|Superstar Drummers Carmine & Vinny Appice|
Pivotal moments in musicians careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury
There has always been a bit of confusion, people asking if Carmine and Vinny Appice are actually brothers since they pronounce their last name differently. For those who are unsure; yes, they are brothers. One sure thing is the pedigree of these drummers from Long Island, whose immense capabilities have anchored the rhythm for music by bands and musicians like Vanilla Fudge, Black Sabbath, King Kobra, Ronnie James Dio, Rod Stewart, Rick Derringer along with a host of others who have had them on board for various projects. In 1995, the brothers recorded a video called "Drum Wars" fighting for the right to pronounce the name their own way. They interview each other like wrestlers do before a match, playfully taunting each other while pounding the skins in-between. At the end of the video is a massive drum battle. The winner? "Of course I won," claims Carmine. "I'm still pronouncing it the right way." Vinny disagrees, "I won that drum war. I don't know when (Carmine) will get it." In spite of the playful banter and no matter how you pronounce their names, they are royalty in the realms of rock and roll drummers who are still driving rock solid beats today.
There were plenty of drummers in the Appice family. Carmine took up the drums early, learning by practicing as well as taking lessons. He played in bands at a fairly young age, and in high school, he realized he wanted to make a career of music. "I was making good money playing on the weekends at the age of sixteen," Carmine remembers. "I thought it might be cool. I went to a trade high school but there was not really any music there. So my second year, I went to a different school and majored in music. I started learning other basics such as keyboards and guitar that would help me later in my career." In those days, Carmine was performing primarily in cover bands playing mostly R&B big band music. There was a movement in the mid-60's on Long Island where bands were taking hit songs by other groups and redoing them in different ways. Carmine joined forces with vocalist/keyboardist Mark Stein, guitarist Vince Martell and bassist Tim Bogert. Originally called the Pigeons, the foursome changed their name to Vanilla Fudge in 1967. One of their first songs was a long, powerful version of the Supremes' hit "Keep Me Hanging On." "That song just blew up all over the radio," Carmine recalls. "As a result, everywhere we went people would freak out when we played that song. It was only a single at the time, and in concert, we would play arrangements of other songs like "Eleanor Rigby.' The first time in California, they didn't know what to make of us, and they booed us. But Tim got on the mic and told them that we flew three thousand miles to play for them and we were going to do it whether they liked it or not. After that, the crowd really got into it. We were an aggressive, young New York band that was not going to put up with any crap from anyone."
Atlantic Records wound up signing Vanilla Fudge, who released four albums that produced several more hits as the 60's drew to a close. The band started to have problems, and broke up in 1970. Carmine and Tim Bogert wanted to work with Jeff Beck, forming a band called Cactus, which was dealyed when Jeff was injured in a car accident. Eventually, Cactus formed and later changed their name to Beck, Bogert & Appice, but the band did not last very long. Carmine moved to California to do a project with Mike Bloomfield and Rich Gretsch when he heard that Rod Stewart, who Carmine knew through his days with Jeff Beck, was looking for drummers. He called Rod's tour manager and landed the gig. "The guys in Rod's band all liked me. And Rod told me that he would give me a drum solo every night since he knew I had a lot of fans out there, and he wanted me to play like I did in Cactus." Carmine toured and recorded with Rod for seven years, and also wrote several songs including the hit "Do You Think I'm Sexy?"
Vinny Appice is eleven years younger then Carmine, and at a young age he often went to see big brother perform with Vanilla Fudge. "After the first gig I went to, I was like, yeah, that's what I want to do," Vinny recalls. "I didn't even think about playing any other instrument other than the drums. It was kind of preordained and also inspiring to know that is what I wanted to do as well." Vinny learned to play on one of Carmine's old sets that he left at home and took lessons from a teacher who had also taught his older brother. He worked hard at developing his own chops while he performed with local bands. He never relied on his older sibling's fame to take steps towards his own success. "Carmine was famous when I was young, and people would introduce me as Carmine's brother. But I also took the drums very seriously. I practiced a lot and took lessons and I held my own. I wasn't just trying to get further saying I was Carmine's brother. And all the things that happened when I got started were not due to Carmine. He didn't get me in my first band or get me a record deal. I did that on my own." One of Vinny's bands, BOMF was managed by the same person that owned the Record Plant studios in New York City. The band was drafted one night into doing hand claps in the background of a song recorded by John Lennon with Elton John called "Whatever Gets You Through the Night." John and Yoko then came down a couple times to listen to BOMF practice, and they did a couple of videos with them as well as a live gig for an ABC special. It was also in that studio that Vinny hooked up with Rick Derringer through BOMF's producer, a then virtually unknown Jimmy Iovine. "Jimmy got me started because he got us in that studio and got us hooked up with John Lennon. And he gave Rick my number after Rick saw me play once, and then six months later when Rick was forming his own band, he asked me to join." At the time he joined Derringer, Vinny was in another band called Axis. He brought Axis guitarist Danny Johnson to Derringer's band. Vinny did three albums and tours with Derringer, which included opening slots for the bands Boston and Aerosmith. "That was a great learning experience for me. Rick let me play what I wanted to play. Almost all of the bands I joined let me do that, but I was also open minded if anyone had suggestions. I always played a little more then your average drummer, and by doing that with Derringer, I started to build my rep as not just being a drummer but more of a lead drummer."
Carmine and Vinny were doing a video shoot for Ludwig Drums in 1979, and when Vinny came back home he found that he had an exciting message from Black Sabbath asking him to try out for the band. The band members decided to call him after they listened to the Axis album which reached completion after Vinny left Derringer. Of course, Vinny accepted the offer and then joined original members Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and their new vocalist Ronnie James Dio. "I didn't know what to expect because I was not a real big Sabbath fan and I just knew of Ronnie from his work with Rainbow. So I acted like this was my job and I'm going to do it. But it was amazing because I was playing in arenas and large venues, and I had never been at that level before. There is so much to learn when you get to that level. It was a great experience." Vinny stayed with Sabbath for the "Heaven and Hell" tour, and then recorded "The Mob Rules" whose tour was the vehicle to record the "Live Evil" album.
Meanwhile, Carmine finished his run with Rod Stewart, as Rod began getting "whimpy" with his music and using drum machines more often than Carmine's abilities. He did some sporadic reunions with Vanilla Fudge in the 80's, but they never quite held together for very long. Carmine was in demand, due to his tours with Ozzy and Ted Nugent as well as recording and touring with other acts. It was nearing the mid-80's and Carmine felt it was time to start his own band, which he called King Kobra. "That was my band but in some ways I felt like a fish out of water. We were playing music from the 80's and the music then was very structured. It wasn't like before when things were less structured. But I had a great time and put together a great band who went on to do other things. We became kind of a cult band." King Kobra recorded three albums, toured by themselves and opened for Queensryche, KISS and Iron Maiden. After the third album and another reunion tour with Vanilla Fudge, Carmine joined Blue Murder and recorded two albums with the band formed by ex-Whitesnake guitarist John Sykes.
In the Black Sabbath camp in 1983, Ronnie James Dio did not get along with Tony and Geezer anymore. He decided to leave and form his own band, and he asked Vinny to join him. "I never had any problems with anyone in Sabbath. I thought they were all great guys. When Ronnie asked me to join, well, I had more in common with him. We were both from New York, both Italian, and both of us lived in California at the time. It was easier for me. I got along great with Ronnie and I thought it would be the right move for me." Vinny stayed with Dio for several years, recorded four studio albums and a live EP. Three of the albums went platinum. Up until that point, they went through several personnel changes with Ronnie and Vinny remaining the constants. But as the 80's waned, so was Vinny's passion for playing in the band so eventually he left. "I liked loud, heavy riffs and gloomy kind of stuff and so did Ronnie in the beginning. Eventually Ronnie started to get into more melodic sounds with keyboards, even though for the most part, we had very similar musical tastes. It was more fun in the beginning, but when it gets to the point where you are walking on eggshells, then the music is more forced and not natural. It's gotta be fun."
The end of the 80's found Carmine forming the band Mothers Army with Joe Lynn Turner, Bob Daisley, Jeff Watson and Derek St. Holmes. While he continued to stay busy beyond that band, Carmine also toured the country holding drum clinics, and produced several books and videos on drum techniques. He remained in demand, occasionally touring and recording with other artists who wanted to work with him. "Most of what I did with other people was situational. For example, when I worked with Pink Floyd, Bob Ezrin called me up and said they had a song that was screaming for Carmine Appice drums. I worked with Eddie Money because he met me while I was with Rod Stewart. I'm not really a session guy. Most of the albums I've worked on extensively are my own projects." In 1994, while recording an album with Mike Varney at Jeff Watson's home studio, Carmine realized that it was so hard for drummers to do a solo album that he might as well do a guitar album. He began rounding up guitarists including Brian May, Mick Mars and Ted Nugent to play on his project which he titled Guitar Zeus. "I kicked it around in my mind and thought it was a really good idea. I thought I had a good start with Brian, Mick and Ted, but when I tried to pitch it around to managers and production companies and they wanted me to get letters from these guys stating they would play on it, I couldn't do that! Finally, a guy named Warren Wyatt came along and said he'd do it and he became my manager." With the core of The Firm bassist Tony Franklin and Blue Murder/Baton Rouge vocalist Kelly Keeling, three Guitar Zeus albums were released. Co-written by Carmine and Kelly, the albums included performances by the aforementioned guitarists as well as many others including Yngwie Malmsteen, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Vivian Campbell, and Neal Schon.
When the 90's revved up, Vinny was apart from Dio for a couple years. After a brief stint with the very heavy metal band WWIII in 1990 which included original Dio bassist Jimmy Bain, Vinny reunited with the Black Sabbath lineup of Dio, Iommi and Butler. Circumstances were a bit different this time around as Vinny got the call because Sabbath's drummer Cozy Powell was injured in a horse riding accident. Vinny flew over to England and the foursome spent nearly a year recording the "Dehumanizer" album. Sabbath hit the road for the tour, which would eventually come to a crashing halt as conflicts with Dio again arose causing Ronnie to depart the band. Vinny left as well and did the "Strange Highways" and "Inferno - Last In Live" albums before once again leaving Ronnie. Vinny did another reunion with Sabbath in 1999, although he was on the tour mostly as a fill in for original drummer Bill Ward whose health was a concern after a mild heart attack. After that tour, Vinny decided it was time for a break from music. "I've been doing it for so many years I just needed a little time off. I got heavily into computers and started a little company and it kept me busy. I was in the complete opposite direction, but people would always ask me, "Didn't you used to play the drums?'"
The new millennium has found the brothers Appice keeping busy. In 2001, Vinny gradually started getting back into drumming. He worked on several session projects, including albums by Lana Lane and Erik Norlander as well as the upcoming solo release by Kelly Keeling. He is also producing a fledgling band in L.A.. His main focus now is finding musicians to work with him on his first solo record. "I've gotta get off my ass now. It's kind of confusing what is happening in the music industry now. There are plenty of heavy riffs in music now, but there are also all these rap vocals and then rap vocals combined with screaming vocals. It gets confusing, but I'm not going to jump on a bandwagon. I want it to come out naturally so I'm going to find the right people to do this with, and a band that will have their own input. I do know that it will be frickin' loud and heavy!"
Loud and heavy music is still driving Carmine. Always busy throughout his career, he reformed Vanilla Fudge with all the original members in 1999, and recorded another King Kobra album in 2001, as well as still answering the call when other musicians want his back beat for their music. Since the Vanilla Fudge reunion, they have released a new album as well as prowling stages across the country, sounding just as powerful as they did three and a half decades ago. Some exciting things are in the works for Carmine and the Fudge, including a European tour and a performance with the San Fernando Valley Symphony Orchestra. "I wouldn't mind doing some more producing, but I'm just going to keep playing. To me, Vanilla Fudge is the only band that has been totally different and unique to everything I have done. When I started doing it again I had forgotten how unique it was. There were a lot of other bands that I had played with that I really enjoyed, but Vanilla Fudge is still number one. We have a lot of gigs coming up, and hearing that orchestra playing our music is going to be a trip. I'm going to just keep having a good time!"
You can order the "Drum Wars" video at http://www.powerrock.com.
Carmine Appice's Advice For Musicians: " I don't really know what a musician has to do to make it these days. I look at a lot of music that sounds the same and wonder how they got signed. It used to be in the old days you could put a band together and make an impression in your hometown and then spread it out and then a record label hears about it and signs you, but that's not happening anymore. The labels are always saying they need to hear that one song that will sell five million copies. It's changed for me, too, guys like me now are like the old football players. We have to do things the indie route now. Sort of the grass roots approach."
Vinny Appice's Advice For Musicians: "You gotta dedicate yourself to it. You have to live, breath and drink music, and that is it. Play from your heart, practice, play your best all the time. A lot of times when people are starting out you have others suggest that you should have a career to fall back on. But if you don't have a career to fall back on it sometimes it makes you push ahead further and become successful doing it."