Mark Stein is well-known as a lead vocalist, keyboardist, composer, and arranger for the influential ‘60s-era psychedelic rock band, Vanilla Fudge. Spotlight Central recently caught up with Stein and asked him about his musical childhood, his rise to fame with Vanilla Fudge, his work with other celebrated musicians, in addition to what he’s been up to lately.
Spotlight Central: You’re a Jersey boy who was born in Bayonne, NJ. Were any of your family members musical?
Mark Stein: Yeah, I’m a Jersey boy! Actually, my mom and dad both loved music. My mom had a really sweet voice. She used to sing, and from what I’m told, when she was a teenager, she sang on the radio — that probably had to have been in the early ’40s, I guess. And my dad loved the piano. Back in those days when he was growing up, parents wanted boys to play the violin and girls to play the piano, but he always had a great affinity for the piano. So, yeah, they were both musical and definitely both supportive of me and my music from a very early age.
Spotlight Central: We understand you began playing piano at the age of four and later attempted to play the accordion. What attracted you to those instruments?
Mark Stein: I used to go to my Uncle Willie’s house in Bayonne, NJ — I must have been three or four years old at the time. He had a house right by the Newark Bay there. He had a console piano in the living room, and he was really good. He used to sit and practice, and he’d have sheet music up there — fake books — and he’d play from them. I used to be enthralled listening to him play all the hits of the day, and when he left the room I’d kind of sneak over to the piano and start playing these one-fingered melodies. I guess I was born with a musical ear, so before you knew it, I started playing on my own.
My dad was also crazy for the accordion, so he kind of made me get into that. The Lawrence Welk Show was really popular in those days — Myron Floren was a great accordionist, and Dick Contino was a killer accordionist back in the ’50s. So my dad started me out taking me for accordion lessons and I got into it for awhile. I ran through all the music books really quickly but, to be honest, I got bored playing accordion music once I got bit by the rock and roll bug.
Spotlight Central: And that’s when you switched over to playing the guitar?
Mark Stein: Exactly. Yeah, my buddy, back in the late ’50s, lived down the block and he had an acoustic guitar. He’d let me borrow his guitar, and I started to learn how to play chords on it. I used to come home from grammar school and go in the living room and start playing old Buddy Holly songs, Richie Valens songs, the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace,” and all that stuff. Oddly enough, just yesterday was the 62nd anniversary of when the plane carrying those three musicians went down in 1959, which was “the day the music died.” So that was a hell of an event, but that music is what got me into playing rock and roll.
Spotlight Central: You played in several bands in high school. Do you happen to remember the names of any of those bands and what artists and songs you played?
Mark Stein: Actually, I do. There was a band called The Dynamics that was a popular rock and roll band at Bayonne High School. The music they played included the hits of the day — The Ventures, and stuff like that. I joined the band and became friends with some of the guys and, actually, over a half-century later we’re still in touch with each other, which is awesome.
Spotlight Central: We’ve read somewhere that it was when you were performing with one of your early bands that you spied an “old beat-up organ on the stage and started jamming on it.” Can you tell us more about that?
Mark Stein: I was playing guitar in The Dynamics — rhythm guitar— and I believe we were doing a college gig at Yale University. There was this organ that was over to the side of the stage; don’t ask me what type it was, but it was hooked up to some type of an amp. I put my guitar down while the band was playing and I ran over and just started playing it — I started jamming on it — and everybody looked over. Ronnie Czarnecki was our drummer — I’m still in touch with Ronnie today; he actually lives in Cincinnati — and he was freaking out. He said, “Man, you sound amazing on that! Forget about the guitar, that’s your thing!” So that’s how it got started; from then on, I became the keyboard player in The Dynamics.
Spotlight Central: And in 1965, along with guitarist Vince Martell and bassist Tim Bogert, you started a blue-eyed soul cover band called The Pigeons. Influenced by such groups as The Vagrants and The Rascals, you once said the group tried to emulate the “Long Island Sound.” How would you describe that sound?
Mark Stein: The Long Island Sound, I think, was really started by The Vagrants. One of the first times The Pigeons did a show was at this club called The Eye out on Long Island. We went out and did our set but we were not really that well-received because this was “Vagrants country” — they were really popular there. And when they came on stage, I went into the audience to watch their show and I was completely blown away — that’s the first time I had actually seen a band take songs and completely change the arrangements for them. They did a beautiful version of “Exodus” with a lot of drama, and they slowed down “If I Were A Carpenter,” and did this whole dramatic arrangement with strobe lights and a lot of soul.
The whole show, I was just mesmerized watching this band. And that night, on the way home, I was so blown away, I said, “This is what I want to do with music.” I was always into big productions, and movie scores, and what have you — but this was the night that changed my life.
Spotlight Central: The next year, 1966, drummer Carmine Appice joined The Pigeons and — as you once said — you all had “visions of being pop stars.” What did that mean for you?
Mark Stein: After watching The Rascals, who blew us away — this incredible blue-eyed soul band with fabulous vocals, and with Felix Cavaliere on the Hammond B-3 organ who was really my first influence — I had to go out and get a B-3 and learn how to play it. So it really was a hybrid of The Rascals and The Vagrants that got us started — we wanted to be The Rascals, but we also wanted to do stuff The Vagrants were doing — so we got to work and started doing arrangements of songs that we picked on our own.
And Tim Bogert and I found Carmine at the Choo Choo Club. He was playing in a band called Thursday’s Children, which was led by a soul singer, Dean Parrish — who I’m still in touch with today — a good soul singer. But the first time we saw Carmine play, he had so much power and finesse and he played with such syncopation, I looked at Tim and said, “I gotta talk to this guy backstage.” The drummer that we had, Joey Brennan, was a good drummer — he played kind of like Charlie Watts of the Stones — but we wanted to do all these elaborate arrangements, so we needed a drummer who was capable of doing that.
So we saw Carmine outside and I told him about what our vision was and I said, “You wanna be a Pigeon?” and he said, “Absolutely, man! Great idea.” I guess about a week later, my dad set us up in the back room of a bar in Bayonne, and we set up all of our instruments there and rehearsed for a week. We had called Philip Basile who owned the Action House out in Long Island and asked him to give us an audition. We went out there and played for him. He liked the band and said, “You want a manager?” and then we started playing all these clubs, and that’s how the momentum got started.
Spotlight Central: And how did The Pigeons get a recording contract?
Mark Stein: Shadow Morton, who was one of the popular producers on the East Coast at that time — he produced The Shangri-Las’ “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” and big hits like that, in addition to producing Janis Ian — came down to hear the band and he was blown away. We did “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and all the material we were doing, and he took us into a studio in the city and, in one take, we recorded “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” in mono. One take, and that’s the same song you hear over a half-century later!
So they took the track and Murray The K, who had a competition of all new songs that were coming out, put it on the air along with a new Beatles song and three other songs. After the show was over, we won the contest — all these people had called in and overwhelmingly supported it — and the buzz started getting out about this new band with this great sound and Atlantic signed us immediately.
Spotlight Central: Were you still The Pigeons or were you using your new name, Vanilla Fudge?
Mark Stein: No, we didn’t have the Vanilla Fudge name yet; we were still The Pigeons. But when we signed, Ahmet Ertegun said, “You’ve gotta change your name — you need a stronger name.” And when we came up with Vanilla Fudge, he didn’t like the name, but we really liked it, so we stuck with it.
Spotlight Central: It was a perfect name for the group!
Mark Stein: Well, ultimately, it was white guys doing soul music with a psychedelic twist —at least, that’s how the critics looked at it.
Spotlight Central: Isn’t it true you were still a teenager when your first self-titled Atco album, Vanilla Fudge, was released?
Mark Stein: Yeah, I think I was nineteen when we were going in and doing the tracks like “Take Me For a Little While” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” and that whole first album.
Spotlight Central: And wasn’t that the first album to reach Billboard’s Top 10 without a hit single?
Mark Stein: That’s true. The record company did release an edited version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” at the same time the album was released, but the single didn’t happen — it went up to #85 on the Billboard charts and then fell off, and [laughs] we thought, “That’s it. We’re done already.”
But we started touring on the West Coast with The Mamas and the Papas, Sonny and Cher, and all those bands of the day, and while we were on tour, the album started gaining a lot of notoriety because it was on the air all the time. All of our arrangements were heard on underground radio — FM stations were just coming out strong then, so thank God for that — but, yeah, the album actually got to the Top 10 without the aid of a hit single.
Spotlight Central: Were you surprised when the song became a hit two years later?
Mark Stein: Yeah. I remember we were doing an appearance in South Florida somewhere and one of the PR guys from Atlantic came up to us and said, “We’re gonna release ‘Keep Me Hangin’ On’ again since the album is doing so well. We think the single was ahead of its time.”
And when they re-released it, I mean, it just went up the charts like gangbusters and went up to #1 on most playlists around the world, so that was incredible.
Spotlight Central: That’s so cool! Who’s idea was it originally for you to put your particular spin on that Diana Ross and the Supremes’ hit?
Mark Stein: Actually, it went like this: I was sitting in front of the Cheetah, which was a discotheque back around ’65, in Timmy’s ’55 Chevy with the heat on. It was really freezing and The Supremes’ version of “Keep Me Hangin’ On,” which was a big hit, came on the radio. We looked at each other and I said, “This is such a cool song. We ought to slow it down. Imagine if we did — the lyrics would be more soulful.” And Tim said, “Mark, get to work on it,” and I did. I came up with the concept — a direction, or template, as it were — and Vinny Martell had this fantastic guitar intro that he put together for it.
At the time, we were playing at a discotheque called Ungano’s, which was uptown on the West Side. We rehearsed the song during the day. Timmy and Carmine came up with these great rhythm section parts, and we did all these vocal parts, and by the end of the day, we knew we had something really special and couldn’t wait to play it live.
When we started playing it live, everybody stopped dancing and they were just mesmerized. They stopped dancing and came up to the front of the stage and, before you know it, that started happening everywhere we played.
Spotlight Central: And then you guys really started touring. You went to England where you got to play in clubs where The Beatles first appeared, but you’ve said that your favorite tours were with Led Zeppelin and with Jimi Hendrix?
Mark Stein: Yeah, the Hendrix thing was awesome. We did a Hendrix tour with Vanilla Fudge opening, and then they had a couple of other bands on it, too — I think The Soft Machine was one of them — but that was an amazing experience. Here we were opening for the great Jimi Hendrix, and our album, Vanilla Fudge, was soaring up the charts. We started playing the big places — the coliseums, and the big sports arenas, and the civic centers. We must have played maybe fifteen concerts opening for Jimi. It gave us amazing exposure and we went over great. We were really just hitting our peak with our live performances in those days.
Spotlight Central: Isn’t it true that while on tour with Hendrix, he gave you a sneak preview of an album he was working on?
Mark Stein: Yeah, here’s how that story goes: I think it was in Phoenix, and it was, maybe, three- or four-o-clock in the morning. I was hanging out with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, the drummer and bass player in The Jimi Hendrix Experience. We were drinking, and smoking, or whatever we were doing, and Jimi came walking in with these demos in his hand — actually, they were acetates — and he had this record player with a speaker on the left and the right, one of those old-fashioned vinyl players. And he started playing the album — it was the pre-release of Electric Ladyland. So here I am hearing “…And the Gods Made Love,” [laughs] and all these songs, and we were smiling at each other, sitting there in awe, listening to Electric Ladyland before anybody else ever heard it.
Spotlight Central: We understand Vanilla Fudge appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show several times. The first time you appeared with Duke Ellington, but the second time, we’re told, you had a unique experience backstage with a legendary Motown group?
Mark Stein: Oh yeah, baby — that would have been a group called The Temptations! Everybody knew The Temptations — “My Girl,” and all those great songs. To me, it was like heaven, because those guys were just the coolest guys. We were hanging out and having something to eat during the day — you know, dress rehearsal, or whatever it was, for the Sullivan show — and we start blowing some harmonies, with me singing backgrounds with them and just having a great time, you know? It was just a glorious time — it was just incredible.
Spotlight Central: A priceless memory, for sure!
Mark Stein: Oh, man — you know it.
Spotlight Central: Vanilla Fudge went on to record five albums and influenced such well-known artists as Yes, Uriah Heep, Styx, and all these other groups that so many people love. And, as an organist, you personally influenced lots of musicians including Deep Purple’s Jon Lord who called you “a useful source of tricks on the Hammond.” What kind of organ techniques do you think he was talking about?
Mark Stein: Well, when I first started playing, I basically looked at my instrument, the Hammond organ, as an orchestra, ok? I didn’t really have my chops together yet because I hadn’t been playing that long, but I did discover a way to get effects and different sounds and dynamics on it. I used to do all of these tricks with the drawbars, and all these percussive effects, and flute-y sounds — along with big swells and dynamics — and I think that’s what Jon was talking about, may he rest in peace. He was a great guy and he became an incredible rock organ player. We toured when Deep Purple started making it — back in the ’60s, we did a bunch of shows together — and we all became really good friends, and we still are many decades later, but Jon was really one of the greats.
Spotlight Central: And speaking of one of the greats, we were saddened to learn that the world just recently lost one of the original members of Vanilla Fudge — another New Jersey native — bassist Tim Bogert. What are your thoughts about Tim as both a musician and colleague?
Mark Stein: Tim had called me up about a year and a half ago. He retired about a decade ago, so he wasn’t playing with the band live — Pete Bremy was playing bass with Vanilla Fudge by then. At the time, I hadn’t spoken to Tim in about seven years, but he called me out of the blue and he said, “I’ve got something to tell you.” He told me he was sick and that he had cancer. I was really taken aback to hear that, especially since we hadn’t spoken in awhile.
We talked for awhile and I said, “Back up a little. How did this all happen?” He was really up-front with me, and I was the same with him. We had a really good conversation. He told me he was at peace with it and actually told me the doctor said he had maybe a year or a year and a half. So what do you say? What do you say to somebody? I mean, I’ve had experience with people over the years who’ve had that unfortunate thing happen.
But it brought us back together in a hurry. Over the coming months we’d talk from time to time. I’d call him and say, “How are you doin’?” And he was really cool. He said it was actually “very liberating.” He said, “I had a great life.”
Spotlight Central: And he was one heck of musician, too, wasn’t he?
Mark Stein: Tim was one of the greatest bass players of his time. I mean, it was Tim, John Entwistle from The Who, and of course, Jack Bruce with Cream — they were the three killer bass players who are, unfortunately, all gone now. Tim was a monster, you know? He had amazing energy. He was like a combination of James Jamerson from Motown and Paul McCartney on steroids. He did these amazing runs, and he had this amazing dexterity, and he’d find a way to get back out of his madness and right back onto the downbeat. And visually, he was really amazing on stage, too — he was really a trip. But what can I say? It was a great loss when he passed on the 13th of January.
Spotlight Central: It sure was. After Vanilla Fudge disbanded, in the mid-1970s, you went on to work with The Tommy Bolin Band playing keyboards with some really great musicians including Narada Michael Walden on drums and Reggie McBride on bass. Isn’t it true that with this group, in addition to the Hammond B-3 organ, you started to play synthesizer?
Mark Stein: Yeah, the Hammond B-3 was always my mainstay, but I added the Mini Moog and some other keyboards — Fender Rhodes, and some kind of a string synthesizer of the day. I was really influenced by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jan Hammer — that was the first time I’d heard a keyboard like that. I didn’t know what it was when I first heard it, but it was a Mini Moog. Jan used it to bend notes and it just blew my mind, so I had to get one of those and I used to practice like crazy.
When Tommy put the band together, I played keyboards and Narada Michael Walden, fresh out of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, was on drums. We also had Reggie McBride, from Stevie Wonder’s band, and Norma Jean Belle, a great sax player who came over from Frank Zappa’s band, in addition to Tommy, of course, on guitar. Narada had such an amazing progressive mind and he’d be on me every day saying, “Practice, practice, practice! You gotta get better at it!” He was a very positive influence on me, for sure. That was a hell of a band, man — an amazing band.
Spotlight Central: We’re told that while playing with that group, you and Tommy Bolin jumped onstage and started jamming with Carlos Santana in front of 7000 people!
Mark Stein: That was a great gig! The Tommy Bolin Band was opening for Santana in Albuquerque, and there were a lot of folks there. We jumped up on stage and I got up on the keyboards and Tommy, of course, got on the guitar and we just started jamming and having a ball up there. It was an incredible night and just a great experience; I can remember hanging out with Carlos afterwards just talking about music and talking about all the bands of the day — it was a very, very cool trip, for sure.
Spotlight Central: You also played for a crowd of 50,000 people at Mile High Stadium opening for Peter Frampton where you got an extended standing ovation after your name was announced following your solo. How gratifying was that?
Mark Stein: That’s when Peter Frampton had his huge Frampton Comes Alive record; I think it was in 1976. We had the gig opening for Frampton in Denver, and it was an incredible day. I think there were 50,000 people there. I had a big following from Vanilla Fudge from the late-‘60s, and I used to do this really cool solo with the band and I do remember after the solo was over, Tommy announced my name. It was a pretty inspiring ovation, so that was a cool moment, for sure.
Spotlight Central: The fans not only appreciated what you were doing there in the moment, but were also honoring you for your work with Vanilla Fudge.
Mark Stein: Well, Vanilla Fudge was really strong in that market because we had toured with Led Zeppelin in Denver and had played a lot of big shows there.
Spotlight Central: And after that, you worked with Alice Cooper, with his Welcome to My Nightmare tour of Australia and New Zealand. What was that like?
Mark Stein: That was pretty crazy! It was a really elaborate show — probably at the time, the most visual rock and roll show on the planet. It was a long, long journey to the Southern Hemisphere. And I do remember it was a really good band, and playing huge venues in Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, and Melbourne, Austrailia, and over in Auckland, New Zealand, too. At the time, it was the biggest-grossing tour of all time in the Southern Hemisphere — and I remember that when I first got down to Australia, even though Vanilla Fudge had never toured there, I found out that our records were huge sellers in that part of the world and I remember being greeted with a lot of positive vibes, for sure.
Spotlight Central: In the ’70s and ’80s you toured or recorded with a who’s who of artists including Dave Mason, Rod Stewart, and Michael Jackson. We’ve heard that — and we don’t know if it’s true — but there’s a story out there which suggests that at a Frank Zappa concert an anonymous fan once yelled out, “You guys stink — bring on the Fudge.” But you were friends with Zappa, weren’t you?
Mark Stein: Oh, man, I heard that story. And you know where that was? I read that was at Westbury Music Fair, but that was probably from a show back in 1967. Frank was brilliant, man, and he was a great guy. Frank and the Mothers of Invention did a lot of shows with Vanilla Fudge on the East Coast back in those days. So, yeah, we did become friends. He really liked the Fudge, and I liked him a lot, and we used to talk a lot.
One night, he saved my ass, ok? We were partying for a couple of nights — I don’t think I slept for a couple of nights — and my voice was completely hoarse. I was freaking out and I remember I was in the dressing room talking to Frank and I said, “Man, I don’t know how I’m gonna get through the show tonight.” They were doing the sound check and he just said, “Look, man. I’ll take care of this. Don’t worry.” He sat me down and he calmed me down. He gave me some tea and honey, and he said, “Now drink this and take it easy. Have a positive attitude and just believe you’re gonna get through the night tonight.”
He really befriended me that day, and that night, and I did get through the show. Even though I had a pretty hoarse voice, that was really cool what he did, and over the next year we’d run into each other often. We played lots of shows together and had a nice friendly relationship. He was really a cool guy, and he left us way too young.
Spotlight Central: And so ahead of his time, too. In the early 1980s, Vanilla Fudge did a benefit concert in New York City. When Atlantic Records heard you guys perform there, they wanted the group to get back together. You did, and you recorded your 1983 reunion album, Mystery, and you also did a tour in 1987 which produced a live album. Was your approach to music in the 1980s different or similar to the approach Vanilla Fudge took in the 1960s?
Mark Stein: What happened was: when we reformed to do this Mystery album, we wanted to change with the times. It was the ’80s when we started doing that record, and this was the time of The Police, and Toto, and a lot of really great pop songs and pop arrangements, and that’s kind of where we were going with that.
After the record came out, a lot of the diehard fans weren’t happy with it because it didn’t really have the Vanilla Fudge sound of the ’60s. It was an ’80s sound, which is what we wanted. Spencer Proffer was producing us — he was in the middle of producing a band called Quiet Riot at the time, but they hadn’t made it yet.
The Mystery album was supposed to be the big comeback album of the year. Unfortunately, we were in the middle of some difficult legal problems at the time, and it really got in the way of the momentum of the music. It’s a real shame, too, because I thought that was a really good record. And, actually, I think it was Billboard that spotlighted the title track, “Mystery,” and touted that it could be a Top 20 single.
But because of all of the problems, Atlantic dropped the ball on it, and that was the end of it. But there were songs like “Golden Age Dreams,” and “Mystery,” and a song called “Under Suspicion.” If anybody Googles the Mystery album and checks out those tracks, I think they’ll find them to be pretty cool.
Spotlight Central: And speaking of a cool track, in 2001, you recorded a cool version of “America the Beautiful.” What inspired you to do that?
Mark Stein: We had been watching the towers come down, and a couple of days after 9/11, my wife, Patty, and I were checking out the news and we saw these amazing dogs — these search and rescue dogs — that were climbing over all the rubble and getting burned. Some of them were even dying from the heat and the exhaustion — they’d have them combing the site and they’d be giving them oxygen, and intravenous, and all kinds of stuff — and I was saying, “This is amazing.”
I’d always been patriotic but, after that, I was feeling super patriotic, and I wanted to do a version of “America the Beautiful.” I put together a bunch of really cool musicians and went into my friend’s studio and we recorded it. I put it up on my website and all the donations coming from my website for “America the Beautiful” went to the organization that services the search and rescue dogs, and we raised a bunch of money. Actually, Whitey Ford — who at the time was a really good friend of mine — and his wife, Joan, gave a nice donation to the organization. So that’s what inspired “America the Beautiful.”
Spotlight Central: In 2003, you recorded a solo album, White Magik, which features “America the Beautiful” and a few other cover arrangements, in addition to seven original songs. As a songwriter, when you create songs, do you find yourself mainly composing at the keyboard, or can ideas pop into your head at any time?
Mark Stein: Usually, it works for me when I’m sitting at the organ or the piano and I’ll come up with a groove, or a lick, and I’ll say, “Wow, that really sounds cool!” — or maybe I’ll start singing a hook out of the blue, and then I’ll start writing a story and lyrics around the hook. For different songwriters, it can come in different ways, but for me, it usually starts with the keyboard — and, sometimes, it’s just simultaneous when the ideas come out.
Spotlight Central: And speaking of keyboards, not long ago, you worked as a featured artist with drummer Carl Palmer as a vocalist, keyboardist, and organist, playing on his 2018 Live: Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy album. How did that come about?
Mark Stein: Carl Palmer put his ELP Legacy tour together to honor Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and he was looking for a singer who could also play keyboards. He saw me on TV with Vanilla Fudge on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and he called his manager and said, “Can you contact Mark Stein to see if he’d be interested in doing a couple of shows with me?” I called Carl in England and we hit it off really well. We went out and we did a handful of shows and that was a great experience, actually, playing Keith Emerson and singing Greg Lake at the same time. In fact that was one of the most challenging things I think I’ve ever done.
Spotlight Central: Absolutely!
Mark Stein: But I did it in my own style, you know? I could never play like Keith Emerson, but I can play like Mark. And the people dug it, and Carl dug it — he had a great band — and it came off really well.
Spotlight Central: More than a half-century following its creation, you, Carmine Appice, and Vince Martell, along with bassist Pete Bremy, are still performing as Vanilla Fudge. We’ve seen you in concert on several occasions where you play hard rock versions of songs like The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” and The Doors’ “Break on Through to the Other Side,” but one of our all-time favorite Vanilla Fudge cover songs is “People Get Ready.” Can you tell us more about that particular arrangement and if you enjoy performing it as much as we do listening to it?
Mark Stein: “People Get Ready” was originally done by The Impressions with Curtis Mayfield. And The Fudge — the original guys, when we were kids — we sang really well together. We were like a street corner group — a doo-wop group — the blend was so good. We used to do songs like that in the car; we used to sing on the way to shows. Then we got to rehearsal and we came up with this arrangement of “People Get Ready” probably around 1966 and, I guess, still to this day, it’s one of the fan favorites.
And I actually dedicated that song to Martin Luther King after he was assassinated back in 1968. I remember dedicating it to him at the New Orleans sports arena, and they started throwing molotov cocktails out of the stands. Our manager was really angry with me. He said, “Don’t you know where we are? We’re in the Deep South!” But I was young and I was an activist, and I had that kind of attitude and I really didn’t care — plus I was getting patted on the back by my peers in my age group — but the business people were freaking out. But, hey, that’s the way it was, man. A lot of racial divide was going on back then — it was a big crisis — and, yeah, it was crazy times.
Spotlight Central: You’ve said your last gig was around Thanksgiving of 2019. With the current suspension of live concerts, what have you been up to?
Mark Stein: Aside from looking at every 1950s and 1960s movie [laughs], I actually did a couple of sessions. I played some keyboards with Arthur Brown. Remember The Crazy World of Arthur Brown with that big song, “Fire”? Cleopatra Records asked me to play some Hammond on one of his songs, which I did. It was really fun and it came out really cool. The song was released around Halloween. It’s called “Zombie Yelp.” You should check it out; it’s a lot of fun.
And then they asked me to sing lead and backing vocals and play Hammond on a tribute to Badfinger, so I did that, and I guess that should be coming out this year. I did the song, “No Matter What” — their big hit — and that came out really cool, too.
In addition, I’ve been writing some songs. I have a new song that I’m hoping to have out pretty soon. It’s a new ballad, and it’s a reflection of the times that I’m really proud of.
Spotlight Central: Have you spent any time at all working on a project we’ve heard about, The Supreme Vanilla Fudge — a new Vanilla Fudge album set to feature Supremes and Motown covers?
Mark Stein: [Laughs] For the last fourteen months, everything’s been at a standstill; everything’s been on hold. Nobody’s recording, really; nobody’s touring. The music business is in limbo.
The other night, however, we did a tribute to Tim Bogert. Carmine put that together, and I was on it with Joe Bonamassa and Billy Sheehan and Warren Haynes — all amazing musicians — and Vinny Martell of The Fudge was on it, too, along with Jimmy Vivino, the leader of the Conan band. We did a nice tribute to Tim.
And from time to time, I’ll do a Zoom thing on the New York Yankees station where I’ll hang out with some of the old players. Robbie Robertson, who is Frankie Valli’s musical director, puts that together. He’s great musician, a great friend, and a great guy, and so I’ll do that from time to time.
So, pretty much, that’s what’s been going on. We’re just kind of holding our breath to see when the venues are gonna start opening up. Who knows? Maybe by the early fall of this year there’ll be some action, but we just have to wait and see how this vaccine plays out.
Spotlight Central: And in the meantime, even though we can’t see you in concert, we can read your book, You Keep Me Hangin’ On, which is sort of a history of rock featuring interviews with such artists as Billy Joel, The Doors’ Robbie Krieger, and many more, correct?
Mark Stein: Yeah. It’s not an autobiography — it’s a biography, written in the third person — where I collaborated with Larry Schweikart, who was a history professor at the University of Dayton at the time, and who had a really big-selling book with A Patriot’s History of America.
So we collaborated on the book and, yeah, Billy Joel was interviewed, Robbie Krieger, the late great music promoter Sid Bernstein, and just a whole bunch of people — Glenn Hughes, Dave Mason. People can find it at mark-stein.com if they want a numbered and signed copy, or they can go to amazon.com to find it, as well.
Spotlight Central: Is there anything else you’d like to add, or anything else you’d like to say to your many fans, some of whom have been following you for decades now?
Mark Stein: When you’re used to being on stage a lot and, all of a sudden, it’s completely cut off, it’s like a big part of your heart and oxygen supply are missing. We need the live energy — the people need us, and we need the people. We all miss it, the fans miss it. We’re just hoping to get back into circulation soon, so we’ll see how it goes. But we appreciate the support we get from everybody all over the world who’ve stood behind Vanilla Fudge since the beginning, and we sincerely hope there’ll be a day when we’ll be back to meet everybody again soon.
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