I’m standing on the lawn outside Upsala College in East Orange, NJ, waiting for the band after witnessing my very first rock concert. It’s 1967. I’m 16. Vanilla Fudge just blew my mind and I have to meet bassist Tim Bogert.
I’m lying on my bed in Newark, NJ, after having positioned the two cheap speakers of my stereo next to each of my ears. I just came in from the backyard where I smoked my first joint. I put the needle in the groove and jump back into position. I hold those speakers tight to each ear and as Mark Stein’s liquid organ on the Fudge’s psychedelic cover of “You Keep Me Hanging On” sears itself straight into my central nervous system, I tense up, anticipating drummer Carmine Appice’s crash. As the song unfurls, and the realization hits that this music, this s-l-o-w cover of an old Motown song, was specially made to listen to while stoned, my body reacts and my mind overflows.
We all have those firsts. Vanilla Fudge took songs like Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” Junior Walker’s “Shotgun,” Lennon/McCartney’s “Ticket To Ride” and Rod Argent’s “She’s Not There” and psychedelicized them by slowing ‘em down, heavying ‘em up and adding mind-bending keyboard and lead guitar fills (Vinnie Martell) that tweaked your brain.
Well, at least it did when I was 16. Listening to Box Of Fudge now, I’m still impressed by their totally original take on these covers, especially Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch.” This 4-CD, beautifully packaged, retrospective includes album tracks and all the singles from the five albums they released across two years (’68 and ’69). Along with the obligatory unreleased studio gems comes over two hours of their live show, a stunning document that proves had they stayed together instead of crashing and burning, they would be thought of today as Major, not the pop culture footnote they are. Too bad. They were that good.
In A Word: Groovy