Friday, October 12, 2018

Vanilla Fudge - The Complete Atco Singles 1967-70

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Vanilla Fudge was one of the few American links between psychedelia and what soon became heavy metal. While the band did record original material, they were best-known for their loud, heavy, slowed-down arrangements of contemporary pop songs, blowing them up to epic proportions and bathing them in a trippy, distorted haze. Originally, Vanilla Fudge was a blue-eyed soul cover band called the Electric Pigeons, who formed in Long Island, New York, in 1965. Organist Mark Stein, bassist Tim Bogert, and drummer Joey Brennan soon shortened their name to the Pigeons and added guitarist Vince Martell. They built a following by gigging extensively up and down the East Coast, and earned extra money by providing freelance in-concert backing for girl groups. In early 1966, the group recorded a set of eight demos that were released several years later as While the Whole World Was Eating Vanilla Fudge, credited to Mark Stein & the Pigeons.

Inspired by the Vagrants, another band on the club circuit led by future Mountain guitarist Leslie West, the Pigeons began to put more effort into reimagining the arrangements of their cover songs. They got so elaborate that by the end of the year, drummer Brennan was replaced by the more technically skilled Carmine Appice. In early 1967, their manager convinced producer George "Shadow" Morton (who'd handled the girl group the Shangri-Las and had since moved into protest folk) to catch their live act. Impressed by their heavy, hard-rocking recasting of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On," Morton offered to record the song as a single; the results landed the group a deal with the Atlantic subsidiary Atco, which requested a name change. The band settled on Vanilla Fudge, after a favorite ice cream flavor. 

"You Keep Me Hangin' On" didn't perform as well as hoped, but the band toured extensively behind its covers-heavy, jam-oriented debut album Vanilla Fudge, which gradually expanded their fan base. Things started to pick up for the band in 1968: early in the year, they headlined the Fillmore West with the Steve Miller Band, performed "You Keep Me Hangin' On" on The Ed Sullivan Show, and released their second album, The Beat Goes On. Despite its somewhat arty, indulgent qualities, the LP was a hit, climbing into the Top 20. That summer, Atco reissued "You Keep Me Hangin' On," and the second time around it climbed into the Top Ten. It was followed by Renaissance, one of Vanilla Fudge's best albums, which also hit the Top 20. The band supported it by touring with Jimi Hendrix, opening several dates on Cream's farewell tour, and late in the year touring again with the fledgling Led Zeppelin as their opening act.

In 1969, the band kept touring and released their first album without Morton, the expansive, symphonic-tinged Near the Beginning. After part of the band recorded a radio commercial with guitarist Jeff Beck, the idea was hatched to form a Cream-styled power trio with plenty of individual solo spotlights. Exhausted by the constant touring, the band decided that their late-1969 European tour would be their last. 

Following the release of their final album, Rock & Roll, Vanilla Fudge played a few U.S. farewell dates and disbanded in early 1970. Bogert and Appice first formed the hard rock group Cactus, then later joined up with Jeff Beck in the aptly named Beck, Bogert & Appice. Appice went on to become an active session and touring musician, working with a variety of rock and hard rock artists. Vanilla Fudge reunited in 1984 for the poorly received Mystery album, and, over the course of the next two decades, Vanilla Fudge would regroup for tours. These reunions often had differing lineups, always anchored by Carmine Appice and usually Tim Bogert, although the latter opted out of an early-'90s incarnation.

At the turn of the millennium, the group -- featuring Appice, Bogert, keyboardist Bill Pascali, and guitarist Vince Martell -- launched a more serious comeback heralded by the 2002 album The Return. Several other minor switches in lineup followed in the next few years and, in 2007, they featured Mark Stein on vocals/keyboards instead of Pascali. That group released Out Through the In Door in 2007. More tours followed as did the revolving membership, with the most notable departure being Bogert in 2011. 

He was replaced by Pete Bremy, and Vanilla Fudge launched a "farewell tour" in 2011, a tour that continued for several years. A studio album, Spirit of '67, appeared in 2015; the band described as their heaviest work to date. Allmusic

Vanilla Fudge is an American rock band known predominantly for their extended rock arrangements of contemporary hit songs, most notably "You Keep Me Hangin' On".

The band's original lineup—vocalist and organist Mark Stein, bassist and vocalist Tim Bogert, lead guitarist/vocalist Vince Martell, and drummer and vocalist Carmine Appice—recorded five albums during the years 1967–69, before disbanding in 1970. The band is currently touring with three of the four original members: Stein, Martell, and Appice with Pete Bremy on bass as Bogert retired in 2009.

The band has been cited as "one of the few American links between psychedelia and what soon became heavy metal." Vanilla Fudge also is known to have influenced other major bands such as The Nice, Deep Purple, Yes, Styx, Led Zeppelin, and Uriah Heep.

Stein and Bogert had played in a local band called Rick Martin & The Showmen. The pair were so impressed by the swinging, organ-heavy sound of The Rascals they decided to form their own band in 1965 with Martell and Rick Martin's drummer, Mark Dolfen, who was quickly replaced by Joey Brennan. Originally calling themselves The Electric Pigeons, they soon shortened the name to The Pigeons. 

Vanilla Fudge - US Single 1968
In December 1966 Brennan moved on to The Younger Brothers Band and Bogert became very impressed with a young drummer named Carmine Appice he'd heard playing at the Headliner Club on 43rd Street in a cover band called Thursday's Children. Appice was asked to join The Pigeons and in his 2016 autobiography, Stick It!, Carmine explained the name change to Vanilla Fudge: "In April 1967 the Pigeons got signed to Atlantic Records. But there was one drawback, however: Atlantic didn't want to sign a band called The Pigeons. "Ahmet Ertegun, the label's founder and president, didn't like that name and told us we had to change it. 

We didn't mind, in fact, I had always thought The Pigeons was a weird thing to be called but had just gone with it. We tried to think up a new name but were getting nowhere until we played a gig at the Page 2 club on Long Island and ended up talking to a chick named Dee Dee who worked there. She told us how her grandfather used to call her Vanilla Fudge. Then she looked at us and added 'Maybe you guys should call yourselves that—you're like white soul music'. We liked it. We told our manager, Phil Basile. He liked it. We told Atlantic and they liked it, too. So Vanilla Fudge it was". A recording of The Pigeons, "While The World Was Eating Vanilla Fudge", was released by Scepter/Wand in 1970.

Vanilla Fudge - Australian EP 1967
Vanilla Fudge was managed by the reputed Lucchese crime family member Phillip Basile, who operated several popular clubs in New York. Their first three albums (Vanilla Fudge, The Beat Goes On, and Renaissance) were produced by Shadow Morton, whom the band met through The Rascals. When Led Zeppelin first toured the United States in early 1969, they opened for Vanilla Fudge on some shows.

The band's biggest hit was its cover of "You Keep Me Hangin' On," a slowed-down, hard rocking version of a song originally recorded by The Supremes. This version featured Stein's psychedelic-baroque organ intro and Appice's energetic drumming. It was a Top 10 hit in Canada, the United States, and Australia and a Top 20 hit in the UK in 1967.

The members of Vanilla Fudge were great admirers of the Beatles, and covered several of their songs including "Ticket to Ride", "Eleanor Rigby" and "You Can't Do That". The self-titled debut album quotes "Strawberry Fields Forever" at the end, with the line "there's nothing to get hung about."

According to Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord, Vanilla Fudge's organ-heavy sound was a large influence on the British band Deep Purple, with Blackmore even stating that his band wanted to be a "Vanilla Fudge clone" in its early years.

Vanilla Fudge - Italy Single 1969
Vanilla Fudge played a farewell concert at the Phil Basile's Action House on March 14, 1970. After that, Bogert & Appice departed to form another group, Cactus, that they had been planning since late 1969. They left Cactus and formed Beck, Bogert & Appice with guitarist Jeff Beck in 1972. Stein, left on his own, tried to keep Vanilla Fudge afloat with two new players, Sal D'Nofrio (bass) and Jimmy Galluzi (drums) (both of whom had been members of a Poughkeepsie, New York, group known as 'The Dirty Elbows'). But when nothing came from this, Stein ended up forming a new group, Boomerang, with Galluzi.

Since the band's breakup in 1970, Vanilla Fudge has reunited several times. They reunited in support of the Atco Records release Best of Vanilla Fudge in 1982. This resulted in Mystery, another album of new material, released in 1984. Martell was not included in this initial reunion and Ron Mancuso played guitar on Mystery instead, along with Jeff Beck, who guested under the moniker "J. Toad". Two reunion tours followed in 1987/1988. with Paul Hanson on guitar. Lanny Cordola was guitarist when the band took the stage on May 14, 1988 for Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary celebration. After that, band members went their own ways once again to pursue separate projects.

In 1991 Appice revived the Vanilla Fudge name for a tour with Ted Nugent's former band members Derek St. Holmes (guitar, vocals), Martin Gerschwitz (keyboards, vocals), and Tom Croucier (bass, vocals), which resulted in the album The Best of Vanilla Fudge – Live. Wikipedia

01. You Keep Me Hangin On
02. Take Me For A Little While
03. Where Is My Mind
04. The Look Of Love
05. Come By Day Come By Night
06. Thoughts
07. Season Of The Witch Pt. 1
08. Season Of The Witch Pt. 2
09. Shotgun
10. Good Good Lovin'
11. Some Velvet Morning
12. People
13. Need Love
14. I Can't Make It Alone
15. Lord In The Country
16. The Windmills Of Your Mind
17. Mystery
18. The Stranger
19. Some Velvet Morning (DJ Promo Edit)

Part 1: Atco Singles
Part 2: Atco Singles
Part 1: Atco Singles
Part 2: Atco Singles
Part 1: Atco Singles
Part 2: Atco Singles

Vanilla Fudge Poster September 7, 1968

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Strawbs - Selftitled (Great 1st Folkrock UK 1969)

Anyone waiting the debut album of their much beloved folk trio must have been pretty surprised by what they got on the Strawbs "Tie Salad" album when it finally emerged in June 1969. It was a big jump from the repertoire of the two besuited guitarist/vocalists and double bass player who honed their skills playing first mainly bluegrass, with a touch of trad folk, in the clubs and pubs of West London (usually after work, hence the suits). 

Whilst the later sixties saw them featuring predominantly self-written material and fronting their own club and Arts Lab in Hounslow's White Bear pub, the gatefold album from major US label A&M's first UK signings went well beyond all of that, a foretaste of just how far their music would progress and develop over the years.

As aficionados will recall, on the strength of "Oh How She Changed"/"Or Am I Dreaming", the Strawbs now had their big advance from A&M and had set about making an album with very big ideas - a full-blown pop extravaganza, with some real nods to the Beatles (not least recruiting for the sessions cellist Lionel Ross who played on "I Am The Walrus").

So the boys headed for the studio and recorded a number of songs (some of which they'd already recorded with Sandy Denny in Copenhagen) which were to be connected together by brief spoken word pieces. But then – two bits of bad luck: first, Simon & Garfunkel beat them to the punch with Bookends, which employed the same connecting device so out went the links (apart from the intro to "Jesus" which survived the cull; secondly, the A&M people didn't like what they'd done! 

Having heard the first single A&M thought the boys were a gentle folky/acoustic slightly psychedelic outfit and weren't at all prepared for the full-on pop onslaught which was Dave and Tony's pride and joy. So back to the drawing board, some of the more pop-oriented tracks got sidelined and the boys headed back into the studio to record some additional songs more in keeping with the label's expectations.

Now, until the CD release of the Strawberry Sampler, which collected together those lost tracks, it was difficult to share what might have been, but now it is possible. So firstly I'll review the album as released and then in a subsequent mail, I'll review the "lost" album as I believe it may have first been presented to A&M execs.

The album as released starts out at a pretty frenetic pace – "Jesus", opening with the only retained spoken word piece – then-unknown actor Richard Wilson doing his Cockney vox pop over a traffic noise background. Thrashing acoustic guitars well up as he draws to a close, followed by a thudding electric bassline, pounding drums from Ted Heath Band drummer Ronnie Verrell and sidesman Nicky Hopkins' piano. As the story unfolds, they are joined by Alan Parker's fuzz guitar, first wailing, then distorted guitar then both. And that last long drawn-out sustained fuzz chord … blimey! Real power and energy delivered with astonishing conviction. And, being one of the earlier Strawbs songs from the old White Bear days, "Jesus" could have been one of the folkier numbers, but no, this is a cracking rock song despite its folk club origins.

(I have to confess that I'd always thought that this one featured Led Zepp's John Paul Jones on bass, but according to the personnel listings on By Choice - where it was remastered – it credits Alan Weighell on bass – in any event you do wonder what Ron Chesterman was doing whilst this was all going on …)

Next, one of my favourites and a change of pace. Visconti's recorded and strings presaging the cello-heavy folk motif of Dragonfly (unsurprising in that it came from the final sessions), but this time with more elaborate orchestral support. The central focus is however the weaving guitar figure, underlaid with Chesterman's jazzy double bass (in many ways Ron was essentially a jazz player who got beached in the folk world). And that last verse -

"And my life is yet determined
By the span of what it holds
And the span grows ever shorter
As my lifetime folds away."

What I love most is that perky closing instrumental – I don't know what musical form (can anyone tell me) – an intricate counterpoint of recorder, double bass and guitars. Acoustic Strawbs – one crying out for your three guitar treatment, methinks.

"All The Little Ladies" is a Cousins/Hooper collaboration, with a stop/start variable tempo, pared back to the basic three-piece – two guitars and bass. One of Cousins' typical "story songs" of the period, in my view capturing perfectly the twilight world of sadness and loneliness these genteel aging ladies inhabited, a crystallised picture of sixties middle England, just like "How Everyone But Sam Was A Hypocrite".

Another favourite – "Pieces Of 79 And 15", again co-written by Dave and Tony, gives Tony Hooper given his first lead here, over the boys' guitars/double bass plus some lush, swooping Visconti orchestration, very Beatles IMHO. The swelling harmonies and separate parts remind me of "On My Way" and "All I Need Is You" on the Copenhagen recordings – and I've always particularly loved the understated Cousins line "pieces of people and places" which comes just after the middle eight instrumental – just before the backing sweeps across from one speaker to the other, again, very Beatles stereo trickery in style. The only faults for me are that the song isn't longer (an extra verse or reprise or two wouldn't have gone amiss) and that rather than having an ending, it sort of tapers out. Small caveats in relation to such a splendid song.

Plucked from the Omar Khayyam Arab restaurant off Oxford Street, so the story goes, (no doubt where Cousins and Hooper had enjoyed some good garlicky meals, as was their wont in those days) Nosrati and his Arab friends provide eastern fiddle and percussion backing for "Tell Me What You See In Me", a perfect foil for Cousins' open tuned guitar and vulnerable if understated vocals (maybe one of the tracks where producer Gus Dudgeon and Cousins argued over the volume level for the vocals – myself, I'd certainly have pushed them up a bit, particularly on the last verse where they do get a bit buried in the mix and it sounds like Dave sang it over the phone!). But the chorus has sweet Tony and Dave harmonies which couldn't be bettered, sitting just under the main Cousins vocal. Not certain again whether Ron had much of a role in this recording though he may be in there somewhere as he had been when this was recorded before, but it sounds like Nosrati had his own bass instrument in there too.

So, that very first Strawbs moment on vinyl: the single "Oh How She Changed". Harmonics, strings, then the pure voice of Tony Hooper – possibly his finest moment ever with the Strawbs. Cousins brings in harmonies on every other line and the first chorus line has a folky descant behind it. Then guitars, drums, tympani and Visconti's striking orchestral arrangement takes the whole thing to a new peak. The drums and cymbals are little distorted – no doubt recorded right up there in the red to get the biggest possible contrast between the sweet quiet sections and the noisy dramatic ones. 

Then another quiet section, the chorus again with strings backing, finally mounting to the closing "round" harmony chorus, with a swelling roll of tympani providing a stirring and abrupt ending. A truly remarkable track and a stunning first single, though I'd still argue that it was more "pop" than "folk", whatever the A&M folks said.

"Or Am I Dreaming" was more in the folky/psychedelic mould with not terribly deep, slightly trippy lyrics, gently delivered over the band plus lush Visconti strings, with woodwind, triangle (?) and the showband-style drummer underpinning it the whole thing , tap tap tap on the cymbals. Even then, in the middle eight both orchestration and percussion gather pace and the piece veers more towards pop than folk. Satellites were big in the pop world in the 60s and the lyrical style was much more redolent of some of the Copenhagen recordings than the more recent and much sharper material Dave was now writing) - Strawbs "Lite", definitely.

That riff on "Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth" is for me one of Cousins best intros ever, and I'd love to see Acoustics take this song apart and reconstruct it - with Cousins and Lambert on vocals it could work a treat, and maybe even Brian would sing (or maybe not ....).

Joined by hand drums, cymbals and drums and soon piano, there are weird vocal delays, oohs and aahs which make up a rich underlay. Then the end of the first verse and the striking multi-part closing line, modelled on the four part unaccompanied folk harmonies of the Young Tradition, but set against a backdrop of almost jazz-rock as the piano player takes the off-beat and the drums strike a similar note. (I think the piano player was from the Ted Heath Band, though it COULD have been Nicky Hopkins again or Alan Hawkshaw on keys - there seems to be an electric bass player in there rather than Ron, again making it most likely that this was recorded whilst the Ted Heath Band guys were around.) Another track where I think Gus Dudgeon did Cousins' lead vocal no favours in terms of volume. There's supposed to be an alternate mix of this knocking around too, but I've not heard it. The last four vocal lines build and build until the final echo-laden note of the chorus. Then the jazz players strike up the riff once more and play out to the end. Excellent.

Never a favourite of mine, the story song "Poor Jimmy Wilson" suffers from a trite set of words requiring Dave to adopt a slightly unnatural vocal phrasing. The instrumentation seems a bit twee, relying over heavily on the Visconti recorders, this time slightly overdone I feel. Apparently it originally had a much darker ending with Jimmy being befriended by a bloke on the common and never being heard from again, but I'd find it hard to mourn his loss. This is probably the track I'd have dropped from the album to reinstate one of the pop tunes - a much better story song would have been the unusually arranged "How Everyone But Sam", but more of that in the next installment.

No such reservations about the next track, probably my favourite on the album. The opening segment "Where Am I" has guitars and bass (and later tinkling top-end piano) behind Tony's beautifully sweet vocal. This echoes and fades and the song segues into the unusual open tuning guitars of "I'll Show You Where To Sleep" (unusual in that it involves the fingers of the left hand blocking the frets from above not below the guitar, apparently picked up Cousins from Joni Mitchell). 

Nice Cousins vocals on the first verse with multi-tracked harmonies from the two. The second verse and chorus proceeds in unison and chimes provide a nice pastoral backdrop for the middle eight. And lastly the third verse has Dave and Tony alternating between singing in unison and Dave striking out alone, again with oohs and aahs underneath. Again, like "79 & 15", over all too soon, and could have had more of an ending.

And finally, six and a half minutes of "The Battle", the first of many Cousins "epic" Strawbs tracks – a real harbinger of things to come, including the mellotron-soaked prog epics of the mid seventies. The song is on one level a description of a game of chess and on another the expression of Cousins' rejection of war and racial hatred; it succeeds on both. For many, it was the defining song on the album, enjoying good airplay and such an extremely positive media response that a single release was briefly contemplated (both almost unthinkable in the era of the three minute pop tune).

The orchestration is stunning, heavily featuring cello – presumably "Walrus" session man Lionel Ross and the whole thing pays homage (particularly in the alternate mix – see below - have I got you interested then ?) to the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby". (Could the recruitment a few months later of a full time cello player in Claire Deniz really have been that much of a surprise ?).

The music frequently describes the lyrical content: a flail on the acoustic guitars is intended to be the Bishop's men shivering in the damp and the trembling horses sensing fear, whilst the organ mimics the "headlong flight into the moat" of a soldier. Later, the brass section careers round the soundspace as the queen who "runs screaming round the walls" urging the men to fight.

Opening with just Dave's acoustic guitar, he's quickly joined by church-like organ, plaintive cello, double bass and marching brass. Martial drums join in with the second verse and Tony begins to support Dave on vocals. After the plainsong harmony communion, staccato organ stabs depict the rooks taking flight. The carnage of battle builds and builds, the brass section like a trumpet call, Dave's vocal becoming more bitter and strident. 

Then, the closing verses quieten down, with haunting strings balancing the acoustic guitars, reflecting the calm of the battle's aftermath, as those who are left lick their wounds and thank God for their survival. Appropriately therefore, Dave and Tony both sing the last verse, the last half of which takes on a churchy feel with multi-tracked plainsong harmonies and echoing ethereal organ. The track ends with the fading noise of the wind over the battlefield (I hear an echo, eight years later in the ending to "Beside The Rio Grande").

After the recording of the tapes which would eventually be released as All Our Own Work (and later Sandy And The Strawbs), Dave Cousins set out to find a UK record label (they were signed to Danish Sonet Records). However, Sandy Denny then decided to join Fairport Convention. US label A&M were just starting up a London office, and Sonet's head, Karl Knudsen, played a copy of the Sandy tapes to a A&M's Dave Hubert, who in turn sent it over to Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. 

As a result the Strawbs became the first UK band signed to the label. They quickly recorded a single "Oh How She Changed"/"Or Am I Dreaming", which was produced by Gus Dudgeon (who lived upstairs from Tony in his Haverstock Hill flat - the subject of the song "Pieces Of 97 And 15") and arranged by Tony Visconti, newly arrived from the US. It proved quite popular, they appeared on Tony Blackburm's TV show and then settled down to make an album, with the same team.

The album they initially put together was a pop masterpiece, Gus Dudgeon had booked countless session musicians including John Paul Jones on bass and Nicky Hopkins on piano, as well as a 32 piece orchestra for some of the big ballad numbers that Sandy originally sang. Cousins retaliated by getting an Arab band ("Norati and his Arab Friends") from a restaurant to come in and play on "Tell Me What You See In Me".

However, when played to Hubert and A&M's SVP Gil Friesen, the reaction was bluntly negative - thought they'd signed progressive folkies rather than pop hopefuls, and, despite having spent large wedges of cash (an advance of £30,000 in all, the most expensive album since Sergeant Pepper) already, the Strawbs went back to the studio to record some more tracks. The album as released received critical acclaim, and didn't do badly on a commercial basis, 25,000 copies in the UK. The single from the album "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus" was, predictably, banned by the BBC.

Outtakes from the intial sessions appeared on the limited pressing Strawberry Sampler No. 1 along with some other demos and rarities.

Line-up - Musicians
Dave Cousins - vocals, guitars
 Tony Hooper - vocals, guitars
 Ron Chesterman - double bass

 Tony Visconti - "Musical vibrations"

01. The Man Who Called Himself Jesus (3:41) 
02. That Which Once Was Mine (2:48) 
03. All The Little Ladies (2:15) 
04. Pieces Of 79 And 15 (2:56) 
05. Tell Me What You See In Me (4:58) 
06. Oh How She Changed (2:50) 
07. Or Am I Dreaming (2:25) 
08. Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth (3:04) 
09. Poor Jimmy Wilson (2:33) 
10. Where Am I / I'll Show You Where To Sleep (3:25) 
11. The Battle (6:30)

Bonus tracks
12. Interview - That Which Once Was Mine (3:41) *
13. Poor Jimmy Wilson (2:28) *
14. The Battle (6:09) *

* Recorded for John Peel's "Top Gear" BBC Radio One Show, 12th January, 1969.

1. Strawbs 1969
2. Strawbs 1969
3. Strawbs 1969