An Interview with Mark Stein

Tommy & Mark - Beverly Hills, August, 1976
Photos courtesty of Patty and Mark Stein
Special thanks also to Patty Stein, John Bentzinger and "The" Jim Wilson for assistance

Mark Stein -- founding member, vocalist, and keyboard player of Vanilla Fudge -- was also a founding member of the first incarnation of The Tommy Bolin Band.

Interview by Scott McIntosh, February, 2002

Mark Stein Interview: TBF=Scott McIntosh for the Tommy Bolin Foundation

TBF: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview! Tommy Bolin fans would love to catch up with what you are doing currently, and read about your thoughts about the past. I'd like to ask you questions all the way from Vanilla Fudge, through the Tommy Bolin Band, your music in the '80's and 90's, and all the way up to your new benefit song, America The Beautiful, available on your website.

TBF: While opening for the Vanilla Fudge at the Westbury Music Festival, an anonymous fan called out to Frank Zappa, "Youse guys stink - bring on the Fudge!". Many years later Zappa would say that was one of the more acute and embittering moments of his musical career. Did you ever speak to Frank about this incident?

MS: No, I never spoke to him about it. this is the first I'm hearing about it. In fact Frank & I shared a really good relationship over the years. We used to hang out & share a lot of really good conversations about the times and I never recall him ever showing one sign of negativity about that incident or VF. In fact to the best of my recollection I always felt he was very fond of me and the rest of the band. I remember he had me over to his house in Hollywood in the late 60s, he was having a party, and he was the one who introduced me to Mick Jagger and even later on we did some shows together on the east coast and I can recall one night my voice became extremely hoarse and i didn't think I would be able to make it through the show that evening, and I was hanging out with Zappa in the dressing room about an hour before the show and "The Mothers Of Invention" were opening for us on that tour. He told me not to worry and made me some hot tea with honey and said just relax and meditate and you'll be fine. He also told me to make sure I got some sleep. He was right, I did make it through the show "certainly not one of my best vocal nights" but I got through it. I remember after the show thanking him for his support. In later years, he had asked me to join his band but I was busy doing other projects and my schedule at the time didn't allow it.

TBF: Do you get asked about your tour with Led Zeppelin a lot -- especially since VH-1 has aired some stories recently on "Behind The Music"?

MS: I get asked about it all the time. But it's not only about the incident that you're referring to, when people discover that Led Zepplin opened for the Vanilla Fudge on their first two US tours they get pretty excited about it and why not, they ended up being the biggest R&R band on the planet. But of course in those early days I knew that that was their destiny. We were great friends during that time and I spent a lot of time hanging with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Bonzo, and Jonsey. Their manager Peter Grant was also good friends with us, we met a few years before that in England when he used to manage the Yardbirds. Those were incredible days.

"There's a lot more to say about that but you'll have to read about it in my book which I hope to finish someday".

TBF: What was your favorite tour in the late '60's with Vanilla Fudge, and who was your favorite group to have open for you?

MS: Most of the bands that opened for us, we got on with quite well. I'd have to say aside from Led Zepplin, Hendrix has to be a real close second. Noel Redding was a very personable & easy to talk to kind of guy and I enjoyed a lot of bull sessions with him. Even Mitch Mitchell used to shoot the bull with me from time to time when we were on the road. I can remember one night in Tucson, AZ. must have been about 3 or 4 am we were all partying and Hendrix walked into our room with an acetate "A demo recording before it was mastered" of Electric Ladyland. We had a small stereo system hooked up in the hotel room and he played it for me to hear. I can remember it blew me away. and I remember thinking I can't believe that I'm listening to a piece of art that when it's released is going to shock the world.

TBF: How did you first meet Tommy Bolin?

MS: I first met Tommy Bolin when I went to see Deep Purple at the Long Beach Arena in California in the early 70's. I was backstage saying hi to my old friends Jon Lord and Ian Paice when Tommy floated through the room and they introduced me. I remember watching the show from about 10 rows back seeing Tommy perform with Purple for the first time and I thought he moved around the stage with a type of angelic grace. I thought he had a great image as well as a great sound and I used to love the way he wore a long scarf draped around his neck and flowing down his back.

TBF: How did you join the very first incarnation of "The Tommy Bolin Band"?

MS: In the coming weeks, I had heard he was putting a solo band together and at the time I was putting my own band together with Reggie McBride on bass, Bobby Cochran (Steppenwolf) on guitar and Bruce Gary (The Knack) on drums. Reggie seemed to show a lot of interest to try to get into Tommy's band because he knew it was going to be a really good gig. I didn't think it was such a bad idea either. At the time their was a great buzz in the business about Tommy and we both felt that it would be a really great career move to get in his band. Reggie went down and played with Tommy at SIR Studios in Los Angeles, called me up the next day and said guess what I got the gig.

I wished him good luck and I said hey tell Tommy that I want to come down and have a play with him as well. Tommy was excited for me to do that and we connected immediately. About a week later after a few rehearsals Tommy asked me to join forces with him. What a great line-up it was, Narada Michael Walden on drums who is an amazing musician, Norma Jean Bell on sax & vocals who was a very exciting performer, Reggie McBride on bass one of the funkiest bass players around, myself on keyboards/vocals and of course Tommy. Hollywood was really buzzing about that band.Again lots more to tell but it will be in my book. (Photos: Mile High Stadium, Denver)

TBF: What are your favorite memories of touring and playing with Tommy?

MS: My favorite memories of touring was the night we played there at The Roxy in Hollywood, CA which was our first major exposure with the band. Everybody that was anybody came to the show that night because their was a tremendous buzz around about Tommy and the band. He really put together a great line up of musicians. The place was packed and the dressing room was overflowing with musicians fans not only of Tommy but of everyone in the band. The shows were packed with high energy and excitement and we went over very well not only with the fans but with the critics. As far as my memories of recording with Tommy, of course I played on his last recording of "Private Eyes" on Columbia. We did the backing tracks at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood. But then Tommy & his producer Dennis Makay flew off to London to do his guitar solos and to mix the album there at Trident Studios.

I do recall everyone in the band waiting with great anticipation to hear the final product. We were rehearsing at SIR Studios to get ready for the new tour when Tommy & Dennis came in and played the final mix over the sound system. We were all very pleased, and the album went on to garner a lot of airplay in L.A. and the rest of the country and did pretty well on the pop charts. As far as playing with Tommy, it was an overall positive experience for me and a very educational one as well, because it was through Tommy and Narada Michael Walden that I started to make a serious transition into synthesizers and fusion rock.

One other thing comes into mind, one night we were opening for Santana in Albuquerque, NM and at the end of Santana's show, Tommy and I jumped up on stage and started jamming. Everyone was having a ball and the packed house of 7,000 or more were really blown away (Photo: Bolin and Stein with Santana).

And of course I never want to forget the show where we opened for Peter Frampton at Mile High Stadium in front of over 50,000 people. Peter was at the height of his career with his Frampton Comes Alive album so certainly we were in great company (Note: Tommy's former bassist Stanley Sheldon was with Frampton at the time, and former keyboardist Tom Stephenson was playing with Gary Wright at the same show.).

That show was very special to me personally because after my keyboard solo I got a long standing ovation when my name was announced and I remember feeling fantastic about the fact that I still had so many fans from my Vanilla Fudge days. (Photo: Johnnie Bolin on drums, with Jimmy Haslip and Mark Stein).

TBF: In 1968 Vanilla Fudge did a western tour as the opening act for Jimi Hendrix Experience. How would you compare Jimi to Tommy?

MS: I think that's a tough question to answer, almost like trying to compare falcons to eagles or visa versa. They were their own entity. Obviously, each had their own genius and unfortunately each had a similar fate. I found Jimmy to be real easy to talk to once you got to know him and it was the same with Tommy. I felt close to both of them. In my opinion they both fell prey to the pressures of success.

TBF: Were you instrumental in bringing Jimmy Haslip to the Tommy Bolin Band?

MS: Yes I was. Jimmy was a very talented young bass player that had just moved to the west coast from New York and I had met him from some session in L.A. and we became really good friends. And when Reggie McBride left the band (for what reason I don't recall), I told Tommy about Jimmy and said I think it would be a really good idea if you gave him an audition, so he said yes we'll give him a shot and I had Jimmy come over to my house and I taught him all the tunes in the show and a few nights later he came down to rehearsal and a week later he went from playing in a small club in Hollywood to Mile High Stadium. I guess he got the gig.

TBF: What were the circumstances that brought about your departure from the Tommy Bolin Band in September or October of 1976?

MS: Tommy and I became very, very close, and to be brutally honest I'd be lying if I said he didn't have a drug and alcohol problem. I'm not going to try to wave a flag here and say that I really tried to get him sober, but that's the truth and that's what I was trying to do. There were a lot of changes being made by his management and I was uncomfortable. So I guess I'm just gonna cut to the chase here and say that it became very uncomfortable for me to watch what was going on and what he was doing to himself so I thought it was best for me to walk away. Tommy called me the night before he left for what unfortunately became his last tour. We spoke for about an hour and had a really nice talk & said we'd get together when he got back in town etc., but when he said goodbye and we hung up I remember getting a chill up my back. I felt very sad.

TBF: A traded tape over the years is a version of Long and Winding Road, on which you obviously are playing keyboards. Rumor has it that Tommy Bolin and David Coverdale (from Deep Purple) are on this tape, but sound-wise there is little evidence to support this. Who's really playing on that?

MS: My only recollection of Long & Winding Road is when I recorded and arranged a version on my solo album in the early 70's. It was recorded with an L.A. studio band. It later ended up as a single on the Phil Spector International label. So as far as Tommy & Coverdale there is no credence to it, just a rumor.

TBF: In June, 2001, you ran into Deep Purple, who used to open for Vanilla Fudge in the late '60's, and there are great pictures on your website of you with the members of the band. You, Jon Lord and Ian Paice had all played with Tommy in the year 1976 -- since he left Purple in the Spring, and soon afterward formed The Tommy Bolin Band with you -- did that come up in conversation?

MS: Yes, during the course of our conversation we did recollect some of the old days over few drinks. We had some laughs and I think Jon Lord & I were saying we wondered what Tommy would have sounded like today if he was still with us.

TBF: Despite all the great archival CD's being released recently by the Tommy Bolin Archives, we know that Tommy only released two solo albums in his short but illustrious career: Teaser and Private Eyes. You have the distinction of playing keyboards and singing on Private Eyes, which differed from Teaser because you were a band with mostly the same personnel on every song. Most fans say that Private Eyes is their favorite of Tommy's solo stuff. How do you feel about that album?

MS: I thought the Teaser album was great, it was a very progressive album for the time, but Private Eyes I believe was more of a radio oriented commercial effort. To my recollection the keyboard parts I did were very simple but what was called for. But the real kick for me was the freedom Tommy gave me singing and arranging a lot of the backing vocals.

TBF: Most songs from "Private Eyes", and many songs from "Teaser" were peformed by you in the The Tommy Bolin Band. Which of those tunes were your favorite?

MS: I loved Wild Dogs and Homeward Strut.

TBF: Carmine Appice plays drums on Someday Will Bring Our Love Home. The rumor I heard was that Bobby Berge overslept that day, and Carmine stepped in so that the song could be recorded. Is that how it happened?

MS: Well if Bobby Berge overslept, then it was Carmine Appice that snuck into his apartment and shut his alarm clock off....only kidding Carmine.

TBF: In an interview, Tommy mentions that the famous Brazillian percussionist, Airto, plays sounds throughout Private Eyes, but due to contract problems he's not credited on the album. You can hear funky other-worldly sounds throughout the album -- but which sounds are his, which are Tommy's, and which are yours, and how were they added to the tracks?

MS: I don't recall that Airto was even on that album.

TBF: The Good Rats, Tommy, and Carmine Appice jammed together (I think it was at Ebbetts Field in Denver), and one of the songs is preserved in a recent Tommy Bolin Archives release (the song was "Stratus"). I've spoken with Pepe Marchello on several occasions, who spoke about how all you guys were playing gigs at the same time back then. Did The Tommy Bolin Band hang out much with The Good Rats?

MS: No I never knew any of them. Although they were a well respected band in the NY area I myself never hung out with the band.

TBF: You were involved in the Tribute to Tommy Bolin, which raised money for the Bolin Family in 1977. It was at the "Roxy Theater" in L.A. and Carmine Appice, Glenn Hughes, and Johnnie Bolin were there as well. Who else played, and what are your favorite memories of that event?

MS: The Tommy Bolin tribute was spearheaded by myself, my wife Patty, Glenn Hughes and Karen Ulliberry (Tommy's ex and later became Glenn's wife). Glenn & Karen were living with us at the time and we were all hanging out one night talking about the fact that Tommy's parents were not in the best of shape financially or otherwise. They were devastated by his death. So we brainstormed the idea of putting together a benefit where all the proceeds form the show would go directly to Tommy's folks in Sioux City, Iowa. I remember calling the Roxy and talking to Mario the owner about being able to use the club to put on a show to benefit the Bolins and he said absolutely, whatever you need. So I started hitting the phones and calling everyone in town I knew - I spoke to George Duke who said he would be there with his band, I called Carmine Appice, Jimmy Haslip, Peter Best the guitarist from Yes, everyone wanted to get involved. By the time the show went on every musician who was in town showed up. Even Eddie Money came from the studio after just finishing up his first solo album. During the course of the evening, we played a host of Tommy's tunes from all his works to a packed house I'm very happy to say. We raised a substantial amount of funds which helped to ease some of the burden of the Bolin family. One of the highlights of the night for me was when Glenn Hughes & I sang a duet of "Dreamer". By the way Glenn, I still think we would have made a great record together! Photo: Tommy's last birthday party at his home in Beverly Hills: Patty & Mark Stein, Linda Blair, Tommy, Karen Ulliberry & other guests.

TBF: Buddy Guy, Glenn Hughes, Stanley Sheldon, Black Oak Arkansas (with Johnnie Bolin), and many others have been involved with The Tommy Bolin Archives and/or The Tommy Bolin Foundation over the past several years for annual "Tommy Bolin Tribute" Concerts and "The Tommy Bolin Fest". We've also gotten verbal interest from Jeremy Steig and Alphonse Mouzon for future gigs. Would you consider being on the bill sometime?

MS: Absolutely.

TBF: Tell us about your recording of the song, "America The Beautiful". The interest of Tommy Bolin fans is heightened by the fact that two "Alumni" from the Tommy Bolin Band are on it -- both you and Jimmy Haslip.

MS: Years ago back in the late 80's when Vanilla Fudge was touring, I used to sing America The Beautiful at the sound checks. I used to really get off doing it and the road crew always told me I should record that some day. Now let's fast forward to 9/11/01, which spawned a series of patriotic recordings. My wife Patty said to me, I should lay down a piano voice version of it and put it up on my website and then one day we were watching CNBC and there was news coverage of the search & rescue dogs that were going into ground zero to try and find signs of human life. It really touched me to see how exhausted they were some burned some bleeding and some needing IV'S to get their strength back. To make a long story short we discovered there was an organization called The American Veterinary Medical Foundation who helped to put together teams of vets (VMAT's) to give medical attention to these animals.

During this time, I spoke with a friend of mine in NY, Randy Pratt who has his own recording studio and I told him about my idea of recording the song America The Beautiful and he offered to donate his studio, his engineers and any musicians I wanted to help bring my arrangement to life. So I got really psyched, and the first guy I called was my old friend Jimmy Haslip in Los Angeles which I'm sure is no stranger to Tommy Bolin fans. Anyhow, we hadn't spoke in quite a few years and he was totally into putting this together. Over the following week he made several calls to some players in the NY area and we put together a smoking band to do the session. Bobby Rondinelli on drums who now tours with Blue Oyster Cult and has played with Black Sabbath & Rainbow, John McCurry guitarist who played with Julian Lennon & Cyndi Lauper, Jim Campagnola sax man who played with Eric Clapton, Natalie Cole and others and of course Jimmy Haslip on bass and myself on piano and lead vocals.

It was great because Jimmy was able to fly to NY from Los Angeles and I from Florida and we all met on 11/1/01 at Randy's studio on Long Island. It was a magical day for everybody, the track came out great and you can download the MP3 off my website for $5.00 with all the proceeds going directly to the AVMF which will help to fund the VMAT teams so these wonderful search & rescue dogs can stay in tip to shape to continue to serve humanity. Not only were these dogs at ground zero but have also in the past & will in the future be at any disaster sites such as major floods, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and God knows whatever else will be facing us.

TBF: Thank you for your time with this interview! Please stay in touch, and we all hope to see you at a Tribute or Fest show sometime in the near future!

MS: See you there!

Please buy all Tommy Bolin music, including everything with Mark Stein, from the Tommy Bolin Archives at

Mark's MP3 "America The Beautiful" is available for Download...

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