New Jersey bassman Pete Bremy talks about Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Psychedelic era, and Rock circuits

"I miss the mistakes! All the old great Rock albums have tons of mistakes on them. They were human! Now, every note is fixed, tuned, and quantized with Pro Tools or whatever."

Pete Bremy: Integrate the Groove

Born in Paterson, New Jersey, Pete Bremy started singing about the age of 4. By the time he was 13, Bremy became inspired to play drums by Ringo Starr, but he wanted to make music, not just carry a beat. His friends all played guitar and they jammed together a lot, so he wanted to learn the guitar too. His best friend, Jeff Guenther told him the group already had enough guitarists, and that he should take up the bass.

Within six months, Pete and Jeff joined the popular Heaven's Sundae where they stayed for years. He moved on to various club bands into his 20’s. At age 44, following a 15 year hiatus, Pete was asked to sub for another bass player friend, and he got the urge to play again. Jeff Guenther who had recently moved back to the area, and who Pete remained friends with all those years, immediately invited him to jam with his band one night and the bug really hit him again.

In 2000, Pete joined Vince Martell, original lead guitarist of the Vanilla Fudge. Pete recorded three CDs with Martell, and in 2002 and 2010 subbed for original Vanilla Fudge bassist in Vanilla Fudge reunion tours. In 2008, Tim Bogert asked Pete to sub for him in Cactus, the band that he had formed with Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice following the intial break up of Vanilla Fudge in 1970. Bremy is still Vince Martell's regular bassist today.

Other notable artists Pete has either toured or performed with are Nashville singer/songwriter and recording artist Essra Mohawk, another Nashville singer/songwriter recording artist now in New Jersey, Loretta Hagen, and guitarist Lou Pallo, who was Les Paul's partner for over 25 years. Pete also jammed with New York Yankee superstar and guitarist Bernie Williams, while with Vanilla Fudge. Bremy is currently working on his first solo CD and touring with Vanilla Fudge.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Pete Bremy sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

First, let me thank you for this opportunity to speak with you. It’s a pleasure to be sure. As a bass player, I am basically a side man. I work with and for other musicians. Therefore, my sound will be what I think the song or track calls for, or what the leader is looking for. My preference for bass sound is pretty flat, with highs rolled off. I use a Hartke rig with a tube preamp that lets me dial in a little dirt when I want it, and gives me punch. I have tried to progress with the trends over the years, but given my choice I fall back on a mid-sound which carries all the frequencies most evenly. As a vocalist, well my voice is what it is. I just use what I have and try to keep it tuned. I have a pretty wide range. I am technically a baritone, but in Vanilla Fudge and Cactus I have to cover Tim Bogert’s high harmonies. I have a pretty strong falsetto, which helps me there. My basic music philosophy is to listen and ask myself, “What can I add, or leave out, that will make the whole band sound better?”

"I’m not sure that music affects my mood as much as my mood affects my music. If left alone, my music does reflect the mood I’m in. As a professional of course, I have to ignore that on stage."

What are the secrets of bass guitar?

Ah! I think the bass has a unique function. The bass is the glue between the drums, a fundamentally non-melodic instrument and the other melodic instruments. It combines rhythm with melody. It’s not enough to me just to “lay down” a groove. I actually don’t like that term, it sounds two dimensional, bass flat on top of drums. I prefer “integrate a groove” which can be multi dimensional; bass blended with drums and other instruments with pitch. I watch the drummer, not just his feet but his hands as well. I try to anticipate what his or her hands will do by watching and learning. I try to match his or her rhythms and fills with notes and give the drums pitch as a part of the song. The higher pitched the drum, the higher pitched the note I play, and so forth. The trick is to keep integrated with the groove and not be too busy in your playing. It takes practice, but it’s really very cool. And of course the more you work with a drummer, the more you learn their bag of tricks making them easier to anticipate.

Which is the most interesting period in your life?

That’s easy, right now. It has taken me my whole life to be where I wanted to be in music. I feel that even at age 61, I’m still going up hill. I am living my dream playing with Vanilla Fudge and Cactus. I have been a devoted Vanilla Fudge fan since I was 14 years old. They are my heroes, and now my friends and work mates. Tim Bogert, the original Vanilla Fudge and Cactus bassist, is my biggest inspiration and influence. I’m proud to say he is also my friend. As much as I enjoy working hard to fill his very big shoes, it is very sad to me he has had to retire from touring.

"My hopes are that the music industry people will find a new heart, and that they will invest in a wider range of artists again like the old days." (Pete with Carmine Appice, Mark Stein, Vince Martell, and Tim Bogert. Photo by Jean Bremy, 2006)

Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

The best? That’s easy too. It was October, 2010 when I first played You Keep Me Hanging On as the only non original member of Vanilla Fudge. The worst was in 1974 when I caught an agent stealing big dollars from me.

What’s the best jam you ever played in?

That would be a tough one. Of course jamming with Vanilla Fudge and Cactus rate up at the top, there have been many. However, one other stands out when I played with Lou Pallo, Les Paul’s rhythm guitarist for 30+ years who now leads the Les Paul Trio, Vince Martell of the Fudge, and Gene Cornish and Eddie Brigati of The Rascals. We backed Eddie up on “How Can I Be Sure?” at a small venue in New Jersey. That was magic. Lou Pallo has since become a good friend too and go to see him and sit in a few times a year. He is an amazing guitarist.

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

There are many, but to name a few, again the first time I played with Vanilla Fudge as the only non-original member is one. I also play keyboards too. I have a Hammond B3, a purchase inspired some 25 years ago by my love of Mark Stein’s music. I learned all the Vanilla Fudge organ parts too. In 2011, Mark injured his hand and was unable to play a Vanilla Fudge concert on Long Island, NY. So, at the last minute I took over on Hammond organ for Mark, we got the Soul Survivors lead singers to take over lead vocals, and got the amazing T.M. Stevens on bass, who had played with the Fudge in 2003. So, I’m the only one who has covered for two members of Vanilla Fudge. Carmine knows I play drums too. LOL

"I think the bass has a unique function. The bass is the glue between the drums, a fundamentally non-melodic instrument and the other melodic instruments. It combines rhythm with melody." (Photo: Pete with Cactus, 2012)

Why did you think that the Vanilla Fudge and Cactus music continues to generate such a devoted following?

In the case of Vanilla Fudge, I think there are a number of reasons. First, they were huge in the late 60’s. They had a fledgling Led Zeppelin as their opening act. I think Vanilla Fudge music was way ahead of it’s time and it holds up even today. Their first album has never been out of print since it was released in 1967. It went from vinyl, to 8 Track, to Cassette, to reel to reel, to CD and iTunes…  finally back to vinyl again. It has gone Platinum. Cactus wasn’t as big as Vanilla Fudge back in the old days, but it is just a hard rocking band that holds on to good old fashioned hard rock fans. Also, the original members, guitarist Jim McCarty and drummer Carmine Appice have remained active all these years and are icons themselves as individuals. Plain and simple, Cactus rocks. Cactus also influenced artists such as Van Halen and some Heavy Metal artists of today.

How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

I’m not sure that music affects my mood as much as my mood affects my music. If left alone, my music does reflect the mood I’m in. As a professional of course, I have to ignore that on stage.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Meeting bass luthier Michael Tobias, who has supported me for many years now, was indeed profound. I was completely unknown when I met him, but when I humbly said, “I’m nobody” because I was unknown, he emphatically said, “No you’re not, you’re somebody!” I never forgot that. It has inspired me to always try to be a better player. I have used his basses exclusively for many years now.                                     (Photo: Pete and Michael Tobias)

What is the best advice ever given you?

When I first started music as a kid, my best friend Jeff Guenther suggested I play bass instead of guitar. It only has 4 strings instead of 6, and you only need play one note at a time. That was for me, and it stuck, although I mostly play a 6 string bass now.

Are there any memories from Vanilla Fudge and Cactus which you’d like to share with us?

Sure, a few years ago Vanilla Fudge played a large concert in Poland along with Jack Bruce of Cream. Unbeknownst to the Fudge guys, Vanilla Fudge was huge in Poland in the late 60’s, but only underground and hidden because Poland was part of the Soviet block. Rock & Roll was illegal in Poland After the show, we were swarmed by fans with old albums to be signed. The people had huge smiles on their faces. They told us that in 1967 if they were caught with the albums in their possession, they could have gone to jail. Now, not only are the albums out in the open, but the real Vanilla Fudge was there in Poland performing. It was, to me, a celebration of their freedom as much as a love of the music. It was awesome, and coming from the United States, it gave me a new appreciation for my own freedom. The people there were fantastic!

In December, 2012, Cactus toured Japan. We were at sound check in Tokyo when Carmine told us that last time he was in Tokyo some 20 years earlier, they had an earthquake during the sound check. It wasn’t ten minutes later that the building began to shake. A large earthquake about 300km from Tokyo shook us and scared me to death!  Fortunately there was no damage and no one was hurt. It was my first, and hopefully my last experience with earthquakes!

"I don’t think the blues will ever die. As long as women dump their men, men treat their women badly, and people wake up in the morning feeling sad, Blues songs will always be written and performed." (Photo: Pete with Vanilla Fudge) 

From the musical point of view what are the differences and similarities between Vanilla Fudge and Cactus?

Well, the music of both bands is really quite different. Vanilla Fudge is slower and heavier, and very structured like Classical Music, and with many vocal harmonies. That’s why they call it Symphonic Rock. Cactus has a basic structure for a song, but there is much room for improvisation and jamming. The main similarities are the drumming of Carmine Appice and the bass playing of Tim Bogert, and I suppose my bass playing now.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

Ha ha! I miss the mistakes! All the old great Rock albums have tons of mistakes on them. They were human! Now, every note is fixed, tuned, and quantized with Pro Tools or whatever. Much of the human quality is missing, if indeed humans are performing at all. It’s mostly now computer generated, in modern pop anyway. Today’s music is very sterile sounding.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

My hopes are that the music industry people will find a new heart, and that they will invest in a wider range of artists again like the old days. It gives a greater financial return now to invest big dollars in one artist who sells multi-platinum albums than it does to spread that out over more great artists that might not sell quite as many albums. The cost is higher for the same return. I fear that so much great new music is unknown now. If only the business didn’t treat it so much like a business.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from music circuits?

I laugh at meet and greets when some people think I’m Tim Bogert. We don’t look anything like each other, but it does touch me emotionally if they think I play and sing as well as him…. Which I don’t.

Photo: Pete at late 60s (14 years old) with Heaven’s Sundae

Which memory from Heaven's Sundae and psychedelic era makes you smile?

I was a kid of 13 when I helped form Heaven’s Sundae. It was very popular in High Schools and other youth gatherings. Battles of the Bands were very popular then, and we used to win most of them. The best was at my High School…  probably in 1968 when our gymnasium was so packed, you couldn’t squeeze any more people in. When it was our turn, we were in the wings when the announcer merely said, “And now…”, the place went crazy. What a sound for a young teenager to hear. We won that battle too [chuckle].

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Jam Rock, Soul and continue to Psychedelic and Rock music?

That’s a tough one. One would almost have to write a book on that. It’s hard for me to name specific artists that lead from one to the other, I’m actually not that knowledgeable. All I can say is, from time to time musicians from different genres hook up with each other and they evolve into a new genre. I mean, for example there’s Rock and Psychedelic Rock and Jazz Rock. Take the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He was a great guitarist that could play blues, rock and psychedelic. Matched with Jazz based drummer Mitch Mitchell, many of the Jimi Hendrix Experience tunes had a Jazz Rock feel. It’s hard for me to name bands that led from one to another.

When we talk about Blues Rock usually refer past moments. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Absolutely. I don’t think the blues will ever die. As long as women dump their men, men treat their women badly, and people wake up in the morning feeling sad, Blues songs will always be written and performed. There’s a touch of blues in every genre of music. What is “real blues” anyway? There are many forms of blues.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I would go to Long Island, New York in late 1966. This is where superstars like The Rascals, Leslie West, Billy Joel, and Vanilla Fudge came from just to name a few. Leslie West started there in a band called The Vagrants. Billy Joel started in a band called The Hassles. The Rascals were the Young Rascals and Vanilla Fudge was The Pigeons. They were all part of the Long Island Club circuit, and all started roughly the same time give or take a year. They all influenced each other in sort of an admiring rivalry. The energy of New York was at its musical height back then. If you talk to anyone who was there during that era, they will tell you it was an amazing time for the growth and evolution of Rock music. There is now a Long Island Music Hall of Fame; there were so many artists who started there. Vanilla Fudge was among the first inductees. 

Pete Bremy - official website

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