A Conversation with Mark Stein, Vocalist/Keyboardist for Vanilla Fudge

It’s hard to believe that having been in the music scene since 1966 that Mark Stein of Vanilla Fudge has never released a solo record. That’s all about to change. Mark is about to release his debut solo record, There’s a Light, and took some time to talk about it.

Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws.com Conversation with Mark Stein –

On how the record came to be – What happened was, back in 2020, about six weeks into the pandemic, I wrote a song called “We Are One”. Inspiration just came to me because we were all in a state of disbelief that this really happening. It was like a science fiction movie, watching the world go under the way it did, Italy across the pond to New York all over the country, so many people being afflicted and dying which is so tough to digest and believe. I was afraid to shake hands with my neighbor or hug children, I was just so paranoid. I sat down on my piano and this idea came to me, “Here we are, we’re battening down the hatches, afraid to shake our neighbor’s hand or hug our children”. So what’s the plan to survive? This line came into me saying, “We had so many chances to spread some love and human kindness all of our lives”, and to me, it was just some kind of a karmic event that was happening because we survived all the World Wars and all the hurricanes, and the political unrest, and the racial unrest, and the economic disasters. Just all the things that have been happening to us all over the years, domestically and globally, and I just thought it was a karma thing. These lyrics came out, but I felt like once this is over, there’s gonna be a lot more hope for the future, and that’s what “We Are One” talks about, “We are one under God, under the sun, when this battle’s over and done we’ll be one again”. So check out the single, I’m really proud of it, the production. I tried to model it after an early Elton John kind of a song. I’m known as a Hammond B3 player, but I had my bouts with songwriting just on piano and just writing as a songwriter. So this one is like Elton John. I put the strings on like an old Paul Buckmaster string arrangement with the keyboard and it came out so cool. People are loving the song and the production. :45

On recording the record – It started out when the pandemic hit and I wrote this song. There were no studios really available. I called a friend of mine, Allan Hewitt from the Moody Blues and he plays with John Lodge. He invited me over to his house. He’s got a great keyboard home studio, and we laid down just a piano track and a click track. But then suddenly he got super busy with other projects, so I had to find another outlet, so I just happened to run across a studio in town, where I live in southern Florida, a place called Blue Porch Media, and became friends with a cat named Joey Z, and he invited me over and so the files were sent over there. What I did was I laid down all the lead vocals and all the backing vocals is just myself multi-tracked, and then I lay down the core synthesizer strings. I had a beautiful sampled sound. So we were really excited about it, but now I needed a band on it. I needed drums and bass and guitar to fill out the production. So I called Stevie D at the Sound Spa band and he had time, he really loved it. So what he did was he put a drum program on there, he played guitar and he played bass, so it’s just two people on the whole production. It’s so cool. There’s no attitude from a drummer, there’s no attitude from a bass player, I love it. I found a great collaboration. I’m gonna do my whole next record just the two of us. It really came out really cool. 3:43

On the lyrical theme of the record – What happened was, when I wrote this song, I tried to put it out to try and find somebody that would want to put it out of a single. Nobody was interested in a single, they wanted a full album. I said, “What about an EP?” because I had some other tracks. So then I was talking with my manager, he said, “We gotta put a whole album together”. So I had these tracks in the can, I had songs like “Ball of Confusion” that I produced for a movie a number of years ago, and songs like “We Are Survivors”. I did a cover of Felix Cavaliere’s “People Got To Be Free” for the movie. The movie was Rockin’ The Wall, music’s influence on the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism. But oddly enough, all these songs tied together with a message. A few years ago, I wrote a song called “Racism”, which is my take on the obvious reality that it does exist out there. I wrote a really cool song called “Racism”, and it’s like a progressive rock arrangement. I wrote a song called “All Lives Matter”. I write social songs. Basically, I had a collection of songs in the can, so we put them all together and said, “Hey, we have this album”. I have a son called “Let’s Pray for Peace” that I wrote, that I also played live that people love around the world, I always get a great response to it. I dedicated it to so many events that have happened over the years. I finished the album, but another cover of “America, the Beautiful”. I actually wrote around 9/11, I wrote the arrangement for, and I dedicated the song to all of the search and rescue dogs that were trying to find human life at the 9/11 site, and they were dying, and they were so exhausted getting oxygen on the sidelines. I put this together with a bunch of great musicians, we went in the studio. I put it on the website and I collected all his donations and we all went to the agency that serviced the search and rescue dogs, so that was really cool. I even got a really nice donation from the late, great Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford, who I was friends with at the time. So it all made sense. “There’s a Light”, one of the lyrics in “We Are One” is. “There’s a light that burns so deep within us if only we could find a way to keep it turned on”. There’s positive spirituality, I believe in everyone. So if we could just think positive and move forward as one, I think we could have a better world. That’s my theme on this album. There’s a lot of controversy on it, there’s a lot of love on it, and a lot of hope on it, there’s a lot of history on it, so I hope everybody checks out There’s A Light. It will be out on November 26. 5:57

On possible controversy with his lyrics – Well, the only one that I had a little slack from was a few years ago when I wrote “Racism”. All these producers saying, “You’re gonna be called a racist”. I said, “Wait a minute”. I saw two toddlers on the news, this is what inspired the song, walking to school, hugging each other, giving each other a kiss. A black kid and white kid on her way to school, they must’ve been five, six years old. I was inspired to write this song. I said, “Look how these kids are filled with love, there’s not a smidgen of racism going on, it’s just love, it just innocent. So I came up with the lyric, “Ever see a black child walking with a white child on their way to school, smiling at each other like a sister and a brother laughing at the grown-up fools because they’re way too young, their life has just begun to follow the golden rule of hating one another because their skin’s a different color, growing up in the world so cruel”, and it goes on and tells the whole story. I talk about Martin Luther King. But it’s a positive slant on racism, and people said, “It doesn’t matter”. This song has been heard by a lot of people, and they think it’s great, and it’s obviously just my take on the fact that it exists. “Racism, why did it ever start pulling the world apart, it poisons the human heart”. So I’m trying to just make a statement. 9:00

On new Vanilla Fudge music – Well, I’m glad you brought that up because at the moment there’s a new track out. We did a re-imaging version of “Stop In The Name of Love”. It’s out on Golden Robot Records out of Australia. We were asked to do a Motown song because we had the big “Keep Me Hanging On” hit, which was iconic and stands up today, even after half a century. They wanted us to do another Supremes song. Back in 2019, I came up with this template for an arrangement and while Vanilla Fudge was touring in November of that year, we went to the studio. We put it together and we started laying a down but we didn’t finish it. So three months later to pandemic hit and everything was at a stand-still for, wow, almost two years. Everybody was pretty out of it, no one could play, it’s terrible. So we fast forward, the song got done, and we managed to get the late Tim Bogert, he passed on and after a long battle to cancer in January, the original bass player and singer, so he was able to get it together to play bass on his very last track. So “Stop In The Name of Love”, features the original four members. I think it’s a pretty hot track, it’s a heavy reimagine psychedelic, symphonic rock arrangement. We’ve been playing it on the last five gigs, I just got off the road a few days ago, and people have really taken to it. 11:00

On his memories of the late Tim Bogert – This is so surreal because we started out as teenagers, we were in bands together. We had a great time growing up as kids, and we always wanted to become pop stars, and we went to listen to every band we could. We were so influenced by the Rascals and The Beatles, and James Brown, and all the Stax and Aretha stuff, all the R&B stuff. We just had a really cool collaboration together. It was Tim & I that wanted to do something different. We wanted to re-imagine other people’s songs and come up with these long symphonic arrangements, like “Elenore Rigby”, and “Ticket To Ride”, and “You Keep Me Hanging On” and “Bang Bang”, and all the hits of the day. But we needed to find a drummer that was capable of playing that kind of power and dynamics. At the time, we had a different drummer, Joey Brennan, from a band called the Pigeons. Good drummer, kind of like a straight-ahead rock, Charlie Watts, Stones kind of drummer. But we needed somebody who had another voice. So Tim and I went hunting for another drummer. We found Carmine (Appice) at a place called The Choo Choo Club in Garfield, New Jersey. This guy has got great power and he plays with such finesse and he’s cool looking. So I went inside the club afterward and I asked her to come outside. I told him about the direction that we wanted to accomplish, and he was really excited. He said, “Yeah, man, let’s do this”. So it wasn’t more than a week later, it was Carmine, me, and Tim, and Vinny Martell, we found him, and we started rehearsing in back of a bar in Bayonne, NJ. Before you know it, my dad got us an audition at the Action House in Long Island, and we went out, he liked the band, and it was the start of that whole new direction. We started playing together and getting tight and getting better and better, playing a lot Long Island and Newport, RI. We developed a following and We came up with the arrangement for “Keep Me Hanging On”. It was heard by Shadow Morton, he took us into the studio, the producer at that time had Janice Ian, the Shangri-La’s, so much history. You should get my book. 50 years of history is in there, it’s all examined how everything started and everything evolved. “You Keep Me Hanging On – The Raging Story of Rock Music’s Golden Age”, and you can get it on Mark-Stein.com, you can get a number and signed copy there, or you can go to Amazon if you want it, but again, it’s all in there, 350 pages of it. 13:20

On playing with Tommy Bolin – I was off the stage at that time, I had moved out to California. It was probably about a year and a half that I wasn’t playing, I was just writing songs, and I started putting the band together, a solo band, and enlisted this young funky bass player named Reggie McBride, who was playing with Stevie Wonder at the time. So he had gotten a call from Tommy Bolin’s tour manager to come down and audition with Tommy. Tommy was leaving Deep Purple and was already known for the great album Teaser. He was putting a solo band together. I said, “Reggie, come on, man, I thought we were doing this”. So he gave me a call and says, “Mark, I’m gonna do this gig, man”. (I said), “I’ll tell you what, tell Tommy I wanna come down too. Tell him I want to play with him” because I wanted to get back on tour. He was a fan of mine and the Fudge too, it was cool. So I went down and down to SIR and LA and we played together and he enlisted me, and then Narada Michael Walden was fresh out of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, incredible drummer, he was in the band, Norma Jean Bell, great looking performer, a sax player who was out of Frank Zappa’s band, great singer. So this was an incredible quintet. A merger of R&B and fusion music, and soul and blues and everything. Off-stage, Tommy was a great guy, we became close. You’re right when you talked about his demons because there were many and he just could not remove himself from it. I tried to get them off all that, but it just didn’t work. The closer I got to him, the more I tried to get him straight. When a person’s on all those drugs they resent the person that’s trying to help them. That’s just like a standard. It got to the point where the shows were great. Wow, remember he opened for Peter Frampton in front of 50,000 people at Mile High Stadium, I think it was 76, when he had Frampton Comes Alive, and that was an amazing show. But as things progressed, his demons progressed, and that very last tour where he lost his life, I had left the band because I was at the point where I was just really uncomfortable. It was a hard decision, but I felt it was time for me to depart and sure enough, next tour he lost his life in Miami when they opened for Jeff Beck. He OD’d, it was a terrible moment in rock because he was only 25 years old. I know for the short time he was around is not a day goes by that you look at social media and you don’t see some kind of a promo on Tommy Bolin. his music was so great. As a guitarist, he was so unique, so tasty, and I just wish he would have been able to survive that because he would have gone on to do some amazing stuff, and he was a great songwriter, so the world really missed out on a lot of great stuff. 16:48

On upcoming touring plans – Well, we’ll see how it plays out. I’m doing a show called World Stage with Jim Peterik. He’s so cool. He wrote “Eye of the Tiger”, a great song by Ides of March, “Vehicle”, and some other great songs, so I was really happy you invited me to be the featured artist on World Stage, so that’s gonna be a lot of fun. Scott May is the keyboard player in The Ides of March and all those great people. We all have a lot of love and respect for one another. All good friends. So Jennifer Batten from Michael Jackson’s band, a killer guitar player, great looking lady. She’s gonna be playing guitar and I’m gonna be the featured artist. So we’re gonna do, “We Are One”, and they have the capacity to play it and the vocals to sing all of the backing vocals that are necessary to make it happen. So I’m looking forward to that, and I’m sure we’re gonna be doing “You Keep Me Hanging On” and “Take Me For a Little While” from Fudge, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. So that will probably be my first show for my solo album, or part of it anyway. We’re in November now, so we see if we can fit in between all this covid stuff, which venues are cool, which aren’t cool. It’s not quite clear sailing yet, but we’re working on it. 20:30

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