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Vanilla Fudge – Mark Stein

Vanilla Fudge – Mark Stein

In the seventies there was a lot of social unrest, but within that upheaval there were people who advocated for love and peace. Many musicians were part of these humanitarian quest. Singer/Songwriter/Keyboardist Mark Stein is one of those still making a difference utilizing his extraordinary musical talents. His latest album There’s A Light exemplifies the many complexities that our world is facing today, and these amazing rock tunes are inspiring and relaxing and an album that all music lovers will thoroughly enjoy!
Catching up with this outstanding world-renown musician in the middle of some touring with his original band Vanilla Fudge, he revealed some details about his debut solo themed album THERE’S A LIGHT, as well as some past experiences and what fans can look forward to in the near future.

SFL Music: I heard the first single, the video from THERE’S A LIGHT.
Mark Stein: “We Are One”?

SFL Music: Yes. It is amazing. Everyone should listen to it and see that video. It is wonderful!
Stein: Thank you.

SFL Music: You’re welcome. So, you wrote it during the pandemic because of all the racial disparity and violence and everything that was going on. Was it everything that inspired you or was there anything in particular? What would you say inspired you to write this album as a themed album?
Stein: Well, start with “We Are One” basically I guess around April 2020 when, well the pandemic was officially declared, so I think it was March 13th (he chuckled) because I remember ‘cause my birthday was March 11th. So, on March 13th the pandemic was officially declared a global pandemic if you recall, and that’s when everything started getting pretty crazy, so I guess it was about sometime the middle of April when everyone including myself was you know, in a state of disbelief that this was really happening to humanity. It was incredible. Italy started going down like crazy. Everybody was you know, catching it and dying over there. It was just horrific, and it started spreading all over New York and all over the country. All over the world. I just happened to be sitting at my piano and these lyrics just came into my head because “here we are battening down the hatches, afraid to shake our neighbor’s hand, hug our children. What do we do now? What’s the plan to survive?” Then this line came into my head, and you know, “we had so many chances to spread some love and human kindness all of our lives,” but to me, it was like a Karmic reaction this pandemic. if you think about it, I mean, if you’re into that. If you’re into Karma. It’s like you know, we survived world wars. We survived 9-11. We survived Katrina and all these terrible hurricanes and economic disasters and racial disparity like you were saying, and political unrest and let’s face it, we all know we’re in a huge divide in this country now. So, to me, it was like a Karmic thing by nature and I just went with the song, but half-way through the song, I talk about “only love can lead us back to the house where we were born. Only love can get us through this storm because we are one under God. Under the sun when this battle’s over and done. We’ll be one again,” and that’s what inspired the song. I wrote it pretty quick in a couple of days. I had my buddy Alan Hewitt from The Moody Blues, well actually he invited me over to his home studio and I laid down a piano track with a click track, and then I went to a different studio and laid down you know, all the lead vocals and backing vocals myself. When I was done with that, I needed a rhythm section and so I called my friend in New Jersey at the Sound Spa (Productions), Stevie D, Stevie DeAcutis and he managed to put a bass and guitar and a drum. There’s only two people on that track “We Are One”. It sounded like a whole band and a whole production. I’m really proud of the production. It’s getting a great reaction out there. I had a collection of songs in the can. Songs like “Racism” and “All Lives Matter” and my take on “Ball of Confusion, and my manager just said, you know, let’s put an album together, all these tracks because they tie together with a theme. You know, it’s kind of like how the country was and my perspective on how it is now and hope for the future. “There’s a light that burns so deep within us, if only we could find a way to keep it turned on.” Keep a positive attitude I think going forward, we’d have a better world and that’s part of the lyric in “We Are One”. So, we all have a collective theme on this album THERE’S A LIGHT.

SFL Music: So, “We Are One” kind of sparked the whole album. I like in the video all the symbolism with the different religions and cultures, and I love the scene where the child is holding the globe in their hand. That was perfect! You mentioned doing your version of “Ball of Confusion” (The Temptations), and The Rascals’ “People Got to Be Free”. Were those songs also spawned from the same inspiration?
Stein: Well, “Ball of Confusion” actually, that’s my second single. It’s going to be coming out in two days with a new video, so that’s gonna be cool. “Ball of Confusion” and “People Got to Be Free” is just like, if you believe in a term called synchronicity. You know, The Police, Sting had come up with that years ago. Synchronicity is the science of coincidence and I kind of believe in that because “Ball of Confusion” and “People Got to Be Free” were two songs that I had oddly enough, I had produced four songs for a movie called Rockin The Wall which is the mantra for that movie, is rocks influence on the fall of communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s a documentary. So, I took all these tracks, they all seemed to have the same theme like “We Are One” “Ball of Confusion” “People Got to Be Free” “All Lives Matter” “Racism”. All these songs, “We Are Survivors”. Again, it’s all tied together in a message for this album. So, that’s how that all came about.

SFL Music: Songs like “Lyin’” and “Lets Pray For Peace” are similar?
Stein: “Let’s Pray For Peace”, I wrote that after 911 and I’ve been playing that song with Vanilla Fudge and my solo band around the word, and it’s been really well received. That’s also on the album. So, it obviously ties in with that theme.

SFL Music: How do you keep your voice so strong?
Stein: I tell you what Lori, I’ve been really blessed. I just came off the road, we just played five cities with Vanilla Fudge and Robby Krieger from The Doors and boy, the traveling gets a little harrowing at our age, but I’ve been really fortunate. I don’t know how I do it. I think I try to live a healthy life all these years. I gave up cigarette smoking like way over thirty years ago. I don’t drink and I try to eat healthy. I drink a lot of water. You know, that’s a really good thing. I don’t know, I’ve just been really lucky because a lot of the great singers like Rod Stewart, and I don’t know, a lot of cats are having problems with their voices as they get older. I’m approaching 75 so, yeah. I mean, I’ve been lucky and I practice and I just try and keep that going. I guess I’ve been real fortunate.

SFL Music: What would you recommend to an up-and-coming musician on how to be successful? How to sustain longevity?
Stein: Well, longevity is something you have to experience yourself because I’ve certainly been around close to sixty years playing, since I’m eleven years old (he chuckled). The music business, it’s always been tough and the competition today is even tougher. I think there’s like thousands of singles that are released daily because of the technology that’s available today. I mean, you’ve got to want to pursue a career in music with your blood and guts because you’re gonna meet with a lot of resistance. A lot of people are gonna say, well you know, you should be doing something else for a living. It’s hard to make a living doing it right now, but again, if it’s something that you really want to do man, you just got to go for it. You just have to go for it no matter what. Keep writing songs. Put a band together. Go out and play. Get a following and just enjoy what you’re doing because that’s kind of you know, what I’ve been doing most of my life and you just can’t give up. You just can’t quit. You know, anybody can quit, but if you really want it man, you got to just keep going for it. You got to believe in yourself. You got to follow your dream and if you really believe in yourself and you want that dream, it can happen. So, that’s what I’ve been doing. That’s my advice.

SFL Music: That’s awesome advice. You’ve definitely been doing everything right. When your first album came out with Vanilla Fudge in 1967…
Stein: ohh ho hoo.

SFL Music: It immediately rose to number four on the Charts. You’ve toured with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin. You’ve also worked with Alice Cooper, Dave Mason, Tommy Bolin and Michael Jackson.
Stein: Yeah.

SFL Music: What would you say that you took away from all of those experiences? What do you remember the most?
Stein: I’ve been asked that question a lot lately, in retrospect I’ve been like incredibly lucky and fortunate to have known so many fantastic stars and talent. I mean, Michael Jackson, if you want to hear that story. How that happened if you got a minute.

SFL Music: Sure.
Stein: Oh cool. Well, I was playing and recording and touring in the late 70’s with Dave Mason you know, “We Just Disagree” that song, “Feelin Alright” he wrote, and he’s just a great guy. Great singer. Great talent. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. So, it was like 1980. We were recording an album at the Hollywood Sound in L.A. and I was coming out of the studio for a break and I walked into the lunch room I guess it was, and Michael Jackson was leaning up against the soda machine and I was like wow, man that’s Michael Jackson over there. And this was right after OFF THE WALL was multi-platinum, album. That was a great record, that album and it just so happened that the Jacksons were in another studio down the hall. So, he was doing some work with his brothers and I said to Michael, I introduced myself and he was really a nice cat. I said, would you be into coming in the studio and listen to one of these tracks we’re doing because we have a song called “Save Me” which has the same groove as a lot of the things you were doing on your record OFF THE WALL, and he was just, yeah. Cool. So, he followed me. He came with me, came into the studio. I told the engineer to put up the track. So, he immediately started snapping his fingers and dancing around the console. I said, Michael why don’t you go out, there’s a mic, go on the mic. Put the headphones on man. Why don’t you scat to the song? It would be great to have you on this, and he did it. He went out into the studio, put the headphones on. We put up the track and he blew us away. In one take he did all these vocals and scatted on this thing man, and it’s just amazing. He came back and it was just a night for me. A night for the ages. I was so excited. If anybody wants to hear this, it’s a track called “Save Me” and its Dave Mason, Michael Jackson and Mark Stein. You can hear all three vocals going on and it’s a fun track. I play some really cool funky organ on it, and there you have it. So, you can google it anytime you want. That was a great night!

SFL Music: That’s very cool. I’ll definitely look that up. What got you into music? What made you choose music as your career?
Stein: I think Music chose me. I mean, I was maybe five years old when I used to listen to my uncle play piano in Jersey by the Bay on a console piano. I used to listen to him. I sat on the couch and I listened to him in amazement and they’d go into the kitchen, I’d sneak over and I started playing little melodies with one finger. I was maybe five or six years old. I was born with this capacity and my dad pushed me and pushed me and pushed me. He pushed me into playing accordion. That was like the keyboard to play in the fifties. That was a popular thing, and I did that for a while and then I got bitten by the rock and roll bug to his dismay (he laughed), and I started playing rhythm guitar and I started singing Buddy Holly songs and “Betty Lou Got a New Pair of Shoes”, Bobby Freeman and all those hits from you know, maybe around 1958. The songs by The Big Bopper, God rest his soul. I started playing at all these events. These Knights of Columbus, Knights of Pythias, parties. You know, if you really want to know what’s up, how this all transpired, I have like so many so many decades of stories and the business. I have a book called You Keep Me Hanging On The Raging Story Of Rock Music’s Golden Age and you can get it at mark-stein.com. A signed and numbered copy, or you can go to Amazon to get it, but everything you want to know from the fifties all the way almost to the present is in there. How Vanilla Fudge started. What my influence was on progressive rock and all the touring with Hendrix and doing the Led Zeppelin. I saw it all transpire when I was a young lad (he laughed). So, it’s all in the book. So, I would suggest you know, getting that book because it’s got so many behind the scenes stories and so may interviews by Robby Krieger from the Doors and Billy Joel actually called up my co-writer (Larry Schweikart) and just lent his time while he was on the road which was really cool. Sid Bernstein who brought The Beatles to America did an interview in the book. Glenn Hughes, you know, the voice of rock. He did an interview. So many people and there’s so many stories always integrated with the history of the Vietnam War and racial divide and Martin Luther King (Jr.) and how it all evolved in the sixties to the seventies to the advent of MTV and videos. How that all came to pass. All kinds of touring stories. A lot of drama and its real and its frank and it’s got you know, some critical acclaim. So, there you go.

SFL Music: I know equipment and instruments have evolved and changed over the years, but what would you say for readers to get of glimpse of what is different from touring back then to touring now?
Stein: Well, back in the old days you know, I’m a Hammond Organ player. I’m known for playing a B3, so that was my instrument. So, back in those days, we didn’t even have monitors onstage. It was crazy. We’d just hear the music through the house. As time went on, now you have monitors and you have all this cool technology when you get sound checks and all, so that’s been a really cool thing that transpired over the years. Computers you know, there was no technology in the sixties obviously, the seventies and as time went on, keyboards evolved into synthesizers and sampling and all of that which became pretty cool, and I actually got involved in that in the seventies and the eighties. Yeah, so there’s a lot of encompass. Music is a great form of communication whether you’re playing keyboards or guitars or singing and it all blends together in one beautiful form.

SFL Music: Tell me about the new video you said is coming out?
Stein: “Ball of Confusion”, it’s my second single. Yeah, we’re working on it right now. It’s gonna be really exciting. Its gonna reflect a lot of the drama that’s going on in the world today. That’s all I can tell ya. It’s going to be really exciting and we have so much drama and so much divide, don’t we?

SFL Music: We do.
Stein: It’s Incredible. I think it kind of says it even though the song was written in the seventies, it’s a lot of similarities to that era to now, so when it comes out, I hope you’ll agree.

SFL Music: You definitely seem to have a real handle on society and politics and your surroundings. Was that always the way? Did you ever want to be more political at any time in your life?
Stein: I think as I got older. Social situations, political situation in the country really got down deep into my soul and I don’t know. You know, it’s like “Racism”. I was watching the news once and I saw like two toddlers walking to school you know, a black kid and a white kid and said to my wife, I said, look how they’re hugging each other and smiling and they’re so happy. There’s no such thing as a color of skin with these kids. They haven’t been exposed to you know, what’s been going on for centuries. So, this lyric just came out “ever see a black child walk 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.” They’re way to young. Their life has just begun. To follow the golden rule of hate one another cause their skins a different color. Growing up in a world so cruel,” and it goes on “their mommas and daddy’s they could never get along”. I won’t give away all the lyrics, but “Racism” is a really powerful you know, rock rendition on the album with really cool Vanilla Fudge kind of progressive rock singing in the middle and I think it’s gonna be cool when people hear it.

SFL Music: What would you say inspired you to put “America The Beautiful” on the album?
Stein: “America The Beautiful” is a track I had in the can and this is a really cool story. I’m glad you asked. Way back after 9-11, I was so moved by the search and rescue dogs that were you know, hovering over the rubble of the hot steel trying to find any form of human life and while they were doing it, some of them died, these wonderful dogs and they were given oxygen on the side lines. I was so sensitive to that, that I came up with this version of America The Beautiful and it’s like a Ray Charles inspired blues approach to it. I called up my buddy Jimmy Haslip. He’s a fantastic Grammy winning jazz fusion bass player. Everybody knows who he is in the business. He’s always putting out fabulous projects. So, he’s an old friend. We played together way back in the seventies with Tommy Bolin, The Tommy Bolin band and he put together a group for me, and I went into the studio and I recorded my version of “America The Beautiful”. I put it up on my website and I got donations on my website, anybody wanted to download it. So, I came up with a bunch of money and I donated to the organization that serviced the search and rescue dogs. So that’s the story behind that. Even Whitey Ford, the late great Whitey Ford, Hall of Fame pitcher for the New York Yankees, who was upstairs living from me on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Him and his wife Joan loved the song and he gave me a nice donation for it, and so it’s a kind of a cool story behind it and the song stands up. And so, I finished the album with that because with everything that’s going on in the country it all boils down to one thing. We live in a wonderful country. A wonderful America is the land of the free and the home of the brave and its America the beautiful. So, that’s how I ended the album. It closes with that.

SFL Music: Are there any additional tour dates? I see New York and Connecticut.
Stein: Yeah, Vanilla Fudge. We’re going to be playing Sony Hall, 15th and 16th with Robby Krieger from The Doors. I’m doing an event January 15th in the New Year called World Stage in Illinois. I’m gonna be the featured artist. Jennifer Batton, the guitar player, fantastic chick from Michael Jackson is gonna be playing guitar and I’m going to be featured on it. Jim Peterik who wrote “Eye of the Tiger” and that great song “Vehicle” for the Ides of March. He puts this great show together. So, they have a wonderful bunch of musicians and singers and I’m going to be doing a couple of Fudge songs that I do like “Keep Hanging On” and Take for A While. We’re gonna do “We Are One” because they have the platonic capacity to pull it off with vocals and instrumentally. So, I’m looking forward to that. So, that’s happening and we’ll see how it all plays out. See how it’s going on with the pandemic because things are starting to open up.

SFL Music: Are there any in the Florida area?
Stein: There’s supposed to be a bunch of shows in Florida probably eventually in 2022. They’re working on it. They’re working on it yeah.

SFL Music: Was there anything else you wanted to add in wrapping up?
Stein: Just want to say hi to all my fans and all my friends out there and I appreciate you Lori and to hear me today you know, keeping me relevant. Everybody just stay safe and if you feel like getting vaccinated, I think it’s a positive thing to do. If your preference is not to get vaccinated, that’s your choice, but whatever it is, stay safe and everybody stay healthy and let’s look forward to a lot of positivity going forward for the holiday season and into the new year.

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