~ Page X Interview - August 2002 ~

Vanilla Extract

Strange Bedfellows partriotism and 'flower power' co-exist in guitarist

by Mark Voger
Page X writer

He wears an American-flag guitar strap, plays a rock version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and beckons audiences to remember U.S. veterans.

"I'm very patriotic," says Vince Martell, guitarist for '60s rockers Vanilla Fudge. "I feel that thanks to the vets, we have our freedom in this country. We can do what we want. We can rock and roll. We can play loud and blow our ears out if we want. Thank God for what they did. They can't be thanked enough. I've got a lot of friends who were over there in Vietnam. Some of them are no longer with us, unfortunately, because of what they went through over there."

We normally don't associate such patriotism with artists who emerged from the psychedelic '60s, but Martell's situation is a bit unique.

"I was in the Navy before the Vanilla Fudge," the Bronx native, 56, tells PAGE X. "I went in on what's called the 'kiddie cruise'; you go in when you turn 17, you get out a day before you're 21.

"I was in the Cuban (missile) crisis thing (in Oct. 1962). I remember makin' a phone call to my folks -- 'Yeah, we're goin' down there to Havana. I hope I'll be back on the phone talkin' to ya shortly.'

"Back then, everybody in Norfolk, Va., all the ships, were goin'. I wasn't on a big ship; I was on the U.S.S. Hunting, EAG (Experimental Auxiliary General) 398, which was a landing ship. We'd rendezvous with submarines; we were taking soundings in the Atlantic Ocean. I'll tell ya, that's a sight that'll blow your mind, seein' a submarine come splashin' up out of the ocean on a cold afternoon.

"So we went down there. We had small arms. Everybody was going. That's what happened with that. And thank God it worked out nice."

After his Navy stint, Martell moved to Florida, where he played in a band. After returning to New York, he met up with keyboardist Mark Stein, bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice-- who became known collectively as Vanilla Fudge.

"I came back and I joined the Fudge," Martell says. "I was looking for gigs. And then when the Fudge got together and we did the first album (in 1967), everybody pooled their resources. Together with the group and the creativity and the spirit that was goin' around, it looked like something big was developing."

Then one day, Vanilla Fudge heard itself on the radio for the first time. The song was the Fudge's cover of the Supremes' hit "Keep Me Hangin' On."

Recalls Martell: "We were playing up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., when we heard it. It was like it put you in another dimension to hear yourselves and your song coming over the airwaves.

"Then it just started blossoming from there. So it did feel like we were in something special, and evidently, we surely were."

The ascent of Vanilla Fudge coincided with the blossoming of the '60s "flower power" movement.

"What was nice about it," Martell says, "was that people were very aware of peace and love. A lot of them were taking that literally.

"It seemed we had an opportunity to make people aware of the beautiful flowers, flower power, trees, animals and all the living things. People were very aware of nature, beauty, a relaxed type of spirit. So that's one thing I liked about it -- the awareness of how nature adds so much richness to our lives."