You’re unlikely to find a phenomenon like Carmine and Vinny Appice a second time in the history of rock music. For more than 40 years, the brothers have been among the most sought-after and renowned rock drummers worldwide. Carmine and Vinny (each of them on their own) can be heard on numerous legendary albums and have toured countless times with some of the world’s greatest acts. Carmine embarked on his musical path in the 1960s with Vanilla Fudge, manning in the course of his illustrious career the drums for superstars such as Rod Stewart and Ozzy Osbourne. His brother Vinny, who is 11 years his junior, looks back on an equally spectacular career, having worked with acts such as Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell and Dio. With the exception of the live album “Drum Wars Live!” (2014), there has been no direct collaboration between the two so far. That’s about to change! “Sinister” is the first joint studio album by Carmine and Vinny and was recorded with the support of a number of prestigious guests. The album is scheduled for release on Steamhammer/SPV on October 27, 2017 and marks a long-overdue development for fans of these two outstanding drummers.
Although the brothers have played live together on many occasions, they had never planned on making an album together until last year. Once their schedules opened up, they decided to team up and have some fun in the studio doing what they love. The result is a great-sounding, spine-shaking rhythmic foundation, along with big giant melodic guitars from hell, and on top blazing vocals and melodies that will tear it all up! “Sinister” features new songs and classic tracks from their long history in a crazy music business. “Sinister” consists of 13 tracks, recorded by Carmine and Vinny with distinguished colleagues. “Killing Floor” and “Future Past” feature the Craig Goldy (together with bassist Tony Franklin), Franklin resurfacing, together with Paul Shortino, on “Suddenly” and on “You Got Me Running.” Shortino also lends vocals to “War Cry” and the programmatic “Monsters And Heroes,” the latter also featuring Bulletboys guitarist Mick Sweda, while Shortino teams up with Whitesnake stringsman Joel Hoekstra on “War Cry.” “Sinister,” “Danger” (bass: Phil Soussan), “In The Night” (guitar: Bumblefoot) and “Sabbath Mash” (guitar: Erik Turner, keyboards: Erik Norlander) are sung by Jim Crean, while Chas West recorded the vocal parts for “Killing Floor,” Scotty Bruce featuring on “Future Past” and Robin McAuley on “Riot.”
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Carmine Appice to discuss his life in the music business, the lessons\learned along the way, the making of Appice’s new album, ‘Sinister,’ and much more!
Music played a huge role in your life. How did it begin to take hold early on?
I would say it was probably due to my cousin, who was eight or nine years older than me, who had a drum set. Every time we went to his house for the holidays, I would start banging on his drum set. When I would go home, I would get inspired and start banging on anything I could, be it pots and pans or anything else! [laughs] That’s really where it started for me. After a while, my parents realized that I kind of liked it and they bought me toy drum sets when I was a really young kid. I really didn’t even play them at that point as much as I just banged on them. When I was about 12 years old, they saw that I still had the bug, so they bought me a bass drum, snare drum and a cymbal. That was the beginning of an actual drum set and that was the thing that I actually played my first gig on! It was a couple of years later when I was around 13 or 14 years old. On my father’s side of the family, we ended up with seven drummers. I was number two and Vinnie was probably number four or five. That’s where it all started and, as I grew up, I was listening to the pop songs that were around at the time. A couple of those songs were drum-oriented like Sandy Nelson’s “Teen Beat/Let There Be Drums,” Cozy Carl had “Topsy Part 2” and you also had the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out.” These were all drum songs, ya know? That really inspired me. My mother used to tell me about Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, which were from her generation. Everyone asks me, “What was your first album?” They expect me to say The Beatles or Led Zeppelin but it was Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa! That was my very first album!
At what point did you decide to pursue percussion as a profession?
I was doing it through my teenage years. When I was 17 years old, I was working all kinds of gigs from weddings to bar mitzvahs to sweet 16 parties to parties for the Mafia! [laughs] I was doing all kinds of stuff! I saved enough money to buy myself a brand new ’64 Chevy Super Sport 327! That’s when I realized that I could do this and make money! The teacher that I had used to make a great living teaching and playing, so I knew I could do that initially. I never really thought about making it big, although when I was 12 or 13 years old I practiced my autograph! [laughs] Like every kid, I wanted to be famous! I was looking at Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and “The Gene Krupa Story” came out in the movies and it really inspired me. Again, I wasn’t really looking to make the big time at that time in my life but I was making a living! When I went to high school, my first year of high school was in a vocational high school, to become an electrician. My parents had said, “You can’t make a living in music … blah, blah, blah … You have to have something as a backup!” I gave them the benefit of the doubt and that’s what I did with my first year. On the second year, I didn’t like it so I transferred high schools to another school where I majored in music. It was there where I learned theory and harmony. I was in the Glee Club and the choir and I played with the orchestra, the school band and the football marching band. I did all that stuff in addition to your regular stuff like social studies, language and all that. That really helped me when it came to writing songs later in life. I got out of high school and had two or three jobs that were useless jobs. I would work all week, get up in the morning and take a train to Manhattan. I’d work the job and my paycheck was $45 after taxes; this was in 1965. I’d work on the weekend and I would make $200! I finally said to my parents, I go, “Look, it seems to me that I’m better off working on the weekend for 200 bucks than busting my ass all week for $45.” It almost wasn’t enough to make my car payment, ya know. They said, “OK, but you have to really work it!” So, I did and I did well! I started playing around a lot in New York and eventually I got into a band called The Pigeons, which changed their name to Vanilla Fudge. Years later, here we are! [laughs]
Obviously, you made it work but I’m sure it was no easy task. What are the keys to longevity for a career in music?
I can speak from my experiences. What it takes today? I don’t really have a clue how the bands today make it without radio. There are bands that are all of a sudden playing Madison Square Garden and they’ve been together for 10 years. I’ve never heard of them but they’ve sold out two nights at The Garden! I don’t know that part but for me it always came down to reinventing myself. When Vanilla Fudge broke up, we immediately started Cactus. We reinvented in Cactus and then we reinvented with BBA (Beck, Bogert and Appice) and then I reinvented by doing clinics and writing a drum book. I joined Rod Stewart and got into a huge pop outfit. While I was doing that, I was also developing my educational chops and doing clinics worldwide and setting attendance records with those clinics. I was actually the first rock musician to do a clinic! It all comes down to reinvention, that’s the key.
How, if at all, has your view of rock ‘n’ roll changed through the years?
It’s gone so many ways now versus when I was a kid. When I was a kid, it was just one thing — rock ‘n’ roll. My first show was one of those Alan Freed Rock & Roll Shows back in the 1950s. That really turned me on and made me say, “Wow! How cool!” It had a big band with two drummers and I loved it! That was inspirational to me, as well. Seeing the Ronettes singing on that stage was amazing. I loved Ronnie Spector’s vocal and I loved her vibrato, which I tried to copy. Rock ‘n’ roll has gone through all kinds of changes. Nowadays, there are so many variables! You’ve got heavy metal and then you’ve got thrash metal and death metal and whatever you call the bands who have that “Hurrrrgghhh” type vocal … Cookie Monster metal! [laughs] In the ‘80s, it really surprised me because back in the 1970s, Cactus and Black Sabbath came out together. We did it together and we both used the same amount of amplifiers. It was very loud and very heavy. In the 1980s, there was also Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and everything else, formerly known as hard rock became known as heavy metal. [laughs] I said, “When did that happen?!” [laughs] Now, I’m not a hard rock drummer, I’m a heavy metal hard rock drummer! When the hell did that happen?! If you look at it, Blue Shield was heavy back in 1968. They might have been the first heavy metal band.
We heard stories from you today but people can find more in the book you recently put out titled “Stick It: My Life of Sex, Drums and Rock ‘n’ Roll.” What went into putting your life to paper?
It took a long time! It started with tapes in 1982 that I did when I was on the road with Ted Nugent. I did a dozen tapes and my manager somehow lost eight of them. He kept the four that he had and put them down as a manuscript. I had that for years. Every couple of years, someone would come along and say, “I can get you a book deal.” I’d give them the manuscript and nothing would happen. In the early 2000s, there were a lot of books coming out from people in my age bracket. I thought maybe it was a good time to start trying to do it again. It was something I would always put on the back burner. I got real serious with it around 2004. I hired different writers to write stories and put it together and had an agent. Just as I was getting ready to start shopping the book deal, the country hit that really bad time in 2008, where they were firing everybody in publishing and record companies. I said, “Now’s not a good time to be looking for a deal.” If I was a David Bowie or a lead singer with millions of hit records, it would be easy to get a deal but I wasn’t! I knew my place! Being a drummer, you are used to getting the back seat, ya know! It took me awhile but finally I got a deal on VH1 Books. They gave me the writer I had, Ian Gittins, who wrote Nikki Sixx’s book. He said, “This is going to be a great book!” We wrote it and by the time we finished it, VH1 Books went out of business, so I had to get another book deal but it wasn’t lucrative or with as good a company. I said, “Well, we already have it written. We’ve got to release it.” I was a little disappointed with what the book company did for it but at least it’s out there. Through it all, I learned a lot. As kid we were young, wild and horny! [laughs] Nothing really mattered to us! We would wreck hotel rooms. We had hotels that we were banned from where we would wreck different rooms or abuse women. We had accountants pay for all that crap. It’s like that line in the Joe Walsh song, “We have accountants pay for it all … ” I still haven’t made a house payment in my life and I haven’t made a car payment since 1968. I’ve had my accountants do it and I’ve had the same accountants since 1978! I’ve truly lived the rock star life in that way, where I’ve had houses, cars, ex-wives and the whole bit. I taught my brother how to do the same thing! [laughs]
Speaking of your brother, you teamed up for a new album titled “Sinister.” What got the ball rolling on this collaboration?
We have been working together, doing clinics since the 1980s and then we did a “Drum Wars” DVD. We put that out and supported that a little bit with the clinics. When Ronnie [Dio] passed away, Vinnie had more time. I said, “Maybe now is the time we can experiment and do this ‘Drum Wars’ thing,” which we did. Over the past few years, we ended up doing about 80 shows. We ran into this manager who is managing us now, Jeff Keller. He said, “Let’s get some gigs set up!” We had always tried to do 20 or so gigs a year with that just for fun, ya know. He said, “Ya know, you could get a lot better gigs and we can really build this thing if you guys had a record. We could do a PledgeMusic campaign, get some seed money and then after we make some demos of the record, we could maybe get a record deal. It would build the act into a much better place than it’s in now.” We said, “Yeah, that would be fun!” We had released a live album on my own label a couple of years ago just for fun. We never really took it that seriously. After he mentioned doing this and we said OK, we did the PledgeMusic campaign. We reached the goal we wanted and said, “Wow! This is crazy! Now we’ve got to do an album!” [laughs]
Did you have a vision of what you hoped to achieve with this album when entering into the creative process?
We wanted to have the same kind of vibe that we had on stage. On stage, we played together and we played by ourselves. We wanted to go with the same idea except when we play together on an album, instead of being in the middle of the mix, where drums are usually down the middle of the mix, Vinnie is on the right and I’m on the left as we play together. There is only one song that is a little different. We experimented with a song called “Suddenly,” where Vinnie started the intro, then I did the verse and so on. You can hear the difference in the drums sound because my drums are analog and Vinnie’s are digital. We did a lot of experimenting like this for the album. That’s what the old drum masters like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Max Roach did when they did drum records, had one on one side and one on the other so you can distinguish what’s going on. That was the idea but finding the material was a little different.
That’s my next question. What went into finding the right mix of tunes for the album?
We just started reaching out to our friends. I brought the title track, “Sinister,” which came from a show I used to do called “SLAM!,” which was like a Blue Man Group or “STOMP” kind of show with trash cans and all of that. It had five drummers and a guitar. “Sinister” was one of the songs from that. I said, “You know what? I’m going to rearrange it with the guy I write it with in ‘Slam!’ and we’re going to do a demo and make a really cool drum song out of it.” That’s exactly what we did! The song that I made, “You Got Me Running,” was something I completely wrote and had on my iPad. I wrote all the melody and words when we were on tour with “Drum Wars” in 2012. I had done the demo vocals on the iPad in the room next to Vinnie when he was sleeping! [laughs] We made that one fit in heaviness-wise. Then we reached out to our friends. Vinny had some friends and I had some friends, we reached out and put some songs together. We wanted to do something from my history, which was “Riot” from Blue Murder because everywhere I go people want to hear Blue Murder! We played those songs live recently at gigs and they went over great! Then we did the “Sabbath Mash” which we had also been doing live. We made a unique section of that by putting the classical piano piece in the middle of the solo on “Paranoid.” That happened by accident! The two girls that play with us on the West Coast are Japanese sisters who are piano teachers. They are amazing! We didn’t know that and we were in the studio and they started playing! We were like, “Wow! What is that?! Let’s do that in the ‘Sabbath Mash’ on ‘Paranoid.’ We will put some cellos on it and stuff!” It made a whole different thing happen there. It was great. We tried to add our touch drumming-wise to all the stuff. We also had Craig Goldy and Chas West who had the song “Killing Floor.” We rearranged it and put it together. Craig had this song, “Future Past,” that started out as a Vinnie drum groove. That’s how it happened. We also brought Paul Shortino in. I had “Monsters and Heroes” written with King Cobra. In 2001, after Ronnie passed away, we were doing our first album for Frontiers. We did this song and while we were doing “Monsters and Heroes,” Paul said, “I want to write this song about Ronnie.” I said, “Well, if you’re going to do that, let’s not put it on the album. Let’s give it to Wendy [Dio].” They were doing different things to raise money for the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund. We gave them that song to release and all of the money for the songwriting and artist royalties went to that foundation. I realized a couple of years ago that there was no way to hear that song. It wasn’t released on any platform. So, when we started doing this, I said, “Vinny, I’ve got this great song. Maybe we should do it for this because Paul used to be managed by Ronnie and Wendy. You played with Ronnie. Ronnie was my friend before you met him — I knew him from ELF. This might be a cool song to get you into. We will re-record it, remix stuff, add stuff and take away stuff. We’ll make it our own!” I played him the song and he loved the lyrics. He said, “This is great!” That was the song that got us the SPV deal! We redid it all and remixed it. What’s on that song is all the King Cobra guys, Paul Shortino and Vinnie. It’s a cast of thousands! [laughs] I was also doing some stuff with Bumblefoot, so I asked him if he would play on the “In The Night” song, which is another song where I wrote most of it on my iPad. I needed a really cool, heavy guitar player, someone people knew, to play really well on it. Then Jim Crean, our singer, rewrote some of the melodies I had. I had the chorus and he rewrote some of that as well. That’s how that song came to life and it came out great! This is how everything happened! “Brothers In Drums” was a song Vinny did with Tony Franklin and a young guitar player from Europe but they never had any vocal. When I heard it, I started hearing [sings] “Whooooa-ooo-ooo-ooo-oo-o-o, we’re brothers in drums!” I thought, “Wow! That’s pretty cool! You know what? I’m gonna write the lyrics as the story of me and Vinny!” That’s what I did! I said, “It started on 41st Street … ” and that’s where we lived in Brooklyn. Before I was playing, there was no Vinny! There was just me. Eleven years later, I hear him say that he wants to play drums and I left a drum set at home. He was really talented! I sort of nurtured over him and gave him a bunch of lessons. By the time he was 12 years old, he was great! My mother said to me, “He’s driving me crazy just like you did!” [laughs] All of those elements are in that song and it’s in our blood — we’re brothers in drums!
You two work well together. Has that always been the case or was there sibling rivalry?
I don’t think there was ever a sibling rivalry. People always say, “Well, who’s better?” I say, “Look, I’m the original!” [laughs] I was out 11 years before Vinnie! I created a style that he picked up on and he added other elements to it like Billy Cobham, a little Bonzo and a little of this and a little of that. He came up with his own style. At the beginning, he started playing double bass drum but then he decided he shouldn’t do that, which was a good move because I play double bass drum. In the long run, it worked out great because he’s got a tremendous right foot now. I always bust his balls and say, “I should’ve dropped you when I was holding you at 11 years old! You took all my gigs!” [laughs] But seriously, we get along fine and have a lot of fun on stage! We really have a mental telepathy when we are playing. We will be playing a song and he will look at me and do a fill. He will look at me a certain way and I’ll know I’m going to finish that fill. It’s really, really fun! We just did two gigs to introduce the album on the West and East Coast. It was so much fun playing the new songs, the old songs, the songs that we had been doing and adding to them and making the show better. It’s really been a lot of fun! Now, we’ve added glowing drumsticks, moving lights, black lights and strobes to the show. Once we do more of that, more shows here in America, it’s going to develop and the production end of it’s going to be better and better. The better the album does, the more shows we can do!
How have you evolved as an artist over the span of your career?
At my age now, I’m 70 years old, I’ve had some physical ailments that have happened to me. My rotator cuffs went and I had to have surgery. It affected my playing, ya know. As a stage performer, on a whole, I’m very comfortable and very confident in what I’m doing. I learned how to work audiences from some of the best frontmen in the business like Rod Stewart. I learned how to work with the audience and how to get an audience going! As a player, I’ve had some amazing moments in the different projects I’ve been a part of. Obviously, I don’t expect myself at 70 years old to play the way I did at 26. I’m playing the same style and I still have a lot of energy but, in all honesty, I’m seeing things that I’m going for that physically isn’t there as much as it was.
The important thing is you are still out there doing it!
Yeah, ya know, I’m going to play until my body says I can’t play! When I play with Vinny, we push each other to extremes! [laughs] It’s ridiculous but it’s a lot of fun! It really is.
You inspired a lot of people through the years. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
I think the best lesson is to try and find something you love, that you have a passion for and when you are doing it you don’t feel like you’re working. Everyone says, “You’re a workaholic!” I’m not a workaholic, I’m having fun! I don’t think when I’m on stage working my butt off that I’m really working! [laughs] I’m having a good time! Working is when I’m getting up early and traveling to the fuckin’ airport and getting on a plane! That’s when I’m working! I always say that I get paid for the travel not for the gig! The gig is free! Really, that’s the truth! I’ve been blessed! I’ve had a career that’s lasted 50 years and I’ve been doing something I enjoy all of my life. The playing has been, other than my wife and kids, my number one priority! Even more than my cars! [laughs]
You have your priorities straight! [laughs] Hopefully, we will see another project like this from Vinnie and yourself in the near future!
I’ll tell ya, I already have some song ideas for the next one!
That’s great to hear! Thanks so much for your time today, Carmine! We love this record and can’t wait to help spread the word!
Thanks, Jason! Take care!
For the lasted news and dates for The Appice Brothers, visit their official website at www.appicebrothers.com. “Sinister” will be released via SPV/Steamhammer October 27th.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.