Interview: Carmine Appice on Hendrix, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Bo Diddley
He was in Vanilla Fudge, inadvertently taught Tommy Lee how to twirl drumsticks, got mistaken for Ozzy Osbourne, and co-wrote 'Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?'. He's Carmine Appice...
In many ways, Carmine Appice was one of the pioneers of hard rock/heavy metal drumming. The moustached skin basher was one of the first to introduce ‘the big kit’ to the genre, was among the first in the pack to utilise double bass drums, and with his constant stick-twirling he was also equal part showman.
Having got his start with Vanilla Fudge, and been one-third of Beck, Bogert And Appice with Jeff Beck, he has either recorded or toured with a raft of major rock artists and bands since the 60s, including Ozzy, Pink Floyd and Paul Stanley. He’s also an accomplished singer/songwriter/producer.
They called to ask me to join them – they were called the Pigeons. They said they had a manager that would pay us a salary, and try to ‘make it’. Up to that point in my life I wasn’t really thinking about making it in the record business. I was thinking about just playing for a living – doing weddings, jazz gigs, playing clubs. We got together, worked, and then Tim Bogert and Mark Stein came in with the idea of doing You Keep Me Hangin’ On [a hit for the Supremes in 1966] slowed down. Ungano’s in New York is where we first put the arrangement together, then we started getting a following.
I knew him before he was Jimi Hendrix, when he was Jimmy James. We actually played some clubs in New York together opposite each other. And then later on we sort of found each other in London at the Speakeasy. He said to me: “I really dig Vanilla Fudge, so if you’re in that, wow!” And I said: “Yeah, I recognised you as being Jimi Hendrix because of the fact that you’re the only one I know that plays with your teeth!” When he was Jimmy James he had a whole different look.
We played together at this club. I was playing with this guy Ron Leejack, who was the only guy at the time playing like Hendrix. A couple of times Jimi and I had 15 minutes off, we’d go up and smoke a joint with black prostitutes on Broadway and 77th Street, which was a bad area at the time. And we’d talk about making it.
Led Zeppelin opened up for Vanilla Fudge, so we met them when they were nobodies. The first show, Vanilla Fudge ended up paying half of their fee – they got a $1,500 fee. Vanilla Fudge were headlining, with Spirit in the middle. The agent wanted Led Zeppelin on there, and the promoter said: “We’re already sold out.” So they said: “We’ll have Vanilla Fudge pay half their fee if you don’t want to pay it.” I just found that out recently.
Many memories with John Bonham. He came on to the stage, saw my big drum set, flipped out and wanted to get the same set. So I called Ludwig and said: “Look, there’s a band that I think are going to be pretty big,” and I sent them their album. I got them to call John, and he ordered the same drum set that I had. And that’s what started the ‘big drum set’ craze. He ordered the double bass drum just like me, but when you took the left bass drum away it became ‘the Led Zeppelin kit’. He was a good kid, though – he was younger than me, and when I met him he was green.
We met them in the old days, in 1967. We didn’t have much association with them, until Bob Ezrin called and asked me: “I’m producing a track that’s just screaming for Carmine drum fills.” I go: “What is it?” And he said: “Pink Floyd.” I go: “Wow! What happened to Nick Mason?” [laughs] “Nick has been racing his cars and his callouses are down. They wanted to get some new blood in there for some new ideas, and this track is just screaming for Carmine drum fills.” So I went down there, and ended up playing [on the track The Dogs Of War].
I was with Rod seven years. I have some great memories. He wanted a song that was going to be like Miss You by the Rolling Stones. I came up with this idea to do the Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? track. We recorded it over and over, until Tom Dowd and Rod thought we had the right track. Then it went to No.1 all over the world.
Rod was a really cool guy. I remember one night he lent me his Lamborghini Miura – I had a bunch of classic cars and had problems with all of them. We were rehearsing, and he said, “Why don’t you borrow my Lamborghini Miura, and you can use that for two weeks until your cars get fixed.” I remember racing around in Beverly Hills – me and him, and two Lamborghinis. And he had no side mirrors on the car. I said, “Rod, how do you drive that car? There’s no side mirrors.” He said, “It doesn’t matter what’s behind you – all that matters is what’s ahead of you” [laughs].
I was good friends with Queen – mostly Brian and Roger. I remember one night when I was with Rod Stewart, we were recording at the Record Plant, and Queen came in and were hanging out. Rod brought his Lamborghini Countach inside – it was a really big studio. The construction workers built a trench right outside the door, where we drove it in. When we went to open the door in the morning we couldn’t get the car out, because there was a six foot deep by eight foot trench! All the Queen guys were laughing hysterically.
I remember Rod had a big party, and I ended up going with Paul Stanley. We went into a Midas Muffler place together. We both had long hair, and the guy says: “You guys in a band?” These were the days when they had the make-up on. I told him: “Yeah.” And he says: “Oh yeah, I play in a band too!” The guy never knew who he had in the place.
I called Tommy when I was out of BBA, because me and Tim [Bogert] were looking to play with somebody else – as like Bolin, Bogert and Appice.
I flew to Denver to meet him. He picked me up at the airport and he had all these wild colours in his hair. He was very soft-spoken. We ended up having a jam at this place called Ebbets Field, and I understand somebody released it on a record [The Archives’ Bottom Shelf]. Then he asked me to play on his album Private Eyes. I saw him on the last day before he went away on tour – the one he ended up dying on. You knew something was going to happen, because he was too out of it.
Ozzy’s a weird one, because I was with him nine months and it didn’t end in a good break-up. It ended up in a lawsuit with their company and me. When we played on stage we had a good time, off stage we had somewhat of a good time. I remember we were touring America in the winter time. I had a black fur coat on and black and purple hair, and he had blond streaks in his hair and a mink coat. I remember walking into this hotel, and the guy gave me his key and said: “Here’s your key, mister Osbourne.” I guess I looked wilder with the purple and black hair.
When we were playing with Beck, Bogert and Appice in Germany, we had flags hung on stage that represented us – two American flags and one English flag. And they kept yelling in German to take the flags down. We never did, and they ended up having a riot. Jeff just walked off the stage, and we followed him, because it was ridiculous. We weren’t doing politics, we were trying to play.
I was friendly with him through the years. Whenever he played somewhere, if I was around I’d jam with him. I did a show with him that’s on YouTube now, that was done in ’85 at the Irvine Center – a big outdoor venue. I remember he used to love the way I did his Bo Diddley beat. A couple of times he showed me how to do it. He said: “No, you’ve got to do it like this!” And I did it exactly like he showed me. He said: “That’s great. Most guys don’t get that.”
As far as I’m concerned he was one of the first guitar heroes. He was the Jimi Hendrix of his era. He had the square guitar; he had all these sound effects.
Mötley Crüe opened for Ozzy. They were wild guys. I became friends with all of them. Mick Mars played on my Guitar Zeus album. Me and Tommy Lee were the first ones to get close on that tour.
I remember when Tommy did this drumstick twirl and grabbed the cymbal – stuff that I used to do in Vanilla Fudge, and John Bonham used to do it also, to goof on me. Then John Bonham got known for it, because he did it in a couple of films and stuff. But Tommy Lee was doing it, and I said: “Tommy, where did you get that?” And he said:, “I got it from John Bonham.”
I said: “Well, indirectly, you got that from me.” I ended up showing him the Ed Sullivan Show [performance] from ’68 in February, which was before Led Zeppelin came out. He was able to see the twirl done 10 months before Led Zeppelin came out.
Then the second song was Shot Gun, which was 1969. The end of Shot Gun is very similar to the end of Rock And Roll, which was done in 1971. I showed him that too. And Nikki used to live around the corner from me. I remember playing him a song I had in King Kobra, called Raise Your Hands To Rock, and Nikki borrowed the title. On the album, they give me a credit of ‘Thanks for the title of Raise Your Hands To Rock.’
I remember walking down the street in New York with the four guys with blond hair and colours in it, and people yelling out: “What are you guys, faggots or what?”
A great stage show. I spent $20,000 on a stage show, and we opened for Autograph and we blew them right off the stage. That was the end of it – we couldn’t use the stage show any more. We ended up not using that stage show a lot until we toured with Kiss. With Kiss it was fun, because I was friends with all those guys. Gene and Paul did me a favour taking King Kobra out with them. They actually paid us money, which usually they didn’t do to opening bands. They were real good to us.
Dave Grohl I did meet once at a rehearsal studio. When I saw him he said: “Man, I love your BBA work with Jeff Beck. It was awesome!” He invited me down to see the Foo Fighters at the Wilshire Theater. I saw them and thought they were awesome. And I really liked his playing in Nirvana – I really liked Nirvana, actually. It was funny seeing him as a frontman. A really nice guy. Went backstage and took some pictures with him. Really cool guy. Same with [Foos drummer] Taylor Hawkins. They were both raving about the Beck, Bogert And Appice album. It was cool to see people that are of today digging the stuff that we did, the classic stuff.