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Classic Rockers Talk About the 60’s

Classic Rockers Talk About the 60’s

By Dave Price

Mickey Dolenz vividly recalls the first time he realized he wasn’t just an actor playing a rock and roll drummer on TV anymore, but a full-fledged rock star.

It was December of 1966 and he had been working seven days a week acting on the new hit series The Monkees.  At nights, he and is bandmates Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork had been rehearsing and recording vocal parts for the new made-for-TV American group based loosely on The Beatles.

“It was really a crazy commitment. We had been almost incommunicado for three months,” Dolenz explained.

With Christmas approaching, he needed to get a few presents for friends and family. So during a brief hiatus, he drove to a nearby Hollywood mall to engage in some holiday shopping.

As he walked in the doors, he suddenly witnessed dozens of shrieking girls rushing toward him.

‘I saw all these people screaming and running and I thought at first there was a fire. Then I realized they were coming after me. I had to get back in my car and drive off.  I had never seen anything like that before,” Dolenz says.

The former drummer and singer for the Monkees, along with original members of Vanilla Fudge, The Family Stone, and The Yardbirds, talked about what it was like to be a popular rock performer in the 60s and 70s as part of a discussion panel on the recent Flower Power Cruise.

The Vanilla Fudge were a four-member group who began performing in Long Island, New York, along with The Young Rascals and a band called The Vagrants featuring Leslie West, later of Mountain, on guitar.

Keyboardist Mark Stein said that like most beginning bands, Vanilla Fudge played danceable rock and soul covers. But soon the band hit on a formula that they believed would distinguish them from other acts – they started rearranging hits they liked into “slower symphonic psychedelic songs” featuring intricate four-part harmonies from their New York City streets doo-wop days and extended musical jams that were then the fashion from British acts like The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream.

At first the formula was a financial failure. “The club owners used to throw us out because they said nobody could dance to us,” Stein recalled with a laugh.

But the band persisted, eventually recording an album with a reworked version of the Supremes hit “You Keep Me Hanging On.” A shortened version of the single received extensive play on the then-popular AM music stations and the longer versions became an early staple on the new FM stations.

“All of sudden, it was like we were like the biggest band in the world,” said guitarist Vince Martell.

The Vanilla Fudge quickly worked their way up to headliners. Their recording label demanded that they allow a then-unknown British band to serve as their opener for an extensive American tour. That band was Led Zeppelin.

All the Vanilla Fudge members agree that that coupling began an amazingly wild tour, which some critics claim set the standard for all the debauched major rock tours to follow in the late 6os and early 70s.

As a drummer, Carmine Appice was obviously captivated by Zeppelin’s later-to-become legendary fellow drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham.

“Bonzo would come out with these incredible solos. And while he’s playing first he would pull his shoes and socks off. Then off would come his pants. Promoters started screaming he can’t get naked … Somebody get out there and get him off the stage. And we would all laugh. Bonzo wasn’t an easy guy to move around,” said Appice, who would go on to drum for Cactus; (Jeff) Beck, Bogart, and Appice; Ozzy Osborne; and Rod Stewart, with whom he co-wrote the rock/disco smash “Do You Think I’m Sexy?”

In fact it was this Vanilla Fudge/Zeppelin package that created one of the greatest legendary groupie stories in all of rock and roll history. The incident involved a stay in Seattle, a bunch of sky-high musicians, a shark, and a willing female participant.

So was that and other such tales really true?

Yes, says Appice, who although much more reserved now, estimates he slept with about 4,500 groupies since his early days in New York. “What can I say? It was a crazy time,” Appice explained.

Appice laughs about the two pieces of advice he gave Zeppelin. “I told Robert Plant to move around more and Jimmy Page to get a bigger amp,” the drummer said. “I think they actually might have listened to me.”

Actually, Zeppelin was originally called The New Yardbirds since Page was the last guitarist for that group which had also featured Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.

Jim McCarty, the original drummer for The Yardbirds, was also on the cruise with the current lineup of the famed British Invasion rave-up blues band, which produced such 60s classics as “Heart Full of Soul,” “For Your Love,” “Shapes of Things” and “Over Under Sideways Down.”

McCarty said that when the band formed it had only one goal. “The dream was for us to get to America. That was what we saw in the movies. We wanted to get out of foggy old London and see the states,” he said.

He remembers Beck’s first reaction to New York City. “He said ‘look at all those fantastic cars. He was and still is such a car freak,” McCarty said.

McCarty considers himself really lucky to have worked with three of the greatest guitar players in rock and roll, all three of whom are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as is The Yardbirds as a band.

“It has been something working with this band every night since 1963. It’s been 50 years of dreams come true,” McCarty said.

Of all the rock talent on the panel stage, only two members performed at Woodstock, which is still held to be the apex event of classic rock music.

They were Greg Enrico and Jerry Martini. Enrico was the drummer and Martini the sax player for Sly and the Family Stone. The band’s breakout performance at Woodstock, coupled with a long string of soul/funk radio hits, made Sly’s group one of the most popular acts of the era. The reformed group without Sly has continued to perform shows featuring the band’s long string of hits.

“Sly was a brilliant man,” said Martini. “He had this idea that a black and white group playing a new type of music could be really successful. And he was right.”

So what was it like playing before a half million, rain-drenched fans at Woodstock, a performance that would secure a place in rock and roll history.

“We just said we’ve got to go out and give it all we’ve got,” Martini said. “And we did. Something like that … you’ll always remember.”

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Dave Price operates a freelance writing/speaking/consulting/tour guiding practice in Washington, D.C., where he focuses on 3 topics – the Baby Boomer generation, classic rock, and issues on aging, especially those affecting men. A former journalist and educator, Price is researching 2 books, one on the status of classic rock music and its songs, performers, and fans today and the other a DC guidebook designed especially for Baby Boomers.