I mean?
Yeah. Was it an album or just a single?
No it was just a single. I used the name Mark Stevens. It was Allison Records or something like that. This is is going back a long time, my God.
Then you started singing in vocal groups?
Yeah. Back in High School I started. I was really into that whole thing. I was always singing. I put together a bunch of groups through high school. Through my association with Neil, we kind of got together and got a record deal, we went and cut a single and I remember vaguely we were supposed to go on a couple of Rock'n'Roll shows, you know Cousin Brucie, he was a real big-time DJ back then. Anyway, I remember we were supposed to go on, and a couple of the guys that were singing in the group got in a car accident and got killed.
What was the band called?
It was Mark Stevens and the Charmers. 1962, '61. I think I was in the tenth grade. All through High School I was musically active.
Did you miss a lot of school?
No, it was really weekends. I was always in bands. By the time I was like fifteen, I think, I was playing three, four nights a week, six sets a night. I was in clubs in Jersey, I was making money. I got the taste of it pretty young. You know?
INTRODUCTION TO THE ORGAN
I was in the band, I was playing rhythm guitar and singing lead. And then what happened with keyboards, one night I think we were playing up at... I think it was Yale University, around 1963. There was this organ player in the band, I think he got sick and he couldn't make it. So one of the guys in the band, said "You know, you're pretty good...", because I used to play accordion when I was nine years old. You know, with the Jewish and Italian moms and dads, you had to play accordion. Plus I had a natural ability with keyboards... But anyway I just sat down and sat in on the organ they had over there, and it sounded really cool and everyone said "Man, why don't you forget about the guitar, you really sound great on the keyboards...". So that's when I started getting into playing organ.
Was that a B-3 that you played then?
No, I don't know what it was. It definitely wasn't a B-3. The first time I ever played a B-3... The organ I had, it broke down. It was one of those single keyboard organs. Very simple. I was in one of these bands, and we went to play one of those clubs in Jersey, and they said, "Well, you don't have to bring an organ 'cause we got a Hammond organ right here. But back then it was like the big monster. The first time I ever looked at a B-3 I almost s---, it looked so complicated. All the draw bars, the double keyboard, you know, switches and stuff. I remember the first time I was supposed to be an organ player and I just didn't know how to play it. I was real embarrassed, I don't know how I ever got through the night. But that was my first experience with the Hammond B-3.
Was that with Rick Martin and The Showmen?
That was, um... Actually, that was in a band called Fantastics, with my high school buddies. Rick Martin & The Showmen came after High School. I got a call from this guy named Rick Martin. He had connections in New York City and he was playing all these places like The Peppermint Lounge, The Wagon Wheel, the Headliner. In the early to mid-sixties, those were the real happening places to play. It was playing Top 40 music, you know, because when you were a kid that was really cool. There weren't many people doing original material in those days. He called me up and I went down for this audition. I got this small Hammond organ, it wasn't a B-3, whatever it was, I don't remember - an M-1 or something. It was a single keyboard and that was it. We just started playing all these gigs in New York City, we started getting a following, and it was a great time because I learned a lot. I was playing six, seven nights a week, six shows a night.
What did Rick Martin do?
Rick was the guitar player and the lead singer.
Did you sing lead too?
Yeah, I was singing too. It was just one of those... You know, it lasted about a year and a half. We were making money, having a great time, and it was a great education in those days.
TIMMY AND VINNIE
That's where I met Tim Bogert. What happened was the bass player got drafted, and all of a sudden he was gone. So it was like, "Well, there's a fella named Tim Bogert that I used to know", you know, we had no choice, we had to go get this guy without any audition, right? I didn't know him.
Rick knew him?
Yeah. I must have been like seventeen years old at the time, eighteen. I think it was eighteen. So we're in the car going to this gig in Jersey, "we have no bass player, but we're all gonna pick up this guy named Tim Bogert at his house. He's gonna play." I remember this guy comes, like a bebop dude, you know, walking out of his house with one of those fedora hats, and he's like [in a geeky voice] "Hi, I'm Tim Bogert" [laughter] or "I'm Timmy", yeah "Timmy". So that was it, he came in the car and we shook hands. We started talking about what songs we were gonna be doing and what keys they were in. It was weird. It was like on the spot. It was some club in Jersey somewhere. Where, I've forgotten, but that's how I met Tim Bogert. So if he ever reads this: Tim, I had no choice! [laughter]
How was that show?
It was alright. Timmy was great, he didn't know a lot of the songs but he was faking it. But you know, after that night we had a whole bunch of gigs up and down the East Coast, so we practiced a few times. He was just a natural, you know? A hell of a good bass player.
So when did you first meet Vinnie Martell?
Oh God... [takes a breath and says quickly] Vinnie. Vinnie. Vinnie. Vinnie. Well what happened was me and Timmy and the old drummer, Joey Brenan, who was the old drummer in Rick Martin and The Showmen, we decided we wanted to leave the band 'cause we were checking out The Rascals and all these other bands. We wanted to do something better, we wanted to do our own thing, so we left Rick Martin and The Showmen and what we needed was a guitar player. So we were traveling around New York City and talking to different people. We talked to this agent and he said, "Yeah, I know this guy, he lives out in the Bronx, yatta yatta. Vinnie Martimucci." He gave us this card and one of us calls Vinnie, and Vinnie wanted to check it out.
And I remember me and Joey Brenan, we drove out there to the Bronx, and what happened on the way to the Bronx [laughs]: We took a wrong turn and we ended up like in the middle of Harlem... and all these dudes were running after us with baseball bats, and we were like freaking. It was dangerous. It was just weird. It was just lucky. It was like, man, we just made a few turns, and we got off of this ramp. It was almost like that movie, "Bonfire of the Vanities'. Did you see that? When I saw that, it was the same thing. On the way to pick up Vinnie! [laughter] Same mistake! [laughter] So anyway, thank God, we got back on the... whatever the hell it was, the Cross Bronx, whatever, and we finally got to Vinnie's house and we went and met him and yatta yatta. So we took him back to Jersey, and we were rehearsing on Tim Bogert's porch. You know, we were like rehearsing on the porch.
Timmy was living in Jersey. We all were. Except Vinnie, who was living in the Bronx. So we picked him up and we drove him back to Jersey. So we were rehearsing at Timmy's house.
So this was The Pigeons?
Were there any bands in between the Showmen and the Pigeons?
No. That was the Pigeons. We got that name from a guy called Jeff Barry, who was a very famous songwriter and producer during that time.
He gave it to you?
Yeah. Clay Cole used to be a pretty popular DJ back then. He used to have a place, you know, they had a lot of clubs in the City during the mid-sixties. They were called.. later on it was discos, but back then they were called Discotheques, I don't know if you've ever heard of them. Through somebody else we met this guy Jeff Barry, who was interested in us, so we went over to the City and he took us to this place called Clay Cole's whatever-it-was. I've forgotten. Then he said.."Tonight you're gonna be The Pigeons". So we went up and played, and ah.. I don't remember what happened. So that was it. And then... that never happened with Jeff Barry, we could never hit it off, but we stayed together as The Pigeons.
CONTEMPORARY INFLUENCES, MID-SIXTIES
So we were playing in all these clubs. We were doing great for kids. We were making money all up and down the East Coast, and what happened was we started hearing about this band called The Young Rascals that were making a lot of noise, you know?. These guys had an amazing sound, it was just like a trio: an organ player, a guitar player, a drummer, and a lead singer.
You know, they were making a lot of noise, a lot of people were talking about them, so we went and checked 'em out and the first time I saw these guys I was blown away. I'd never heard a Hammond organ sound like that. The first time I heard a B-3 was Felix Cavaliere. He was unbelievable. And Dino Dannelli was.. I never saw that type of white soul music, you know? And it really knocked me on my ass. Every chance I had I went to see those guys, right, to check out Felix. He was like my idol. I told him that the last time I saw him, I said, "you son-of-a-bitch, I haven't seen you in like twenty years. Did you know you were one of my biggest influences?" I told him that years later when we all played together at the Atlantic 40th thing at Madison Square Garden. It was funny after all those years, but uh, that's how that evolved.
And then there was also this other band called The Vagrants that Leslie West played guitar with, and they were also, like, incredible. They were doing other people's tunes, and doing re-arrangements of them. And that's kinda how the Fudge got the idea.
Was Leslie the center of attention in The Vagrants?
Well, no, it was the whole band. He was a great guitar player, and Peter Savatino was an incredible frontman, and just that whole vibe. We thought we were hot s---, I remember, and then Frankie Scallaro, who was their manager, said, "Look, I want you guys to play on the same show with them in this place in Long Island". This was the first time I saw The Vagrants play, and I was so blown away, I never saw anything like it. They had such an amazing stage show, you know, because I never saw anybody play like that. They were doing what were called "production numbers". That was like the Long Island term.
So was that at the Action House that you played with them?
We played at the Action House afterwards.
Right... But the thing with the Vanilla Fudge evolved... it was like a combination of The Young Rascals and The Vagrants, outside of the Vanilla Fudge, because we sort of evolved from those styles, right? We had this drummer that didn't really have the chops [Joey Brenan], he wasn't capable of what I wanted him to be doing. He was kind of like a straight-ahead drummer, like a Charlie Watts kind of a drummer from The Stones at that time, you know, and we wanted somebody that had a little more musical ability that could do what we wanted to do. So that's when we got Carmine in the band.
...We got this gig at the Choo-Choo Club. So we were rehearsing all these songs, this was a Top 40 place, we were doing all these tunes, you know, so we learned enough songs that we could go in there. That's when we started getting that going. But then, for what we were doing, what we were doing was pretty cool. We played together at the Choo-Choo Club for probably about five months, six months, you know, having a good time, making some money, and uh.. it was during that time that Frankie, who was The Vagrants manager, he helped us get into the Choo-Choo Club, he got us a gig playing with The Vagrants. That's when reality struck us. When we saw how great they were we said we gotta do something, we gotta make a change, we gotta change our style.
So to make a long story short, we were looking for another drummer. Me and Timmy went down to the Choo-Choo Club and we saw Carmine playing with Dean Parish and some other guys from Brooklyn. So we were like checking Carmine out and we said, "Hey, this guy's a really good drummer, he's really cool", and, uh, that night we brought him outside and we asked him if he wanted to be a Pigeon. He wasn't happy playing what he was doing, either. So that was it. And my dad, he was friends with this bar owner in Bayonne, you know, New Jersey. And he said, "Look you guys, I got this place, you can rehearse in the back of this bar". And we said great. So Carmine, he used to come in from Brooklyn and we used to all get together and we'd rehearse in the back of this bar, and it really happened.
What was the name of the bar?
I don't know.
Do you remember who owned it?
No. It was just the neighborhood bar. Like uptown Bayonne somewhere. And that was it. So we started rehearsing. And my dad called up this guy Philly, he owned the Action House. Phil Basile right, and he said, "I'd like to hear these guys". So we went out and we played at the Action House, and Phil liked the band, and, uh, we started playing.
Do you remember when that was?
That was about 1966.
Do you remember the season at all?
Like spring, summer?
Ohhh... it had to be spring. Who knows? And we started getting these gigs up and down the East Coast, and we started coming up with all these arrangements. Basically, you know that first album, all it really was was what we were doing in these clubs for about seven or eight months. We started playing up in Newport, Rhode Island, we started developing a real good following over there. A place called Dorian's. You know, they were great days, it was like this bar right up on the dock, right up on the water? And we started packing the place. 'Cause we were the Vanilla Fudge, but it was still The Pigeons. But that was the music we were doing.
How much say did you personally have in the first album, Vanilla Fudge?
The first album? Well the first album again, it was like everything we were doing, all the arrangements, it was what we were doing in all the clubs up until that time.
At those speeds?
Yeah. That was it. Slowing down was like a symphonic Rock'n'Roll Fudge tune. That's what it was called... That was the whole style, we had that approach to every song. It was great. When everybody heard it for the first time they were so blown away. When that album came out, I mean, I remember when we were on that first West Coast tour the album was just released, you know, and I remember when we got down to LA, we went to Tower Records. The Vanilla Fudge album was like number 1. Number one best seller in the store. I couldn't believe it. Like I said, everything was happening so fast, you put on the radio at night and all the major stations, I mean all the underground stations, they used to play the whole side. You Keep Me Hangin' On into Take Me For A Little While into... what was it?
Right. you probably remember that more than I do. And they used to play the whole side. No one ever did that. The only ones they ever did that with was The Beatles. It was an amazing time. Everything just happened so fast... and I really wasn't ready for it.
1998 by Russell H. Tice. Used with permission.