VANILLA FUDGE

(March 22, 2019; WILDEY THEATRE, Edwardsville, IL)

I knew only a couple of things about Vanilla Fudge before I stepped into the Wildey Theatre to see them on March 22: One, that they had been around a long, long time, and two, that they took an old Supremes song called “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and did a spectacular, lengthy remaking of it that became a giant hit and established a kind of freeform, jammy trademark that still powers their style today. VF bear many of the trappings of a classic prog rock band: Long instrumental passages, tight vocal harmonies and multi-textured keyboard work (courtesy of Mark Stein) that occasionally sounds like a relic from another era. Which it sort of is. But what prog rockers do you know that start their show with… a MONKEES song? That almost made me fall over, their wildly unique take on “I’m A Believer,” which had a bigger impact on me than you might expect since I’d just seen the Dolenz and Nesmith show in Saint Charles not even a week prior. Wow! It was almost unrecognizable, but there it was… the beloved Neil Diamond-penned number. That was followed by something else unrecognizable but jammy, which they introduced as “a tribute to our old friends, the Doors.” And this one was… “Break On Through (To the Other Side,” which featured their own three-part harmonies, slowed down but repeated over and over on just the phrase “Break on through.” Okay, so now it was clear that we’d be treated to epic cover songs, done in a manner seldom heard before. These guys, original members Stein, guitarist Vince Martell, drummer extraordinaire Carmine Appice and “the new guy,” bassist Pete Bremy, who replaced Tim Bogert in 2010, have a curious aesthetic that is nostalgic but fresh, proggy but curiously low-key, sonically far out but couched in a downright neighborly stage demeanor. They told the story of dedicating Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” to Martin Luther King right after he was assassinated; it was sung by Appice here with tenderness and power, and laced by terrific organ work by Stein. Soon after they did a casual original both retro and vitally relevant, “Let’s Pray For Peace.” That was from their classic SPIRIT OF ‘67 album, and Stein talked about how the band had the chance to play it in Belgium not long after the terrorist incident there. Good as all this was, the show’s real highlights were yet to come.

VANILLA FUDGE (Mark Stein, Vince Martell, Carmine Appice, Pete Bremy) (photo credit: JIM FORD)

This song took up an entire side of our fourth album,” the band cheerfully announced, before launching into “Break Song,” an incredible extravaganza that was sometimes loud, sometimes soft but always musically engrossing, especially when it featured a borrowed chunk from Lee Hazelwood’s “Some Velvet Morning” and then segued into “Season of the Witch,” which clearly took the audience to a whole new level of psychedelic nirvana. The vibe was like Kansas meets Yes at times, but actually, it was the kind of thing Vanilla Fudge excels at, these long, intricate, rapidly varying passages. It was clear to me that they were underrated… possibly because cover bands don’t often rise to the level of bands that do this sort of thing on their own material. But it was grand, and it was mesmerizing. So was the unbelievable drum solo Appice performed on “Shotgun,” a song they did on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, they told us. Drum solos can be tedious and overly cliched, but in all honesty, this was one of the best drum solos I’ve ever heard. Appice performed with muscular mastery, keeping it intense and focused, and doing a section with only one stick which you could see he was passing from one hand to the other. The sound was especially bracing and adrenaline-pumping for this showcase. And he justifiably earned a partial standing ovation. Next, Stein told the story of how long ago, in ‘68, a band opened for them featuring the “guy who had just left the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page.” At this time, Vanilla Fudge were at their peak, with three albums in the Top 40. These young whippersnappers, Led Zeppelin, may have opened for them this one occasion, but soon eclipsed them… and every other band by becoming the biggest thing in the rock world. Such is fate! The Fudge did a tribute album called OUT THROUGH THE IN DOOR, and they quoted from it with a fun combo of “Dazed and Confused” and “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” No, they aren’t the Zep, but this was still a nice, fun surprise. Everyone was waiting for the big hit, of course, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” They talked about the initial inspiration for it, which was an offhand exposure to the song outside a club in the ‘60s, and then invited the audience to sing along on the chorus. Who’s gonna refuse that offer? It’s their signature song, and they know it. A vibrant encore of the Zombies’ “She’s Not There,” then it was all over. I didn’t really expect to be so impressed by these guys. I’d heard a few of their songs before and sort of had an idea what I’d hear… lots of organ and guitar, long instrumentals. I had no idea. They are masterful musicians, nice guys, and unique in being able to survive performing long, often weird versions of other people’s classics. Not to mention having clearly one of the best drummers in the world in their lineup, and singing sterling three-part harmony. This was quite a fantastic show, to summarize. I’ve now been educated in the tasty stylings of “the Fudge,” and I won’t forget it.


RICK DERRINGER: RICK DERRINGER’S ROCK SPECTACULAR

(ANGEL AIR RECORDS; 2009) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULTS

Rick Derringer

Alternately called LIVE AT THE RITZ, NEW YORK – 1982, this album features Rick Derringer and his then-current band performing some of his best tracks and being joined by several guest artists to play a couple of their’s. The sound has been called “raw” and that works as well as anything to describe a nearly 30 year old show remastered from a video source. It has its faults but, that’s part of the charm.

Rick Derringer (uncredited photo)

Rick Derringer (uncredited photo)

Things kick off in fine fashion, with one of my favorite Derringer (the band) songs, “EZ Action” from IF I WEREN’T SO ROMANTIC, I’D SHOOT YOU. Rick and the boys in the band (Alan Merrill, sharing guitar licks with Derringer; Donnie Kisselbach on bass; Jimmy Wilcox on drums; Benjy King on keyboards) are obviously having fun. This thing ain’t called RICK DERRINGER’S ROCK SPECTACULAR for nothin’, though, as Karla DeVito (you know… the girl who wasn’t on BAT OUT OF HELL but appeared in all of the accompanying video material and toured with the Loaf for several years) joins the band for “Cool World,” from Karla’s album, IS THIS A COOL WORLD OR WHAT. The song is one of those B-52’s/Cyndi Lauper kinda new wave pop things that sounds a little quirky played by a solid-state rock ‘n’ roll band, but they pull it off. Nothing, however, can save “Just Like You,” a ballad from the same album. I guess every album or show has to have one cringe-worthy moment and this fits the bill perfectly!

Karla DeVito, Southside Johnny (video stills)

Karla DeVito, Southside Johnny (video stills)

Next up is Southside Johnny Lyon, who brought his harmonica but left his Asbury Jukes behind. Southside Johnny may be the only musician from Asbury Park, NJ who is worth even a second look. Check out the voice and harmonica on Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush” (it’s called “Honey Rush” in the artwork) and the Eddie Boyd blues workout “Five Long Years” if you doubt the veracity of that comment. Probably the most well-known (one might say “infamous”) of all of Rick Derringer’s songs is “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo,” first recorded on the JOHNNY WINTER AND record in 1970. It has one of the coolest riffs in rock history and I’m not certain if Derringer can ever play live without at least referencing that riff (I’m fairly certain that his family Christian group won’t touch those lyrics with a 10… make that a 50 foot pole!). The version here is… serviceable. I don’t know what the deal is with those backing vocals, but they sound like they borrowed the guys from Spinal Tap to faux heavy them up.

Carmine Appice, Tim Bogert (video stills)

Carmine Appice, Tim Bogert (video stills)

For two glorious studio albums (and one live release), the band Derringer featured Vinny Appice (pronounced Ap-puh-see) on drums. So, of course, what would this show be without a little Appice? Carmine Appice (pronounced A-piece), Vinny’s big brother, brings his former Cactus and Beck, Bogert and Appice bass-playing partner, Tim Bogert, along to do “Have You Heard,” a riff-loaded track from Carmine’s then-new ROCKERS album. With Derringer (and, one would assume, Alan Merrill) supplanting Jeff Beck on the guitar parts, they rip into “Lady” from BBA’s one and only studio album. Probably one of the coolest thing about Carmine is the fact that he can utterly beat the crap out of his kit AND sing lead. Before “Lady” he mentions that instead of Jeff Beck, the song’s going to be played by “Derringer, Bogert and Appice,” a band that actually came to official fruition nearly 20 years later.

Ted Nugent (video still)

Ted Nugent (video still)

As is Carmine’s wont, he tends to take things into his own hands. So, rather than Rick announcing the next guest, Carmine does the honors. As Appice mentions, he had just finished a tour with Ted Nugent (in support of the NUGENT album, which featured Carmine on drums) and the Motor City Madman – alongside Derringer, Appice and Bogert – rips into an impressive, if a little ragged, version of “Cat Scratch Fever.” That group sticks around for a funny-car-fueled take on the Chuck Berry classic, “Oh, Carol,” with Ted on lead vocals.

Alan Merrill (uncredited photo)

Alan Merrill (uncredited photo)

It’s back to the Rick Derringer band for the yet-to-be-released “Party At the Hotel” from Rick’s upcoming album, GOOD DIRTY FUN. To be perfectly honest, the guest performers were fun and the interaction with Derringer was nice to hear but, the three songs with just Rick, Alan, Benjy, Jimmy and Donnie are just a notch or two above in energy, excitement and delivery. The big “let’s bring everybody back out” number to finish the set is – next to “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” – the other number for which Rick Derringer will forever be remembered: “Hang On Sloopy,” a song that a 17-year old Rick Zehringer took to the top of the charts with the McCoys in 1965. Even with the “everybody solo” feel, this is one time that everything (and everyone) was hitting on all cylinders. A good way to end the evening and this disc. Are there rough spots along the way? Certainly. Do they detract from the music and the vibe of the performance? Not really. Is RICK DERRINGER’S ROCK SPECTACULAR worth owning? Absolutely!