The Mark Stein Interview

By Shawn Perry

I first met Mark Stein in 1985 at a rehearsal studio in Van Nuys, California. Guitarist Lanny Cordola was playing with him in a new band called Danger Zone, and had invited me over for a listen. Lanny told me Mark was the original singer of Vanilla Fudge, a late 60s psychedelic band out of New York. With that kind of information, I didn't know what to expect. To my pleasant surprise, Mark and his wife/manager Patty couldn't have been more amiable as I settled in and watched the rehearsal. Danger Zone was a powerful and tight three-piece unit. Mark's soaring vocals were unbelievable.

At the time, I didn't know much about Vanilla Fudge, although I was vaguely familiar with their seminal underground hit, "You Keep Me Hangin' On." As I learned more about them, the individual members, their style and impact on others like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, I realized they were much more than some fly-by-night, one hit wonder.

They were a vital nugget in the rock and roll quagmire blossoming brightly during the summer of love. Even as the bulk of their repertoire consisted of extended cover songs, the Fudge was the kind of a group everyone aspired to be.

On May 14, 1988, I stood on the side of the stage at Madison Square Garden and watched Vanilla Fudge perform "You Keep Me Hangin' On." It was the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert. At one point or another, I caught a glimpse of Phil Collins and Robert Plant sneaking a peak, aware that they were fans as much as superstars in their own right. At least, they knew where it all started.

Vanilla Fudge formed in 1966 with Mark on keyboards, Carmine Appice on drums, Tim Bogert on bass, and Vinnie Martell on guitar. All four members sang, but Mark handled the lion's share of the lead vocals. The group released their self-titled debut in the summer of 1967 and attracted a large underground following. They went on to headline the Fillmore West, appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and eventually toured with Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and later Led Zeppelin.

But it wasn't meant to last as the Fudge called it a day in 1970. Appice and Bogert started a new band called Cactus and later hooked up with Jeff Beck for the Beck, Bogert, and Appice album. Martell vanished into the shadows, while Mark became an in-demand session musician for much of the 70s and early 80s. He recorded and toured extensively with guitarist Tommy Bolin, and would later work with Alice Cooper and Dave Mason. In 1983, Vanilla Fudge reunited for the Mystery album. Three years later, they went on tour for three months. Shortly after his final appearance with the Fudge in New York City, Mark left California and moved to Florida. He was done with the music business.

As any musician will tell you, the desire to lay down a track and hear it back, the tug of the spotlight, the excitement of interacting with other players, well...it's in your blood. For Mark, the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath moved him emotionally enough to want to seriously make music again. He contacted his old friend, Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip, and they put a band together, recording an inspiring version of "America The Beautiful." The momentum carried through to a whole new batch of songs comprising Mark's first official solo album White Magik, which is now available exclusively on the Mark Stein web site.

It had been years since we had talked, and I was anxious to finally lob a few questions over to Mark that hadn't been answered. Being out of the limelight for so many years, Mark was eager to talk about the new album, but we touched on the old days as well. It was high time for him to set the record straight on the past, while tooting his horn about the present and future.

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