In Conversation With Carmine Appice
Along with Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker, Carmine Appice was one of a few drummers who exploded into popular music in the late ’60s and completely changed rock drumming. But while Mitchell and Baker freely borrowed from jazz drummers like Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, Appice’s sound with Vanilla Fudge was nothing short of snarling, heavy, radical, unapologetic rock drumming. The most active member of Vanilla Fudge after the band’s breakup in 1970, Appice went on to play with Cactus, Beck, Bogert & Appice, and Rod Stewart. Today he leads Slamm, a theatrical drumming troupe that combines his percussive skill with his innate flair for showmanship. Appice spoke to TRAPS about the highlights of his long career as the prototypical hard rock drummer.
What’s your opinion of the current state of the recording industry?
Oh God, it’s terrible [laughs]. It’s really bad. I mean, let’s put it into perspective. I just looked at a new live Jeff Beck album that’s coming out. It’s coming out on Eagle Rock Entertainment. Okay? You know what that is?
I do. We have the CD at the office.
Okay. For his whole career he was on Epic — a major CBS label — and now he’s on Eagle Rock. That sort of puts it a little bit in perspective. You know, a lot of artists that are well known and big don’t even have record deals. The only people getting signed to major labels are young bands, and it’s really a shame.
What impact has the decline in CD sales had on music?
If you listen to the heavy music, all the music’s the same. My son listens to all that stuff and I happen to say, “Who’s this?” “Oh, it’s Avenged Sevenfold.” “Oh, who’s this?” “As I Lay Dying.” “Who’s this?” “So and so, and so and so.” And pretty much it all sounds the same. The melodies are very similar on all these songs. It’s very homogenized. I can’t tell one from the other. There’s nothing unique and different coming out where you go, “Wow! That was amazing!” But they’re getting signed. It sort of started a little bit in the ’80s. That’s why when the ’90s came with Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and Nirvana, what a welcome breath of fresh air that was.
Back to good old rock and roll.
Back to good old raunchy, dirty, rock and roll. The cool thing about that era was that it was very bass- and drum-oriented music. It was very cool time signatures and weird ones. It was very progressive. It was really, really great. Then after that we got into Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync and all that stuff, and they’re still in that direction, mixed up with the rap. I’ll tell you, the coolest thing I’ve listened to lately, I downloaded some Beyoncé songs with Jay-Z. I heard it on the Virgin America flight. It really impressed me because the drum rhythms were mixed with Middle Eastern riffs and melodies — it was awesome. So when I go to the gym I listen to that, and then I follow it by “Bonzo’s Montreux.”
I think a couple of the younger guys at the office get tired of hearing me say how great the music scene was in the ’60s and ’70s. There were so many different styles happening at once, and people went out to hear live music more often. But the main thing is that I think we were really lucky to be alive back then, because I don’t think we’re going to see anything like that again.
You’re exactly right. I feel really blessed that I grew up and made it in that era. Because all the stuff we all did — the stuff that I am [credited with] starting was just stuff that I did out of necessity. I pioneered the use of big drum sets and played with the butt end of the sticks early on. I did that because there were no P.A. systems. So I was part of a great musical movement, including The Beatles and everybody else. The ’60s and ’70s were amazing.
What’s your favorite memory from the years you spent with Vanilla Fudge?
Well, there are a lot of them. Like playing on The Ed Sullivan Show, twice. I mean, that was unbelievable — going down in the elevator, asking the elevator operator, “How many people watch this show?” And he goes, “About 50 million.” So talk about getting butterflies in your stomach. And now Ddrum’s releasing a Carmine ES drum kit — it’s called the ES kit for “Ed Sullivan” because it’s the same drum kit on Ed Sullivan the first time — a Red Sparkle kit with the 26" x 15" bass drum. I remember when I went to England with that, all the drummers — Mitch Mitchell, Keith [Moon], and all the guys who were famous then — would say to me, “What’s with that bass drum? Man, it’s loud!” We had no P.A. system and so it had to be loud.
That was a Ludwig kit, right?
Actually, it was a Gretsch kit. A Gretsch kit with a Leedy-Ludwig bass drum. I bought that bass drum at a pawnshop for five bucks. It was an old drum. In those days an old drum didn’t warrant anything but five bucks.
I hope you still have the kit.
I still do. So I bought the kit, and then, in those days, the only real magazine where you could look at drums was Downbeat. And in Downbeat they used to have ads for companies that made sparkle and pearl wrap that you could order. So I ordered the Red Sparkle from them and when they sent it to me I cut it myself, measured it. I took the whole bass drum apart and took off the ... I guess it was a White Pearl or something on there. I took it off, sanded it all down, and then I put the new Red Sparkle wrap on, glued it on there myself, drilled the holes, I re-drilled everything. And I didn’t have a tom holder on the bass drum because it didn’t come with one, and I didn’t want to put one on anyway, because it was so tall. So I put the tom tom on a snare drum stand, which was a unique thing for 1967. It was an innovative drum set. Sounded great too. All the people who saw it freaked out over it.