Carmine Appice Interview: The Early Beatles Sucked
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Musicians
Image attributed to Carmine Appice
Carmine Appice is a rock drummer who is best known for his associations with the bands Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Beck, Bogert & Appice, King Kobra and Rod Stewart’s backing band. As an educator, Appice was the first to legitimize rock drumming with his book, The Realistic Rock Drum Method, selling over 400,000 copies (now in video format). He is ranked number 28 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time” list.
Vanilla Fudge was one of the first American groups to infuse psychedelia into a heavy rock sound to create “psychedelic symphonic rock," an eclectic genre which would, among its many off shoots, eventually morph into heavy metal. The band became best known for their dramatic, heavy, slowed-down arrangements of contemporary pop songs, which they developed into works of epic proportion. Vanilla Fudge recently released the remastered album Vanilla Zeppelin digitally via Golden Robot Records. This is essentially Led Zeppelin done “Fudge” style and fully remastered.
"Ritchie Blackmore said they just wanted to be the English Vanilla Fudge."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Carmine, how long has it been since the creation of Vanilla Fudge?
Carmine Appice: 57 years. That’s all.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Where did the band's name come from?
Carmine Appice: We were called the Pigeons before that. When we signed the record deal with Atlantic, they said we had to get rid of that name. We were playing these clubs around New York, and this girl said, “You guys are really soulful. You’re like vanilla fudge.” We said, “Hey, maybe that’s a cool name.” In those days, it was Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Beatles, weird names, you know.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Who had the idea for Vanilla Fudge to be a cover band?
Carmine Appice: There was a thing going around New York, Long Island especially. It was a thing that came down from the Rascals. The Rascals did “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett and a couple of things like that. There was a group called the Vagrants that used to have Leslie West in it. They’d draw 2,000 people in my manager’s club in Long Island. He became my manager after I joined the Pigeons. The Vagrants used to do what we called “production numbers” where they stretched a song out like they used to do to “Satisfaction.” So we jumped in on that idea except we took it to an extreme by putting the emotion to the lyrics to a song. Leslie was a really great musician, a great guitarist and great singer. He was the best thing in that band.
In our band, we had four singers. Billy Joel was in that thing. He had a group called the Hassles. There was a group called the Rich Kids with Richard Supa. Richard went on to be a big songwriter. He wrote for Aerosmith, Richard Sambora and for other people. There was even a group called the Illusion that had a couple of hit singles.
So that’s where it started. We took the emotion of the lyrics, like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was fast, and they were hurting lyrics, as we called them. So in order to take the emotion out of it, we slowed it down. It was like a gospel song. “Eleanor Rigby” was all about the church and cemeteries. We made that very eerie as well. So that’s what we did.
Luckily, we had musicianship and also voices to do it with because we utilize our voices. We utilized our vocals and utilized our playing, and that’s what we did. We created a new style, which we didn’t know we created between the emotion, the vocals and the playing. We just kept doing what we were doing. Unfortunately, our second album was a disaster because it was a concept album. We shouldn’t have done that. The producer, Shadow Morton, and Atlantic Records wanted us to do it. We didn’t know any better. We were young kids just breaking into the music business.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was it rare in the 60s to have four vocalists all in the same band?
Carmine Appice: It was a bit rare. Even the Beatles didn’t have four vocalists that sang at the same time. We all were, but especially Mark and I, in doo-wop groups way before that. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I was singing doo-wop in the subways of Brooklyn. We had the echo. Mark used to do the same thing in the subways of Manhattan and New Jersey. We kind of taught the other two guys about vibrato. So we had the same vibratos when we all sang. It was all just like a doo-wop group. So we had the doo-wop vocals with really kickass musicianship.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you ever hear from other musicians who may not have liked your versions of their songs?
Carmine Appice: No. We never really ran into that. We ran into Led Zeppelin opening up for us and then becoming a great, huge band, and we stayed the same. That was intimidating. There was Deep Purple as well as Creedence Clearwater and Grand Funk Railroad. I could go on forever.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Deep Purple was formed about a year after Vanilla Fudge?
Carmine Appice: Right, a year after. Ritchie Blackmore said they just wanted to be the English Vanilla Fudge.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I recently read that Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord said that Vanilla Fudge’s organ-heavy sound was a large influence on Deep Purple.
Carmine Appice: Yeah. We took them on tour and got to know those guys. We got to know Led Zeppelin really well. That’s why our manager at the time said, “Instead of doing an album like Spirit of ’67 where we did songs released in 1967, why don’t you just pick one band out to do?” We said, “Let’s do Led Zeppelin because we have a big connection with them.” So that’s what we did. We never heard back from Led Zeppelin because as they got bigger and bigger, it was harder to keep in touch with them.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That album was released in 2007, and now it’s out as remastered.
Carmine Appice: Yes. I never heard the remaster. I really didn’t know it was coming out. I was doing an interview one time, and someone said, “What do you think of the rerelease of the Zeppelin album called Vanilla Zeppelin?” I said, “What’s Vanilla Zeppelin? Is that Out Through the In Door?” They didn’t release that properly. Maybe they renamed it? We were going to release some Supreme songs and maybe some other things. But we were delayed because of Covid.
We got Tim Bogert on “Stop in the Name of Love,” which was a really great version. But you never really come to life with these versions until you play them live. So we do “Stop in the Name of Love” now, and every time we do it, we get a great reception from the audience. Other bands are doing new material that people don’t know, so it’s not a guarantee they’re going to get a great reaction because people don’t know the song. In our case, when we do a new song, it’s a song they know because we re-did it, and they go, “Wow, what a great rendition!” In the show, we also do “Dazed and Confused” and “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” Again, we even changed “Dazed and Confused” again from the version that’s on that album. We made it jazzier at the beginning, which people love.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’ve also covered Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” written by Sonny Bono.
Carmine Appice: We took the lyrics, “Bang bang, I shot you down, bang bang, you hit the ground,” and we made it really depressing. It’s a symphonic, orchestral, psychedelic, heavy rock song with the organ. The way Tim and I played, we made it really heavy and psychedelic. We made it rock and made it weird and acidy. It was acid rock, or whatever you want to call it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What did you do before Vanilla Fudge, Carmine?
Carmine Appice: I played in different bands, R&B bands mostly. I played with Jimi Hendrix when he was Jimmy James. We did gigs together in an R&B band with horns. When the Beatles came out, I thought they sucked. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” wasn’t exactly a great musicianship thing. Now, I look back on it as a great song. But I really didn’t care for the Beatles until “Day Tripper” came out. Then Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s, of course. In one of my bands, we’d put Beatle wigs on and sang dirty word versions, like “Do you want to know a secret? Let me stick it in your ear,” (singing). You know, stuff like that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So you were primarily interested in soul music?
Carmine Appice: Yeah. I liked James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin. We had the horns and a really great singer named Dean Parrish, who just passed away. He had a hit in the 60s called “Tell Her.” He had a Ray Charles kind of voice, just a great singer.
I knew Jimi before he was Jimi Hendrix. I played clubs with him when he was Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, and he had his hair slicked back and did the same stuff he always did. He did the same stuff we did except he was playing the guitar. We had a guitar player with the same kind of sound as him. He used to punch holes in the speaker to get that distortion, and Jimmy had the same kind of thing going on. It was great. We used to take breaks and go smoke some pot. Jimmy would talk about making it. I would just talk about making a living and playing music.
The last time I saw him, he was laying there playing the guitar with his teeth and had frizzy hair. Someone called him Jimi Hendrix. I said, “You’re Jimmy James, right? I used to play clubs with you.” He said, “What band?” I told him the name of the band, and he remembered that. He said, “What are you doing now?” I said that I’m playing with Vanilla Fudge. Jimi said, “Oh, I love the Fudge!” We had a friendship until he died.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What was your experience like with Beck, Bogert and Appice?
Carmine Appice: Well, Jeff Beck is one of the greatest guitarists around. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long because he started not liking the fact that Tim didn’t like the booze and all that. Meanwhile, we have an album coming out, the 1974 live at the Rainbow. It’s going to be part of a box set with a Japanese import, which is an album you couldn’t get worldwide. It’s going to be a box set 50th year anniversary and has 76 songs on it. I sing a lot of them.
It’s really some cool stuff because that’s probably the last album Jeff did as a ball’s out rock player. When we finished mixing, Jeff called me and said, “It’s a great album, such humorous playing.” I said, “Yeah. What do you mean, humorous?” Jeff said, “Well, I would do something stupidly humorous, and Tim would add something, and you’d add something to him. It was very spontaneous that way.” I said, “Yeah. I guess you’d call it that.”
Jeff was a unique guy. We weren’t ready for a lot of the stuff he did. But on a positive note, it was really an amazing trio that together, for two years, really left a mark. A lot of people ask me, “Will you ever do a reunion?” without knowing Tim’s not with us anymore. But this album is the closest thing to a reunion. Jeff’s out there now with Johnny Depp. He’s been doing different things. I’ve been doing different things. So we both moved on. But he’s probably the greatest of the three, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jeff. I think Jeff was the most inventive.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How did “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” come about?
Carmine Appice: Rod Stewart was a great guy. When I joined the band, I heard from my friend, Sammy Ginero, and he auditioned for Rod and gave me the number. I called the guy and said, “Man, I’d love to play with Rod.” So I went down and checked it out, and we worked it out. Rod was always trying to be hip. For all those days, he was hip. He said, “I want a song like “Miss You” by the Stones.” I went home, and I had a keyboard and drum machine, so I put together some chords. A friend of mine, Duane Hitchings, had a studio, so I went there, and we put down a really cool version of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.” We brought it to Rod and recorded it. He said that it needed a little more of this and this, so we changed it a bit, went back and got the version that came out. Who knew it was going to be so huge? We didn’t know.
Duane liked to hang out with Paul Stanley at the time. Paul heard “Sexy” went to number one, and he goes, “We need a song like that.” So he wrote, “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.” It had the same disco beat, same tempo. That’s how it goes if you’re a musician. Nobody has it all. Everybody hears something from somebody else, and they do their own shit.
The next one was “Young Turks” two albums later. Rod said, “I want something that’s a bit punky, a bit young and feverish.” So Duane and I came up with “Young Turks,” gave it a try, and he loved it. We did it with mostly keyboard and a drum machine. I did a hi-hat and cymbals. It was different, and that became a big one, too. So that’s how it always went with Rod when I was with him. He was at the height of his career but not financially because everything was cheaper back then. What we grossed on a whole tour back then, Rod can make in two days now.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You also played in Ozzy Osbourne’s band?
Carmine Appice: Yeah, I did. It was cut short by his wife. I was doing master classes every day giving money to charity, and Sharon didn’t like that. She didn’t like that I was getting a lot of PR. I had my own press. But she signed a contract saying I could do all this stuff. She didn’t like it, so she fired me. I had to go to court over it. When Sharon fired me, she said, “Your name is too big. You need to start your own band.”
This is something Buddy Rich told me on his dying bed. He said, “You work all your career to get your name big, and then nobody wants to hire you because your name’s too big. So you have to start your own band, and by doing that, you don’t play the big arenas anymore. You play solo theaters and clubs.” I didn’t get it back then in 1982. I get it now.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was Sharon Osbourne afraid your name was going to be bigger than Ozzy’s name?
Carmine Appice: Well, not bigger than Ozzy’s name but taking some of the attention off of Ozzy and giving it to me because I was giving money to UNICEF. I was getting full pages in newspapers and getting stories on MTV. I was giving charity money, and I was making good money doing master classes. So in addition to what she was paying me, I was making some big bucks. She didn’t like that. She was saying I was tired. I wasn’t tired. How could I be tired? I go in and teach people for an hour. I play drums and show them some simple beats. I teach them theory, and then I leave. I said, “That doesn’t tire me out. It fires me up, if anything.” She didn’t get that. She just didn’t like it.
I would sit on the top of the stage, and the stairs would open up, and the drums would come way down to the front. I’d do my solo. I’d get a great reaction, and she didn’t like it, I guess. I’d tell people that Sharon Osbourne came up with the stairs opening up. One day, I came back to the place from the master class, and this article was plastered all around the backstage. It was an article about my master classes. On the same day, my roadie came up with the merch, with the shirts. All the heads were cut off the shirts. On every shirt, the head was cut off of it. So I asked him, “Who did this?” He said, “Go talk to Sharon.”
That night, the stage didn’t work. So I did the solo from up top. I got the same reaction. The only problem was the pyro went off, and I felt it on my skin. I felt some of the little hairs on my skin burning. Luckily, I didn’t catch on fire. When I came down, I asked Bob Daisley, who ended up suing Sharon for royalties on Ozzy’s album Blizzard of Oz, if Sharon would sabotage her own shows trying to make me look bad. He said, “Oh, definitely.” Two weeks later, Sharon canned me. Tommy Aldridge had been hanging around, and he was the guy who replaced me. I was doing the album with Ozzy. I was an associate producer on it. I was supposed to get royalties, and that ended, too. Everything ended, and I took her to court.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Since pyrotechnics were involved, that could’ve ended very badly for you and everyone involved.
Carmine Appice: Yeah. It could’ve ended bad, but luckily, I was okay. The sad thing was I had those clinics booked the same time they were in New Orleans. I was doing a master class for 50 people right across the street from the arena where they were playing. So I’m looking out the window, looking across to the arena, and they’re playing for 12,000 people and more. It was a bit depressing (laughs). I got through it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You are ranked number 28 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.” Dave Grohl is 27, and John Bonham is number one. How do you feel about that?
Carmine Appice: John Bonham, of course, the guy I influenced and took him on his first tour. I’m not saying that for me. I’m saying it right from his mouth in a book written about him. I never really said it before because it makes me look like an egomaniac. But it’s in the book, and there’s been a lot of articles. So now, I’m going to have to say it. But I’m happy because it makes me look better that he’s number one. I’ll take 28. But I’ve been trying to do things like making the drums more visible and designing them. I helped come up with different drums. I kept doing that until drums got to where they are now. They don’t break anymore. I used to break the skins and the stands until they were made stronger.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You pioneered rock drumming, Carmine.
Carmine Appice: I did. I was the very first rock musician to do a clinic. Period. I was the first rock drummer to write a book. My book sold almost a half a million copies. I do clinics all around the world. That’s what I do. I want to teach people. Part of that is my legacy. I’m proud of it.
I’m glad John Bonham and I became friends. We were friends until he died. There were rumors I was going to join Led Zeppelin back in the day. I was with Rod touring Europe, and he came to me and said, “Are you joining Led Zeppelin?” I said, “Not that I know of.” He said, “There are rumors. Keep the rumors going, and we’ll sell out the rest of the tickets.” I said, “Okay.” So we kept it going. He thought that people might think that if I was going to join Led Zeppelin, he was going to retire. So that created a lot of suspicion around the tour.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You turned down an offer to join Whitesnake?
Carmine Appice: I did. That’s unbelievable. I think back on it now. I turned down Rainbow, too. Cozy went to Rainbow after I turned it down. I used to say to Cozy Powell, “You’re my professional replacement.” Both times, I was signed to MCA Records, and I couldn’t do it. Once you sign with a label, you just can’t jump ship. You’re signed to the label. They wouldn’t allow me to do it, so I couldn’t do that.
With Whitesnake, I was at a party. I met John Sykes and David Coverdale. I knew David. I didn’t know John that well, and he said, “We’d love for you to play on a new album.” I said, “Man, I would love to do it, but I have my own snake to deal with.” I was signed to King Kobra. I was on Capitol Records, a major label. I made major money, and I couldn’t just jump ship. That album sold 27 million. Daisley made half a million bucks on that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Definitely a regret?
Carmine Appice: A total regret.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You are on a storytelling tour called “The Carmine Appice Diaries”?
Carmine Appice: Yeah. People wanted me to do it because I’ve got so many stories. I’ve got a lot of them in my book, but some of them are not in my book. My wife was a talk radio host in New York. She says, “Please welcome Carmine Appice.” I come out and get people clapping their hands, and I play a drum solo with my sticks. When I finish that, I say, “Okay. Time for storyteller. Who wants to hear a story?” Someone raises a hand. I pick that person, and I tell a story.
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