Tim Bogert
By Beppe Colli
Jan. 21, 2021

Just about a couple of months ago, while writing a brief profile of the Jefferson Airplane, I found myself thinking that one of my favourite bass players ever, Jack Casady, is nowadays practically forgotten. Which in a way is absolutely normal, given the distance (half a century!) that separates us from those times when the group was at its apex.

The reasons why an instrumentalist is widely known usually are: a) because s/he's part of a group that's really big at a certain moment, regardless of their real musical merits (which was the main reason why a lot of English musicians from big groups used to appear in the year's end Top Ten of such magazines as the Melody Maker); b) because s/he's a really innovative musician, in such a case being appreciated and well-regarded among their peers first, at least for the moment, usually quite brief, before their innovations are surpassed by another innovator, and so on. Of course, one can still be perceived as "an important figure, historically".

But as soon as the music played by the group of which said musician used to be part of goes under, it's over. Sad, but true.

I have to confess that I really became aware of how rarely Jack Casady's name was mentioned on the day I happened to read an interview with Anthony Jackson (readers are invited to play the groove at the start of Glamour Profession by Steely Dan, track #3, Side One, of Gaucho, in their heads) where the prodigious bassist defined his own influences thus: Messiaen, and Jack Casady. I jumped in my chair: it was the first time I had seen Jack Casady's name mentioned, his timbre and his harmonic audacity. (My memory tells me: Spring, 1990. At the start, Bass Player, guided by good man Jim Roberts, published an issue every three months, and that was issue #2.)

The same thought came to me last week, while writing about the Moody Blues. Because for a long time now there have been two groups I consider as "impossible to champion": the Moody Blues, and Vanilla Fudge. "Well past their sale-by date, in bad taste, out of fashion, pompous... and those vocal arrangements... please!"

And since both the Moody Blues and Vanilla Fudge are part of the very brief list of my formative influences... well, I'm not too pleased about it.

Since Internet exists, by thought association, I decided to have a look at Wikipedia, to see how Tim Bogert, the original bassist of Vanilla Fudge, was doing, having read of his being sick, some time ago. And that's how, totally by chance, I found out he had died just a few days earlier.

This was a bizarre replica of what had happened with Hans Reichel, whom I discovered to be dead looking at Wikipedia, having not received any news from him for some time.

What to do? Well, I breathed deeply, put my famous "objectivity hat" on my head, and began writing.

There are quite a few musical moments that one tends to associate with the year 1967: Sgt. Pepper's..., Light My Fire, A Whiter Shade Of Pale, Nights In White Satin..., and a strange cover, slowed down and quite "lysergic", of a hit by the Supremes: You Keep Me Hanging On; an original remake which became a world-wide smash as a single, while being the focal point in the long version, about 7', featured on the debut album of same name of a strange new American group: Vanilla Fudge.

There were two groups that Vanilla Fudge mentioned as important influences in those days: the Vagrants, of which a young Leslie West was the guitar player; and the Young Rascals, a group full of Italian names that was at the top of the International charts.

Today one can watch on the Web a few videos where Vanilla Fudge play their hit on TV. One can see their drummer, Carmine Appice, "twirling the sticks": a move that was part of Dino Danelli's - the drummer in the Young Rascals - stage act.

Excellent players, all fine singers - organist Mark Stein being the main vocalist, bassist Tim Bogert being the one with the "wide" vibrato, a bit gospel-sounding - the group also featured a great drummer, and a guitarist, Vince Martell, that in those days was both "excellent" and "limited" at the same time (sounds absurd, eh? well, look at the list of his "competitors").

Their first album can be safely listened to today. The group covers songs by the Beatles, Zombies, Curtis Mayfield, using the same treatment reserved for the hit by the Supremes. The recorded sound highlights vocals, the organ, and the bass guitar, while obscuring the strong rapport between bass and drums, the Bogert-Appice rhythm axis being destined to more glories in a short while.

Ticket To Ride, You Keep Me Hanging On, and Take Me For A Little While are the main points of interest in the bass dept., but they are great versions anyway.

Here the Hammond organ is featured in its "psychedelic" mode, to highlight moods and moments, while the influence of soul and gospel looms large, with vocals ready to "witness".

There is a strong "psychedelic" mood in this period. In fact, when my radio announced "the new single by Vanilla Fudge, after You Keep Me Hanging On: Where Is My Mind" I stood still watching the radio, absolutely terrified.

The fact that Vanilla Fudge did not write any songs on their first album made it immediately clear that, while being excellent musicians, they were not really "songwriters"; a fact that will have dire consequences in a very short time.

Second album The Beat Goes On (1968) is simply horrible, a kind of "concept album" encouraged by the group's producer, which the group had not really the means to bring to fruition anyway. Hence, a third album - Renaissance (1968) - immediately released as a kind of "damage control".

Renaissance is the apex of the group's "dark-psychedelic" period, featuring for the most part songs penned by the group, with a prevailing mood featuring long silences and choral passages which listeners will have to judge on their own.

(It has to be said that in their first years, Deep Purple deliberately took Vanilla Fudge as their model; and even if Jon Lord was technically more gifted, and more "schooled", than Mark Stein, it's perfectly obvious how influenced the former was by the latter, even in the group's phase when guitarist Ritchie Blackmore made the rules, from In Rock to Machine Head.)

Renaissance's best tracks are Thoughts, Paradise, That's What Makes A Man, Faceless People, with The Spell That Comes After bringing to the fore "psychedelic nightmares". Tim Bogert plays admirably all over the album, while Carmine Appice's drums are clearly recorded, but placed in the background.

It's impossible to underestimate the changes brought to America by (U.K. trio) Cream, who incessantly toured the States in 1967-68. And so, those American rhythm sections all said one thing: "What about us?".

And so it was that Vanilla Fudge's rhythm section simply exploded, making Near The Beginning what it is. Wise move, the group decided to produce itself, making an album whose Side 1 only featured three long tracks - two covers, one original - while Side 2 featured a long live piece highlighting the group's bravura, with four long solos, highly celebrated at the time.

People better qualified than me would surely be able to describe the beauty and the inventiveness of the interlocking bass-drums patterns in the music of Vanilla Fudge. While Carmine Appice was an innovator in the use of the double bass drum, Tim Bogert - while building on the splendid heritage of the "Motown" style - James Jamerson, Bob Babbitt - created a highly personal style, with volume up to "11", towards an original solo style, both solo and as a "driving" instrument.

Both the vocal and instrumental work by Tim Bogert make album opener Shotgun an unforgettable moment. The Fudge's rhythm section had developed a series of "moves" that are perfectly illustrated here. Check those moments where, after a brief moment of tension, the drums play a "roll", the bass "chasing" with a parallel figure, a few moments later.

(There's a video showing Vanilla Fudge performing Shotgun live in a TV studio, complete with a brief bass solo, in colour, about 4'30".)

A cover of Some Velvet Morning takes us back to the psychedelic moods of Renaissance, but with less "pomp". One has to never lose sight of the track's "psychedelic" mood: listen to those organ passages disappearing into the void, and those elements that one could miss at first, such as the soft vocals that in the right channel, after the lines "Some velvet morning when I'm straight/I'm gonna open up your gate", go "t..." with reverb.

Penned by Appice, Where Is Happiness (I seem to remember that the drummer was the only group member who had received a formal music education) is one of the group's high points. An insistent organ arpeggio, great solo guitar, drums leading the various sections, the bass is not as present in this mix, but it's impossible to miss all the same.

On Side 2, the Break Song, live, has Tim Bogert at his solo best: jazz passages, "tapping" (in 1969!), strings out-of-the-fretboard, and a fuzz pedal (a Mosrite?) taking the music towards Hendrix climates.

With internal tensions mounting, the group split. Last album, Rock'n'Roll, has group members playing while already plotting the future. They came to Italy, miming last single I Need Love for a TV program for kids, Chiss chi lo sa. The album features a fine track, though: Street Walking Woman, sung by Vince Martell. It starts with a cymbal that sounds like a gong and a bass drum that will blow matches at 20 cm (right channel), Tim Bogert playing greatly (left channel): listen to the passage 2'52" - 2'57", and pay attention to the note where the phrase "lands". (I checked on YouTube, the timing is the same.)

(I just discovered a version of I Need Love - definitely not the group's best song - in a fine performance in a U.S. TV studio. Bogert is seldom shown, but he plays a lot.)

Time for a brief anecdote. In September, 1969 Vanilla Fudge came to Italy to play at the Mostra di Venezia, where they played live their new single, Some Velvet Morning, but in the album version (about 9'). The cultural shock was enormous, with long-term consequences. It could be regarded as nothing to write home about, but seeing the sound being produced by the instruments in real time was an important lesson for many, both young and very young. (And since a few months earlier I had taken a few records to my English class at school, among them a few by Vanilla Fudge, at a time where almost nobody had ever heard of them, for a moment I was a hero.) Surprising everybody, Vanilla Fudge won the competition, so we watched them play live, twice. Somewhere, online, a recording of that version survives.

Who would you get as your guitar player, in order to put Led Zeppelin to shame? Jeff Beck, of course.

(At the time, Jeff Beck was a much more unstable, unreliable performer, when compared to the mature man we all know and love today. It was assumed he believed that Jimmy Page had made his fortune by copying the Jeff Beck Group. Hence, vendetta.)

Unfortunately, Jeff Beck suffered a serious auto accident.

And so, there was nothing for Bogert-Appice left to do but biding their time assembling Cactus, with singer Rusty Day (a one-of-a-kind kind of guy), and excellent guitarist Jim McCarty.

At the time, I didn't understand that the cover of the group's first album, Cactus (1970), though slightly modified after a "kind request" of a terrified record company, was a "parody" of the cover of Led Zeppelin's first.

Cactus's output is as easy to talk about as Vanilla Fudge's is complex: Cactus play "American-made" "rock-blues", love it or leave it. At the time of its original release the group's first album left me quite puzzled: the group's instrumental finesse was remarkable, but their horizons looked too small. Offering a "dry", not "produced", sound, the album featured such high points as a cover of Mose Allison's Parchman Farm, Let Me Swim, Oleo ("Grease it down, Timmy", before the bass solo), Feel So Good, and a cover of You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover, with an un-showy bass intro that demonstrated Tim Bogert's sheer musicality.

Having Eddie Kramer as an engineer on second album One Way Or Another made the sound timbrally varied (and, not surprisingly, quite Hendrix-like). The title-track and Song For Aries will be enough to give readers a fair idea of the featured music.

Third album Restrictions takes the story towards the end. The group's cover of Evil is simply spectacular, Alaska inhabits unusual climates, and Restrictions shows the group taking a different attitude when it comes to sound.

Then the usual tensions, everybody go home, and here it is... Jeff Beck!, alive and well after the incident, having released two fine albums: Rough And Ready (the one with the black and white cover), and Jeff Beck Group ("the album with the orange", produced by Steve Cropper).

At last, the trio enters the studio, and the album is... not that great. Three non-writers with no real repertory trying to write... Of course, best thing on the album is Superstition penned by Stevie Wonder, while Lady shows Tim Bogert at his bass best. But it was a sound, and a concept, whose time had come and gone (West, Bruce & Laing suffered the same problem, but Jack Bruce was also an excellent singer, writer, and multi-instrumentalist, so the band's two studio albums were highly listenable). Besides, Jeff Beck now looked like a reluctant guitar hero, with Bogert and Appice waiting for a guitar explosion that never came (a fine live rendition of Superstition that can be watched online says it all, besides showing a fine Tim Bogert at the mike).

A trio that left a bitter after-taste for all concerned.

While Carmine Appice succeeded in finding his own way - first with Rod Stewart, then as "Appice as precursor of metal" - Tim Bogert never found a good group where to shine.

(Please, never consider the many Vanilla Fudge reunions, with and without those black hairpieces.)

Tim Bogert: musician. August 27, 1944 January 13, 2021

Beppe Colli 2021

CloudsandClocks.net | Jan. 21, 2021