Vanilla Fudge’s Mark Stein on his encounters with Tommy Bolin, Jimi Hendrix: ‘It was a magical time’

Vanilla Fudge’s Mark Stein on his encounters with Tommy Bolin, Jimi Hendrix: ‘It was a magical time’


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For Mark Stein, music has kept him hangin’ on, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

The 75-year-old is known as the lead vocalist, keyboardist, composer and arranger of the psychedelic-symphonic rock band Vanilla Fudge, which made its mark in the ‘60s. 

Over the years, Stein has worked extensively with legendary artists such as Alice Cooper, Dave Mason and late Deep Purple guitarist Tommy Bolin. He also made guest appearances with Deep Purple, Carl Palmer and the Steve Miller Band, among others. 

Fast-forward to today, and Stein is hoping to make a difference through song. His new single, “Let’s Pray for Peace,” featured on his first solo album, “There’s a Light,” aims to shine a spotlight on the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

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Mark Stein performs with Vanilla Fudge at the CityFolk Festival at Lansdowne Park Sept. 18, 2016, in Ottawa, Canada.
(Mark Horton/Getty Images)

Stein spoke to Fox News Digital about what it was like sharing a stage with Jimi Hendrix, how he coped with Bolin’s passing at a young age and more. 

Fox News: What’s the story behind your new track “Let’s Pray for Peace?”
Mark Stein: It was a feeling that I ended up writing about several years ago. It’s been a popular staple at my shows. My record company and I thought it’d be a great idea to put together a video, which is relevant to the war in Ukraine.

It turned out to be a pretty powerful project. All the money is going to UNICEF to support the children and families in Ukraine. Right at the end of the video, there’s a link where we’re hoping people will donate to help those brave people over there that are going through what they’re going through.

Known for such songs as "Season of the Witch," "You Keep Me Hangin’ On" and "Shotgun," Vanilla Fudge included Mark Stein on lead vocals and organ, Tim Bogart on bass, Carmine Appice on drums and Vince Martell on guitar.

Known for such songs as “Season of the Witch,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “Shotgun,” Vanilla Fudge included Mark Stein on lead vocals and organ, Tim Bogart on bass, Carmine Appice on drums and Vince Martell on guitar.
(GAB Archive/Redferns)

Fox News: What has kept you going as an artist?
Stein: The truth is, I just keep going. I love writing and playing. I’m still performing. I continue to write songs based on social issues in America. I’ve been blessed that I’m able to still do this at this age. … And I think now, there’s so much division in our country. I just hope that people can love each other more. Life is short, and it’s great to be on this Earth and have the ability to create. I just hope my music can make people smile more.

Fox News: Many fans remember Vanilla Fudge for its cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Why do you believe this song continues to have such an impact decades later? At least the band’s version of the song?
Stein: Yeah, it was a reimagined song by The Supremes. It stands on its own as one of the iconic pieces from the late ‘60s. It’s still getting good airplay on classic rock stations. We always play it for people, and they love it. Fans even bring their kids to our shows so they can see a real version of classic rock. I’m proud to say that the arrangement has stood the test of time.

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Fox News: When did you first realize that the song had become larger than life?
Stein: We were just kids. We were only like 20, 21 years old when Vanilla Fudge first put that song out. At the time, you couldn’t have a song that was more than maybe three minutes on the radio. But we had these psychedelics and arrangements that came into prominence at the time. So we did underground radio in places like Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. We were just playing the heck of that album. It frankly blew our minds that the song had such an impact and that it’s still remembered today.

Mark Stein said he received a stamp of approval from Mary Wilson of The Supremes.

Mark Stein said he received a stamp of approval from Mary Wilson of The Supremes.
(Echoes/Redferns)

Fox News: The band performed that track on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” What was that like?
Stein: That was a seminal moment in our lives for sure. We were in everybody’s living room. We became a household name overnight just by being on that show. The exposure was incredible. … We were just singing and having fun backstage. It was wonderful. And our album just flew up the charts.

Fox News: Did you ever get any kind of feedback from The Supremes after you recorded their track?
Stein: They loved it. I spoke to the late great Mary Wilson. We were at a party for an awards show in LA during the ‘80s. She loved it. She said that was their favorite arrangement and favorite recording of the song. That song has developed a lot of legs over the years.

Fox News: Vanilla Fudge performed alongside Jimi Hendrix. What was it like sharing the stage with him?
Stein: Oh, what an incredible time. We opened for Hendrix in the late ‘60s. I think it was 1968. We did about 13 to 15 shows. Hendrix was a really cool guy. And we were right at our prime as young guys. Our shows were electrifying and Hendrix just loved it. He was very supportive of us. He used to watch the shows, and then we would hang out together. It’s part of classic rock history, but at that time, we were just a bunch of guys living out our dreams.

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Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) performs live on stage playing a white Fender Stratocaster guitar with The Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Royal Albert Hall in London Feb. 24, 1969.

Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) performs live on stage playing a white Fender Stratocaster guitar with The Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Royal Albert Hall in London Feb. 24, 1969.
(David Redfern/Redferns)

I was blown away by his records. I thought he was incredible. His live performances were so compelling. Nothing prepared you for them. And then when he wasn’t on stage, Jimi was just this really laid-back guy. I remember after our shows we would hang out at the hotel, share a pizza and talk about music. He loved having conversations about music. He used to tell us how he loved our record and used to wear it out. He was impressed with our arrangements. I felt lucky. It was a magical time.

Fox News: Is it true Led Zeppelin opened for Vanilla Fudge?
Stein: Oh yes, in Denver. I believe it was back in 1968. They were just a bunch of kids starting out, like all of us *laughs*. We became label mates. It was really fun to watch this new band start. They were so good even during those early years. There was just something about them that you couldn’t take your eyes off that stage. I remember telling our girlfriends and wives that Led Zeppelin is going to be the next big concert drawer. I think they surpassed that *laughs*.

Fox News: How did you end up collaborating with Michael Jackson?
Stein: I was working with Dave Mason at the time. This must have been around 1980. We were at a studio called Hollywood Sound in Los Angeles. I was on a break. I went to the hospitality room. I saw Michael hanging out by the soda machine. He was working down the hall in a separate studio with The Jacksons. At the time, Dave happened to be doing a track called “Save Me,” which had the same groove as his record “Off the Wall.”

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I went over to Michael and introduced myself. I said, “Why don’t you come to the studio and check out this track? I think you’re gonna dig it.” I couldn’t believe it, he said, “Yeah, no problem.” He followed me to the studio. We put up that track, “Save Me.” Michael put on his headphones and immediately started dancing and snapping his fingers. Here was this soft-spoken guy who instantly lit up as this superstar once you played him that beat. And, in one take, he gave this amazing rendition. It was a naive and innocent moment, but that was all one take.

Fox News: What comes to mind when you think of Tommy Bolin?
Stein: Boy, that was such a tragic ending to a young, talented musician’s life. He was just 25 years old. But playing with Tommy always made me smile. I remembered he asked me to play with his band, and I was really happy.

I was away from the stage for almost two years. Vanilla Fudge had broken up, so it was cool getting together with Tommy and playing again. I remembered we played at The Roxy in LA. It was such an exciting and happy time for Tommy. Everybody was buzzing about that performance. He truly was a great talent. He would’ve gone on to be one of the greats if he had lived.

Guitarist Tommy Bolin (1951-1976) from Deep Purple rehearsing, circa 1975.

Guitarist Tommy Bolin (1951-1976) from Deep Purple rehearsing, circa 1975.
(Fin Costello/Redferns)

Fox News: How surprised were you when he passed away at such a young age?
Stein: Well, you know what? He had a lot of problems with his demons. A lot of drinking and drug problems at the time. He just couldn’t beat it. I really wasn’t surprised. … I just felt like something tragic was on the way. … I remember all these great artists got together to raise a whole bunch of money for Tommy’s family. We sold the place out and raised a bunch of money. I was proud that we were able to do that for him. It helped us cope with his passing.

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Fox News: What’s a misconception you feel the public still has about Alice Cooper, and what’s the reality?
Stein: In those days, people thought he was this demonic kind of guy because of all his “Nightmare” shows that he put on. I guess some people still think he’s an evil guy *laughs*. But the truth is, Alice Cooper is the complete opposite. He’s a wonderful man, totally down-to-earth. People always thought he was one crazy dude just based on his shows alone. But you actually couldn’t meet anyone nicer. He’s a straight-edge dude who loves his golf.

Fox News: It’s been reported you saw Janis Joplin on stage. What was that like?
Stein: At the time, we had played in a lot of venues around San Francisco. There was a place called the Avalon Ballroom. I remember seeing Janis Joplin singing there with Big Brother and the Holding Company. She wasn’t a big commercial entity at the time yet. I remember being in awe of watching this incredible high-energy blues singer.

American singer and songwriter Janis Joplin (1943-1970) in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1969.

American singer and songwriter Janis Joplin (1943-1970) in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1969.
(Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns/Getty Images)

… But you have to remember, we were all part of this growing music scene, and we were all playing together, trying to make it. You could go to one venue and see this amazing legendary artist and experience the same with a completely different artist in the next venue over. It was an incredible time for music. As for me, I was a wide-eyed bushy-tailed fan of everybody.

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Fox News: What do you think is missing from today’s music, or what would you like to hear more of?
Stein: I think there is a lot of great music today. But I don’t think anything captures that magical, live band feel. I wish there was more of that. But every generation has its own thing. I come from the ‘60s and ‘70s when live shows were essential to make it. You didn’t need the high-tech stuff to make a difference. It was a different time.



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