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Vince 'Maxing It' Circa 1969. (from The Vanilla Fudge Songbook)

VINCE MARTELL: TO THE MAX

Vince Martell is perhaps one of the most remarkable guitarists to emerge from the 1960s' Psychedelic Rock boom. Playing with the high energy band Vanilla Fudge, Vince not only grew to be a master at his craft - he also showed himself to be a true artist who managed to survive a very competitive business with his artistry intact.

In an era where the guitar was central to the repetoire of most Rock & Roll groups, the uniquely powerful Vanilla Fudge sound required each band member to participate as a part of the whole.

In making his contribution, Vince managed to display an uncanny knack for finding just the right combination of rythym and lead guitar parts that has helped keep the group's exceptional body of work unique and fresh, even after the passing of nearly three decades.

The interview was transcribed directly from Vince's own words. However, since normal conversation can be difficult to follow on the printed page, certain sentences have been modified for ease of reading. The bulk of the interview was conducted by Aaron Butler on Sunday, April 13, 1997, in New York, where Vince is currently working on his new album. All photographs are by Shirley Gioia unless otherwise noted. Please enjoy!

Real Audio Sound Byte From The Interview:

Aaron Butler: How did you join the Pigeons, the group that became Vanilla Fudge?

    Vince Martell: I was in the Navy before that. I joined Kiddy Cruise, where you get out of the Navy before you're twenty-one if you join when you're seventeen. After the Navy I came back to New York, and a few days later my folks were moving to Florida. At the time there was no point in my staying in the New York area, so I went to Florida with them. There I joined a band... we played in a couple of places like Miami, Key West - you know, shrimp bars there where they throw money at you and all that stuff?

    That band broke up when the bass player had some personal troubles. When that happened I moved back to New York where my parents were again, and my other relatives. There I had cards made up, went down to the union hall, joined 802, went down to the Roseland Ballroom in the City on 52nd Street. Every Wednesday they would have the Musician's Union meeting. I had my cards and I was looking to network a little bit and rub elbows with people in the business, and see what was going on.

    I ran into an agent, Sal-something (I can't remember his last name and I think he's since passed on). He had known of Mark [Stein] and Timmy [Bogert], who had been in a group called Rick Martin & The Showmen. They had just gotten out of it, along with a drummer named Joey Brennan from Kearny, New Jersey. So Sal knew of a band that was looking for a guitarist, and I was a guitarist. So we swapped cards and that was it.

    I must have handed out a lot of cards that day and I wouldn't even have thought about it. But I did get a call from either Mark or Joey, the drummer, maybe three or four days later. They asked if I'd like to do a little jamming at the bass player's house in Jersey. I said yeah, sure, that was the whole idea.

    So they came over, Joey and Mark, to pick me up at my folk's place. I had the '63 cherry red Gibson 335 hollow body that I'd picked up a couple of years earlier in Florida (the same one I used on the first couple of albums). We got in the car and went over to Fort Lee, New Jersey, because Mark Stein had just got his new Hammond B-3 organ and it was in Timmy's front porch. Timmy lived in a real nice residential area of New Jersey. Paved roads - not like the Bronx where you get paved, cobblestone, pothole... [laughs]... but paved roads with sidewalks - like you saw in the school books when you were a kid... [laughs again].

    We got up on the front porch there - it was an enclosed porch - and we proceeded to jam away and do a bunch of different tunes. I thought these guys were pretty... you know, [Mark, Tim, and Joey] had been playing together for months, perhaps years... so they were pretty tight with what they were doing and I always felt confident with what I was doing.

    It worked out really nice, they seemed to have a lot going for them. They were an organized band who knew what tunes they wanted to do. I'd been playing some Black blues clubs in Florida before I came up to New York, and I had been with this group called Ricky T And The Satans Three. So I was used to playing a lot of blues-based type of tunes. You know, the three-chord blues progressions. I could jam that stuff day and night - even up to this day I still love doing that.

    I followed them with what they were doing with their tunes, and evidently they liked what I was doing, and the whole thing seemed very natural - it was like a shoe-in. I don't remember a specific question and answer but I guess they asked me to join the band.

    From there we planned to move ahead - which is what we did for about... I guess six months with Joey, and at that point....

    Joey was very good.... Just to backtrack on Joey Brennan for a minute... he was one of these guys like a Mick Jagger type. He sang just like him, he lived like him - he was a good looking guy and all the girls liked him. We'd get off stage after a set in the club, and the four of us would walk up to the bar and you'd see about four or five girls walk over to Joey. So he'd be talking to them, the three of us would get rum & Cokes and just watch enviously. The girls would gravitate to Joey. I really haven't kept up with him since, but if he's out there and sees the Web site or something it'd be nice to hear from him - see what he's been doing.

    Joey was like a straight ahead Rock drummer, he wasn't like a Carmine [Appice], funky with different dynamics. Joey was straight ahead, which was very good for his style. But basically what happened is that Mark and Timmy wanted to make a change and were looking to get into production numbers - they just wanted to try something with somebody else, is how it worked out.

    When Timmy saw Carmine up at the Choo-Choo Club he was in one of the other bands that played there. Timmy liked Carmine's style and wanted to work with him - Carmine was ready to leave... so we made the change, we got Carmine, and from there...

 

Tell me how Vanilla Fudge came about...

    From there we ended up at our old manager's club, Phil Basille's Action House in Island Park, Long Island... to tell the truth I can't remember if we got in there when Joey was still with us or with Carmine... I'm not really sure. That was a turning point where everything started kind of happening. We must have had Carmine because at that point we were doing production numbers.

    When Carmine joined we put in an intensive week of rehearsal, we had to teach him the stuff. So we went from just playing the six nights and rehearsing at Timmy's maybe two or four times a week... we went from that to an intensive week at a bar in Bayonne, New Jersey, that Mark's father knew... Mark's father is the one that talked to... uh... well, let me backtrack:

    When we played at the Choo-Choo Club we used to back up groups on Tuesday nights like the Shirelles, or the Shangri-La's... some of these different Black girl groups would usually come in on Tuesdays like Patty LaBelle, Little Eva... and we would back them up with chord charts and we'd play some tunes ourselves, of course. We'd open up with some tunes, and then they'd come up and we'd back them up. The bartender there, a little guy, Sal, mentioned to Mark's father that this fellow from the Action House was there to listen to one of the girl groups on one of the Tuesdays. His name was Shelley Finkel (much later he became Evander Holyfield's manager).

    Mark's father was very good at talking to people, so he went over to [Shelley Finkel], sat down and started talking. He said something like "Why don't you put the boys in the club, they're ready to go...". Whatever it was we had enough going on the ball that the guy liked what we were doing and decided to do that. At that point they scheduled us...

    Also, let me interject that a big group at the time were The Vagrants, making noise in the area. They were like the biggest group in New York. Leslie West was guitarist in that group. They were like the quintessential Rock band in the New York area at that time among the unknown groups. A lot of good groups, The Illusions, The Rich Kids, The Salvation Navy, The Pilgrims, and Seven Of Us - many were kind of like a derivative of The Rascals, I would say. Not knowing The Rascals' history completely - who saw who first or whether everyone just spontaneously started - The Rascals were the first group that were known for moving along with playing and singing - doing an exciting show, it was no longer just the band standing there singing songs. They were performing the songs, each one differently. I'd say The Rascals led the charge with that sound. Out of all these different groups, The Vagrants ended up having the best stage show. They'd have a lot of lights going besides a lot of moving, and Leslie was a soulful singing guy who sounds very good. I thought of The Vagrants as the Rolling Stones of the United States.

    We did the Action House and what happened is that the night we did it, The Vagrants were supposed to be doing it. Something happened to them where they couldn't go on because their truck broke down or something. They had been a big draw and would get like 2,000 people out. So the house was packed. Since they didn't show up or were late we waited longer than usual for them. Then we were told to go on and by that time the crowd wanted to see somebody do something, you know what I mean?

    So we were ready. That's when we did the version of Like A Rolling Stone where I fell down and we were all over the place. And in a place like that where there's a lot of people, the performing just adds to the whole mood.

    Right after we did that, the manager, Phil Basille, was interested in us. But so was Shelley Finkel, the fellow who'd found us at the Choo-Choo Club and who worked for Phil. Now they were getting uptight at each other because both of them wanted the group. Anyway, we had to make a decision and we went with Phil Basille. He was the guy with the club, the connections, and the most clout. As good as Shelley Finkel was, sometimes you've got to make a decision that you hate to... but you have to. So when we went with Phil who owned it, we got to play in the Action House pretty often, at least once a week.

 

When did Shadow Morton see the Pigeons, and what happened when he did?

    As far as when Shadow came to the club, that was later on because, as I remember, we were already involved with Phil as manager. When Shadow came in I remember vaguely that he was there, that he was a producer, and such... but it wasn't... again, we had the attitude that we were running the show. We were putting out this heavy-duty music and heavy harmonies, we were into the performing and the lights, the emotions and the dynamics. So everything else was like secondary. So the fact that a producer was there that night didn't make a big impression on me.

    Pretty much everybody who came to see the group play at that time - not to sound like a big deal or anything - but everybody was pretty much blown away by what the group was doing anyhow. So that was kind of the normal course of events. So here's another guy (Shadow) who's also blown away, but this one happens to be in the business and he's a producer... you know what I mean? It was like okay, that's what we're here for anyway and that's what we tried to do all the time.

    This was always our attitude anytime we did concerts with anyone. I still have that attitude though I can't always exercise it. Some gigs you have to stick to the program, and keep a low profile, but if it's my gig - if it's something I'm doing - usually that's still my attitude... get up and blow the walls out. If not with volume then with something. The idea is that you want to create an event.

    In our case with Vanilla Fudge, we would get up and that's it, let's go for it, and no holds barred. And, uh, it worked out to our favor... evidently. [laughs]

    I do remember that Shadow was very enthusiastic... but the main thing I remember was after that when we got into the studio and did the recording. We did the mono version of You Keep Me Hangin' On, which he loved and put that same recording on our first album, Vanilla Fudge, as a mono version.

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