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The album Near The Beginning was really a change again. I mean, the studio songs besides the Break Song...
Well, they went back more to the beginning, to our roots. Like Shotgun was a soul song redone by us, and Some Velvet Morning was a song by Lee Hazlewood that we did a Fudge version of. And then I wrote most of Where is Happiness.
What inspired you to do that one?
Oh I don't know. In those days it was always "save the world", what is happiness, peace of mind, and all that..
The drums on that were pretty terrific.
Yeah, pretty wild. That was a little hippie stuff. I had an old Lowry Organ I used to write on. I wrote Faceless People, Paradise, and Where Is Happiness, plus Restrictions from Cactus. I played enough keyboard, guitar, and bass, you know, stuff I learned in high school when I took music, I learned to play enough to be able to write songs.
Well, you did pretty good...
Yeah [laughs]. Especially those two with Rod Stewart [ie. Do You Think I'm Sexy & Young Turks]. Rod Stewart and the Guitar Zeus songs are probably, for me, the biggest money-making songwriting I've ever done - and credit-wise.
Some Velvet Morning - do you remember the [Golden Gondola] award?
Yeah, it's really funny. I mixed that song with Eddie Kramer. We all picked songs to mix and I mixed that one. It was done on 12 Track, which is a totally unique format because it was 8 track tape and it was a machine that mixed a 12 Track. It was probably the only one in the world. We mixed that and I remember that in those days it was pretty wild.
Do you remember the Italian ceremony?
Yes. I just saw the Gondola. The Gondola we won is over at my Manager's house. Unfortunately he just passed away in October.
I'm sorry to hear that. Which Manager?
I didn't know it was that recent.
Yeah. He wasn't old. He was only 61. Really too bad.
When Vanilla Fudge arranged songs, what was the process?
Well, we'd somehow come up with the idea of the song, we used to go for this "hurtin' lyrics" vibe. Then Mark would come up with some sort of idea that would inspire everyone else to play it as a symphony orchestra would do.
I would use the tom toms as timpani's. I had gongs and a chime - a couple of chimes hanging from a drum stand, that I used quite a bit on Renaissance. We'd just arrange that way. Depending on what the song was, we'd always try to emulate an orchestra, which made it the "symphonic rock" vibe, the psychedelic.
Sometimes it started with maybe another idea, someone else's idea. But a lot of the ideas started with the keyboard since that was the main focus on all those songs.
The symphonic thing you mention brings a question to mind... I saw a program with Max Weinberg - an interview where he was talking about the reason he left the E Street Band. He said it was because Bruce Springsteen no longer felt he could keep the beat. He said it took him about 2 years to get back into, you know, keeping a really good, straight-ahead beat. The whole time I was thinking of your drumming with the Fudge and I thought: "Who cares? Who wants just a straight beat?"
Well, actually, you know, it's funny. [Max] did a book about drummers and when I met him and we became friends he told me that I was one of his biggest influences. Because we played a lot in New Jersey and he was from there, he used to come and see me and he had the same drum setup as I had. I said: "Well, Max. if I was one of your biggest influences, why didn't you put me in your book?" He said: "Because, believe it or not, I totally forgot." And I said, "Well thanks, buddy" and that was pretty funny then.
I've stayed at his house a couple of times and hung out with him. He's got the original Beatles front drum head hanging on the wall - the bass drum. It has "The Beatles" on it. It was on the Ed Sullivan show and everywhere. It's worth about a hundred and fifty grand!
Anyway, the idea was - and this happened in the eighties - the drummers just stopped...
They just stopped playing! That's why I was a fish out of water in the eighties. I didn't care for a lot of the music. One of the few bands I was in that I liked - I mean my King Kobra band was good, but they were like eighties players - was Blue Murder with Tony Franklin and John Sykes. They played like the Cactus and Vanilla Fudge players. They were old school players. Except for the Rod Stewart Band at the beginning, that had to be the best band I was involved with in the eighties.
But I definitely felt like a fish out of water because all those producers, all they wanted you to do was hold the groove, you know? And I refused to do it [laughs]. I'm always going against the grain. Guitar Zeus is totally against everything.
Do you find that recording in different tracks at different sessions is more restrictive to creativity than the way you did it with the Fudge? That is, back then you all got together and you were usually all in the studio playing at the same time?
In the eighties it was more restrictive. But since the nineties, especially with all the grunge and stuff that's been going on, it's brought things back to reality, back to the roots, back to the 60's and 70's. So now, for instance, on these two Guitar Zeus albums I approach it totally the way it was approached by Cactus or Vanilla Fudge.
When we get together we rehearse, but we don't over-rehearse. When Tony Franklin plays sessions he just plays straight. But when he and I play together, he "gets out" and I intend to "get out". Same with Kelly [Keeling] singing and writing songs - and the guitar soloists. It's just like a 70's vibe.
Another thing I wanted to mention... the song Windmills Of Your Mind from the Rock & Roll LP. It's great. No one instrument stands out. I mean, the group was still capable of coming right together, like Vanilla Fudge was the instrument. It's very good.
I can't remember that one, to tell the truth [laughs].
You know the one I really like on that album? It was I Can't Make it Alone. That was a really cool arrangement, you know. I listened to Rock & Roll or Psychedelic Sundae on CD and that song was really cool. I said to myself, now that song should have been the followup to You Keep Me Hangin' On.
It should have been. I actually requested it. This was back in '69 or whatever and I called up the radio station... You know, it was the B-side of Need Love.
Yeah right, Need Love was a pretty cool song. I mean, it was that fast boogie that Van Halen did with Hot For Teacher, but way before.
But I went and requested I Can't Make it Alone, and the guy says (I mean, this was on an FM station, to show you how far things had progressed), "I'm sorry, that's not on my playlist."
Yeah, there you go [sigh].
What would you say caused the breakup of Vanilla Fudge?
Well, the fact that the music business... the scene was changing more to guitar-oriented stuff, and Timmy and I wanted to play that kind of stuff more... At that time the trend was to break up and put super groups together, like Blind Faith and a couple of other bands going on then - mostly Blind Faith started that trend. We always liked to get in at the beginning of some things, you know, and Timmy and I loved Jeff Beck's playing. Bonzo told us - John Bonham told me and Timmy - after the Singer Bowl...
The Singer Bowl, did you hear about that gig?
The Singer Bowl was the gig... the Edwin Hawkins Singers and O Happy Day opened up. Then it was Ten Years After. Then it was the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart. Then it was us.
But in between Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin came on stage with Jeff Beck and jammed. They were really hot. This was in 1969, and they were like the hottest thing around. It was unbelievable, you know. The audience was going crazy. John Bonham took his clothes off and was running around nude. My parents were there and my Mother was going, "What is the guy doing taking his clothes off?"
Next we went on, and it was hard for us to follow that - it was a bummer. It was heavy. We couldn't follow it.
It was the night that John Bonham told us that Jeff Beck really wanted to play with me and Timmy. We said, "Great, let's get word to him." He'd already left the building but we had his number. So our tour ended and [Jeff's] tour ended, we called him and he wanted to do it. We basically said, "That's it for the Fudge".
Unfortunately [Jeff Beck] had a car accident at that time that set us back two years. We didn't want to wait because we had just broken up Vanilla Fudge to do this group we were going to call Cactus. Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, me, and Timmy were the original [Cactus] band. Then Rod didn't want to work with Jeff anymore. Then it was going to be me, Timmy, and Jeff and we were going to get a singer. Then Jeff had the accident and that was the end of that.
But you know, what we should have done in retrospect with Vanilla Fudge was, we should have kept the band together because we blew out something like half a million dollars worth of tour dates in the States, and a tour of Japan. We would have been one of the first bands to go to Japan, and we blew that out. We blew the tour out. You know, half a million bucks back then was like six months worth of work, but this was maybe a two month period. The money was really big, but we just said, "F... it" and we just did it. We broke it up.
What we should have done was kept it going and said, "We're going to take a break for a couple of years. Timmy and I want to play with Jeff Beck and do some solo stuff, and then we'll get back together and do a record."