On Stage: A blast from the past

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Vanilla Fudge, Mike & the Mechanics lead local retro lineups

By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times

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1960s icons Vanilla Fudge is back on tour and with a new album.

Fans of music from the past will have some good choices for live performances this weekend including a capella music, the music that was the foundation for doo-wop groups in the 1950s; Vanilla Fudge, one of America’s top bands in the last 1960s; and Mike + The Mechanics, who were hitmakers in the 1980s.

Back in the late 1960s, Vanilla Fudge, which is performing on February 26 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com), was one of the biggest rock bands in America.

Its cover of the Supremes’ hit single “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” cemented the band’s rise to stardom. The hard-rocking version of the pop song was slowed down immensely and plodded along with new-found heaviness. Featuring Mark Stein’s baroque-yet-spacey organ intro and Carmen Appice’s hyperkinetic drumming, the song was a Top 10 hit in the United States and Australia and a Top 20 hit in Britain in 1967.

Vanilla Fudge’s popularity was at such a plateau that one of the acts that was an opening band on VF tours in 1968 and early 1969 was Led Zeppelin. Vanilla Fudge featured Vince Martell on guitars, Tim Bogert on bass, Stein on keyboards and Appice on drums. All four members handled the vocals.

In 1970, Vanilla Fudge broke up. Bogert and Appice formed a band called Cactus and two years later left Cactus to form Beck, Bogert & Appice with British guitar legend Jeff Beck.

In the years that followed, Vanilla Fudge popped up now-and-again but never stuck around for very long. There were re-unions featuring the original line-up and tours with a variety of bastardized line-ups.

In March 2008 the original foursome embarked on a tour of the United States but a few months later Bogert and Appice left to concentrate on Cactus, which they had reformed in 2006. Stein and Martell continued on in 2008 and 2009 as “Mark Stein and Vince Martell of Vanilla Fudge.”

Four years ago, Vanilla Fudge embarked on what was announced as their farewell tour. The lineup for the tour was Appice, Stein, Martell and Pete Bremy. Bogert had retired from touring and Bremy, who had played bass in Cactus, replaced him. This most recent incarnation has remained together and is releasing a new album titled “Spirit of ’67” on Cleopatra Records on March 3.

“We were doing a new Cactus album and then Tim retired,” said Appice, during a phone interview last week from his home in New York. “When Tim dropped out, we brought Pete in. Tim was always his idol. He plays like Tim — and hits all the harmonies. Pete has replaced Tim in both Cactus and Vanilla Fudge.”

On the new disc, Vanilla Fudge applied its psychedelic rock sound to a selection of the greatest hits of the era, including the Boxtops’ “The Letter,” the Who’s “I Can See for Miles,” Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of  Pale,” the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” the Doors’ “Break On Through to the Other Side,” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer.”

Vanilla Fudge also tapped into the Motown songbook again and recorded Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and Smokey Robinson’s “The Tracks of My Tears.”

“We recorded the album in July 2014 at TKL Studios in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey,” said Appice,who has also written a best-selling drum instruction book “The Realistic Rock Drum Method”. “They videoed a lot of us recording the album and now we’re doing a video for ‘I Can See for Miles.’

“We recorded a lot on ProTools. Then, I took the drums and brought them to analog and then brought them back. Analog recording is so much better than digital. I’ve heard it said that analog is a tree while digital is a picture of a tree. The album cover design came from a Fillmore West poster.”

Appice is one of the most respected drummers in the world of rock music. He was a member of Rod Stewart’s band and co-wrote songs such as “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and “Young Turks.” Appice has recorded with artists such as Stanley Clarke, Pink Floyd, King Kobra, Blue Murder and Ozzy Osbourne .

The rock veteran who has been in the business for close to 60 years has seen Vanilla Fudge reach amazing heights and also has experienced times when the band teetered on the brink of obscurity.

“At one time, we were filling 8,000-seaters around the world,” said Appice. “Now, we can’t even put together a full tour of America. If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. We still haven’t done a nationwide tour recently.”

All that could change when listeners get to check out the new Vanilla Fudge album. It is relevant and contemporary and, at the same time, captures the spirit of 1967. After a half century, Vanilla Fudge is still rocking with concerts in the U.S and Europe and an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night TV Show.

“Our live show has been going over very well,” said Appice. “We’re doing six songs from the new album and the rest are the classics.”

Vanilla Fudge’s show in Sellersville will start at 8 p.m. on February 26. Tickets are $33 and $45. The venue will also present Los Lobos on February 28, Justin Townes Earle on March 3 and Rhett Miller on March 3.

Mike + The Mechanics is a band formed as a side project for Mike Rutherford, who was the bassist and later lead  guitarist for Genesis. The group is currently touring America in celebration of two anniversaries — the 25th anniversary of the band’s classic album “The Living Years” and the group’s own 30th anniversary.

The tour opens this week in Washington, D.C. and Virginia and then heads north for a show on February 28 at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center (77 Sands Boulevard, Bethlehem, 610-297-7400, http://sandseventcenter.com).

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Mike Rutherford of Mike + The Mechanics

Mike + The Mechanics came through with a number of hit singles in the late 1980s and early 1990s including “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground),” “All I Need Is a Miracle,” “Word of Mouth,” “Over My Shoulder” and “The Living Years.”

Initially, the band included Rutherford, vocalists Paul Carrack and Paul Young, keyboardist Adrian Lee and drummer Peter Van Hooke. Carrack sang the ballads and Young sang the more rock-oriented songs. Unfortunately, Young died of a heart attack in 2000.

“After Paul Young died, Mike + The Mechanics went into a hold 10 years ago,” said Rutherford, during a recent phone interview from his home in Sussex, England. “We always had two voices — one singing R&B and one singing rock.”

The current Mike + The Mechanics’ lineup includes vocalists Tim Howar and Andrew Roachford, guitarist/bassist Anthony Drennan, keyboardist Luke Juby, drummer Gary Wallis and lead guitarist Rutherford.

“Our drummer Gary Wallis has been with me for a long time and Anthony Drennan is a great Irish guitarist,” said Rutherford. “I made a point about having the Mechanics very much about the music they play.”

Howar made a name for himself in musical theater — especially when he starred as Stacee Jaxx in the London hit musical “Rock Of Ages.” He starred in “Rent” (10th anniversary cast on Broadway) and a variety of other shows including “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Tonight’s the Night” the Rod Stewart Musical and “Les Misérables” with Colm Wilkinson .

Roachford had a successful solo career with songs such as “Cuddly Toy” and “Family Man” in the late 1980s. Raised in south London to West Indian parents, he was influenced by artists such as Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, The Roots, D’Angelo and Jill Scott.

“We did an album called ‘The Road’ about three years ago,” said Rutheford. “It was the early stages — writing some new songs and trying them out. We never toured much anywhere.  I haven’t brought Mike + The Mechanics to America since 1989.

“America knows our early stuff better. But, a good live song when you set it right is a good song. Our show is about an hour-and-a-half. It’s a mixture of new songs, old hits, some other songs. There are even a couple Genesis songs that I never did before but now seem to fit right.”

Rutherford also feels that the current line-up is the right fit for Mike + The Mechanics.

“When changes happen, you gain more energy,” said Rutherford. “A good singer can make a song believable and we have that. A producer friend of mine recommended Tim and Andrew. It’s a good combination.

“Mike + The Mechanics never really toured much at all — ever. Prior to touring a few years ago, I hadn’t realized how good these songs sounded live onstage. Songs like ‘All I Need Is a Miracle’ and ‘The Living Years’ sound really good onstage.

“With our live shows now, the balance and timing and tempo work great. It’s our first time in North America with this band so 90 minutes is a hood amount. You just follow the flow. Live shows are what matter — not album sales. Acts my age don’t really sell many records.”

Rutherford also has been pursuing another avenue in the arts. He recently had a book published titled “The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir.”

“The book is coming out in February in America,” said Rutherford.”It came out in the U.K. last year. It was fun to do. It’s about my father’s life and the generational thing — the huge changes that took place.”

The Mike + The Mechanics concert at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $47 and $89.75. The venue will also present Hall and Oates on February 26 and dancing Pros on February 27.

On February 28, “The Sing-Off,” NBC’s Number 1 rated a cappella music competition, is bringing its second national “The Sing-Off Live! Tour” to the Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org).

The tour will feature Street Corner Symphony, which was a fan favorite in Season Two, and VoicePlay, which was a hit during Season Four, and The Exchange, which was a part of Season Five.

This stage show will give fans of the show a unique opportunity to see their favorite groups perform live, and fans of a cappella music an incredible evening of some of the country’s top talent. In addition to headlining talent, each concert will feature local a cappella groups to open the show.

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Street Corner Symphony

Street Corner Symphony, an a cappella group from Nashville, reached the “The Sing-Off” season finale a few years ago and finished overall runner-up.

Formed in 2010 for the sole purpose of competing on the show, the group features members from several southern states –tenors Jeremy Lister and Mark McLemore, baritones Jonathan Lister and Richie Lister, bass Adam Chance and vocal percussionist Kurt Zimmerman.

“Three of us are brothers so we met by way of our mother,” said Jeremy Lister, during a recent phone interview.  “I went to high school with another member of the group (Adam Chance) and Kurt we met at ‘The Sing-Off.’ He’s our beat boxer. We’re teaching the young ones about our rock — classic rock.”

Ironically, church music was what the brothers listened to when they were younger — not by their choice.

“Our dad was a preacher so we weren’t playing rock records at home when we were growing up,” said Lister. “The first time I listened to a ‘Golden Oldies’ station. I heard the Beatles’‘Hey Jude’ and I was blown away.

“Now, as Street Corner Symphony, our biggest influence is classic rock –especially the Beatles. When we sing, we’re not into the polished sound. It’s more raw and fun. Most of us play instruments as well — but not in this show.”

Five years ago, Lister was singing and playing music on his own in Nashville.

“I was a solo artist and had a deal with Warner Brothers Records,” said Lister. “I released one EP with them. They were supposed to release my album but the deal fizzled out. Then, a while later, I got a call from Mark’s brother Jon about doing this a capella project.”

Street Corner Symphony was founded by Jon McLemore in May 2010 to audition for the second season of the TV show.  The group consisted of six members, including the Lister brothers, Ben Dixon, Sean Saunders and the McLemore brothers. Three weeks later, after passing the audition, Dixon and Saunders dropped out of the group.

Mark McLemore enlisted two friends from college — John Martin and Adam Chance to take their places. In August 2011, JMartin took a sabbatical to complete a Master’s degree and was replaced by Kurt Zimmerman (formerly of Eleventh Hour from “The Sing-Off”).

“What’s nice about a capella is that there is a nice community — a loyal community,” said Lister. “I was still surprised at the popularity of ‘The Sing-Off’ — surprised with the success of the show. It shows that a capella is cool.

“On our first album ‘UnPractice Makes Perfect,’ we did a few songs from the TV show. ‘Drift Away’ was our final song on the show when we got second place. Some of the other songs we did on the show were Tears for Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants To Rule the World,’ ‘Train’s ‘Hey Soul Sister’ and Coldplay’s ‘Fix You.’

“We also did Dexys Midnight Runners’ ‘Come On Eileen.’ And, we did several Beatles’ songs — ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ ‘Help’ and ‘Hey Jude.” All of us are songwriters so there were some originals too.”

The group’s penchant for originals became obvious on its sophomore album “Southern  Autumn Nostalgia,” which came out in the summer of 2013.

“We self-released that album,” said Lister. “It’s our baby. We’re really proud of it. We had great producers in Deke Sharon and Bill Hare and recorded it at Bill’s studio in Milpitas, California.

“What makes us even more proud of the album is that all  the songs are originals. We’ve also recorded a number of singles. We even made a Christmas EP for the holidays.

“When we perform live, we try to appeal to every demographic — to all age groups. We go from ‘Uptown Funk,’ which was a contemporary hit by Bruno Mars, to oldies classics like Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and Otis Redding’s ‘Hard to Handle.’ We also do ‘Down on the Corner,’ which was a hit for Credence Clearwater Revival.”

“The Sing-Off Live! Tour” is scheduled to get underway at 8 p.m. on February 28 at the Grand Opera House. Tickets range from $39.50 to $55. Other shows this week at the Grand will be Mnozil Brass on March 1 at 3 p.m. and Kat Edmondson on March 1 at 8 p.m.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) will also host “The Sing-Off Live! Tour” with a performance slated for 8 p.m. on March 1. Other shows this week at the Keswick are Brett Scallions Unplugged on February 26 and The Musical Box on February 27 and 28.

The dodo is a flightless bird that is now extinct bird. The Dodos, on the other hand, are neither extinct nor flightless.

The Dodos are an indie rock band from the San Francisco Bay area featuring Meric Long and Logan Kroeber. On February 26, their flight will bring them to the area for a show at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-739-9684, www.johnnybrendas.com). They are touring in support of their new album “Individ.”

“The Dodos started as a solo project,” said Long, during a phone interview last week from his home in Berkley, California.”I was just a young buck with a guitar trying to book some shows in San Francisco.

“It was always meant to be with other musicians. I played and hoped others would hear what I was doing. I was friends with Logan’s cousin. Logan and I eventually met in a practice stage for a gig backing another musician.

“The three of us played and I remembered Logan hitting the drums pretty hard. I figured he’d be a good guy to play with. I had a couple shows booked and asked him to come play drums. It went pretty well. He picked up what I was trying to do pretty fast. I was going to Portland to make a record and asked him to come along.”

The duo released the 2006 album “Beware of the Maniacs,” which was self-released under the name Dodo Bird. The band toured, received critical attention and began developing a solid fan base. Fans began referring to Dodo Bird simply as “The Dodos” and the name stuck.

“We did a bunch of touring for that record,” said Long.”We were excited to play. We made it to the East Coast several times. At the start, we had shows where we played to10 people. It was pretty bare bones. But, we were getting paid.”

The Dodos returned to the Bay Area and recorded and released their “Visiter” album in 2008.

“We toured a lot on ‘Visiter,’” said Long. “That was kind of our breakthrough record. It was our first with a label — Frenchkiss Records — and it garnered us a lot of attention. We toured Europe three times and did three national tours in America. Actually, we’ve never stopped touring since 2007.”

Ever since “Visiter,” the Dodos have released a new album every two years — “Time to Die” (2009) , “No Color” (2011) , “Carrier” (2013)  and “Individ” (2015).

“We recorded ‘Individ’ at two different times,” said Long. “We started in July 2013 and finished it in July 2014. We did nine songs in the first session and four in the second.”

One of the strong points on ‘Individ” is Long’s guitar work — especially the fuzzy distortion.

“We used a lot of old amps and turned up really loud,” said Long. “We used pre-amps and we’d overdrive them. It was just tube distortion.

“On this tour, we’re playing a lot of songs from ‘Individ’ — not the whole record but a lot. They translate well as live songs. Assault is a good way to describe our sound.”

Show time at Johnny Brenda’s is 8 p.m. with Springtime Carnivore as the opening act. Tickets are $15.

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Taylor Berrett

Taylor Berrett, one of the brightest new singer-songwriters in America, will be treating area fans with a series of shows at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400,philly.worldcafelive.com). The first of his three-show residency took place earlier this week with the next two scheduled for March 2 and 12.

Berrett’s debut album “Great Falls” will be released on Warner Bros. Records on March 10 but fans can get a preview because he just premiered his alluring new track “Broken” with TeenVogue.com.

A native of the part of Virginia in the D.C. suburbs wanted to be a writer for a while — but not necessarily a songwriter.

“As a kid, I had an interest in songwriting in a casual way,” said Berrett, during a phone interview this week as he travelled through Connecticut on his way to a gig in Vermont. “I always liked writing stories. As I learned more about music, I got interested in songwriting. It all started there.

“I was about 13 when I seriously started songwriting. I was very interested in blues music — Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf,  B.B. King. Blues still influences what I do now. The songs I wrote when I started weren’t very good. Over time, I started listening to 70s songwriters.

“My parents loved music and they were listening to Elton John, Billy Joel, Carly Simon, James Taylor and others like them. At first, I didn’t like them because it was my parents’ music. You know how that is. Eventually, I started listening to that stuff. I was around 17 when I really started going in that direction.”

Berrett kept writing songs and after awhile, his music came to the attention of the production company of SRP Music Group. One thing led to another and Berrett ended up signing with Warner Bros. Records — a label that was impressed with both his singing and his writing.

“Songwriting really isn’t easy for me,” said Berrett. “There are certain days when ideas come easily — but not often. Usually, it’s like a sentence or a line or an idea that isn’t fully formed. Then, I’ll build everything around that. Sometimes, I’ll build a rhythm first.

“Generally, I like to tell a story. I get ideas through storytelling — first person or third person. Sometimes, third person is more interesting. A lot of times, I’m just creating characters. When I first started, I was just trying to write songs that I thought songs should be about. Now, if it’s not something that’s a unique perspective, I’ll abandon it.”

When it came time for Berrett to record the album, he headed overseas.

“I recorded the album in the U.K. with producer Jake Gosling,” said Berrett. “He’s done albums for a lot of really good musicians like Ed Sheeran and I loved his work.

“We did the album at a studio in Surrey which is located about 20 miles from London. Being there helped to focus the experience because I was away from everything.”

On February 27, The Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will host “On the Funny Side of the Street” featuring Christine Lavin and Don White. On February 28, the venue will present SOS, which is billed as a “Chicago Tribute Band.”

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host the Paul Waltz Band with Jack Stanton on February 27 and a triple bill with Black Horse Motel, Forlorn Strangers and Paige Allbritton on February 28.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will present Kaitlyn Faraghan on February 27 and three acts on February 28 — Palaceburn, Composite View and The National Bird.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will have Splintered Sunlight and Urban’s Cosmic Jam on February 26, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and Swift Technique on February 27 and North Mississippi Allstars with Anders Osborne on February 28.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present Lili Añel and Vinx on February 27 and Drew Gibson and Band of Rivals on February 28.

Melodies Café (2 East Ardmore Avenue, Ardmore, 610-645-5269, www.melodiescafe.com) will host JP Bailey on February 27, Christine Havrilla and Gypsy Fuzz on February 28 and a screening of “Scarlet Street” on March 1.

The World Café Live at the Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 302- 994-1400, www.queen.worldcafelive.com) will have Joan Osborne with Keith Cotton on March 1 and Dr. John and the Nite Trippers on March 3.

“The Illusionists — Witness the Impossible” will wrap up its six-day run this weekend at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org). Shows will be presented now through March 1.

The highly entertaining show features impressive acts of grand illusion, levitation, mind-reading, disappearance and, for the first time ever in history, a full view water torture escape.

The show’s seven impressive acts are The Escapologist — Andrew Basso, The Manipulator — Yu Ho-Jin, The Anti-Conjuror — Dan Sperry, The Trickster — Jeff Hobson, The Inventor — Kevin James, The Warrior — Aaron Crow and The Futurist — Adam Trent.

Performances are February 24-26 at 7:30 p.m.; February 25 at 8 p.m.; February 26 at 2 and 8 p.m.; and March 1 at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $20-$105.50.

The Rainbow Dinner Theatre (3065 Lincoln Highway East, Paradise, 800-292-4301, www.RainbowDinnerTheatre.com) is presenting its new production “Squabbles” now through March 21.

Matinee performances are every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and selected Saturdays with an 11:30 a.m. lunch and a 1 p.m. curtain. Evening performances are every Friday, Saturday and selected Thursdays with dinner at 6:30 p.m. and the show following at 8 p.m. There will also be “Twilight Performances” on selected Sundays with dinner at 2:30 p.m. and the show at 4 p.m. Ticket prices range from $30-$55.

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