By Peter Lindblad
The lead guitarist/singer of the late-’60s psychedelic powerhouse felt as if he was back in the Avalon Ballroom while performing Fudge’s darkly trippy and unbelievably heavy version of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”
“I got chills when I watched the dancers sprint across the stage,” says Martell. “It’s one of the few times that anybody’s really captured the mood of ’67.”
Hosted by Ben Vereen, “Love-In” took place Sept. 6-9, 2007, and a DVD featuring footage of those shows is being put out by Adams Entertainment (for more information, visit www.adams-entertainment.com or www.LoveInTheMusical.com).
Many acts from the era, including the Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Youngbloods’ singer/songwriter Jesse Colin Young and Peter & Gordon, among others, performed at the colorful event. For Martell, the whole experience was like traveling back in time.
“In the ’60s, we played with Buddy Miles,” says Martell. “The last time I saw him was ’69, when we played the Hollywood Bowl with Jimi Hendrix.”
Miles, best known for his drumming on Hendrix’s Band Of Gypsies album, was celebrating his 60th birthday around the time of “Love-In.” Miles, who also sang and played drums with the Electric Flag and who played with Carlos Santana, died in 2008.
Though Vanilla Fudge’s existence was brief, having started in 1965 as the soul cover band The Electric Pigeons, the band left behind an impressive body of work. Martell joined as drummer Joey Brennan was plotting a new direction for the band, which, at the time, also included bassist Tim Bogert and organist Mark Stein.
“We saw groups of the day, like The Vagrants (led by Leslie West, who would later front heavy-metal pioneers Mountain), and we adopted slowed-down arrangements,” says Martell.
Taking inspiration from The Vagrants and The Rascals, the Pigeons — they shortened their name after Martell came aboard — became known for their wildly original cover songs. As the group developed, its arrangements of those covers expanded, becoming more elaborate and inventive.
Taking lessons from his sister, a classical pianist, gave him a palette from which to work that pushed him to go beyond rock; his style would radically evolve. “I was doing East Indian riffs, and The Vagrants had an East Indian sound,” recalls Martell.
The arrival of drummer Carmine Appice, “being a heavy drummer with a good foot, and funky,” as Martell describes him, brought the band closer to heavy metal. And that style would capture the ear of producer George “Shadow” Morton. It was 1967 when Morton, who handled the Shangri-Las, caught the band’s live act. Specifically, he was impressed by the band’s reworking of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” a song the band approached from a much different perspective than the original.
“We always thought the song was too happy, too fast, too jumpy,” says Martell.
With Morton’s help, the band recorded their molasses-slow, acid-laced version of the song, and the group got a deal with Atlantic offshoot Atco. The label, however, desired a name change, and the band became Vanilla Fudge. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” wasn’t an instant sensation. Though sales of the single weren’t strong initially, Vanilla Fudge persevered, churning out its jam-based, self-titled debut LP, and slowly, the world started to wake up to the Fudge’s stoned magic. Playing the Fillmore East with the Steve Miller Band and a performance of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” on the “Ed Sullivan Show” brought Fudge increased exposure. And after Fudge’s second album, The Beat Goes On, reached the Top 20, Atco gave the music-buying public another kick at the can by re-releasing “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” It hit No. 6 in the U.S. and No. 2 in the U.K.
“It couldn’t get to No. 1 because of The Beatles, so we had to settle for No. 2,” says Martell.
That momentum carried the band’s next album, Renaissance, into the Top 20, and Vanilla Fudge was launched into the rock stratosphere.
After opening for Hendrix, then Cream and then Led Zeppelin, Fudge, without Morton, unleashed the symphonic-rock tour de force Near The Beginning. But eventually, the constant touring the band did took its toll and their 1969 European jaunt did them in. A last hurrah, Rock & Roll, would send the band out on a high.
Vanilla Fudge called it quits in early 1970, but the band has, from time to time, reformed. But with “Love-In,” the ’60s truly came alive again for Martell.