Carmine Appice is a giant behind his drum kit. His pioneering thunderous approach to the rock beat has influenced many drummers, including Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, and his tree trunk sized sound can be heard in such modern-day skin-men as Brian Tichy, Mike Portnoy, Mick Brown, Nicko McBrain and Carmine’s younger brother Vinny. The man is simply a beast.
Gaining his first national recognition with the blues-rock band Vanilla Fudge in the latter part of the 1960’s, Appice went on to drum behind such rockers as Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Ozzy Osbourne, John Sykes, Ted Nugent, Mike Bloomfield and Michael Schenker. He has played on millions-selling albums, wrote THE book on drum instruction, published first in 1972 and continuing to sell today in a revised edition, partied with the biggest names in the rock star galaxy and is currently writing his memoirs. As much as Appice loves to share his rock & roll life stories, this book ought to be a doozy.
But on the day I call Appice to talk with him about his career and the new King Kobra record, he is frustrated with his internet company. “First, I couldn’t get on to my email today so I had to call them,” Appice explained. “I spent the whole morning talking to them to get my email straightened out. I was hoping they would do that before you called so I could do the interview. Now, it’s my agents from Vanilla Fudge calling.” Once he finishes with his business call, he is ready and we chat for a few minutes about how much he loves New Orleans and it’s popular treat, beignets – “I love those things, they’re awesome.” And reminisces about the time Vanilla Fudge played a concert there in 1969: “That was the night Martin Luther King was killed. I will always remember that. We dedicated ‘People Get Ready,’ a Vanilla Fudge song, to him that night. There were five or six thousand people there and it was just an amazing gig.”
But Appice doesn’t find that there’s much honest-to-goodness rock out there on today’s radio. There’s too much pop, although he does like Taylor Swift. “She’s a good artist,” he admits, “but most of them are so fucking useless. They have songs that you can’t even remember. Not like when we had songs. I don’t know how old you are but in my day, you know, starting from the 60’s up, there were so many great songs; all the Motown songs and Atlantic Records songs; Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. There isn’t any of that anymore. It used to be where you’re driving along and you hear music on the radio and you had new artists that were creative and really cool and identifiable. You heard bands like the Rolling Stones and you knew when the Rolling Stones came on, you could identify them. You knew when Pink Floyd came on, you knew when Led Zeppelin came on, and Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart. Now, these people come on Top 40 and they all sound the same. You don’t know who is who. And they don’t identify anybody either on the radio (laughs). Even if it’s something you liked, you don’t know who it is because they never identify it. I don’t understand how these groups get big today.”
When I mention to Appice that my first real memory of music was of Vanilla Fudge playing on my dad’s turntable when I was very small, he is delighted. “Wow, well, you know, Vanilla Fudge was a big influential band in those days. A lot of people listened to us and we influenced a lot of people, like Yes, like Keith Emerson and Emerson Lake & Palmer and Zeppelin and Purple and the list goes on and on. Everybody opened up for us and back in those days it was all the beginning and it was really, really exciting because everything was new.”
Did you feel at the time that you were living in an important time for music?
It was an amazing time for music. Actually, I’m writing a book of my life now for VH1, their book department. I’m writing with the guy who wrote Nikki Sixx’s book, The Heroin Diaries, and the reason why they wanted me to write the book for them is the fact that when I grew up, they said this is the best era of music, for rock music, that there ever was. And I was there. I was right there in the helm of it. And the fact that I wasn’t just with one band, that I went from Vanilla Fudge to Cactus then to Jeff Beck, BBA, then on to playing with Mike Bloomfield, seven years with Rod Stewart, to Ted Nugent and Ozzy. So I touched on all these different bands and people.
Then through them, I touched some other things. Like my management company in the 70’s was people that managed KISS and I was really involved in the KISS era when they were really big. With Ozzy when Ozzy was just getting big. So I had a lot of stories that touch on different people. Then I get the guys like Buddy Rich, the great drummers, were friends of mine. And with Rod, we had all these actors, legendary Hollywood movie stars, come and see us, like Fred Astaire and Gregory Peck. I’ve got a letter from Fred Astaire on my wall. So I’ve did a lot of interesting things. Henry Winkler used to come down to my studio when I was recording my solo album. His son is a drummer and he was going through my drum book. I wrote a drum book and I got to be friends with Andrew Dice Clay because he was a drummer who went through my book. I ended up teaching his kids. A lot of crazy stuff.
When can we expect the book?
Well, we put a due date on finishing it by the end of September so I would think if we did that it would be the first quarter of 2014. But you know, I haven’t got a good title for it yet. I can’t settle on a good title.
I’m sure you’ll think of something very cool.
That’s what my writer says, “Something will pop up when we’re writing.” Originally I was going to call it The International Rock Guide To Hotel Wrecking but it’s too long. Maybe just The Rock Guide. We’ll figure something out.
You have a new CD coming out this week with King Kobra. What got you guys back into the studio?
Well, it started back in 2009, I guess, when I went to visit a friend of mine, who is a producer-engineer with Dave Michael-Philips, who was the guitar player in King Kobra. He just happened to be visiting LA. We went out to dinner and then we went to see this guy Pat Regan, who was mixing, I believe it was the Keel album for this label called Frontiers, who I knew about. Then Pat said, “Why don’t you guys do a CD with King Kobra?” At the time, you know, my singer Mark Free turned into a woman and was Marcie Free, and we’d had a bit of a falling out because I did like a catalog deal with a label just to be able to release some stuff that we had in the can that was never out. And we even had a video, it wasn’t a great video, the quality wasn’t good, but it was a great video of us playing at this big festival in Mexico in front of a huge crowd, like ten or fifteen thousand people. And I thought it would be fun for whatever King Kobra fans were out there to release for them to have in their collection, whoever wanted it.
But Marcie/Mark Free didn’t want to release it because there really isn’t any money in it anymore. Your labels today don’t give you any money. There’re no big deals like there used to be unless you’re a pop artist like Taylor Swift, you know. But like I said, I just wanted to do it for the fun. So long story short, Marcie/Mark Free threatened to sue me if I released it. So I said, you know what, I won’t even release it. There’s no money in it for me. I just wanted to do it for creative purposes.
So when Pat said, “Why don’t you guys do it?” I said, “Well, we don’t have a singer but I have been talking to Paul Shortino as a friend, so maybe we can get Paul to do it.” So I called Paul up that evening and told him and he said, “Oh I’d love to play the gig.” Then we got Johnny Rod and Mick Sweda to commit and we went and put a deal together for the first album on Frontiers, which we called King Kobra. That came out in 2011 to rave reviews from all the press. It got really great reviews and we sold fairly good for the kind of numbers you sell today. I mean, King Kobra was never a big-selling band. We were a good stage act and we had a good following but we never had like double-platinum albums or anything. So we did the first album and it did well. Then we were talking to Frontiers and they said, “Maybe you want to do another one?” So we said, “Ok, we’ll do another one.”
So anyway, we decided to do it and to do a better album. Let’s make it better. So we spent a lot of time and we did the same kind of album but we did much better lyrics. A couple of songs have really, really long arrangements and we put a little bit of 70’s jams element in there. Then we did a video for one of the songs called “Have A Good Time” and we did a video in Vegas and we did have a good time. We had Carrot Top play drums on it, we had Vinnie Paul from Pantera play some drums on it; we had some very famous people on it, Zakk Wylde introduced it, Ace Frehley ended it. It’s a really fun video.
Who wrote most of the songs?
It was the three of us mostly: me, Paul and Dave. Funny enough, I have an iPad with a garage band app on it and I had three of the ideas that I wrote on my garage band on my iPad. The idea started from the iPad songs, which is funny. It’s like we’re doing a new Cactus album and one of the songs we did with Cactus came from my iPad also. It’s funny. It’s like the old meets the new.
One of the songs I found very cool was “Deep River.”
“Deep River” was one that we said, why don’t we do something like Blue Murder might do. Dave had that riff and we gave him the writing on that one cause he did a lot of the work with the melody and the lyrics and stuff. But we all arranged it and came up with that really long 70’s kind of arrangement. Then at the end, me and Paul came up with all that background vocal stuff. (singing) “deep river” where it sounds like a choir. Then Paul got a bunch of his friends in his house and sang that stuff. It was guys like Frankie DiMino, who is the lead singer of Angel, and you had Ron Keel from the group Keel and this guy Danny who is on the History Tv show called Counting Cars. He has his own show there and he has a band and he owns the club that we did the video in for “Have A Good Time.” On that one, we tried to make sort of like a heavy metal “Hot Legs.”
You start off with “Hell On Wheels” with the train and it just barrels ahead. Was that intentional to make it the first song on the CD, telling people that you guys are still rocking hard?
You know, when I do CDs, from my experience, you do all the songs and then you see how they all turn out. Then once you see how they turn out, then you figure out, ok, this could be a good opener or that could be a good opener. So when we finished the song “Hell On Wheels” we didn’t know where it was going to go until it was, I think it was Dave that said, “Maybe we should open up with ‘Hell On Wheels’ cause it’d kick everybody right in the ass.” We did some tentative running orders together. Then when the guy mastered it, Michael Voss who mixed it and edited it all together, he’s a great engineer cause he puts in all these things for sound effects. Like on “The Battle Of Johnny Rod” that sort of um-pa-pa kind of thing at the beginning (laughs), he put that in there and he puts in all the growls in there, all the different sound effects. He’s pretty good at that. Originally, he thought we wanted like a big bad racecar sound, so originally it was a big racecar, but we said, no, no, we’re talking about getting on a train and leaving town. Make it a train (laughs). So he made it the train and now with the train coming and the bell and hitting that tempo, it just worked great, you know. After you do that, what do you do then? Cause you just said, “Ok, we’re back.” (laughs) So we said the second one should be “Knock Them Dead.” “Knock Them Dead” was a cool song because it had a good message lyrically. We really worked the lyrics and, basically, just going for it and hoping you find your goal in knocking them out, you know, like a rock band does.
“Take Me Back” sounds like a ballsy blues.
Yes and it is. That was some track that Dave had and then I came up with the idea of “Take Me Back” and I said, “Let’s do like, (singing) ‘take me back,’ and then go back through all this stuff on your life, back to your old neighborhood.” You know we did a lot of this album on the internet. We’d have the track, I did some vocal ideas and I’d send them to Paul with some melodies and he would start writing lyrics and it was all done like that. Then again at the end of that song, we did that big gospel-ly kind of choir thing, which was really cool.
You helped produce this CD.
You know, as far as I’m concerned, we all did it together but Dave really wanted to be the producer so it’s produced by Dave with me and Paul. But we all produced it. I was there and did all the drumming on analog; Paul and me did that. Paul did his vocals, I did vocals with Paul, I did background vocals with Paul, Dave did his guitar, Mick did his guitar, Dave did some extra stuff, keyboards and some background vocals. Then we sent it to Michael Voss, who is my connection and Paul’s connection, so really all three of us did it. But we gave him the credit.
You and Johnny Rod sound really good together.
Yeah, I would say that Johnny Rod is a maniac, he’s a crazy man, but you know what people don’t realize is that he is a really good bass player. He locks in with me really easy and he’s a really good bass player. And he’s a good showman. He’s always been a good showman.
Other than him, what other bass player do you think you have connected with the most in your career?
Well, Tim Bogert, definitely, from Fudge and Cactus and BBA. There was Phil Chen from the Rod Stewart group. We really connected really well. But the most, the guy I loved playing with, is Tony Franklin from Blue Murder.
He’s playing with Kenny Wayne Shepherd now.
That’s right and he played on my Guitar Zeus records, we played on a lot of stuff together. We’re actually working on a new band. Me and Tony and Bruce Kulick and Joe Lynn Turner for Frontiers, it’s a Frontiers project. We’re just getting the last commitment from Joe now and then we’re all in. We have no name. We’re just working on putting it together.
But they’re a great band [KWS] with Tony in it. I saw them in New York. They have the best dynamics of any band except Vanilla Fudge. Vanilla Fudge has the best dynamics. But they have awesome dynamics. They’re amazing.
I talked to your brother last year when he did Kill Devil Hill and he told me that when he was a kid he used to bang on your drums and you used to yell at him.
Well, I did yell at him because I didn’t want him to break anything (laughs) but then when I went home one day and he was playing, he had actually good rhythms and stuff. And my mother came up and said, “What do you think?” And I said, “I can’t believe he learned all this himself.” And she said, “Yeah, does he have any talent?” And I said, “Yeah, he does have talent.” And she said, “What should we do?” And I said that maybe we should send him to the guy that taught me and she said, “He’s driving me crazy everyday playing on his drums. Just like you did.” (laughs) So we sent him to my teacher and he learned at a very young age the proper way to play. Then he learned and he learned great. By the time he was twelve or thirteen years old, he was a great drummer already.
What is your first memory of music?
Well, I had an older brother like you had your father. My older brother used to play music that I started liking. He played Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, some of the older Doo Wop bands. And then he used to listen to it on the radio that I used to listen to also. Then he went to see an Alan Freed Rock & Roll Show but he wouldn’t take me cause I was his younger brother and he was cool and he was teenager and I wasn’t. So my mother took me and that was the first experience of seeing like two drummers on the stage, the big band and the crowd going crazy and that really inspired me. But I was always banging on stuff anyway. My cousin Joey had a drum set and whenever we went to his house, I’d play on them and then I’d come home and bang on the pots and pans and all that. It was like one of those kinds of things. Then I got a toy drum set and broke those. Then when they saw I was into it, they bought me a regular cheap drum set at the first Sam Ash store in Brooklyn. It was the very first store. That drum kit cost, I think, $50. And that’s what started me off. Then seeing the Alan Freed show really inspired me.
You said you broke that kit. You are a very powerful drummer. Have you ever totally destroyed a drum kit when you were playing?
I used to destroy all the drum sets back in the day, cause they weren’t made as strong as they are made now. They were just made with very thin stands and I used to break them all the time. I was endorsed by Ludwig Drum Company and I used to break the stands, I used to break the pedals, I used to crack the rims, the metal rims, I used to crack those open and break those, break snares under the bottom. I’m still doing that. Now, the stands are made a lot stronger and they’re made more for power drumming. I pioneered all that stuff with Ludwig to make the stands bigger and more powerful and more stronger for everybody. Before me, everybody played light and I was the first one that really started beating the shit out of the drums.
Who do you see nowadays that plays as hard as you do?
My brother Vinny is ridiculous, very hard. But most drummers play hard now. Tommy Lee plays hard. We did a Bonzo Bash, a tribute to Bonzo, and all those guys on there were all hard hitters. Chad Smith is a very hard hitter, Brian Tichy is a very hard hitter. He’s a great drummer. He did some great stuff at the Bonzo Bash. But most of the guys there were all playing hard. And it all started, basically, from me, because in those days nobody played hard. The drummers that influenced all the drummers back in the day was, before John Bonham even, was Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and myself – and I was the only American. And being American, I was more aggressive. I played harder. I was the only one that really played hard and that’s what created this style that I came up with because I played hard and I played with big drums, I pioneered the big drums that everyone is using, which I got the same drum set for John Bonham, which ended up being a Led Zeppelin drum kit. Then that thing got so big and Bonham took the stuff that I was doing, which is playing hard like that, then he took it to the next level. But if you look around at all these drummers playing, anyone that is playing hard and throwing sticks, came from me (laughs).
You and your brother go out and do Drum Wars.
My brother plays so loud. It’s unbelievable how loud he plays and he plays with one bass drum. We do these Drum Wars shows and it’s incredible because I use two bass drums and he uses one. But that show is great. We play all our hits that we’re known for and we’re having a great time, we goof off. He’ll do a solo and I’ll come out and say, “I taught him everything he knows.” (laughs) Even the introduction is a lot of fun. It’s a goof on weight, you know. It’s a funny show with a bit of comedy in there and it’s metal and hard rock and some really good drumming.
What makes a drum solo into a great drum solo?
I think a drum solo depends on what we’re defining it at. A great drum solo as a technical drummer or a great drum solo for playing in an arena or playing in a theatre is satisfying the audience. Cause some drum solos can be so technical that you lose or goes right over the head of the audience. I learned probably in my Rod Stewart days not to be too technical for an audience because it goes right over their head and then you got people going out for a beer (laughs). But if it’s sort of like a Jazz or a Jazz-rock club where it’s very intimate and people are that kind of crowd, then you can be more technical. And what it is is being able to have a theme from the song you’re playing into or from, a melodic theme coming out of a song into a solo and using that theme in the actual solo. Then being able to have dynamics, fast parts and slow it down, low volume parts and bring it back up, and depending on what you want to do, you can get the audience involved in it. Having a theme and dynamics and being able to have whatever you want, whatever you think of, come out of your hands and feet, and have the facility to do that. If you don’t have the facility to do that, then you have problems.
You’ve played behind some outstanding musicians and vocalists. Who gave you the most freedom to be you?
Probably BBA was probably one of them. Ted Nugent gave me a lot of freedom and so did Ozzy, actually. With Rod I was a little bit confined because it was a seven-piece band and I’d never really played with a seven-piece band before, but I had great drum sounds through PA and on the recording.
You’ve performed with and met just about everybody in the business but who was the first real rock star that you ever met?
Probably the Rascals. I met Dino Danelli in 1963. He was opening for Gene Krupa and he was in a group called Ronnie Speeks & The Elrods. I thought he was awesome. He’s a couple years older than me and I thought he was awesome and he was playing this groove that I really liked and when I met him, he actually told me what it was. I think he actually wrote it out for me. And I took that groove and I used it early on in my drumming career because it was a really cool bass drum pattern he was doing. He was an innovator back then and then he went on to be in the Rascals and I met him in the Rascals.
Honestly, I’ve got to replace that. The first rock star I met was probably Chuck Berry because he used to come into these shows when I would play a gig somewhere and he would come in and he’d use the house band when I would play with them. That was fun. And that’s the same concept I use with my brother Vinny. When we go into a town, me and him use a band that should know all the songs. We send them MP3’s cause there’s Sabbath and Ozzy and Rod Stewart, big songs. So Chuck would come in and go, “If I’m not in A, I’m in C, or if I’m not in G or if I’m not in A, I’m in E” is what he’d tell the musicians. Then Chuck would say, “Here we go” and he’d start playing the song (laughs). So he was the first guy I met.
What do you remember most about recording the first Vanilla Fudge album?
The thing I remember most was that we recorded “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” as a demo. It was done in one take and it was mono. Straight down to tape, vocals and everything. It was seven and a half minutes that changed my life.
Was that the first time you were in a studio?
No, I was in the studio a few times before that. I was in this act called the 3 Beats and I think we did “You Really Got Me” and something else, just to record a couple of songs. I don’t even know why we recorded it. It was nothing different, just playing it like the record. I did that kind of local crap, you know.
Vanilla Fudge played on the Ed Sullivan Show, which was one of THE things to do back in the day. What was that like?
Well, we did it twice, actually. We did it the first time with “Hangin’ On.” Then we did it a second time with “Shotgun.” The first time it was crazy, because you don’t realize that you’re going to play in front of fifty million people. Ed came into the dressing room for a minute and introduced himself and said hi to everybody, shook everybody’s hand, and we thought that was the shit, you know. I remember going down in the elevator and said to the elevator operator, “Hey man, how many people watch this show?” And he said, “About fifty million” and I felt butterflies in my stomach (laughs). It was kind of fucked up but it was amazing, pretty amazing.
I heard that you did something with Janis Joplin?
Oh yeah, we did a lot of gigs with them, many gigs with Janis & Big Brother. One specific gig was in West Palm Beach, Florida. There was a festival there in 1969 and we were the headline act and under us was Grand Funk Railroad, Johnny Winter, Janis Joplin. And over us was the Rolling Stones, but that particular night I believe we were the headline act. So when we were on, Janis Joplin and Johnny Winter came up and jammed with us. We did a blues and at that point in time when the solo came, Johnny Winter was playing the solo, and this is Vanilla Fudge, and Janis came behind me and she was staying there, hanging out with me by the drums there. She had a bottle in her hands and she shoved this bottle in my mouth and tipped it up and shoved this liquor down my throat. I don’t know what it was and all of a sudden I gulped this like water and what it was was actually Southern Comfort, and I almost fell off my drum stool. It was unbelievable. She went, “Come on, kick my ass” or something like that (laughs).
You’ve talked about playing with Jimi Hendrix. What did you think of Noel Redding as a bass player?
Noel Redding was a perfect bass player for the Jimi Hendrix Experience because he held the groove. He was a groove holder. And on the other side of him was Mitch Mitchell, who was a great monster player but he was more of a Jazz player, so he did a lot of improvising, a lot of overplaying, which was great. I loved it, everybody loved it. And then on the other side was Jimi Hendrix singing and playing and improvising along what he did. So the only one really holding the shit together was Noel. He was like the glue between Mitch and Jimi and he was amazing at that. And the nicest guy. We had great times with them on the road, really good times.
When was THE moment you realized you were famous?
I don’t know if there was any one moment. I think it was a gradual build, cause we started getting famous in an area of Rhode Island and we signed autographs and stuff over there. Then gradually it started spreading. Then when we released “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” as a single in the New York area, then we sort of realized that we were drawing big crowds and signing autographs and everything. It was just kind of crazy, you know, and then it built from there. It was never real one given point where, “I’m famous.”
What is the most interesting piece of memorabilia that you have from your career?
Besides my letter from Fred Astaire? (laughs) I guess it’s probably the red velvet jacket that I wore on the Ed Sullivan Show. I still have that. I have it down in Florida at DDrum in like a glass kind of case. It’s because they did a version of the Carmine Appice/Ed Sullivan Show drum set, the same drum set I played on the Ed Sullivan Show. They recreated it, did a hundred units of that. When we introduced it at NAMM, we had the jacket there in a glass case and we also had the Ed Sullivan video running.
After all these years of being a professional musician, was it all you imagined it to be when you were just starting out and dreaming about it?
Well, actually, I really went beyond my dreams of what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a famous drummer like my idols Max Roach, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Joe Morello. But I’ve really gone beyond that because I’ve written number one songs, which they never did. I’ve written a bunch of songs that were on gold and platinum albums. I’ve went way beyond what I expected to do. I was a pioneer. I created innovating things that are still happening. I’ve done a lot of firsts. They had drum clinics but what I did was take the drum clinics to a new level. I took the drum book to a new level and all that stuff. I just wanted to be a famous drummer. I didn’t even have to be famous in the realm of hit records. Like Max Roach and Buddy Rich, they sold records but they didn’t sell millions and millions of records. I’ve sold millions of records. I’ve done soundtracks for movies, I was in movies – they were in movies too but I did the soundtracks and wrote songs for it. So I pretty much did everything that goes along with it that I never thought I’d be doing.
Now, I got other goals. I want to go on and do some corporate speaking things, cause I’ve done so many clinics that it seems like it’s the next thing to do. The clinics are playing and talking, teaching and talking, teaching people things. So basically, I can do corporate stuff for motivation because really that’s all I did all my life to keep myself in the business, to keep myself motivated. I had to set goals, I had to make life-changing career decisions, and what goes along with it – the fear, how do you conquer the fear? So I have goals to finish my book and make it a hit book and then maybe write another book. And my last goal in my life is to do another arena tour. Cause I’ve done everything. I’ve done small venues, I’ve done big venues, huge festivals with 500,000 people, 250,000 people, 100,000 people; television shows in America and Japan to fifty million people. I’ve done so much, so many different things, that I’d like to have one more crack at playing an arena tour with a good-sized act, going out and just doing a good fun arena tour for summer and then continuing what I’m doing.
Live photos by Jo Anna Jackson/stardogphotos.com