Carmine Appice needs almost no introduction. With a track record that includes drumming and writing the occasional smash with Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, Pink Floyd, and many, many more, the Brooklyn native continues to rock countless fans and students around the world each year with his peerless showmanship and wide-ranging projects.
Currently on Carmine’s plate is Drum Wars, a unique concert experience that pairs him with his younger brother Vinny, familiar to metal fans as a member of Black Sabbath, Dio, and Heaven and Hell. Their next stop brings them back home to New York City for a gig at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill on Aug. 1. I caught up with Appice—who’s currently working on his long-awaited memoir with author Greg Prato—in this exclusive interview.
What first called you to the drums?
Well, my cousin Joey had a drum set and whenever we went to his house for family occasions, I would go on his kit and try and play. I got very inspired by playing his drums each time. Then I would go home and start banging on the pots and pans and anything that would sound good. Eventually, my parents saw I was really into it and started buying me toy drum sets. After breaking a few of those, they bought me a real drum set for Christmas. It was a snare, bass drum and a cymbal. But to me, it was awesome. I practiced every day; I wanted to get good. I worked at it.
How did Drum Wars come about?
It started when my brother joined Black Sabbath [in 1980]. He used the name Ap-pi-see while I used A-piece, which I’ve been using for four or five years. So for many years, there was always the last name confusion. Then in 1988, me and Vinny did a great [drum] clinic tour together. So we always said we must do that kind of touring together again. In 1995, we recorded a DVD called Drums Wars: The Ultimate Battle that actually was a drum battle and the loser got to use the last name of the victor. The DVD sold thousands and has almost 200,000 views on YouTube. After Ronnie James Dio passed away [last year], Vinny and I talked about putting together a Drum Wars tour, since Vinny didn’t know what his future was. We also wanted to play with each other again as we did in 1988, and now felt like the right time.
What can people expect from the show? Will there be any special guests on other instruments?
They can expect a lot of energy from both of us playing together with lots of power. We will be playing many of our hit songs from Dio, Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart, and Ozzy. The songs are played by our Drum Wars band. Sometime we play separately our own hit songs. Some songs we play together, which is really awesome. We do drum pieces we wrote and a solo each. There is a lot of audience participation; every show we’ve done so far have been filled up and the audience response has been amazing. Just plan to have a great time!
It’s a rare treat to see you and Vinny share a stage. What other times have you played live together?
In 1988 on the clinic tour I mentioned, and also in the early 2000s Vinny played in a group called the Lizards with a guy named Randy Pratt who was a friend of ours and whose band it was. He put Vinny in the band to tour with Vanilla Fudge. So we did a slight Drum Wars things every night we played. It was fun, and the audience loved it. So this inspired us to do Drum Wars now.
Vanilla Fudge is currently in the middle of a farewell tour. What are your thoughts about your longest-associated band calling it a day?
Well, when we decided to get together again we thought that at our age by the time we did a world tour we would be too old to want to keep doing this. A world tour at the rate we get gigs can take two to three years. So we thought it should become a farewell tour and that we should play our first album in its entirety, which we never did before. Then Jimmy Fallon asked us to do his show, which was great. So when the gigs are done, we’re done!
There’s a movement online to get Vanilla Fudge into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which in recent years has been friendlier to pop and hip-hop acts over veteran bands. How much importance do you put on an induction?
I personally don’t put that much importance on it. I have been given many awards like the Hollywood Rockwalk, many legends awards, lifetime achievement awards, etc. The Rock Hall of Fame would be nice, but they don’t get the part Vanilla Fudge and Cactus had in building rock. They would rather give awards to pop and rap artists. They should have called it the Music Hall of Fame, not Rock. The Fudge were inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. I guess that will have to do for now. Maybe someday the Rock Hall will see the light. I do appreciate all the people online trying to get us into the Hall of Fame—it’s supposed to be [for] artists who influenced other people in the music biz. I guess influencing two generations of music at least is not enough—from Deep Purple to [Led] Zep[pelin] to Three Dog Night to Yes, Styx, ELP and more, not to mention we took Zep ,Deep Purple, Three Dog Night, Janis Joplin, CCR, Sly [and the Family Stone] and more out on tour!
Anyone who’s serious about playing drums likely has a copy of The Ultimate Realistic Rock Drum Method, the book you first published nearly 40 years ago. What made you decide to write it at the time, and how do you feel about being a pioneer in the instructional genre?
The book happened by accident. I went to Sam Ash music stores one day in the early ’70s when I was with my group Cactus. I saw a book that was supposed to teach you how to play rock drums. I looked at it from the cover to all the lessons, [which] were not very good. So then and there I decided to write a realistic book on how to play rock drums. I wrote it in 30 days and my attorney went out and got me a publishing deal with the United Artists/Big 3 company. I called it Realistic Rock, and through the Ludwig drum company, which suggested I do clinics to support the book, I sold thousands of books. I was the first rock musician to write a rock instructional book and to do clinics. I started a whole new thing that I had it all to myself, this rock education thing I started doing in 1971. Crazy that I did not know that I was creating something new here. The book is still doing well and has become a legendary award-winning book and makes me proud that I did it.
You’re also actively involved with charity work, especially for children. How does doing good for others enrich your life as a man and a musician?
I’ve always enjoyed teaching kids. I gave lessons from [when I was] 17 years old, and always loved seeing younger musicians get a chance to learn. I love seeing the smiles on their faces; it makes me feel good. I’ve also given thousands of dollars to the children of the world UNICEF charity. I enjoyed knowing that the money I gave them would help [them]. It just makes me feel good.
Who are your all-time favorite drummers and why?
Buddy Rich; he was just so fast with some amazing combinations between his hands and feet. He was also was very vicious when he played. I loved him.
Gene Krupa; I love his melodic approach and his showmanship. He was the first drummer to turn the drums into a solo instrument. He turned the drummer into the star of the band. That’s what I wanted to do—it was my boyhood dream. He was the best. Krupa and Rich were my main guys.
Then there was Max Roach and Joe Morello, who rounded out my playing with cool kinds of combinations between hands and feet by Max, and cool odd time meters by Joe. By playing and practicing all these styles, it rounded me out to be a drummer to play mostly anything. Then I added my power to these styles and boom!—my own style emerged.
I have a few questions about your time with Rod Stewart, with whom you penned the hits “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and “Young Turks.” How did you contribute to the writing of both?
Rod asked for the band to write a song like “Miss You” by the Stones. So I came up with the verse changes and the bridge changes and melody. Then Rod wrote the chorus and the lyrics. “Young Turks” started out at my co-writer Duane Hitchings’ studio. Then we presented it to Rod with a drum machine rhythm [we programmed], which Rod loved because it was new. I then put hi-hat cymbals and cymbal crashes on that song and also “Tonight I’m Yours” [another song performed by Stewart].
For “Sexy,” Rod was later sued for plagiarism by Brazilian artist Jorge Ben Jor, and he agreed to surrender his future royalties to UNICEF. How were you affected by the suit, if at all? Were you aware of any similarities when you originally cut the song?
I wasn’t affected at all. Rod made a deal with [Ben Jor]. Rod must have heard his song in South America when he used to go there to party. I was there in February, and heard his song, [thinking] it was “Sexy” being played on the hotel elevator music, but it was his. That’s the first time I ever heard that song. Very similar!
Rod’s 1980 album Foolish Behaviour, on which you also played, was produced by the singer under the alias Harry the Hook. Do you have any idea why Rod chose to use a pseudonym and what it means?
Because Rod is a jokester and loves to joke around…nothing more than that!
The reissue of Rod’s 1981 album Tonight I’m Yours replaces your face on the back cover with Tony Brock’s, who played the majority of the drums on the record. Why was this done, and were you still originally planning to join Rod on the 1981-82 tour as the original sleeve indicates? What happened to make you drop out from it?
I was a co-producer on that album…there was a lot of drinking and drugs going on. I wasn’t into either of that. I basically became an outsider in the group because I never liked to go to the pub and do drugs. Because I was a co-producer and based on the music that was being played—which was getting wimpy-sounding to me—we brought in Tony as a session drummer. I was okay with that because I was a co-producer. One day, instigated by the other co-producer, Rod blew off my producer credit for no reason during the last stages of recording, [but] the band photo for the back was taken with me. Then Rod told me I wasn’t doing the tour because the rumor was around that I was leaving to join Led Zep to replace [John] Bonham. So, through a drug-induced paranoia, he told me that Tony was going to do the tour. Tony did the tour, and on the next printing they put his head on my body. The full story is in my autobiography I’m working on now!
Later you ended up playing on the Pink Floyd album A Momentary Lapse of Reason on the song “The Dogs of War.” How did you end up getting chosen for this, and what was it like working with a band that already had Nick Mason as drummer but was looking for a certain “feel” on that cut?
One day I came home and there was a message on my answering machine: “Hi Carmine, it’s Bob Ezrin. I’m producing a band and there is a track just screaming for Carmine drum fills. Call me,” and he left his number. When I called, he told me it was Pink Floyd. My first question was, “What happened to Nick?” He said he would be there; they just wanted some new blood on the album and that Nick’s calluses were soft and that he would be there. So that’s how I happened. I went down and spent the afternoon putting drum tracks down. This is another great story in my book.
One of your most beloved bands is Blue Murder, and you informally jammed with bandmates John Sykes and Tony Franklin a few years ago. Do you think the band will ever play again?
It was a magic jam…all the Blue Murder songs sounded great. But we could never get Sykes to commit, so I don’t know. I hear he may be working with Mike Portnoy [the two recently announced plans to form a new group—Ed.]. I know Tony is with Kenny Wayne Shepherd now.
Are there any other artists who you wanted to play with, but couldn’t because of the timing or logistics?
Would have loved to play with Zep and Chickenfoot!
After Drum Wars, what’s next for Carmine Appice?
Doing more Drum Wars, playing with Fudge and finishing my book, doing clinics and just having a great time playing!
Drum Wars featuring Carmine and Vinny Appice comes to B.B. King Blues Club and Grill, 237 West 42nd Street (between Seventh and Eighth avenues) Monday, Aug. 1 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $16.00 in advance, $20.00 day of show. Visit www.bbkingblues.com for more info. Visit Carmine online at http://carmineappice.com and www.drumwars.com.
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