Vince Martell
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When the album Vanilla Fudge was racing up the charts, did you feel at all in control or did it feel as if you were watching?

    Well... both. We made it very fast, remember, eight months after we got together as a group we had a record deal.

    The first time I heard You Keep Me Hangin' On on the radio was when we were playing up in Poughkeepsie at a club. We were staying at this house and I was taking a shower when Mark comes bursting into the bathroom and says, "Hey Vinny, get out here... Hangin' On is on the radio!". So I threw a towel around me (with the soap), went out, and sure enough it was on. That was like the first real kick in the head, when you first hear yourself on the radio, it's like...

    So [the success] was controlled and it wasn't... because I mean our business people - our lawyer was Steve Weiss who was also Zeppelin's lawyer, Hendrix's lawyer, and Bad Company's and The Rascals - we had like the best people going. So they were in control along with Atlantic Records, ATCO, and Ahmet Ertegun... the record company was making all the big moves and we had everything going behind that.

    I think we were "in control" to more of an extent than most groups. We had the good manager, Phil Basille. Producer-wise, Shadow Morton was really good. I've really got to hand it to him, I don't think he's ever been given enough credit. [Phil and Shadow] told us to "Always do your music...", you know, "be true to yourselves and to the music. You don't have to compromise". Which we didn't.

    I think [the Vanilla Fudge phenomenon] was a combination of talented people and good business people and the right way of looking at the music. The only mistake, if any, I would feel, is that when we needed to take a break, we should have just taken a break and come back, rather than disband the whole thing.

    Some groups get into the studio and the producers ruin it on them. They tell the bands what to play and how to play it. I'd say to all musicians: You've got to think three times before you agree to one of those things because basically you're giving up your angle and your creative edge - which is one of the only things you may have going for you. Giving that up for some other people's business reasons... and if they're wrong you just gave away your goods. Try to be true to what you want to do.

 

How did the Fudge develop into reworking top 40 songs? Did it start by doing covers and just evolve into more?

    A lot of times... even today I feel this way, that a lot of times the music isn't set up. It's like a painting, you know... like you want to have the setting around a painting that will set the painting off to its best advantage. Everything around the painting then becomes important too.

    I see that groups still do this today - they jump in, and before they've established a mood, a feel, or a direction, they're into the song already.

    The way my personality works I like to go in and get comfortable, to see what's gonna happen and kind of get a feel for what's gonna happen. I like to approach music like that, like classical music - set it up, set up a mood. Architecture is like that, A-B-A - these different forms that relate and are balanced. That kind of thing.

    I feel like the music should be telling a story, more than just singing the words about something. So what I would try to do, and what I guess the groove we were all able to get into, was to work off that kind of thing and not be afraid to come out with ideas. We would try them, everybody was pretty receptive, and we would basically just try to set up the song to make it the most intense variation of the song that they had ever heard. To get people so into it that even if they were straight they felt like they were stoned.

 

One of the labels put on Fudge music was "psychedelic". Do you feel that the psychedelic sound of your music came from psychedelic experience?

    To tell the truth, I think we were kind of into our music before [acid or psychedelia was associated with it]! It was coincidental that if somebody was doing acid or something like that, and everything was exaggerated, the music would seem to sound the way it did. We would hear it in that same kind of way without drugs.

    It just so happened that we came out with this music - it wasn't drugs that made us arrange the music that way. We were playing this kind of music before the drug scene was really happening. That was our natural way of playing back then - and possibly even still now if the four guys could get together. It could happen again because there's just a natural chemistry.

 

Could you describe what psychedelic Rock means, what sort of feel work you're talking about? you're not really talking about the 3 chord kind of chorus bridge...

    Not at all, not at all... as a matter of fact that's probably at the opposite end of the spectrum of what we liked to do.

    For me, a definition of psychedelic music would be: Music that can transport people from the simplest, most relaxed mood to a crazy, off the wall kind of freaking out as if they were on drugs or dying or whatever - but to the max of emotions that they can imagine... if it's done right nobody needs drugs to get to that 'other place'... and it can be done. Drugs can do that artificially, but you can also get that naturally.

    There's no real formula, but if a band is going to do it they should approach it like they're going to take you on a journey and start out by establishing a few things. Get something mellow, get something developed, get some kind of a picture in people's minds - in their subconscious whatever it is - then start taking them on a journey. If you do it like that - you can go as heavy and far out as you want to go on the journey - but you can also come all the way back to the simple and mellow and bring them back.

    If it's done right the people really feel like they do in a movie - like they realize they were so engrossed in the movie that they forgot everything else in their life. A movie can take people to an entirely different plain for a time.

    Music should be able to do that. If it's too trite sounding, too pop, too happy, too like AM Radio all broken up with commercials -- you can't get into the heaviness of what is really there.

 

Tell me about the creative process used by the Fudge in arrangements of original and covered material, did you jam?

    No, we didn't really jam. For myself, I came from a sort of classical background. My sister had played the piano since she was four, so from the age of two I grew up hearing all the classical pieces (She still is a great classical pianist today, though she's chosen to use it for her own enjoyment.) Between that and Mark's background in music -- he had been playing keyboards from an early age, and guitar -- we just managed to sit down and try to get the most out of a song.

    Back when we were coming up it was the days of, you know, you had to be better than the other band. If the other band would do something heavy you had to be heavier than them. You had to do your max. It wasn't like you were trying to get a job in a club and you had to do a certain kind of music - this was like... uh... war. So that's how we attacked everything, and we would try to get the most out of every part of the arrangement.

    If it was mellow, we would try to make it more mellow; if it had an interesting groove about it, we tried to develop that groove even more. It was just a process in all of us. We were on the same creative wavelength and kick there for a while, and we were able to come out with that whole first album. We recorded Season Of The Witch when we did the first album. We also did a version of You Can't Do That by the Beatles that was never released (I have an acetate of that at home), and we did Like A Rolling Stone by Dylan (which I might still have a tape of).

    We were in a creative run, everybody was getting along head-wise, personality-wise. We hadn't really made it yet when we did the first album, and we were all able to groove off each other's ideas. We were like a little army unit -- like the special forces -- we had to work together, do the job, do the best job, and get out before being recognized...

 

I understand that Vanilla Fudge band as an organization was pretty democratic?

    There wasn't really a group leader, it was always the four of us working in conjunction with each other.

    Though I guess we took our lead somewhat from our manager, Phil Basille. He was very good and he always had the attitude "Look, if you go to play someplace and the club owner doesn't like what you're doing, don't worry about it. Just do what you guys want to do." He was always totally behind us with the creative process. One time we played a club in New London, Connecticut - the management was uptight with us after the set because people were listening to the music instead of dancing and drinking. We left the club, [Phil] had his own club in New York, and we were able to go back there and play again... He had a great attitude.

    Our producer, Shadow Morton, was another great person. Shadow was able to channel our creativity in a unified direction. I feel he was the best producer we ever had, and he really managed to get the creative forces flowing. He never told us what to do or to gear our creativity in a direction he wanted (at least on the first album). He was always there for re-enforcement, though.

    It worked out wonderfully with the two of them. In retrospect, we were on to quite a few good things, and at the time it all came so naturally. We never considered ourselves an especially big deal - until everybody else started telling us that after the album came out. You see yourself in a certain light until you get different perspectives. Those didn't come until the album was released and we were out traveling around.

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