Virtually every rock musician of my generation started out in a cover band. We’d spend weeks or months in a garage or basement rehearsing the hits of the day: Proud Mary, Midnight Hour, Mustang Sally, Johnny B. Goode, Evil Ways, to name a painful few. Most of these groups broke up before they ever “played out” at a paying gig. I was in a couple of groups that broke up trying to decide on a damn band name.

vanilla fudge first album coverOne of the most successful cover bands of the 60’s got it’s start on Long Island, New York where Mark Stein (vocals/organ), Tim Bogert (bass/vocals), Vince Martell (lead guitar/vocals), and Carmen Appice (drums/vocals) formed a group called The Pigeons. They patterned themselves after the Young Rascals focusing on strong vocal harmonies and featuring a Hammond B3 organ. Phillip Basile promised to book them into his clubs if they came up with a better name.

Vanilla Fudge covered many of the most popular songs of the day, but they put a semi-psychedelic spin on each tune. They also sported a sunburst naked chick on their first album, an artful shot with a hint of breast but no nipple and one butt cheek (no crack).

Ticket To Ride is a much slower version of the Beatles classic hit. I had heard that same refrain from my ex-girlfriend who took her ticket and rode out of my life. I didn’t connect with the Beatles original, but this plodding, bluesy take spoke to me immediately.

People Get Ready was written by Curtis Mayfield as an upbeat song of hope for mankind. Fudge turned it into a dismal Gothic hymn. I asked Curtis what he thought of VF’s rendition. He just shook his head and made a sound of disgust. He had nothing good to say about it, so he said nothing.

Rod Argent’s hit She’s Not There is energized by Carmine Appice’s amazing drumming, which is clearly the best element of this track. The organ solo is a black hole compared to Ronnie’s brilliant Wurlitzer licks.

Bang Bang  gives Sonny Bono’s song the respect that it deserves: none.

Keep Me Hangin’ On is Fudge’s best known song and biggest hit.They slowed down the too-peppy Supreme’s version in a total makeover of the Holland/Dozier classic. The song starts with an impatient single staccato guitar note that eventually slides up two octaves beginning the verse.  “Set me free why don’t you babe!” I can’t count the number of times my brain has screamed that line to my gal-pal du jour. The second verse sees the Hammond repeating the staccato trills with the guitar joining in after a few bars. The effect is quite dramatic.  Again, Appice’s drumming propels the song to a higher level.

Take Me For A Little While is another oft-repeated refrain I’ve used on groupies. Appice and Bogert epitomize the term “in the pocket”. Their drum/bass partnership make this song. Lead vocals and harmonies soar because they’re freed by the Appice/Bogert pairing. Why the fuck the producer decided to trash the ending from stereo to mono with a perilous amount of reverberation is beyond comprehension.

Eleanor Rigby receives an appropriately moody retake. Another heavily Hammond/Leslie rendition featuring sensitively textured vocal harmonies beautifully restates the story of “all the lonely people”. Where do they all come from?

Four great songs  was considered a great score back in the days when we’d buy an album because we loved the radio hit only to find that the remaining songs all sucked ass.

While they never reached the level of the Rascals, they did deliver one fine album. And unleashed one of the most influential drummers of the rock era.

Carmine Appice went on to greater fame with Cactus, Beck, Bogert, & Appice, King Cobra, and Blue Murder, to name a few. The drummers that list Carmine as a major influence makes up a Who’s Who of rock beatmeisters including  Iron Maiden’s Nicko McBrain; Aerosmith’s Joey Kramer; Roger Taylor of Queen; Phil Collins of Genesis; Rush’s Neil Peart; Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee; Slayer’s Dave Lombardo; David Kinkade; Ray Mehlbaum; Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham; Ian Paice of Deep Purple; Robb Reiner; and Eric Singer of Kiss.

Yeah, the cat is that good.

The only other notable Vanilla Fudge cover is their haunting, bizarre, gut-wrenching, other-worldly, freak-out on Donovan’s Season of the Witch. It is best to listen in a darkened room staring at a candle with someone to hug afterward. I had to pull up Michael Bloomfield’s happier rendition to lift me back up from the depths of Fudge despair.