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~ Shadow Morton Today ~

SHADOW MORTON:
100% PRODUCER - FUDGE STYLE

"...By the guidelines of what a producer does, I guess I did sixty or seventy percent of what a producer had to do. By what a producer's not supposed to do, I did 100 percent."

 - Shadow Morton

***

I've been a devoted fan of Vanilla Fudge fan for the last 30 years. When Casey kind of sprung his request to do this interview on me, I suddenly realized how little I really knew about Shadow Morton even though I was aware of many of his accomplishments. This is kind of strange since he had so much to do with the success of Vanilla Fudge in the early years, and I believe I have a little knowledge of the music of Vanilla Fudge. So, why did I know so little about how the music was created? This was an opportunity to round out my education.

My conversation with Shadow lasted about an hour and a half. Shadow's voice is coarse like the voice you might expect a sports coach of some kind to have - like maybe a baseball coach gone hoarse from yelling a lot during his career. He often said things about himself that even made me think of a baseball coach too, like that he was the one to blame when things went wrong, yet when things went right everyone got the credit. He was extremely polite, yet candid. His laughter is extremely contagious, his deameanor quite light-hearted and yet sincere. He also displayed extreme confidence, his words chosen slowly and carefully, yet he was never intimidating. He immediately made me feel like a friend. At times I had to wonder who was leading who :-).

His musical talents aside, I think these are the right combination of traits that helped to make him one of the great producers of modern music. I almost said Rock & Roll, but he admittedly never slid into any rut over the years. While most of the artists' music he's produced could be labeled Rock & Roll, the styles are so widely varied, but labeling him a "Rock & Roll producer" almost seems unfair.

Finally, yes, we talked about the years past with Vanilla Fudge, but we also talked about the distinct possibility of years future with Vanilla Fudge! We all can judge Shadow's work in the way we listen to and love the recordings of truly one of the greatest Rock & Roll bands of all time. I want to give special thanks to site historian Bill Bates, who transcribed the interview tapes. So now, read on to learn about more of the developing of the soul of Vanilla Fudge!

- Pete Bremy

Photos by Peter Bremy

 
Pete Bremy: Hello Shadow...

    Shadow Morton: How are you doing?

Pretty good. How about you?

    Not too bad. Not too bad.

I've got to say this is a real pleasure to get to talk to you. I've been a very big fan of Vanilla Fudge for over 30 years and I'm certainly not ignorant of the things you've done too over the years. So this is a real honor. Now of course, because this is for the Fudge Web site, we're going to be talking mainly about your years with the Fudge...

    Oh absolutely.

As Producer of the first 3 albums, tell me about your role with Vanilla Fudge...

    It's hard to define what my role was back then... [Pause] The "Producer" is a title given... but I guess - uh. I wasn't as much of a producer as you're supposed to be. But I wasn't as little as a producer than... Uh, That doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense. I guess by the guidelines of what a producer does, I guess I did sixty or seventy percent of what a producer had to do. By what a producer's not supposed to do I did 100 percent.

Could you elaborate on that and tell me what you did do?

    Well, what most people consider a producer... They associate it the same way they do with Broadway shows or the movies. They assume that the producer's the person who gets the backers and financiers and presents the project to this one and that one - and that's not the case in music. Although sometimes, yes, and to some degree, yes.

    Basically if I had to describe a [music industry] producer, I'd say "Think of a director in a movie". That's a producer of music. And I think even on one of the Fudge albums I changed [my] title from Producer to Director trying to let the public and other people understand that when they saw the name Bob Crew or Phil Spector or Phil Ramone, the public had a tendency to go, "Oh, you're the producer, the money man". And that's not the case - never was.

    [Note: On The Beat Goes On and the Renaissance albums Shadow was credited "Produced and Directed by Shadow Morton for Phantom Productions"].

    We are in a sense a director. That's what I think I did more with the Fudge than probably any other artist... was play director because we were off in a... it was wonderful... It was a speed trip in a haze! I mean we did not know where stop signs were coming - left turns - right turns - no idea. We were traveling down Main Street America in a 747. It was just awesome! And there was a lot of fear. Not fear, but like, what the f... are we doing? [Laughing heartily]

    But anyhow, that's my definition of a producer. He's more like a director.

OK. Great...

    He searches a lot - he nudges. He makes recommendations. He suggests. He demands. He cries. He threatens. He pleads. He does whatever he has to to get where he thinks the end has to be.

    ...Whatever I was back in the sixties to the boys I would probably be less verbal and less active [these days]. At least for a first album. I feel they need somebody. And the reason I feel that is because... the buck has to stop someplace. There has to be someone in that room when all 4 boys are either hollering at one another or applauding one another - it doesn't matter.

    Someone from the outside has to say "that's right" or "that's wrong". This is the way we're going. Whether some guy throws his hands up in the air and curses you: "What the f... do you know? I play this instrument..." - "That's the way it is!" Someone really has to come down and say "no - yes - yes - no.".

[Puzzled] In other words, a "babysitter"?

    A babysitter and the man who when the buck gets passed, you know, I mean you sit in the room when Carmine says "I want a 22 bar solo on the drums to drop into the middle of the song" and Mark's going to say "No".

    Now rather than them two fighting - two heads have to turn to somebody. What do you think?

That makes sense.

    One of the two of them is going to be disappointed and curse you. And the other one's going to say "See I told you so".

So at least maybe they can blame you and they don't fight with each other.

    Always! Always! Let me tell you something, when something goes wrong with a session, the producer's always blamed. When something goes right with a session, everybody pats each other on the back. Very simple.

Very interesting. But it makes sense. It definitely makes sense.

    ...And when a decision has to be made, somebody outside the group has to make that decision. And somebody has to be there to make demands on the people when they're slacking, when they're not happy with something. Somebody has to get to their heart because that's what music is about.

So at least with your relationship to the Fudge, you view yourself more as the director or the conductor rather than a person totally in control?

    Yeah. See a lot of times a producer's got to go in a room and note for note, or bar by bar - you have to pull from people. You have to pull from them. You have to start "shaking" them their lines. Which I've done on say most of my sessions...

    But with the Fudge there was such enormous talent there was no... Once they started in this direction and understood the feel - and I speak now of the things that were not conceived by them directly, and they fell into the mold - the loop of it - there was no stopping them. It was just awesome! It was awesome! I mean they were like four separate symphonies making one...

    And I could hold my breath through their entire song without exhaling. And other people like engineers who would not blink through an entire take because it was just awesome to watch.

    Timmy Bogert! I tell you what, Timmy Bogert refers to himself as a "bass player". And so does everybody else. And I find that a little disheartening. I mean, Timmy doesn't play a bass, Timmy is a bass. A bass is Timmy. They are one! I mean he treated that instrument like it was a Stradivarius. He did one... delicate... he would barely be touching a note so delicately like he was caressing a baby's face and the next thing you know, within four or five seconds, he was at a street brawl at Brooklyn. Nah, he's extraordinary!

What were the circumstances surrounding your first encounter with the Fudge... Do you remember?

    Yes, and uh, [Laughs] like with all things life, I'm sure that my memory suits my fantasy. I'm not sure that anybody else remembers it the way I remember it, but I know what I recall... What I have left to recall.

    I'm going to keep it this way regardless of whether someone can prove different or not. Uh, the inspiration for getting me to see the Pigeons [e.g. the early name of the Vanilla Fudge] was Shelly Finkle, who was the... I guess manager, doorman, or all-around guy for Phil Basile at the Action House. And Shelly had for a long time told me about this group, the Pigeons, and I had already heard about them.. He kicked my ass about that group, whether the group knows it or not. It was not Phil Basile that got me to go see that group.

    And the encounter that I recall, it was at the Action House. On that day, it was a very hot day, but Shelly had arranged for a limo and a bottle of Baccardi, and that was enough for me to get a look!

    And I went out to the Action House and I saw the Pigeons. A very hot day. Despite that I was wearing a Salvation Army cape... and I saw them perform and rehearse at the Action House. That was the first encounter that I recall.

And was it love at first sight?

    I would say at first that it was more than first sight. But to my best recollection, which I don't think anybody else recalls, when I first heard the boys, I never really got into hearing stuff that they would attempt to record, at least not in my ears. What I heard was probably the greatest group on stage but all of the material that they were doing, that I was listening to, was basically "club material". It was Twist and Shout. It was...

Cover tunes?

    It was Twist and Shout. It was, uh, like Mickey's Monkey. You know, it was like for a club. And at the time - I don't remember. I think Mark says they were already into You Keep Me Hanging On and others, but I don't recall it that way. I think they were starting to fool around with things like that.

    What I recall - and I don't care what anybody says, I'm keeping this for the movie [Laughs]. What I recall was that I had told Shelly Finkle at the door: "Shelly, this is undoubtedly the greatest group I've ever heard. Unfortunately, I don't hear them doing anything that's new. The girl in Des Moines don't give two shits that they're doing Mickey's Monkey better than the original. Nobody cares. They don't know the difference. They don't know that's a great bass player - she doesn't care."

Then what turned you around to keep you interested?

    Well, the way I recall it, I'm sure nobody else recalls it.

    But I was standing there talking to Shelly Finkle and I heard something, and I made Shelly be quiet because he kept talking at me to do this group. And when I walked back inside, I was looking up at the stage at Mark... and he kept looking down at me.

    And so finally - he's sitting at the keyboards and kept looking down . So finally he says: "What?". He didn't know me. And I said, "What are you doing?" And he said, "Right now I'm rehearsing a song so uh... I'm studying this song so I can teach it to the group." And I said to him "Do you always learn your songs by playing a 45 record at 33?" - he said, "Yeah, why? " - and I said, "No reason" - and I walked away and I said to Shelly Finkle: "That's the group!"

    That song was You Keep Me Hanging On. And they were the only group who could have taken that and made something of it. And they did. It was just awesome...

    Next time you get a chance - don't say anything to anybody - get your hands on a 45 copy of Diana Ross singing You Keep Me Hanging On and slow it down to 33 and a third.

[Laughs] Does it sound like Mark?

    Uh, uh... Not as good as Mark!

 

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Copyright © 1998 by Peter E. Bremy.
The Vanilla Fudge Web Site Compilation is Copyright © 1999 by Vanilla Fudge.