Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary
By Shawn Perry
What can I say? It was one of the most exciting events in my life. As a life-long music fanatic, I was about to enter a world often imagined, but never realized. I was going to be in the company of legends. And only in Madison Square Garden, smack dab in the middle of New York City, could such a thing happen.
So on May 14, 1988, armed with a camera and a small task to perform, I was handed an all-access backstage pass and witnessed a miracle -- Led Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis, Iron Butterfly, The Rascals, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Foreigner, Paul Rodgers, Bob Geldof, Booker T. Jones, Wilson Pickett, The Coasters, The Spinners, Peabo Bryson, Dan Aykroyd, Roberta Flack, Manhattan Transfer, Debbie Gibson, The Bee Gees, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Ben E. King, and Vanilla Fudge -- all on the same night, all on the same stage.
Next to Live Aid and Woodstock, the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary has to rank as possibly one of the biggest concerts of its kind. For almost 13 hours, the music never stopped. Celebrities from every walk of life hobnobbed backstage while the audience packed the Garden to the rafters. This was a concert for anyone who had ever savored the soul of the 50's; the rock and psychedelia of the 60s; the heavy, mellow, and progressive dabblings of the 70's; and the new wave and dance hits of the 80's. Unlike other festivals, the only connection these artists had was the label they recorded on. This meant that, musically, anything goes.
And while I'm not sure what's in store for 1998 when Atlantic reaches its 50th birthday, I just can't imagine this party being topped. I mean, a lot of these people could be long gone.
A Little Background
It all started with Lanny Cordola, who, at the time, was an up-and-coming hot shot of a guitarist as well as a good friend of mine for 10 years. I hadn't seen Lanny lately because we sort of had a falling out regarding a previous situation. Specifically, I was his manager and we had a disagreement about direction. Typical B.S.
Anyway, he wasn't about to stop doing what he was doing -- which was being a great musician -- and my admiration for his ability and perseverance never waned in lieu of our animosity.
Our wounds healed and our pride sowed up, Lanny invited me out to a rehearsal with his new band. "The lead singer used to be with Vanilla Fudge, " Lanny told me. "He's incredible."
Vanilla Fudge. Now there's one for the books. The only tune I knew by them was You Keep Me Hangin' On. That, and the fact the bass player and drummer cut an album and toured with Jeff Beck, one of my favorite guitarists. I knew absolutely nothing about the singer. Except of what I'd heard, which I hadn't given much thought to.
Sometime in 1985, I showed up at a Sherman Oaks rehearsal studio to see Lanny with his new band, Danger Zone. And sure enough, there behind the keys and microphone was Mark Stein, the original lead singer for Vanilla Fudge. Also present was Mark's wife, Patty. As I was to find out, Patty was an incredible woman, a pillar of stone for Mark. She managed her husband's career and worked on several other entertainment-oriented projects.
My first impression of Mark and Patty was that they were totally unpretentious, accommodating and genuinely nice people. Having not met too many "music" people at this stage, I was expecting the complete opposite. It was a pleasure for me to be friendly with them years later as they were both supportive of my ambitions to be involved in the music business.
At the rehearsal that night, I was about to be treated to a sonic blast. Danger Zone was only a three-piece -- Lanny on guitar, Mark on vocals and organ, and Bobby, a drummer whose last name escapes me at the moment. But when they launched into their set of original tunes - In the Heat of The Night, Hearts on Fire, and Phantoms of the Night - you would have thought it was bigger band.
Steering each tune was Mark's commanding voice, as strong and vibrant as it was in the 60's. The unmistakable grind of the Hammond was also there, churning out each note with precise syncopation and feel. Along for the ride, Lanny's heavy, power-chord guitar work and Bobby's dead ahead and four-on-the-floor beat (very much in sync with Carmine Appice) gave the music a modern push that was absolutely classic and powerful in its delivery. I predicted big things for Danger Zone.
But it was not to be. Lanny received an offer to join Giuffria, an 80's hair band that just landed a top ten hit on the charts, and Danger Zone quickly faded into the background. During this time, however, Lanny and I often visited the Steins at their home. By this time, I had familiarized myself with Vanilla Fudge's back catalog, and took ample opportunity to ask Mark about the band's tours with Led Zeppelin, their affiliation with the New York underground, and if they ever planned to play together again (the band's early 80's reunion album, Mystery, had apparently left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouth).
In 1988, Mark, Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice invited Lanny to play with them for a one-time performance at a special concert to be held in New York. The details were cloudy at first, but as soon as I heard about some of the other bands expected to play, I knew I had to come along. To convince the band to bring me, I bought a plane ticket and said I'd set up Lanny's gear. In other words, I'd be a roadie for free admission into the show. To my surprise, I was welcomed aboard. They even paid for my room.
On May 9, I flew to New York with Lanny, Patty, Mark, Tim and the other roadie, Bill.
For the next week, the band rehearsed at S.I.R., visited with MTV's Kurt Lodor, and went to a lot of parties and galas. For Vanilla Fudge, it was a homecoming, and each member took time out to visit with friends and family in and around the Big Apple.
Lanny and I played tourists -- invading the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and Manny's Music Store during the day; clubbing at the Limelight, the China Club, and various other watering holes at night.
Two days before the big show, I started hanging out at the Garden, and watched a number of my favorites run through soundchecks for the show. I even struck up a conversation with Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant, who was interested in getting a guitar from a company I was scouting for. I was happy just getting his autograph.
Then came the day of the show. It's amazing how much power a laminated badge around your neck can carry. Outside the Garden, I was instantly everyone's best friend. "Keep that thing tucked away," I was told. Inside the Garden, Bill and I prepared the gear for the Fudge's set of two songs - You Keep Me Hangin' On and Take Me For A Little While. I took in the spectacle before me.
Me and Robert Plant were now on a first name basis. I also met up with Jon Anderson from Yes, Bill Murray, Phil Collins, Keith Emerson from ELP, Roger Glover from Deep Purple, Graham Nash, Jason Bonham (there for his one and only opportunity to sit in for his late father for the last Zeppelin reunion), actor Michael Douglas and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. I took all of their pictures and they autographed my business cards.
Although I wasn't that experienced with productions of this magnitude, I was captivated by the pace of the show, the flow of techies and crewmen tearing down one set and preparing for another on a revolving stage that was never devoid of a performance. I marveled as Robert Townsend scrambled around with the HBO crew to snag interviews with the musicians. At one point, I was standing in the green room with the members of Genesis, Yes, Robert Plant, Atlantic CEO Ahmet Ertegan, Lisa Bonet and her husband, Lenny Kravitz. They all must have wondered who the hell I was (yeah, right).
Finally, at around 6:00 pm, The Fudge hit the stage to a standing ovation. I snapped a few more photos and noticed Phil Collins watching with glee from the side of the stage. He told me earlier that Mark Stein was one of his favorite singers. I figured it was because Mark was one of the few Atlantic artists who was white and had soul. Only Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals (who would close the show, right after Zeppelin) came close. And, I believe, all of the British artists present for that night knew it as well.
Floating back to the dressing room, Foreigner promptly invited Mark up on stage to help sing the closing chorus to their hit, I Want To Know What Love Is. Somehow, Mark grabbed Lanny, and Lanny grabbed me, and the next thing I knew, I was sharing a microphone with Roberta Flack, singing in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden. That's the stuff that dreams are made of.
Later at a hotel party, I was introduced to Vinny Martell, the original guitarist of Vanilla Fudge. He was handing out a new single he'd cut, and despite being left out of the Fudge reunion, he came across as a decent, abiding sort. I never learned why he wasn't invited to perform, and I never asked. Frankly, if he had, I wouldn't have been there.
The next day, still buzzing from the show, a few of us took a walk around Central Park, and enjoyed the warm sunshine. We wound up in front on the famous Dakota building where John Lennon used to live.
It was a sobering moment during an otherwise hallucinatory week. And I'll never forget it.
Unfortunately, in the last few years I've lost track of the Steins. The last time I spoke with Patty, she asked if I could send her some of the photos I'd taken in New York, which I did. I haven't heard from her or Mark since. I'm sure they're doing just fine.
Lanny and Tim played a few gigs together about five years ago. Since then, Lanny has produced and played on about 20 different albums. He's still a great player, and I go and see him play every once in awhile.
It's nice we can both say we performed at Madison Square Garden in front of a full house.
(Editor's Note: For whatever reason, there wasn't an Atlantic Records 50th Anniversary Bash. And if there was, I certainly didn't hear about it.)
This article originally appeared on The Vanilla Fudge Web Site
Reprinted with permission