An Interview with legendary Vince Martell of Vanilla Fudge: Stay in our hearts and on the airwaves forever

"The blues is always with us because it is a simple, powerful genre that speaks to the heart and soul. It embodies soulful singing and playing in a way that is genuine to every generation..."

Vince Martell: Keep On Rockin' !!!

Vinny Martell, lead guitarist of Vanilla Fudge, and U.S. Navy Veteran, has received wide acclaim and worldwide recognition for the musicianship and originality that have etched out his place in the annals of rock history. His riff in the Vanilla Fudge chart topper, "You Keep Me Hangin' On," is ranked the number four heaviest guitar riff of all time by Guitar Magazine.

The Vanilla Fudge's symphonic rock remake of this Supremes' hit placed them at number six on the Billboard Charts in the U.S.A. and at number two on the charts in England, second only to The Beatles.
Led Zeppelin opened for them & lots; Jimi Hendrix and Vanilla Fudge toured together... The great Jimi himself once told Vinny to contact him if The Fudge ever broke up ...the Hendrix-Martell Experience, perhaps... Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Janis Joplin, The Doors, B.B. King and more & lots; all graced the stage with them...
In the twenty-first century, Vinny has reunited with Vanilla Fudge and has toured the USA, playing to packed houses... His discography includes three solo CD's, the latest a Tribute to Jimi Hendrix, as well as a new soon-to-be-released Vanilla Fudge tribute to Led Zeppelin. The Vince Martell Live Group, Vinny's solo project, has played to sold-out audiences in the tri-state area, including a recent stint with Blue Oyster Cult at The Chance Theatre in Poughkeepsie, New York...
On October 15th, 2006 the Vanilla Fudge was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame along with other prominent musical figures , such as George Gershwin, Harry Chapin, Perry Como, Joan Jett, Peter Criss of Kiss, Twisted Sister and Billy Joel, to name some...
Also in 2006, Vince reunited with the rest of the original Vanilla Fudge to record an album as a tribute to Led Zeppelin.


Interview by Michael Limnios

 

What was your first desire to become involved in blues rock, and who were your first idols?
I'm Italian-American, and in our family, we were required to study an instrument, so I began taking guitar lessons (the classics and some jazz) at an early age, before Rock hit the music scene. I listened to Freddie King, BB King, Howlin' Wolf, Albert King, Lonnie Mack... When I first heard Rock on the radio, it was huge, and we all wanted to be a part of it: Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard...Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino. My idols were Link Wray and Les Paul.

"I always want to touch the audience on an emotional level with my music; hopefully what I'm playing or singing has some meaning in their lives." 

What were the first songs you learned?
I learned Honky Tonk, Hideaway, Green Onions and jazz and standard songs of the day from The Hit Parade.

From whom have you learned the most secrets about blues music?
I have water shedding with all the blues greats from Howlin' Wolf up to and including Jimi Hendrix.

 

Where did you pick up your guitar style?
As I had previously stated, I was influenced by many guitar greats, including classical guitarists.

 

What was the first gig you ever attended?
My first real gig where I played guitar was just after I got out of the US Navy and moved to Florida. I got into a cover rock band (British Invasion--The Beatles, The Stones, and The Kinks) and played at an amusement park every weekend.

 

"I always want to touch the audience on an emotional level with my music; hopefully what I'm playing or singing has some meaning in their lives."

What was the last record you bought?
The last record I bought was The Jimi Hendrix Experience. I enjoy Stevie Ray, Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore, as well as John Mayall "Blues Breakers" and The Mahavishnu Orchestra...

 

What does the blues mean to you?
It is the core of the soul translated into music and voice--the simpler the better and the deeper it reaches the listener...

 

What has blues offered you?
It is a chance to express my inner self and share it with the world.

 

Where do you think your music comes from?
The brain and the heart are organs, but the mind, the emotions and the soul are the intangibles that combine your feelings and experiences with your musical knowledge and delivery to create a song. When you play an instrument, you now have that vehicle or conduit for these ideas and concepts to be shared with others.

"I listened to Freddie King, BB King, Howlin' Wolf, Albert King, Lonnie Mack... When I first heard Rock on the radio, it was huge, and we all wanted to be a part of it: Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard...Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino. My idols were Link Wray and Les Paul."

How would you describe your contact with people when onstage?

I always want to touch the audience on an emotional level with my music; hopefully what I'm playing or singing has some meaning in their lives.

 

Which was the best moment of your career?
There were many good ones: getting signed to Atlantic Records; appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, David Frost, travelling the world, touring with Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. There were many high points. There is no worst moment. I'm always grateful that the Lord has blessed my life.

 

Tell me about the beginning of Vanilla Fudge.
Before we were Vanilla Fudge, we were The Pigeons: Mark Stein, Tim Bogert, Joey Brennan, and I. We were a R&B cover band playing the New York/ New Jersey circuit. An agent named Shelley Finkle discovered us and brought us to The Action House in Island Park, New York: this was the biggest and most happening club in the NY area. The owner of the club liked our show and booked us; in addition, he wanted to manage us. After extensive touring up and down the East Coast of the USA, he had several major label executives come out and hear us At this point we were signed to ATCO/Atlantic Records under Ahmet Ertegun with legendary producer, Shadow Morton at the helm.

"The music of Vanilla Fudge speaks to all generations because it steers clear of any trends on the charts. It had and still has a classic quality and integrity along with great musicianship; it is hard to beat...The Beat Goes On..."

How did you choose the name?
We and the record company were not too thrilled about the name, The Pigeons. One day at a rehearsal, a girl from another local band was eating a vanilla fudge ice cream; she suggested we use the name, as it was the nickname given her by her Grandfather. We immediately liked it and all saw the connection: white men playing black music (blue-eyed soul). It was perfect.

 

Do you have any amusing tales to tell about your gigs and recording?
One funny live incident was at the Westbury Music Fair in New York, one of the biggest venues (a theatre in the round with revolving stage) in New York. Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention were opening for us. When their show began, they all came down to the stage from behind the audience playing flutes, oboes, and other woodwinds, dressed in white- hooded monks' robes. Their sounds were dissonant, discordant and eerie as they made their way to the revolving stage. It set up a very strange intro to the entire night that I'm sure no one ever forgot.

 

How do you characterize the sound of Vanilla Fudge?
Our sound has been labeled as psychedelic symphonic rock that is a heavy broad rhythm section with organ and guitar moving between rhythms and leads; the bass is more prominent than in the usual rock lineup in that it, too, creates a musical line of its own, like counterpoint in Baroque Music. We have a heavy emotional vocal on top to make it bombastic, tragic and heart-wrenching.

 

Why has Vanilla Fudge continued to generate such a devoted following?
 The music of Vanilla Fudge speaks to all generations because it steers clear of any trends on the charts. It had and still has a classic quality and integrity along with great musicianship; it is hard to beat...The Beat Goes On...

 

What were your favorite guitars back them?
My favorite was the Gibson ES 335 (See Vintage Guitar Magazine, March and April of 2011 for articles on this) semi-hollow body because of the tone and resonance. I also have used Gibson SG's and Les Pauls. I prefer Fender Strats for Hendrix....

 

Which songs can someone hear the best of your guitar work? Three words to describe your sound?
You can hear my best work on Vanilla Fudge's first album: "You Keep Me Hangin' On," (voted the number four heaviest guitar riff of all time in classic rock by Guitar Magazine (May, 1994). The next album in which my guitar playing had a prominent role is "Renaissance"; this was a very creative recording for the whole group. It features the guitar in many solo roles on original compositions, including "Thoughts," my creation which went to number six on the Italian Charts. It continues to hold a unique place in the annals of rock history. On "Near the Beginning," my work on "Shotgun"(which we performed on Ed Sullivan) with the Whaa pedal was something cool and groundbreaking.
Three words to describe my sound: soulful, heavy and dynamic.

 

Describe the ideal rhythm section to you?
I like trios and play best when there is a solid, heavy foundation for me to solo against, featuring the guitar as a lead instrument. I like heavy kick and toms with a simple bass line to keep the bottom strong.

 

Any memories from Vanilla Fudge/Hendrix tour you'd like to share?
It was a huge tour of great musicians: the one-two punch for Concerts West. It was always a real "experience": an electrifying and unpredictable tour...

How did you first met and what kind of guy was Jimi Hendrix?

We first did a gig with him when we were The Pigeons: it was Jimi James and the Blue Flames at The Electric Circus in New York City. He was playing his lefty Strat through a  Fender Twin Reverb Amp resting on a chair...He had a cool controlled sound and looked very very serious even thought he had a wild Afro. Jimi was generally very introspective and soft-spoken: a real gentleman...

Which memory from Jimi makes you smile and what is the best advice ever gave you?

One night, we were both sitting at The Scene Club in New York City, after a big jam, Jimi's producer, Eddie Kramer, invited us all over to record at their studio, a few blocks away. Buddy Miles, Carmine Appice, and many others were there. We started playing a blues and Jimi told me to take the first solo. He was always a gentleman...Jimi said to me, "If the Fudge ever break up, man, let me know..."

"One wish for the blues is that it continues to ebb and flows like the tides with the rising and setting of the moon. Stay in our hearts and on the airwaves forever, man...Keep on rockin'!!!"

What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

The Ricky T. Band (I don't use the word S - anymore)... After the Navy, I went to Florida and joined up with a group that was performing six nights a week in Fort Lauderdale. At this point, I backed up many musicians; one night I even played with Bobby Vinton on "Blue Velvet."

 

Are there any memories from 2005 tour with Doors & Steppenwolf, which you’d like to share with us?
The "Strange Days Tour" with The Doors, Steppenwolf, and The Yardbirds was a unique event in the US and in Canada. Everyone had a great time. We taped a show for VH-1 Classics, "Decades of Rock," at Trumps' Taj Mahal in Atlantic City...This should air at some point.

 

Which of the people you have worked with do you consider the good friend?
I have worked with many artists... My closest friend from all of the people with whom I worked is Joey Brennan. He was the original drummer in The Pigeons before Carmine. Joey is still performing; we are currently recording a Pigeons 2 album (he has a great voice-like Mick Jagger on steroids). He is a great humanitarian, helping struggling musicians and people with all types of addictions.

"The difference between the blues/rock scene in the sixties/seventies and now is that in the sixties, there were groundbreaking sonic discoveries always cropping up--new artists with original ideas...Now, music is much more predictable and formula because it is all about the money and not the music or the artist..." 

What the difference between Vanilla Fudge & your own band? What characterizes the sound of Vince Martell Band?
The difference between Vanilla Fudge and my solo band is that my group is guitar-oriented...We do a sixties show that includes Vanilla Fudge, Hendrix, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, Joplin and my originals. We have a girl in the band who is a recording artist from Denver, Colorado worked with Ben Vereen, Strawberry Alarm Clock (Love-In a Musical Celebration on PBS TV) and a variety of groups. Her own band, Aura, received much airplay in the Denver area. I enjoy this group the most for my head because I can stretch out musically on the guitar. I also incorporate guest artists, such as conga player Juma Sultan, who played with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock (Gyspy Son and Rainbows Band)...

 

If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?
If I could go back, I probably would have done fewer drugs and booze...I would have joined a power trio like Carmine and Timmy did after the Fudge; still, I have no regrets. I have good memories and am still in the limelight, performing, doing radio shows, magazine interviews, performing with my group and Vanilla Fudge, helping out our US veterans who are homeless... and most of all, letting the light of our Lord shine through me...I just completed an autobiography (my life before and during Vanilla Fudge) which will be out in the near future...We are all endowed with a talent; if we are fortunate enough to let that talent lead us in our lives so that we make a living doing something we love, then we are blessed...

 

From the musical point of view, is there any difference between ‘60s - 70s and nowadays?
The difference between the blues/rock scene in the sixties/seventies and now is that in the sixties, there were groundbreaking sonic discoveries always cropping up--new artists with original ideas...Now, music is much more predictable and formula because it is all about the money and not the music or the artist...The record executives and A&R people are mainly lawyers and people generating a steady cash flow for the establishment---look at Clear Channel and the radio stations...We made it in the sixties thanks to the new, experimental thing called "underground" radio...FM stations.....

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is?
The blues is always with us because it is a simple, powerful genre that speaks to the heart and soul. It embodies soulful singing and playing in a way that is genuine to every generation...

 

Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?
Though I jammed with BB King and Jimi Hendrix, I would like in my next life to jam with Howlin Wolf, Albert King and Freddie King on some cool, heavenly blues riffs... that would resound in the cosmos...

 

Give one wish for the BLUES
One wish for the blues is that it continues to ebb and flows like the tides with the rising and setting of the moon. Stay in our hearts and on the airwaves forever, man...
Keep on rockin'!!!


Vince Martell - Official website

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