Pete Bremy

FBPO talks with the Jersey boy who landed the big gig with Cactus and Vanilla Fudge for the “dream-come-true” musical career

Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
April 28, 2014

Born in Paterson, New Jersey, Pete Bremy discovered a love of music at a very early age, having gotten much encouragement from his parents. Starting on drums, Pete eventually switched to bass when he joined a popular local cover band in Northern New Jersey, called Heaven’s Sundae. After several years in the music business, with varying degrees of success, Pete “hung up the axe” for nearly twenty years.

A chance encounter with his next-door neighbor enticed Pete to start frequenting blues jams at local pubs, where he began to regain his chops. Through the Internet, Pete became acquainted with two of his earliest musical heroes, Vanilla Fudge members Tim Bogert and Vince Martell, the band’s bassist and guitarist, respectively. Cultivating these acquaintances, which turned into friendships, Pete eventually landed gigs with Vanilla Fudge, Cactus and the Vince Martell Band, culminating in a dream-come-true musical experience.

FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing.

PB: My Mom played a little piano, even though we didn’t have one at home, and Dad played the organ. I’m the first professional musician in my family, however. Mom’s friend was an opera singer, who once heard me at about age 5 singing along with a Nat King Cole record. She encouraged Mom to get me singing lessons, but Mom never followed through. I think she regretted it when she saw my deep love of music and that’s why she was so supportive later on. She drove me an hour away, once a week, for drum lessons. Dad was supportive too. He bought me my instruments.

My early story isn’t all that much different from most rock musicians of the ’60s. I started in the 4th grade concert band as a percussionist in about 1962. Then I heard the Beatles and, like everyone else, played in a lot of basement bands. I took great music theory and ear training courses in high school – thank you, Mr. Kupka! I also taught myself to play Dad’s old 1949 Hammond spinet organ, inspired by Mark Stein. I majored in music for a couple of years at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

FBPO: How did you end up a bass player? It was kind of a roundabout path, wasn’t it?

PB: Yes. Being a drummer, I spent afternoons after school jamming at home with friends from my block. The other guys, all guitar players, wanted to start jamming at their houses and, of course, it was a pain carting and fitting only part of my kit in a little red wagon, since I was only 13. So I decided I wanted to play guitar too. My best friend, Jeff Guenther, said that we have enough guitarists and that I should play bass. “Bass? What’s that?” He said it’s like a guitar but it only has four strings and you only have to play one low note at a time. “That’s for me!”

FBPO: Who were your influences as a young, up-and-coming bass player?

PB: Admittedly, I had a very narrow scope when I was young. Believe it or not, bass was boring to me, at first. I was actually a pretty good drummer, so starting over and going root, fifth, root, fifth, which was all I could do, was boring. I didn’t like playing bass with records because if you didn’t match the record exactly, it sounded like mashed potatoes. I was just so into the Beatles, so originally it was all Paul, but truthfully I didn’t listen to many players at first, a mistake of course. Instead, I just developed on my own in jams. That is, until another friend, Ed Walker, who switched from guitar to bass and later on became the bassist for Strutt, dragged me to see my first concert by a band that was more than a year older than me.

I was still 13 and there was this place called Pleasureland, a commercial swimming pool a couple miles from home. They had an outdoor pavilion that held only about two hundred people and they held concerts in the summer. Ed took me there to see Vanilla Fudge in August 1967, the day before their first album was released. Their first single, “You Keep Me Hanging On,” was out, but I’d never heard of them before. My life changed that day.

When I heard and saw Tim Bogert play, I was truly mesmerized. Suddenly, bass wasn’t boring any more. He is, to this day, the fastest bass player I’ve ever seen. Oh sure, monster players like Victor Wooten and Billy Sheehan can generate as many, if not more notes, but they do it with modern technique. Timmy was pure muscle and could play at speed with one finger. His wrists and arms were faster than most drummers. Of course, I know now speed isn’t everything, but to a kid of 13, it was. Tim’s sax background made his style unique too. I became a passionate and devoted, if not almost obsessed fan. I created a fan website, dedicated to Tim decades later, that became his official page. Later on, I listened to Jethro Tull’s Glenn Cornick and Chris Squire, which shouldn’t be surprising because Yes was admittedly influenced by the Fudge. I wasn’t into progressive and solo players as much as guys who just played inspired lines and grooves. I know that must sound strange coming from a Bogert fan, but outside of Vanilla Fudge and Cactus, I don’t play like Tim.

FBPO: Tell me about those early years as a professional musician.

PB: Growing up, I never had another job except as a busboy at a pancake house. That job only lasted a month, so I guess I can say I’ve been professional almost all my life. My first paying gig was at 13. I could still barely play some months later, but somehow I landed a gig with two brothers, Dave and Larry Boggess, who played keyboards and drums, respectively, along with my two aforementioned friends, Jeff and Ed, who were both guitarists. We formed Heaven’s Sundae, which became very popular in the High School/CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) circuit. We won countless band battles over the next few years. I was forced to get better. We had an eclectic set list. Our mantra was when a song made it to AM radio, it was dropped from our set. We played Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” before most people had heard of it. By the time it became a hit, we were tired of it. We had the reputation of being the local band to see for new music.

FBPO: You took quite a hiatus from the music scene. Where did you go? What did you do?

PB: The short of it is “the business” made me quit. I caught an agent ripping me off big time. The money was bad to begin with – what else is new? – and it dealt me a serious emotional blow. I took a job in a printing factory and stayed in that industry for over twenty years. I got married, had identical twin sons and worked my way up to general manager. I also became a volunteer firefighter and a volunteer search & rescue dog handler. I’ve since retired from all three, but I still have my last search partner, Boomerang, a wonderful German Shepherd dog.

FBPO: What made you decide to get back into music?

PB: It was around Christmastime, 1993, when my next-door neighbor, also a bass player, grabbed me outside my house and begged for my help. He took a gig for a Christmas party that was coming up in three days, then quickly realized he didn’t know the classic rock material for the gig. He was considerably younger than me, so he begged me to go to the gig with him and play the songs he didn’t know. I told him I hadn’t played in twenty years, but that didn’t matter to him. I thought, what the hell? I was soon reminded why I quit in the first place: We did three sets. He played one; I played two. He got paid; I didn’t.

Nonetheless, the bug bit me again. Besides, I needed a part-time job to support my 3-year-old twin sons. I set up my ’72 “J” bass and began to go to open jams to loosen up. Soon after, Jeff, who turned me on to bass thirty-something years earlier, invited me to sit in with his band. At the end of the night, he handed me some money and I said, “Wow, what’s this for?” He said, “You played a whole set, didn’t you?” My spirits were lifted and he made his duo a trio.

FBPO: How did you become the go-to guy for Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Vince Martell, and all the rest?

PB: In the decades when I followed the Fudge and its members, I never actually met them. The closest thing to meeting them was catching one of Carmine’s sticks at a show in 1987. In 1997, I discovered a cool new fan website for Vanilla Fudge. I emailed the webmaster, Casey Butler, and we became email pals. I had started dabbling in websites and when he learned this, he invited me to be an assistant webmaster. He didn’t know the band personally either. Over the next year, one by one, all four original Fudge members discovered the site and they loved it! The band wasn’t together at the time, but they put their heads together and declared the site official.

I soon learned that Vince Martell, the lead guitarist, lived fairly close to me. I went to one of his solo gigs and we hit it off as friends. One night, when his bass player bailed from a gig at the last minute, he took a chance on me. I soon became the bass player of his new band. I’ve been his first-call bassist since 2000.

In January 2002, the day before the start of a new Vanilla Fudge reunion tour, coincidentally in New Jersey, where I live, Tim Bogert was suddenly hospitalized with pneumonia. Carmine Appice tracked me down at 4:00 p.m. at my printing office. He told me what had happened and said Vince had told him I knew all their material. They came to my home studio, where I have a Hammond B3 and a drum kit, at 10:00 p.m. that night for an audition/rehearsal. After we ran through their set once, we took a break and Carmine said, “You know, I think this is going to work.” I can sing too and I knew Tim’s harmony parts.

The next morning, we left for Asbury Park and the Stone Pony, where we played the first show, only twenty-four hours after I got the call. I had to learn two new songs by ear and “air bass” while I was packing. I played them for the first time at sound check. Tim was ill for quite a while and I toured with them, on and off, for about six months until I ran out of vacation time and I was replaced by T.M. Stevens. I was so upset about having to give up the gig, I acquired a real estate license so I could make my own hours, quit my job at the printing company and sold real estate as a backup to music.

In 2008, Tim got sick again right before a Cactus gig in New York. I met and became friends with Tim in ’98 at a Fudge reunion and I had created a website for him as well. This time, it was Tim himself that called me to sub for him. When Tim retired from touring in 2010, the Fudge called me for the gig.

In the meantime, Cactus kept going with Elliott Rubinson on bass. Carmine knew him because of his affiliation with ddrum. Elliott was on tour with Michael Schenker when a Cactus gig came up, so Carmine called me to sub. This time would be the first time I would play with original guitarist Jim McCarty. In ’08, Werner Fritzchings, who replaced McCarty in the old days, was on guitar. The gig was in Detroit and I was thrilled when McCarty walked offstage at the end of the gig and said rather emphatically, “Now that’s the way Cactus should sound!” He pulled me aside later and told me we would definitely work together again. And we have.

FBPO: What’s keeping you busy now?

PB: Well, coincidentally, as I’m answering these questions, I’m on a tour bus in Germany with Vanilla Fudge on a three-week, seven-country tour of Europe. After this, we’ll be in Florida. We have a live album coming out in late spring or summer, recorded at B.B. King’s in New York last year. We’ll also be recording a new studio album in June. Cactus is putting the finishing touches on a new studio album and we have a live album out, Live in Japan, that we recorded in Tokyo in 2012. There will soon be a companion DVD coming out as well.

Besides that, when not on tour, I play in a couple of local club bands, Carnaby Street and The Kootz, in northern New Jersey. I try to get together with my sons, Matt and Adam, when they’re not too busy for old Dad. And, saving the best for last, there is a new lady in my life, Beverly, my fiancée, whom I can’t spend enough time with!

FBPO: What kind of equipment do you use?

PB: I play MTD (Michael Tobias Design) basses. I have five of his basses: a USA 635-24, a USA 5-string Saratoga, a Kingston KZ6 with Bartolini electronics, a 4-string Kingston CRB that I’m using with Vanilla Fudge and a Kingston 5-string Saratoga. I use a Hartke rig: HyDrive 410 and 115 cabs with an HA5500 head. I use effects sparingly, but I use a Boss tuner and Boss Bass Chorus and Boss Distortion pedals.

FBPO: How about the future? What else would you like to do that you haven’t already accomplished?

PB: I would like to record a solo album eventually and do more sessions. I think one of my biggest strengths is my ability to meld with drummers and make drums more tonal, so I’d like to put some clinics together.

FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?

PB: I would like to work with dogs again. I’m an outdoors guy. Search and rescue and working with local, county and state police was so exciting. I’ve even worked with the FBI on a few searches. My current dog is a New Jersey certified search dog, but we’re both retired now. I’m busy working and touring, so I just don’t have the time it takes to maintain the training requirements any more. I was also a District Forest Fire Warden with the New Jersey State Forest Fire Service for twenty-five years. I would still be involved with that again if I could.

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