Ready for Freddie? It’s One Night of Queen

Last year, Gary Mullen & the Works played their first-ever shows in Mexico. The audience, Mullen says, had a surprise for the popular Queen tribute band.

“A lot of them couldn’t speak a word of English,” recalls the lanky vocalist. “And when we got to the song ‘Love of My Life,’ I actually stopped singing and let the audience sing. Because they knew every single word. Like 8,000 people, in English. That nearly brought us to tears.”

Mullen and friends’ show, One Night of Queen, visits the Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater April 21. One Night of Queen reproduces a full concert by the eccentric, explosive rock band that gave the world “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Are the Champions,” “Killer Queen” and so many more greats that pureed pomp and power in the 1970s and ‘80s.

From Germany to Japan, France to Finland and here in the United States, the fans know the words.

“It just shows that music is universal,” adds Mullen. “It touches people’s souls. That’s why people request certain songs at their wedding, or ask that a song be played at their funeral – they can relate to a moment in time with that song. And for me, every song I sing onstage, I can relate to some moment in my life when that song meant something to me.”

A native of Glasgow, Scotland (he speaks in an accent thicker than a tree trunk), Mullen grew up idolizing Freddie Mercury, Queen’s mercurial (pun intended) singing/songwriting frontman.

Queen disbanded (for all intents and purposes) after Mercury’s 1991 death, but for millions – including Gary Mullen – the music continued to live and breathe.

He took first prize on a British TV competition show, doing his Freddie impression, and shortly thereafter Gary Mullen & the Works – and One Night of Queen – was born.

Even after 17 years singing “We Will Rock You” almost every night, Mullen says lighting a fire under the ghost of Queen has yet to get old for him. “It’s like being a kid in a candy store,” he insists. “You get to go around the world, play these amazing songs, meet other Queen fans and just have a lot of fun.”

Two weeks ago, in Boston, “there was a young girl, 14 years old, and Queen’s her world. She came backstage to meet the band, and she was crying! I mean, she was shaking, ‘Oh my God!’ I was like ‘We’re a tribute band,’ and she said ‘Yeah, but you’re the closest thing to Freddie I can see and touch.’” Mullen says he was genuinely moved by her story.

Mullen believes he owes it to that girl – and others like her, and to the lifelong Queen fanatics – to be as Freddie-tastic as he can, every night.

That means reproducing the raw energy of a genuine Queen concert.

“You’ve got to be in a certain place,” he says. “You can’t just go on and sing a few songs – it’s not that kind of a show. You’ve got to be pumped and ready to go.

“We all stand at the side of the stage, almost like caged tigers, like ‘Let’s do this!’ You want to get yourself in that mindframe, otherwise you’re cheatin’ your audience.”

Bill DeYoung

 

One Night of Queen

At 8 p.m. Friday, April 21

Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater, 400 1st Street S., St. Petersburg

Tickets and parking here

Vince Valentine stars in 'Defending the Caveman.'

Why not spend Date Night this weekend with a ‘Caveman’?

Defending the Caveman star Vince Valentine explains his show thusly: “Since the dawn of time, sitcom husbands were always wrong. Ralph Kramden, King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, she’s right and he’s an idiot. He’s a dumbell. He can’t do nothing right.

“Here’s the thing in Caveman: We’re not wrong! I’m defending the fact that I cannot do two things at once, because my brain is wired differently. Actually, it should be called Explaining the Caveman. But yeah, I’m defending him. All those sitcom guys – they’re not wrong, they’re just different.”

Defending the Caveman is a comedic tour de force performed solo – one guy, alone on the stage, explaining his relationship theories to the audience.

Rob Becker wrote the show in 1991 and performed it for six years, on Broadway, before giving it over to performers like Vince Valentine – who’s been doing Defending the Caveman in cities across America since 2003.

He’ll be defending away this Saturday, April 8, at the Palladium Theater.

Defending the Caveman is the longest-running one-person show in Broadway history; it’s also been translated into 80 languages. And Vince Valentine believes he knows why it continues to resonate, even after all these years.

“The differences between men and women are based on the fact that we evolved differently,” he explains. “Men mostly being hunters, woman mostly being gatherers.  And when we ramp that up into the new modern world, we kind of run into some problems.

“For instance, women will say ‘I’ll call you,’ and that means when she gets home. If a man says ‘I’ll call you,’ he means before he dies. Because women base their relationships on sharing details, and they’re very verbal.

“A lot of guys’ activities are just hanging out with each other. That’s why men invent things like fishing – what is fishing? It’s a string in water. Something could happen.”

It’s primitive, as old as love itself. Hunters, as opposed to gatherers.

“Everyone in a relationship,” says Valentine, “whether you’re on your first date or celebrating your 50th anniversary, the show lets you know that everyone else is going through what you’re going through. What I like about it – especially with American audiences – is that men think they’re coming to a standup comedy show. Which they are. Women think they’re coming to a Broadway show. Which they are. It’s kind of a mash-up between the two of them.”

When he’s not swinging a club somewhere, the Philadelphia-bred Valentine is a busy standup comedian. The biggest acting gig on his resume was as a sadistic real-life killer in an episode of Forensic Files (look it up on Netflix if you dare – it’s called “Best Foot Forward”).

With Caveman, he says, “I approach it as an acting piece, but I rely on my standup comedy instincts and skills to really connect with the audience and have a good time onstage.”

All of Becker’s surrogate cavemen – there are a few in circulation, because the show is extremely popular – are encouraged to inject themselves into the dialogue and stage movement.

“Rob wanted all of us cavemen to pick our own Cave wife and sort of make the show our own,” Valentine explains. “So when you come see me do the show, it’s like when Sinatra sings ‘My Way,’ and Elvis sings ‘My Way.’ It was written by Paul Anka, but you have two artists reading and interpreting it.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Did you write it?’ No, but I wrote some jokes for it, because we’ve updated it. We brought the new millennium into it. There’s a Facebook joke! There’s a Google joke! There’s a GPS joke!

“Rob wrote it over 25 years ago, and it’s timeless. Because with these new technologies, you’re still hunters and gatherers. Whether you’re texting or not.”

Bill DeYoung

 

Defending the Caveman

At 8 p.m. Saturday, April 8

Palladium Theater, 253 5th Ave. N., St. Petersburg

Purchase tickets here

Nadine Ducos and Ann Sayce

Congratulations Nadine Ducos, Volunteer of the Month!

After 21 years as a firefighter in Schenectady, N.Y., Nadine Ducos retired and moved to Florida. That was in 2009; she bought a house in Largo because she’d been visiting this area for years, and loved the people, the places and the constant sunshine.

Nine months ago, Ducas became a volunteer usher at The Mahaffey, and she hasn’t slowed down since.

She was named Volunteer of the Month at our most recent luncheon.

“I used to work as a fire marshal and paramedic at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady,” she explains. “It’s a very old and famous theater. I thought I would try volunteering at The Mahaffey, because I’d done it before. I thought I would like it – and I did!”

For all her hard work, our Volunteer of the Month received a certificate of appreciation from Volunteer Coordinator Ann Sayce, a special badge and a pair of gift certificates from local businesses. Not only that, she gets to park in the special Volunteer of the Month parking space, close to the building.

Congratulations, Nadine!

 

Want information on becoming a Mahaffey volunteer? Call Ann at 727.892.5857.

beatles

Introducing the Beatles for every generation

More than 50 years have passed since the Beatles played their final live concert, took one last collective bow and hung up the matching suits forever.

Of course, they went on to write and record dozens more great songs and sell billions more records. As far as the live experience goes – the embodiment of that 1960s cultural phenomenon known as Beatlemania – well, that was over long before Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, or JoJo left his home in Tucson, Arizona.

It’s that early period, of cheeky lads in black suits and mop tops, screaming girls and insanely catchy pop songs, that “1964” … The Tribute re-creates so beautifully.

The Ohio-based “Fab Four” return to the Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater Friday, March 31.

“We completely missed the ticket on this initially, because we thought it was going to be just a baby boomer show,” says Mark Benson, the singer, guitarist and harmonica player who “does” John Lennon. “And that we’d do oldies parties and class reunions, and maybe a nightclub. But we were thinking, once a month, maybe.”

That was – are you ready for this? – 33 years ago. And the band has never been idle.

“We’ve played Carnegie Hall 13 times, we’ve played Red Rocks 14 times,” Benson explains. “We’ve been lucky enough to play Shea Stadium, and the Cavern Club, and the Deauville Hotel, where the Beatles played their second Ed Sullivan Show. Places where you’d never, ever think you’re going to play doing what we’re doing.”

That’s because the Beatles’ music is timeless. It’s a renewable resource that lives and breathes for every generation. “Doing this,” says Benson, “you see over time that there’s no demographic that’s not included in Beatles fans. I mean, it’s toddlers to grandparents. It’s something that unites people.”

What makes “1964” … the Tribute unique among Beatles tribute acts is that their show is an exact reproduction of the “touring” Beatles – they don’t play a single song Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison or Ringo Starr wrote or recorded after the group retired from the road.

So while you’ve got “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Feel Fine,” “Help!,” “Yesterday” and “Day Tripper,” there’s nothing from the White Album or Let it Be. The Beatles didn’t play them, so “1964” doesn’t, either. There are no colored uniforms or droopy facial hair.

Why does Rolling Stone call this “The best Beatles tribute on Earth”? Here’s another clue for you all: Between 1964 and ’66, when “Beatlemania” was sweeping America, the band’s concerts consisted of exactly 12 songs. The longest set they ever played was 33 minutes.

Benson and his mates in “1964” make full use of their two-hour stage time by performing more “deep cuts,” songs the Beatles never tackled in a live setting. Stuff like “I Should Have Known Better,” “And I Love Her,” “Drive My Car” and “Taxman.” It’s a total immersion package.

The guys can play and sing these other songs in “live” Beatles style because they’re so well-versed in the way the originators arranged things for concerts. And they know the sorts of adaptations it requires to make them sound as authentic as possible.

“Everybody’s who’s an artist of any sort, whether you’re a musician or a painter or a dancer, your tendency is to progress in some direction,” offers Benson. “And that is why live versions of famous songs are usually different, because they’re still tweaking. They’re still progressing and changing.

“Our challenge, believe it or not, is to learn something a certain way and not change it at all. And that’s harder than you’d think. So it’s not that we don’t learn new things – what we do is re-learn. Every few weeks we’ll tape a show so that we’ve got something to study, to make sure we’re not drifting too far.”

Bill DeYoung

 

“1964” … The Tribute

At 8 p.m. Friday, March 31

Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater, 400 1st Street S.,  St. Petersburg

Tickets and parking here

Signature moves: It’s Saturday Night Fever, onstage

Saturday Night Fever – The Musical begins just like its cinematic namesake: Teenager Tony Manero strutting down a Brooklyn sidewalk, cocky and footsure and swinging a can of paint, to the strains of the song “Stayin’ Alive.”

In the stage musical – coming to the Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater Friday, March 17 – it’s not the sound of the Bee Gees on a pre-recorded track. Tony himself is singing “Stayin’ Alive,” live, as he heads back to the hardware store where he works.

Then the full, full-on dancing ensemble joins him in his exuberance.

Live theater can make a good story great by giving it a visceral feel, a three-dimensional presence that movies just don’t have.

Which is why Saturday Night Fever – The Musical is a must-see companion piece to the 1977 Saturday Night Fever film.

“The movie’s pretty R-rated,” explains Matt Alfano, the singer, dancer and actor who plays Tony in the musical. “This is a new version of the script, but it’s not as R-rated, in terms of the vulgar language and some of the material that it touches on. But it’s still pretty dark, and gritty and raw, and shows a lot of the crummy world that everyone lived in at the time, you know?”

In the play, as in the film, Tony and his crowd live lives of little hope or promise.

“It touches on disco being more than just a style of dance – it’s a way of life,” explains Alfano. “The disco is everyone’s escape from the world – especially for Tony – and the continuous, monotonous struggle, and patterns that he tries to break. He’s always struggling, looking for something on the next level, and he doesn’t know how.”

All the familiar songs (“Night Fever,” “How Deep is Your Love,” “Nights on Broadway,” “More Than a Woman”) are here, as well as one or two new numbers composed for the play. The music is provided by a live band, and the characters  – Tony and Stephanie, Angie, Bobby C, Candy, Annette and Monty the DJ – sing them.

Energetic and electrifying, Saturday Night Fever – The Musical is bright, and fast, and it never dims and it never stops.

“The show is mammoth,” Alfano adds. “It’s massive. Because there’s a lot of scenework, and there’s a lot of music. But there’s also a lot of dancing, too. The cast is so incredibly talented – everybody’s singing, dancing, acting their faces off, man.

“And the partnering, and the throwing girls around, and lifts and acrobatics … our choreographers did an incredible job taking the classic disco dance moves and giving them a fresh approach. But all of the styles of dance that we do in the show are legit – the Hustle, the Latin stuff, all the partnering that we do, the classic moves that everyone who comes is going to expect. They’re all going to be there, but then there’s the surprise of something new, to bring it to the next level.”

Alfano, like most of this cast, is Canadian. In fact, for much of his career he’s been an acclaimed triple-threat performer at the Stratford Festival in Toronto. He is a veteran performer, but Saturday Night Fever – The Musical is his first cross-country tour.

“It’s not like we’re staying in one place for weeks, or a couple days,” he says. “We’re mostly driving all night and all day – get off, have a couple hours of rest and then dinner, then do a show. It’s a pretty grueling schedule, but I love it!

“I got a bit of nomad, gypsy vibe to my life anyway, so I’m enjoying getting to see the country. As well as performing in all these beautiful theaters. A lot of places I wouldn’t get to see if I wasn’t doing something like this.”

Bill DeYoung

 

Saturday Night Fever – The Musical

At 8 p.m. Friday, March 17

Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater

Tickets and parking here

In the photo: Matt Alfano (Tony) and Tessa Alves (Stephanie) lead the dancers in ‘Saturday Night Fever – the Musical.’ 

Adam Savage: Science, art and Brain Candy Live!

According to Adam Savage, the term “Brain Candy” originated with Nobel Prize-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman.  To wit: “Brain Candy is a celebration of the pleasure of learning new things,” Savage explains.

As one-half of the onstage team behind Brain Candy Live!, coming to the Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater March 15, Savage’s mission is to educate and entertain, all in the same breath. Brain Candy Live, essentially, is a science show.

But Savage and his co-host Michael Stevens both know that science experiments, in and of themselves, aren’t all that entertaining to a theater full of people. Savage spent 14 years as one of the curiosity-fueled stars of Mythbusters, the Discovery Channel’s hit show that debunked and/or proved scientific myths, theories and wives’ tales. In extremely entertaining (if slightly nerdy) fashion.

Stevens does similar things on Vsauce, the popular (17 million subscribers) YouTube channel he’s been operating since 2010.

Their boyish exuberance (Savage is a frequent guest on Stevens’ show) is contagious, and that’s what they’re taking around the country on the Brain Candy Live! tour.

“Learning is, in and of itself, totally entertaining,” Savage says. “It’s one of my favorite pastimes.”

A former child actor who once squeezed the Charmin with Mr. Whipple in a TV commercial, Savage spent 20 years in the movie business, as a designer, animator, builder and model-maker (his work is featured in Galaxy Quest and Star Wars – Attack of the Clones, among others).

Mythbusters appealed to him because it combined two of his loves, science and performance. “Part of it, specifically, was that I am naturally skeptical,” he says, then re-thinks: “I think unfortunately the word skeptic has gotten a pretty toxic reputation. Not least of which by the skeptics themselves sometimes. So I like to say ‘critical thinker.’”

He and TV cohort Jamie Nyneman did Mythbusters tours for years;  Brain Candy Live is a natural extension.

It all starts with a simple question about something.  “Michael and I both have had jobs in the last few years in which we engage repeatedly with material we don’t have prior experience with,” Savage explains. “And then we read about that subject until some switch clicks in our head, and we kind of have a question. And  we can visualize, in the abstract, the concept we’re researching.

“So Brain Candy is a two-hour exercise in taking the audience through that journey as many times as we can. There are a lot of demonstrations onstage, maybe 11 or 12 throughout the course of the night. But instead of each elucidating a separate subject, they pile on top of each other to give you vantage points. And once you’re done, you actually are able to – in the abstract – think about the molecules that we’re talking about, not just the concept.”

If that sounds a little lofty, consider this:

“The concepts that we’re talking about may be simple, but the ways in which we’re talking about them are not. We’re got some very large stage effects. We have built a science show that has the structure of a magic show. And it’s not by accident. The magic show structure – five-minute vignettes, each one finishing with a little bit of a flourish – that’s exactly what we’ve done by this show. Except instead of an illusion at the end of each segment, it’s a bit of understanding, a bit of clarity.”

Brain Candy Live’s director, Michael Weber, is a magician himself who’s developed stage shows for master illusionists Ricky Jay and David Blaine. “Several of these things we do fill the entire room where we’re doing them,” says Savage. “It’s quite spectacular.”

Savage has several new television projects on the back burner, but for now, it’s all about the Brain Candy Live tour. “It’s just so much fun to do this thing,” he says. “Each one gets better and better.”

As with most scientists, it delights him to realize his work is making a difference:

“On these tours, when we meet people, almost every single night someone tells us that because of Mythbusters, or because of Vsauce, they are engineers or they are scientists,” Savage reports. “And they were inspired by the shows that we did. It’s completely humbling.”

Bill DeYoung

 

Brain Candy Live

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 15

Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater, 400 1st Street S., St. Petersburg

Tickets and parking here

George Winston: ‘I always do what the music tells me’

The multiple gold and platinum solo piano albums of George Winston – from Autumn and December to Winter Into Spring and Forest – are brilliant, meditative studies of the natural world through simple and evocative music.

It’s a style that Winston – who’ll perform in concert March 8 at the Palladium Theater – developed almost solely without precedent, and with which he is today synonymous.

Yet the master musician cites an unlikely source as the wellspring for his vision.

“I was inspired to do records with one theme by the Doors’ first album, which was like one long song with 11 parts,” Winston explains. “And earlier, Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas album – which was like one long song with 11 parts.

“And having grown up in Eastern Montana mainly, the seasons are extremely distinct. So I just thought of everything in terms of seasons. And I’ll be working on stuff and see, rather serendipitously, ‘oh yeah, these songs seem to fit together with this particular theme. Not just seasons but also topography.”

Winston’s family moved around a lot – after Montana, there was a lengthy stay in Florida. Young George was a Miami high schooler when he fell hard for the Ray Manzarek organ sound on that 1967 Doors debut.

He continued to play organ in rock and jazz bands during a brief tenure at Stetson University in DeLand, and dropped out of school to follow his muse to New Orleans. There, he became a disciple of stride piano legend Fats Waller and switched instruments. He also discovered the vast catalog of Vince Guaraldi, whose melodic jazz piano was featured on much more than the Charlie Brown records.

“The instrumental music from the late ‘50s, early ‘60s was an indirect influence,” says Winston. “And Vince was part of that with ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind.’ And folk guitar a bit, simple and melodic.

“But it was mainly the piano. I liked the way the piano sounds playing slow songs and letting certain chords sustain certain ways. So it was really coming from the piano – and my background growing up with extreme seasons. Thinking ‘Oh, here’s a winter song. ‘Oh, here’s a spring song.’ Kind of involuntary. That’s what happens for me, without even thinking about it.”

He never stopped playing in the uptempo stride piano style of his hero, Waller – but it was the slower, moodier material that began to garner attention.

“I called it folk because it certainly wasn’t classical and it certainly wasn’t jazz,” he explains. “I was a real jazzer on the organ, but when I switched to piano I didn’t stay with the modern jazz stuff. For some reason.

“I just do what the music guides me to do. Not that I can necessarily play it, but the music tells me what to do. And then I gotta work on trying to do it, over time.”

His performances always include some numbers performed on Hawaiian slack key guitar, on which he is also proficient, and solo harmonica. “My temperament is definitely solo instrumental,” Winston says. “Basically, I’m a song player, and if a song doesn’t work on piano I still want to play it. Maybe it works as a guitar piece. Maybe it works as a harmonica piece.

Coming at the end of March is Spring Carousel, his 14th solo piano record. Its proceeds will go to City of Hope, a medical facility in Duarte, California where Winston stayed while recovering from a bone marrow transplant in 2013.

“I had access to the City of Hope piano the whole time,” Winston explains. “While practicing, I came up with a bunch of these tunes  and I realized yeah, there’s a benefit record here. I always do what the music tells me.

“The songs were all put together in their auditorium. It wouldn’t have happened without them – the treatment and the piano.”

Bill DeYoung

 

An Evening With George Winston

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 8

Palladium Theater, 253 5th Avenue N., St. Petersburg

Purchase tickets here

Mahaffey Grand Prix

St. Pete’s Grand Prix Week and the Mahaffey Theater

Access to the Mahaffey is limited during Grand Prix events

 

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. It’s that time of year again.

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is getting ready to fire on all pistons for the 13th consecutive year. This world-renowned competitive automotive event consists of 13 different races, opening the IndyCar auto racing series for the year.

Race days are Friday through Sunday, March 10-12; the 1.8 mile course circles Pioneer Park, Al Lang Stadium, the Mahaffey Theater, the Dali Museum and even sections of Albert Whitted Airport.

That’s right, The Mahaffey is smack in the middle of this scenic, 14-turn raceway. Naturally, there are no shows planned for the three race days, but assembly of the course, with its fences and concrete barriers, takes just over a month. And that means access to the theater, through March 12, is limited. Both of our adjoining thoroughfares, 1st Street South and Bay Shore Drive, are part of the track.

In fact, Sunday’s Dwight Yoakam concert is the last event on the Mahaffey calendar for 15 days.

Those with tickets to that show – or for the Tony Bennett performance this Thursday – are advised to head downtown to The Mahaffey a little early, due to race-prepping lane closures.

More than 160,000 spectators are expected to attend the 2017 Grand Prix.

Bill DeYoung

Photo by Todd A. Beatty

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Home Page

Coming soon to The Mahaffey:

Brain Candy Live! (Wednesday, March 15): An outrageous evening of entertainment from two of the most amazing minds of our times. Adam Savage, former co-host of the Emmy-nominated Discovery series MythBusters, and YouTube star Michael Stevens (“Vsauce”) will bring more than three tons of their crazy toys, incredible tools and mind-blowing demonstrations for a celebration of curiosity that’s been described as “A cross between TED Talks and the Blue Man Group.” Adam and Michael’s Brain Candy Live! experience is like a two-hour playdate with Walt Disney, Willy Wonka and Albert Einstein.

Saturday Night Fever – The Musical (Friday, March 17): The iconic story of Tony Manero, the kid from Brooklyn who wants to dance his way to a better life, is back! It’s an all-new stage production of Saturday Night Fever – The Musical! Fueled by the Bee Gees’ timeless hits, this contemporary retelling of the classic story captures the energy, passion and life-changing moments that have thrilled audiences since 1977. Now, a new generation of talented actor/singer/dancers meets a new generation of theater-goers to explore the soaring sounds and pulsating rhythms of this coming-of-age disco fantasy.

Tango Lovers (Sunday, March 26): Direct from Argentina and Uruguay, Tango Lovers – awarded the Latin Ace award as the best musical show of the year – returns to The Mahaffey! Celebrating the centennial of the iconic Tango “La Cumparsita,” Tango Lovers’ cast of 20 extraordinary artists brings one of the most dynamic, elegant, exciting and sensuous performances touring around the world, sharing the cultural essence and evolution of tango through the art of dance and music.

1964 … The Tribute (Friday, March 31): “1964” … The Tribute takes audiences on a musical journey to an era in rock history that will live in all of our hearts forever. They are hailed by critics and fans alike as the most authentic and endearing Beatles tribute in the world. Choosing songs from the pre-Sgt. Pepper era, 1964 astonishingly recreates an early ‘60s live Beatles concert, with period instruments, clothing, hairstyles, and onstage banter. Relive the magic – experience a Beatles concert the way it was done more than 50 years ago!

Drumming dynamite: Vanilla Fudge’s Carmine Appice

Carmine Appice’s rock ‘n’ roll odyssey began 50 years ago, when he was 20 years old. He was just another aspiring drummer playing Beatles and Stones covers in Brooklyn-area bands, dreaming of the big time.

His fortunes changed when he and three buddies came together under the unlikely name Vanilla Fudge. With a doomy-sounding Hammond B3 organ as its signature instrument, the band blended psychedelia with rhythm ‘n’ blues to create a deep, rich, emotionally-charged sound.

“We were following a fad that was going on in Long Island at the time,” Appice explains. “The fad was doing production numbers, I guess we called them, where we slowed things down, and we changed arrangements on everything. We were trying to be a live act, at first … there was a group called the Vagrants, that had Leslie West in it. With that band, they did those arrangements and they ended up drawing a couple thousand people a night, in Long Island or Queens or Brooklyn. We were up for doing that.”

Lead singer Mark Stein played the B3 organ, Vince Martell was on guitar, the bassist and co-lead singer was Tim Bogert , and Appice beat the drums – senseless.

He is universally credited as being the first “heavy” drummer in rock ‘n’ roll.

The songs were familiar, but drawn out into lengthy, multi-movement suites. They were slow and they were long, allowing each of the musicians a chance to shine.

Or, in Appice’s case, to thunder.

“What we tried to do was match lyrics to the mood of the music,” he says. “Like ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ was originally a very happy-sounding song, but the lyrics were very hurtin’, as we called it. So we brought it down in tempo, we made it more dramatic and more hurtin.’

“And ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ we gave it a whole eerie thing, ‘People Get Ready’ was all gospel-ly with a church organ, stuff like that. So we did that to all the songs.”

In its day, Vanilla Fudge was one of the greats. The band toured with Hendrix. Led Zeppelin opened shows for them. They sold out four consecutive concerts at the legendary Fillmore East, and performed twice on the Ed Sullivan Show. They once had three albums on the chart at the same time.

But changing tastes, coupled with an ill-advised concept album, meant Vanilla Fudge lost momentum and never recovered.  “ We were as big as anybody,” Appice explains. “But why we don’t get airplay on the Classic Rock stations, like everybody else from that era, I don’t have a clue.”

Vanilla Fudge – minus bassist Bogert, who retired from the road in 2009 – plays the Palladium Sunday night, co-billed with the Yardbirds, a new version of the classic British blues band, with its original drummer Jim McCarty.

“We still have three original members, which is pretty much unheard of these days,” laughs Appice. “We obviously do stuff from our past, plus songs from our new album, Spirit of ’67 – like ‘Break on Through’ and ‘I’m a Believer.’ In Florida we’re gonna be doing stuff from pretty much every album that we’ve done.

“It’s a really good show, a lot of energy. Mark is all about the B3. The vocals are really great; the dynamics are still Vanilla Fudge – we’ll be peaking, and then down till you can hear a pin drop.”

After the Fudge melted down, Appice and Bogert  formed the power trio Cactus, then joined forces with British guitar god (and one-time Yardbird) Jeff Beck to form the platinum-selling supergroup Beck, Bogert & Appice.

Appice’s also played with everyone from Pink Floyd to Ozzy Osborne. And check this – during a ‘70s and ‘80s stint in Rod Stewart’s band, he co-wrote a number of songs, including the massive hits “D’ya Think I’m Sexy” and “Young Turks.”

He chronicled his magical mystery tour in a 2016 autobiography, Stick It. In the book, he muses about why so many other legendary “heavy” drummers – John Bonham, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker – have either died from drink or drugs or (in Baker’s case) stopped playing altogether for that reason.

“I never did the heavy drugs,” Appice says simply. “My drug thing was quick and non-addictive. I had a health problem in the ‘90s and early 2000s that affected me like drugs affected other people – I coulda died from it, but I didn’t.”

His addiction, from the start, has been rock ‘n’ roll.

And in a way, even after five decades of music-making madness, it all comes back to Vanilla Fudge. “I don’t call them reunions any more,” Appice reflects. “We did the first reunion in 2006, and we’ve been playing gigs and doing albums ever since.”

Bill DeYoung

 

 

Yardbirds/Vanilla Fudge

At 7 p.m. Sunday, March 5

Palladium Theater, 253 5th Avenue N., St. Petersburg

Buy Tickets here

 

Vanilla Fudge 2017: Carmine Appice, left, Vince Martell, Mark Stein and Pete Bremy.

Welcome Tony Bennett, an American treasure

“I feel like I have so much more to learn yet,” Tony Bennett told Al Roker on NBC’s Today last August, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Retirement? It’s not in the cards. “My doctor keeps telling me, ‘There’s not a thing wrong with you. Just keep going at it,’” Bennett explained to Roker. “I’m always sold out, throughout the world, wherever I play, and it’s beautiful.”

There are just a few tickets still available for Bennett’s March 2 concert performance at the Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater, but they won’t be around for long. It’s the music icon’s third Mahaffey show since 2014, and we anticipate a third full house.

“Debonair, suave and romantic as ever, Bennett still knows how to hold a captive audience in the palm of his hand and delight them to no end,” wrote Creative Loafing in a rave review of his 2016 performance here. “The man is a pro … and the epitome of an American treasure.”

Most recently, Bennett was feted by an all-star birthday concert at Radio City Music Hall. Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best is Yet  to Come, which aired as an NBC special, features salutes by Andrea Bocelli, Michael Bublé, Lady Gaga, Billy Joel, Elton John, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, Leslie Odom Jr., Rufus Wainwright, Stevie Wonder and numerous others from all facets of entertainment.

With worldwide record sales in the millions, and dozens of platinum and gold albums to his credit, Tony Bennett’s long list of achievements includes 19 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. He was a Kennedy Center honoree in 2005, and has received honorary doctorates from seven colleges, including the Juilliard School and the Berklee School of Music.

He has authored five books, and several of his paintings are part of the permanent collection in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Throughout his career, Tony has put his heart and time into supporting humanitarian concerns and joined with Dr. Martin Luther King in the historic Selma march in 1965. His many charitable works include raising millions towards the fight against diabetes, and lending his artwork to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. In 2007, he was honored by the United Nations.

Tony founded Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a NYC public high school in his hometown of Astoria, Queens – and ETA now supports 14 additional public high schools throughout New York.

“I believe in the fact that it’s a gift to be alive,” Bennett said in that Today interview. “I love the fact that I’m blessed to be on earth, and that my whole life, I love what I do.”

Bill DeYoung

 

Tony Bennett

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 2

Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater, 400 1st Street S., St. Petersburg

Tickets and parking here