City Slang: Carmine Appice talks drums

Jul 15, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Carmine Appice plays drums in Cactus alongside Detroit’s own Jim McCarty. Next Friday, July 22, Cactus play the Magic Bag in Ferndale. Here’s an interview I did with Appice for UK drum magazine Rhythm in 2008 to warm up for the show.

He’s influenced everyone from Ian Paice to John Bonham, and now he’s playing with a show that involves grown men bashing on trash cans. What is Carmine Appice up to

Native New Yorker Carmine Appice first came to the public’s attention as the drummer and percussionist with the psychedelic heavy rock band Vanilla Fudge in the late ‘60s. Along with bassist Tim Bogart, Appice helped supply the distinctive harmonies to the Fudge sound, and a new drum legend was born. American drum magazine Modern Drummer once said of Appice that he “set the foundation for heavy drumming ... before Bonham, before Ian Paice... before anyone else”.

After 5 albums, both Appice and Bogart left Vanilla Fudge to form blues rockers Cactus, a band that was completed by vocalist Rusty Day and guitarist Jim McCarty (formerly of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels). In a very short period of time, Cactus’s name would become almost as legendary as that of Appice’s former band.

Just a couple of years later, Appice (and, once again, Bogart) got itchy feet again and he left Cactus to hook up with primo-guitarist Jeff Beck in the power trio Beck, Bogart and Appice. The collaboration would only spawn one studio album and one live album before, yet again, Appice decided to venture out to pastures new.

Carmine would resurface as a member of Rod Stewart’s backing band, and the drummer would play a major part in Stewart’s solo success, co-writing the hits “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” and “Young Turks”.

In addition, Appice has also played with Pink Floyd, KGB, Kiss singer Paul Stanley, Ted Nugent and the hard rock bands King Kobra and Blue Murder. His book, Realistic Rock Drum Method, is the best selling drum instruction book of all time and it was recently updated and re-released, with a DVD added to the package.

His brother, Vinny, is a much-respected drummer in his own right, having played with Black Sabbath for many years, mostly during the Dio years (now touring and recording as Heaven & Hell), but Carmine insists there’s no real rivalry.

Year, right!

Carmine is now plying his trade with the drum spectacular Slamm. Rhythm caught up with the living legend to delve into his past and to find out what his new project is all about.

You recently re-released your book, Realistic Rock Drum Method. Was it odd, revisiting it?

I try and keep it updated to a point where, when I’m doing stuff in clinics, it can be utilized. I’ve got it to a point now where most of the stuff I do in the clinics is in the book. It works for me and it works for the students. What I did is a DVD for the book, which is a nice addition. I have a whole bunch of different people on it, including my brother Vinny. It’s a five hour extravaganza. We worked on that for a long time, but it works really well with the instruction book. It’s selling well. In Modern Drummer Magazine, we came in at number 3 for instruction books in the annual poll, so I had a good year.

How do you think your playing has changed over the years?

I used to play with my sticks a lot higher, but I’ve learned to hit the drums with more power by having the sticks a lot lower. It really works. It’s like a karate chop concept, with the power and the focus – that’s a good comparison to where I’m at now. Also, I’ve definitely got a lot more technical. I used to play a lot of 8-notes with my right note. Now, my right hand plays more melodic with the cymbals. I incorporate linear grooves in my shows. I try to keep it modern. I’m always trying to improve myself, so I’m staying in the realm of today’s playing. I ran into a guy called Johnny Rab recently. He has a drum book out, where he’s doing these one handed rolls. He showed me how to do it, and I’m going to work on that until I can do, and incorporate that. I’m dealing with a new drum company – D Drums. They’re doing the Carmine ES drum set, and the ES stands for the Ed Sullivan Show. When I did that show, I had this kit that I took to England. Everyone that was there flipped out over it – Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, all of these guys. It was the only drum set that had a 26” bass drum. The kit will sell with a set of sticks, my book and a DVD of my performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. So I’ve been working on that too, which is great for me. It’s a very wonderful idea.

When you were growing up, was there competition between you and Vinny?

Not really, because I was already out of the house and in the big rock groups when he first started playing. There’s 11 years difference in us. There was more competition later. Not really competition, but he started playing gigs that I should be playing. He started playing with Black Sabbath; that was my kind of gig. Obviously though, I was playing with Rod Stewart at the time and I couldn’t make the move over. Vinny got the gig and I was really proud of him, because he’s a great little drummer.

How do you look back on your Vanilla Fudge days?

I look back on it like it was my first band and we did a lot of great things. My equipment was all pioneer stuff because we played louder than everyone else. It was a great experience. It was a really wonderful time, and it was a great time in music.

I live in Detroit, so I’m interested in knowing how you remember playing with Jimmy McCarty in Cactus?

Well, we played some gigs with Jim recently. We played the Magic Bag in Detroit. It was sold out, and there was a sign on the ticket booth telling people not to even ask for tickets, which was funny. McCarty’s a really great player, and it was always wonderful to play with him.

You played with Pink Floyd at quite an odd time in their career. How was that?

That was just a CD that I did. The producer called me up, his name was Bob Ezrin. I asked him what had happened to Nick Mason, and Bob told me that Nick had been racing his cars and his calluses were soft so they wanted to bring in some new energy.

Enough of the old stories. Tell me about Slamm.

Basically, Vanilla Fudge became an ego band. There was a lot of whining going on. I’m the type of guy that has never acted my age. I’m nearly 62, but I still act like an immature, crazy fucker. Physically, I try to keep myself in good health. I go to the gym to work out and I keep myself healthy and my energy levels up. I don’t do a lot of complaining. I love being on the road and I love playing in front of audiences. I’m really into it. These guys did a lot of complaining. At one point, I decided that I was done playing in that band. I needed to do something new and exciting that had some spark to it. My girlfriend, who’s a radio talk show host in New York, asked me what I would do if I could do anything. I remember in 1983, I did a drum show and we had a drum off as the opening act. I decided that I wanted to do something like that again. Now though, people are more in tune with going to a drum show because of Stomp and the Blue Man Group. I knew that I had to do it a little different. I started researching it and I found out that all the drum shows are drum percussion ensembles – they’re all drums and no other instruments. I decided that it would be cool to have a keyboard or a guitar, so I can make this more of a rock show. I started writing shows in LA for the show, and I started thinking about which songs to do from my catalogue. “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” came into my mind, because I did a version of that which was drum-heavy. “You Keep Me Hanging On” was just on the final episode of The Sopranos, so I thought that would a cool thing to do also. My girlfriend suggested doing it in New York because it would be easier to book. If you go 200 miles in any area from New York, you will hit a whole bunch of cities. If you do that from LA, you hit desert. So in New York it’d be a lot easier to book and transport the special equipment that we’ll need. Next week we have a gig in Albuquerque and we have to fly all of our special gear there. I just got off the phone with a guy who has to buy trash cans. There’s all sorts of weird stuff to sort out. I came to New York and used the Gibson ER room to audition, and I found some great drummers. I found a guy called Z-Man (Zoilo Ruiz) who used to be in Stomp. He adds theatrics to the show. He plays a lot of corporate gigs and weddings, playing buckets and all sorts of weird stuff, so he’s well trained in that area. I use Z for the East Coast gigs, along with Walker Adams, Felipe Torres (who can also breathe fire) and there’s a girl called Veronica Bellino who found us. Then Artie Dillon plays guitar, keyboard and is the sound engineer. It’s a great team. I don’t call them band members, they’re part of the cast. Even the road crew are part of the show. We do costume changes and all kinds of funny stuff. It’s a whole new thing for me, and we’ve done pretty well. We’ve played about 15 gigs and we’re already booking gigs for next year. Different kinds of gigs though. We’re opening up for Johnny and Edgar Winter. Hopefully if we do well, we can play the same venues in a headline situation. We played at the University of Washington at a Huskies football game with a 150-piece marching band in front of 70,000 people. We’ve done a lot of cool stuff. We opened up the Modern Drummer Festival and we’ve played a few theaters. We did the School of Rock Festival, we did a gig in Province in front of 6,800 people and we did the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, which a big theater, for the Great White fire disaster. We went out to Tennessee and we’re playing New Year’s Eve in Connecticut. I’m getting it around. The New York Times is going to do a piece on it.

What inspires you to do something new like this at your vintage age?

Vanilla Fudge was great music and a great band but it was too much B.S. to deal with. I wanted to do something on my own with five young guys that are ready to do anything.

Where do you see this band going?

Like I said, it’s not a band it’s a show. I see it being in Vegas, in New York off Broadway, on the road, in England, in Europe, in Japan – it’s a really unique kind of show. People that see tell me that they’ve never seen anything like it. It generates a party atmosphere like a rock show. I call it a rock drum spectacular. Stomp on steroids. We’re playing rock ‘n’ roll songs on trash cans, drum sets, trampolines, Nascar fuel tanks, ironing boards – it’s just a really wild show. You never know what’s going to happen.

Many drummers cite you as a major influence. How does that feel?

It feels really good to know that what you’ve done in your career and your life has made a difference. It feels good to know that I’ve influenced well known drummers. Influencing John Bonham was heavy. With Vanilla Fudge, influencing Deep Purple was heavy. To know that I’ve created a spot in rock history for myself and my bands makes me really happy.

Are there any new drummers that you admire?

Actually there are a few. Travis Barker (Blink 182, +44) is really cool. I really like his attack and his approach – he’s a really high energy, great rock drummer. He’s tremendous. Another one is Ray Luzier who plays with Korn now. I’ve known him for a long time and he’s always been really good. There are a lot of really good drummers but a lot of them are a bit too scientific now, with not enough feel. There are a lot of good players though. There’s a guy called Seven Antonopoulos who played with the Revolting Cocks for a while. He’s great too. Meg White is the total opposite of ‘over-technical’. She’s ok but I haven’t seen her live. Records don’t show me feel, especially with people using Pro-Tools so much now. Her parts are very elementary. That’s like going to an AC/DC drum part. Let’s put it this way – I don’t have a White Stripes or an AC/DC album. I listened to the White Stripes on Virgin America just to see what it’s all about. I always say that Slamm is like the White Stripes on 10 because we’re just drums and guitar. It’s a cool concept, the way they do the old blues style.