THE PIGEONS (1965-66):
Swoosh: Sometime in '65 three young musicians in Long Island left Rick Martin & the Showmen to form their own band called the Electric Pigeons - later shortened to simply The Pigeons. They were: Mark Stein (Organ, 11 Mar. 1947), Tim Bogert (Bass, 27 Aug. 1944) and Joey Brennan on drums. Vince Martell (Guitar, 11 Nov. 1942) hooked up with the Pigeons through Musicians Local No. 802. He had just returned from Florida and a hitch in the US Navy where he had cut his own chops playing Shrimp Bars and Black Blues Clubs in Key West with an outfit called Ricky T & the Satans Three.
Tangential Segue: According to Jeff Tamarkin, the name "Pigeons" was "courtesy" of Jeff Barry - the guy who co-wrote the Shangri-Las hit, Leader of the Pack. I don't know about that...
But even more tangential: the ancient Hittites believed Astarte was crowned with a golden pigeon to denote her divinity. Greeks on the other hand, attributed the same bird to Aphrodite. Even the name "Pleiades" or "doves" had been given to the priestesses of Zeus. The pigeon was also a common symbol for the living soul found in Sicilian and Gallic tombs of late antiquity.
Back to '65: In the early days, Mark Stein's father was the bands booking agent. The Pigeons jammed and rehearsed at the Bogert family home (on the front porch- no less) in Jersey. Joey Brennan, the drummer, got all the girls when the band took a break...
Ok, so the Pigeons were a straight forward R&B band playing covers of songs by the Righteous Brothers, Doc Pomus, and Wilson Pickett. Besides playing their own music, they often backed the "girl groups" who regularly performed at the clubs. The manager of the Shangri-Las or Bluebelles would pass out chord sheets to the Pigeons before the girls hit the stage and presto: they were backing a recording star on stage! It was the "meat & potatoes" gig for every working musician in those days. Young musicians who worked 2 or 3 shows a night - six nights a week either burned out or became professional really fast.
By early 1966 the Pigeons had built a strong regional following from Rhode Island to Florida playing all the clubs along the circuit. While the national rock media was focused on the west coast explosion and the British Invasions, bands like the Pigeons, Vagrants, Illusions, Good Rats, Unspoken Word, Hassles (with Billy Joel on Hammond Organ) and even the west coast expatriates, the Sparrow, were quietly building their own scene along the eastern seaboard. Eventually the Pigeons became Vanilla Fudge, some of the Vagrants became Mountain, Billy Joel went solo and the Sparrow became Steppenwolf.. but this was the beginning, and all those bands were paying their dues working the clubs circuit. Clubs like the Eye, Choo Choo, the Barge, the Downtown Club, and the Action House.
Sometime around about the Spring or Summer of '66, the Pigeons managed to record eight songs on an old two track tape recorder which was eventually released as a "stereo-monic" (heh-heh!) LP by Wand, five or six years later. The LP was called, While the Whole World Was Eating Vanilla Fudge by Mark Stein & the Pigeons. Today the LP is difficult to find and if you ever stumble across a copy in a garage sale be sure and snap it up and take that baby home with you.
According to the Pigeons, speaking some years later, the Vagrants with Leslie West (check out his contribution to (Carmine Appice's Guitar Zeus LP) had the most influence on the early Pigeons in 1966. Mark Stein in a 1983 Keyboard Magazine Interview recalled the day that seeing the Vagrants changed the musical direction of the fledgling Pigeons. Stein said: "The Vagrants were the first band we saw that really got into making big productions of other people's songs... We were playing with the Vagrants at a club called the Eye out on Long Island. When we saw them play, we didn't even want to go on. It was really a mind-and-ego-altering experience."
Listen: The "magic" for the Pigeons came when they first started building inspired new arrangements for other people's songs. When they performed those arrangements their audience experienced exhilaration at the recovery of all that had been lost, ignored, or simply overlooked by the original arrangements. The Pigeons-later-Vanilla-Fudge were essentially about the recovery of that which was lost in the commercial arrangements of mid-twentieth century recorded music.
One night the Vagrants were unable to play a scheduled date at the Action House. The Pigeons were called to fill in for the Vagrants at the last moment. One of their new arrangements was Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone which they played that night like souls possessed. Phil Basille, the owner of Action House, was so moved by the band's performance that he soon became their Manager. It was a match made in heaven - the Pigeons had the talent and Phil had the connections. The future was theirs if they wanted to work for it.
Mark Stein said that in many of the other clubs they played the new arrangements at, the owners weren't too happy about it. He said: "We were thrown out of every place we played once we started getting into [ie. the complex new arrangements]". Vince Martell also recollected the negative response to the new Pigeons sound and related how Phil Basille helped the young band through it all: "He (Basille) always had the attitude, 'Look, if you go to play someplace and the club owner doesn't like what your 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 because people were listening to the music instead of dancing and drinking. We left the club (and returned to Phil's Action House)."
The "magic" continued to grow within the band. One night before a show, Tim Bogert and Mark Stein were hanging around outside the Cheetah Club on Broadway. The Supremes' hit single, You Keep Me Hangin' On was playing on the car radio and the two of them began to wonder "what if" the song were slowed down and made "real soulful"? That night, live on stage, the Pigeons worked out a new arrangement of You Keep Me Hangin' On that would play on car radios for the next thirty years.
The big new production numbers had become so complex and musically demanding that by December 1966, the Pigeons had to find a new drummer. While Joey Brennan moved on to The Younger Brothers Band, Tim Bogert had became very impressed with a young drummer he heard playing at the Headliner Club on 43rd Street. The drummer's name was Carmine Appice (Drums, 15 Dec 1946), and when the rest of the Pigeons heard him play, they knew they had found "their" drummer.
1997-2001 by OBW.
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