Carmine Appice – Interview

I remember when I purchased the Vanilla Fudge album.  I obsessively played it in between battling my sister for possession of this coveted record that personified “cool” at the time.  At that point, Vanilla Fudge dominated psychedelic rock and was on the cutting edge of just about everything. Fast forward to now, when I had the opportunity to interview Carmine Appice, the living legend, drummer extraordinaire, of Vanilla Fudge who has just released “Energy Overload”, a drum and guitar instrumental album with Fernando Perdomo. He is also scheduled to release the 25th Anniversary box set of “Guitar Zeus”, an updated and remastered version of the 1995 and 1997 monumental assemblage of guitar talent.  Meanwhile, Vanilla Fudge has endured, recently playing Sony Hall in New York with Robby Krieger and guest Joe Bonamassa. During our interview, Appice, a creative musician and businessman, was candid about many things including how grunge squeezed him and his hard rock/heavy metal projects out of the 90’s music scene in the US. Nevertheless, he successfully reinvented himself to the Japanese market throughout the 90’s, selling over 200,000 copies of “Guitar Zeus” and performing at famous venues like Budocon and to audiences of 12,000 fans. He was also decisively candid about how a near death experience has inspired him to play and compose Christian music.  

Interview by Maria Passannante-Derr. Photos courtesy of Carmine Appice.

Maria Passannante-Derr: In those days, you were the headliner with some amazing groups who opened for VF. You were known for an extended requiem sound style.  What was the genesis of that style? How did you come up with that sound?

Carmine Appice: There was a thing going around Long Island, NY at the time. The Vagrants were doing it and Leslie West was into it. They were called “production numbers” where they would take a song and slow it down and just make more of a production out of it.  We took that concept one step further. We wanted to marry the music to the lyrics. If you look at the first album, “You Keep me Hanging on” was a fast, happy song by The Supremes but the lyrics weren’t happy. They were dramatic and hurtin’ as we called it. We fit the music more to the lyric.  So, we slowed it down and made it more dramatic. For example, the way the vocals express the line, “There’s nothing I can do about it”.  The way he said that was like he was in that situation. If you look at “People Get Ready”, we made it more of a gospel, churchy vibe.   Eleanor Rigby talks about the church and cemetery. It was a very, very sad story so we made that music sad. “Season of the Witch” – very spooky; “Shotgun” was more of a driving rock, cool rock, R&B song so we just made it more our own by slowing it down a bit and making it heavier as we also were known for “heavy” in those days.

MP-D: Of course, “heavy” is the sound that all drummers and fans associate with you, the “heavy metal” type drum style.

CA: Which turned into what they call the “heavy metal” sound, you know like bottom and powerful.  

MP-D: Drummers say you are one of the hardest hitting and heaviest drummers in rock and metal. This was the “first” of a lot of “firsts” in your fifty-year career: first with Vanilla Fudge; first with your drum style.

CA:  First to write a drum book, first to do a clinic, other firsts too. Vanilla Fudge was the first to be on the Ed Sullivan show without a smash single. We had a smash album but not a single.  

MP-D: How was that?

CA: We couldn’t believe we were on the Ed Sullivan show.  We were going down the elevator to perform and I asked the elevator operator, “How many people watch this show?” He said, “fifty million”.  Now my stomach started turning and I was nervous until I hit the drums. Then we went absolutely bananas. No other band, on any other Ed Sullivan show, looked or played as heavy or crazy as we did.  At that point, most of the bands, including The Beatles, The Stones, Herman’s Hermits and The Rascals just used to stand there and play; and, we were dramatic, arms swinging all over the place. Me with the drumstick twirls and the power.  I looked like a freaking animal on that show. I look at it now and I say, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I did that!”

MP-D: Did you sing live on that show or was it taped?

CA: Live!! All those other groups look like they were taped because they were just standing there. Everybody played live on that show. The good thing is that we had a sound manager in the sound booth. He wasn’t allowed to touch the board because of the union laws; but he was in the booth telling them “Bring the drums up here, the organ here, the vocal here.” He was telling him what to do and, in turn, we sounded amazing!

MP-D: It seems that, with your latest release “Stop in the Name of Love”, you have come full circle with the Vanilla Fudge sound?

CA:   Exactly what we did. Here is another first, we are the only band from 1967 that released a new product with the original band.

MP-D: Which is amazing.  I look at all these bands reshuffling; and I think of it as jockeying for real estate, like who is the front or side man.

CA: It is sort of like sports teams.  You got the Lakers twenty years ago with different Lakers than now, but they are still the Lakers. I mean, you look at The Rolling Stones out there making ten million dollars a night but it’s a different Rolling Stones. There are only two guys from the original Rolling Stones.  I foresee KISS doing that in the future. They will be the guys in make- up and playing KISS shows forever, like a KISS team.

MP-D:  Is there some emotional closure for you with “Stop in the Name of Love” because of  Tim Bogert’s passing?

CA: It is important that we come full circle. We started with The Supremes, “Hanging On” with the full band and we ended with “Stop the Name of Love” with the identical full band, fifty years later. We’re still playing. We just played on Sony Hall, two nights with Robby Krieger. Joe Bonamassa came up and jammed with us. He is a friend of mine and we had him on my Thursday night show called “Hangin & Bangin” with my brother, Vinnie. It’s on my Facebook Page and YouTube, podcast, Apple, all that stuff.

We had Joe Bonamassa and Don McClean on before we did Sony Hall. I invited Joe to Sony Hall. He said he wanted to come so the day before the show, I sent him a text, “It would be rude not to invite you up to play a song because I know you’re a jammer”; and, he texted back, “I would love to”. We had to figure out what song to play because in VF arrangements, there are improvisations, but you must know the arrangement to play the improvisations. So, we chose “Shotgun”.  He came down to soundcheck. We rehearsed a little bit, we played, and it went over great. People loved it; and I thought about the last band that jammed with us, on stage. It was Led Zeppelin in 1969, the same song, “Shotgun”.

MP-D: You should write a second book about your groups and projects throughout the years: Beck, Bogart and Appice, Cactus, and, of course, the Rod Stewart years which had to have been unbelievable, including your co-write of “Do You Think I’m Sexy?”  

CA:  Rod, at that time, was the best singing front man around. There was nobody as good as him. He had the voice, vibe, the charisma. We were doing five nights at the Garden, six nights at the Forum, stadiums all around the world. “Sexy” was number one and all those other great songs, “Hot Legs”, Passion”, “You’re in My Heart”, “Tonight’s the Night”, “Young Turks”. It was just unbelievable. Had to be for him too. He is still out there playing. He is more like a “crooner”, a Frank Sinatra type. We met in Palm Beach recently.  We hung out for couple hours “shooting the shit”, having drinks, chatting, and having a laugh.  I can’t sing as good as I used to; but, I am the drummer. I only sing a few songs here and there, but he had thyroid cancer, so it has gotta be rough on him dealing with that.  I want to go see him, but the tickets are now $2,800.00! Who pays that? I mean, I know most of the bands.  I get on the guest list, go backstage, and talk and hangout because we’re friends. I’ve seen Rod many times and I’d love to go up and play “Hot Legs” and “Sexy” with him; but I’m afraid I might be too aggressive for him now.

I still play like I used to play pretty much.  I’ve lost some speed, but I still play hard and beat the hell out of the drums.  A month ago, I played with my brother, Vinnie, you know a “drum war” and we push each other and I’m eleven years older.  I’ll be seventy-five next month. We did three shows. On the first, I thought my solo wasn’t good. Second show, better, third solo on third night, it was good, very good. My brother could feel it and he came out and said, “My brother, Carmine Appice on drums. Who do you know at seventy-five who can play drums like that?” Six hundred people started cheering. I felt good. I’m glad that I got it across to everybody.  You know, I go to doctors, keep track of my heart, exercise and eat well; but, I’m thinking, one day I’m gonna die playing a drum solo.

MP-D: That’s the way you want to go?

CA: The best way to go is quick …

MP-D: Doing something you are passionate about?

CA: Exactly.

MP-D: You are also an educator and you have put out a lot of drum books. What does drum manuscript look like?

CA: I write drum books so it’s easy to read.  I don’t use a five-line stave. Most of my books, like my big book, “Realistic Rock” starts out with a high-hat line, a snare drum line, and a bass drum line so it’s very clear and easy to read. I want that book to be read by people that weren’t really used to drum music and couldn’t read music. I explain in the first few pages how it works. I wrote a book for kids called “Realistic Rock for Kids” which I made it even bigger.  I made the lines bigger, and I show like what the high hat looks like, what a snare drum looks like, what a bass drum looks like. My image for teaching is a cartoon with a bubble, like a comic book so it makes it fun. We found a young eleven-year-old drummer to do the DVD and I would just come in and out. Like for example, “Oh Carmine is coming. So now we are going to use the Tom Toms”. He snaps his finger and bam, Carmine comes out. I always try to make the teaching fun. I got that from one of my idols, Joe Morello, who played with Dave Brubeck who said, “teach them, make them laugh and play well and you will always have a successful clinic and you will always teach well, doing that concept.”

MP-D:  Do you do children’s clinics?

 CA: Not yet but a lot of younger kids come to my clinic. It’s all ages, like from ten to sixty-five.   I did write another book, which I haven’t released yet called “The Children’s Book of Rhythm” in which I relate animal movements to note value: like a frog jumps in whole notes, Dino the Dinosaur, represents half notes; Penny the Pony is quarter notes. Then they all go for a walk. I wrote that in the 1980’s. There is still work going on there.

MP-D: Let’s talk about your new release, “Energy Overload”. First, you look at that at that album cover and you see two men who look like they’re challenging each other and about ready for the Friday night smack down. 

CA:  In this album cover, because it is just me and him and we were challenging each other.  I would send him stems challenging him to do something and he would send me stems challenging me to do something to them. Because the album title is “Energy Overload” – energy overload, energy, lightening – between us, we thought it would be cool to face each other and have all this lightning and energy going on all around us.   That was the idea of the album cover. He is a fearsome looking guy, tall, a bit overweight and he’s big. He looks like a big old rabbi; but he’s an amazing talent. The work with Fernando was great because I didn’t know what I was getting into.  I got a  call by the great producer, Tom Dowd’s wife and daughter, after he passed away and she asked me if I would be interested in playing with this guy, Fernando on something he is doing. Now, normally I do not play on records with people who are unknown.

MP-D: What made you do it?

CA: We moved to Florida in the middle of the pandemic.  I set up this room. This is my studio. Here’s my drums.

MP-D: Very cool, wow, look at those drums! [There is a large drumset.]

CA: The computers … all the gold records …. this is my studio in the guest house of the house. My brother Vinny made the electronic part of the studio. He builds computers on the side.  I did a few things with it, but I really needed some practice at this. So, when he called and said that he would like to play on some songs I said, “Why don’t I send you a stem of what I have done and you do what you need to do with it to make it sound cool?”  So, I sent it to him, and he sent it back to me. I put the drums on it, and it sounded great.  That was “Thunder” which is the first song that we did.  

MP-D: There seems to be a Zeus theme in your life. The Roman God Zeus was known for throwing thunderbolts. Hence the track, “Thunder” on the album. The album cover has the lightning bolts all over.

CA: Well, the whole “Guitar Zeus” was an accident.  I was playing with a band with Jeff Watson from Night Ranger and Joe Lynn Turner singer and bass player. We were looking for names and we threw out the name, “Zeus”, maybe “Guitar Gods? No, “Guitar Zeus”! Yes, we laughed. At the time, I was looking for a record deal.  My last one had been in 1982, ten years earlier. What I needed to do was a guitar album because guitars got all the attention; but with a guitar and drum combo, I could control the press, drum magazines and rock magazines worldwide.  I approached a couple of managers and labels. Then I ran into Brian May who was doing a clinic at the House of the Guitars in Rochester. After Freddie died, he really had nothing to do so he was doing clinic and he agreed to play on the album. Over here grunge was big, and guys like me were dinosaurs. Then came Ted Nugent, Kelly Keeling, Tony Franklin and more. It turned out amazing, but it took me two years to find a manager who would put together a record deal in Japan. I successfully ended up in Japan for most of the 90s sometimes playing for as many as 12,000 people in a show. We ended up selling 200,000 records of volume one and two around the world, everywhere but here.

MP-D: Back to Fernando and “Energy Overload”.

CA: I got together with Fernando, going back and forth. I even gave him drum tracks and he said, “Your drum tracks are so melodic that it dictated me to play certain things.” We came up with five songs on our record that started with my drum tracks.

MP-D:  What was the next song that the two of you developed?

 CA: The first song was “Thunder”, and the next song was “Funky Jackson”. It has Jackson grooves. It was a song I wrote on my iPad.  It sounds like Michael Jackson.  I sent hm that and what he sent back was awesome.

MP-D:  I’ve seen the video of “Rocket to the Sun”.  I really liked “Energy Overload”.  “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” brings us back to the Rod Stewart days, very retro and of course the classic Beatles, “Maybe I’m Amazed”.

CA:  Then he sent me “Little Havana”, with a Latin kind of vibe. I wanted to add something and sent back a fast “Cactus” kind of boogie. Then he put the guitar to it, and it was great. So now it’s “Little Havana and Big Havana” on one track. When I heard what he did to that one, I started giving him drum tracks.

MP-D: It sounds like the two of you enjoyed the collaboration process.

CA: We Had fun. We ended up with eighteen songs. At that point, we were just doing it for fun, no plan of getting anything released.  But everyone I played it for told me that it was good. I decided that we should get this released. I called my friend at Cleopatra Records to see if we could get a deal and put it out. We chose twelve songs, and we have six additional songs in the can.

MP-D:  Do you feel that when you send music back and forth some spontaneity is lost in the collaboration process?

CA: Sometimes, but not on this project. This project was done with a natural click, but I’ve been playing and improvising to a click since 1982; and he is used to it also, so we just send things back and forth. When he sends me something I would listen to what he did and when I’m playing, I would join in on whatever he’s doing and improvise. On the Jackson song, I played straight and then in the solo I followed some things that he was doing, and it gave it that freeform improvising kind of vibe, like we were a jam band.  

MP-D:  I found his guitar playing to be so melodic. It seems to have a vocal quality.  

CA: Exactly. Jeff Beck plays like that. He makes the guitar talk and is full of hooks but then there is that great melody “Flower Child”. He is very talented, and very excited about this because this is the biggest thing he has ever done.

MP-D: Your two covers, “Sexy” and “Maybe I’m Amazed”, why those two songs and how do you feel you put your own spin on them?

CA: I used to do “Sexy” at a jazz/rock club in LA.  I played there on Tuesday nights when I wasn’t working.  I had a thing called “Carmine Appice and Those Jazz Guys”.  I had a group of jazz musicians around me, and we would do jazz rock versions of my songs that were hits like “Sexy” and “Keep Me Hanging On” with a jazz spin on it.  “Sexy” we did as a jazz/rock/reggae, not instrumental.  My friend Francesca, a great singer, sang it. But it had that vibe that’s on the album.   On my iPad, I had a version I put down on Garage Band just in case I needed it to show somebody how I want to do “Sexy” if the situation ever came about and it came about.  He showed me “Maybe I’m Amazed” that he was doing. It was good. I put some background singing on it. He had this chick singer from Pink Floyd at his studio. I suggested a gospel style which he was already thinking about, so we decided to do a gospel thing and have him play the lead and getting the leads talking to you in place of a vocal. When we went to do “Do You Think I am Sexy?” I sent him my version of it, and he did what he usually does, he took my version and turn it into his version, sent it back to me with a click and it was the same arrangement that I was used, no vocal, his wawa and guitar were talking. So, I play to the finished product on all these projects. I know where I need to put a fill. I know where I need to raise the energy or lower the energy or dynamically come down.

MP-D: Do you write your stems down? How do you process your creative sparks and ideas?

 CA:  I put the track up, sit down at the drums and do it. When we recorded VF, you had to go into the studio and set up the drums, get a drum sound and after a couple of hours, you start recording. Here, the drums are set up.  I come in.  I turn on the computer and bam, I am playing in three minutes, and I am fresh.  Years ago, a drummer couldn’t do that. Yesterday, I did a track and I spent two hours working on it, played it through a few times until it feels good and then try something else. Today, after my interviews, I’m going to put the computer on, listen to what I did yesterday and if I don’t like something. I’ll replace it.  

MP-D: How much easier it has become for musicians because of technology and your ability to set up a studio in your home.  

CA: That’s what got me through Covid. I worked on the “Cactus” album which was released in April, Lisa’s Album and I worked on “Energy Overload” and now we have to play gigs.

MP-D: When is your next gig? Where are you going to be?

CA:  I’m going up to Tampa in December, do a little clinic up there, then after that I don’t know. I am working on a couple of things

MP-D: You have got so much to work with when you go out on tour … “Tightrope”, “Energy Overload”, King Kobra?

 CA:  I am not worried. Financially I am ok. I just like to play because I’m getting older and the more, I can play, the better.  I want to keep playing. I’m even getting into Christian music. I had a near death experience in 2018. I grabbed my cross and prayed to Jesus and God to help me get out of this. I woke up out of a surgery in Europe. I thought I died. I wasn’t even in Europe. I was in the Azores in the middle of nowhere. My wife helped me get out of that and when I got home, I listened to the Bible every day because I had to thank God for saving my life. I became more “saved”. Then I came down to Florida. I’ve been getting into Christian songs. I am going to this Christian Church that has an unbelievable band.  I became friends with the band. I got them a drum kit. I wrote a song, “Jesus Forever”. This was the very first song I wrote on my iPad. It had no melody. While I was explaining it to my friends and this melody came into my head. I went into another room. I sang a melody, came back and “Wow, where did that come from?” I continued developing the song, got some singers at the church. Fernando played bass and guitar on it. I wrote another and then another one and now I have three killer Christian songs. I am planning a presentation at the church for the congregation, about seven hundred people. I just came off doing nine shows with Vanilla Fudge and had no problems singing but when I sing at the church, I get choked up. Weird but I guess that is the spirit coming down on me. After church I walk out inspired, good message, good vibes.

MP-D: You have become more spiritual.

CA: I have always been somewhat spiritual. When you almost die, you realize what is important. I find I am doing a lot more charity from the spiritual side of my myself. I’ve been trying to give it back with teaching and clinics and the drum books and teaching people. Even now with the records, we don’t make much money on the records.

MP-D: Anything else you want to talk about on “Energy Overload”. I really like “Energy Overload” and “Rocket to the Sun”? 

CA: I think it is something different. Usually when you have instrumental album, it is usually jazz. This is more of a progressive rock album with no vocals. People say, maybe you can start a new fad again and bring it back to the sound in the early 80’s.

MP-D: What would the experienced Carmine Appice today say to the twenty-year-old Carmine?

CA:  Don’t do the second Vanilla Fudge album! We would have been as big as Cream, Hendrix and anybody else but that second album … I would say look, if you are a musician like I was, all I wanted to do was make a living.  I’ve surpassed my boy hood dream of making a living. I surpassed my dream of being the Gene Krupa of rock which I accomplished, a performing artist, a recording artist and then I went on to write songs with Rod Stewart, drum books I have surpassed all the dreams that I had.

MP-D:  How has fame affected you?

CA:  It affected my whole life. In the beginning by spoiling me. Everything was done for me. I never made a house payment.  I have an accountant since 1968 that pays all my bills.

MP-D:  You’re a good businessman intuitively or you were you lucky that you had the right people to go to?

CA:  I think both. I am a good business guy.  I set myself up now where I don’t have to worry about money. Not millions every year but I made enough where I don’t have to worry.  I got an amazing lifestyle, a garage full of cars, two acres of land here in Florida. We have investment houses and the same accountant. I always watched the money.  I went through my life with these people. I grew up. I made money. I lost money.  I had some bad times and with them good times.

MP-D:   Anything else you want to say to your fans and/or people reading this?

CA:  I just want to say thanks for supporting me for fifty-five years.  I’m still here and alive.  I am the only one left from the 60’s era first level of drumming –  Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell and me. There were four guys in that era that started the psychedelic progressive rock jamming and the other three are gone. I’m still here. I’m still playing and I’m still enjoying it and still making a living at it like I  wanted to in the first place.