Carmine Appice

Leadin’ The Way

by Scott Kevin Fish

Carmine AppiceAs I prepared myself for an interview with Carmine Appice, it seemed hard to believe that it had been ten years since his first appearance on record with Vanilla Fudge. Even then he was a drummer to be reckoned with. His influence on drummers in the 60’s was considerable. Since Vanilla Fudge, Carmine has anchored Cactus, Beck/Bogart and Appice, and KGB. Now he is the driving force behind Rod Stewart.

We met at a Ludwig Drum Clinic presented by the Long Island Drum Shop in North Merrick, New York. The clinic was held around the corner at a firehouse and it was like old home week for Long Islander Carmine, as he was besieged by well-wishers, former students and autograph seekers. Three other musicians had been called to form a pick-up band, and after Carmine was introduced, the band kicked off with a jazz-rock jam. Appice was in rare form. He breezed through the jam in 4/4, and then through a demonstration in 7/8, 9/8 and 6/8. His use of Polyrhythms, dynamics and space were as good as any of the more popular drummers known for their jazz-rock drumming.

After the clinic, Carmine invited me to his parents home in Brooklyn to do the interview. My first question was in regard to his practice routine. “I try to teach about six hours a week. That’s the only way I get to practice. I’m so busy that it’s hard to just sit down and practice. I force myself by teaching. I used to practice about an hour and a half a day with books, and at least two hours just playing with people. Whenever I’m home, I call my students up and say, ‘Okay, if you want to come, I can put you in here or there! and we get it together. They understand that I travel and they take it for what it is.”

Carmine uses a unique right hand grip, holding the stick between his index and middle fingers rather than the thumb and index finger. “I hold it that way primarily to twirl the stick. That’s the way it came about. It also helps when your hand sweats. It’s a better grip between those two fingers, where there’s a lot of pressure. This way the stick can’t run away. When I’m playing loud, I use this grip about 75% of the time because, I’m always twirling.”

Carmine named Buddy Rich, Joe Morello, Philly Jo Jones, Louie Bellson, Bernard Purdie, Billy Cobham and Lenny White as influences. He claimed to have known every lick off of Max Roach’s records at one time, and by coincidence, he had plans to see the Max Roach Quintet at Storyville the very evening of this interview. Bearing in mind the ability of Max and others to play great drums without ‘flash’, why shouldn’t a rock drummer remain relatively deadpan on stage without ‘tricks’? Is showmanship essential to playing rock drums? “Not only that. The type of music Max plays is a lot lighter than my music. My music is a full force body effort. You’ve got to put your whole body and soul into it in order to get the power behind it. Year’s ago, I used to sit there just like Max, and do all these things and not even blink an eye. Then when I joined Vanilla Fudge, I played louder and I realized I had to put more effort into it.”

There had been some reservation in Carmine’s mind about joining the Rod Stewart band, basically because he wanted to play progressive. After Stewart had unsuccessfully auditioned twenty-five drummers, Carmine’s wife convinced him to give it a try. “At the first rehearsal they were playing all of Rod’s songs with a Chick Corea flavor on drums. It was ridiculous. They were calling me The Dentist,’ for fill-ins.” In the end, Rod and Carmine came to a mutual understanding. If Carmine would play like he did with Cactus behind Stewart’s vocals, he would get his own solo at concerts, thereby not cramping his style or disappointing his own fans.

The Rod Stewart band has been getting rave reviews all over the world, and both Stewart and Appice are quick to point out that this is a band and not a group of musicians backing up a lead singer. Everybody in the band gets a chance to shine.

“I made the drums polls in England for the first time. Number five. You’ve got to be in a big group, a steady group, to make the polls. Or be a solo artist. I’m not really a solo artist yet, but I’m not just a band member either. I’m in limbo, and I hope my new solo album takes me out of that limbo. We have a few record labels interested. I’ve got Max Middleton playing on it. Verdine White, from Earth, Wind and Fire, and Dick Wagner from Alice Cooper. It’s not jazz-rock. It’s rock-jazz. It’s got a ‘Zeppelinish’ type bottom, with Max adding the only jazz overtones. The album is half instrumental, half vocal, and there’s a drum single on it called A Twist of the Wrist. It’s really nice. I did the writing with guitarist Ben Schultz, who played with KGB and Buddy Miles.”

It would seem to be a frustrating experience for a drummer with the desire and ability to play progressive music, to have to play loud rock and roll most of the time. “I have two sides. My rock side — and my jazz-rock, technical side. My concept is to play with Rod, and when we have off, play gigs and clinics on my own, and play the kind of stuff that’s on my album. That’s why I do clinics. So I can play and release all the crazies I have inside. I really dig it. With the studio I had we really broke it (drum playing) all down. You can’t imagine.”

The studio was Long Island based and run jointly by Carmine and his good friend, drummer John Markowski. “John was an amazing drummer. He would get up everyday and go through twelve drum books, cover to cover! A student would come in with a Billy Cobham record and ask, ‘How does this go, John?’, and he’d write it out like nothing. We were a good combination, because John was very, very technical, and not that into it on stage because he never really played with a band. I was the opposite. So, we had a good give and take. He helped me out a lot with the technical things, and I helped him out as far as stage things.”

Several noted New York drum teachers were in attendance for Carmine’s clinic. A question came up regarding the validity of the half-hour lesson. “I don’t believe in half-hour lessons. I think they’re a waste of time. A student has got to have at least an hour. When I teach, it’s supposed to be an hour but we go on and on. I couldn’t do that when I had the drum studio because there were days when I had like twelve students. On Saturday, John and I would go from ten in the morning until ten at night. I dedicated the whole house to the drum studio. Guys would fly in from all over the country. I had a room with a kitchen and a bedroom that they would rent. They’d stay for a month and take a minimum of six lessons a week. I’d just ram it down their throats — and it worked! It was like being in a symposium. We’d give them two years worth of work in concepts on cassettes, and they’d write things down and work them out at home. I’d teach with videotapes. I’d taped Deep Purple: Ian Paice’s solo. I jammed with Deep Purple, and we taped that with me and Ian trading fours. Carl Palmer, and even Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones were on those tapes. I’d sit down with the students and we’d just look at the video. If they had any questions as we went along, I’d stop the tape, rewind it, and try to tell them what was happening. It was good because the kids got to see all different styles of playing. Something like that is worth a million dollars. I have plans for like ten drum studios around the country when I get a little older, and get tired of the road. I think the teaching method that we developed can definitely work, and has worked.” A series of forty-eight to sixty ways of going through any rock book can all be found in Carmine’s books, Realistic Rock and Realistic Hi-Hats. He smiles at the mention of his hi-hat book because of its forty thousand variations.


A common question about studying any instrument is what should I study, and what shouldn’t I study? Drum teachers and students inevitably choose sides when questions arise about the validity of rudiments, or the superiority of one grip over the other. Many professionals avoid unnecessary books, and concentrate only on what they are going to use on the gig. “Everything I studied with my teachers, I used at one point or another. You do need rudiments to a point. If I didn’t go through all the rudiments, I would never have developed my hands. They really develop the hands. I also prefer the matched grip. I think the other way is dying out. I played twelve years with the traditional grip. I switched over in the studio about four years ago. I thought it would be better — and it is better.”

An even more neglected area of teaching is the development of foot control. Since Carmine displayed some fine technique on both his double bass drums and hi-hat, I asked him about the study of foot development. “I’ve got a new book coming out called Rudiments to Rock which takes in Ted Reed’s Syncopation, Stone’s Stick Control, Buddy Rich’s book, and a beginner rock method. I start by having the feet play time, and then I have the feet play different rhythms. This way the feet get involved immediately. It teaches phrasing between the hands and feet, and not just the hands. I didn’t start playing double-bass until I was playing about six years. I use it less now than I used to. I use more hi-hat stuff now.”


Carmine’s stress on hi-hat technique was met with mixed reactions from his clinic audience. One spectator went so far as to dismiss the hi-hat as “unmusical.” Weak hi-hats, Carmine pointed out, were quite common among his students. I asked him if he found this to be a symptom of rock drummers as opposed to jazz drummers. “Well, yeah. A big band drummer is going to keep his hi-hat on two and four. But, we’re talking about modern playing, where the hi-hat is really important. Very important. You should take lessons and learn how to read music, because you can always use it. It’s the best thing you can do. Sometimes you might find yourself stagnating, but if you can read, you can pick up any drum book and better yourself. You can grasp more and varied material.”

Carmine uses a medium-heavy stick playing mostly with the butt end, even on cymbals. All of his tom-toms are single headed. Most recently, he’s been playing with front heads on the bass drums with holes cut in the head. “I have the original Octa-Plus set that Ludwig made in 1971. It’s walnut wood and it just sounds amazing. I’ve been with Ludwig a long time. I helped them develop their heavy-duty hardware. All my hardware is custom made, and I never had much trouble with it — until this tour. I open my mouth during interviews and say I never break anything anymore. On the first night of the tour, I broke a foot pedal during my solo. Second night I break the seat. Third night I cracked a cymbal stand. But now we’re back to normal. Nothing’s been breaking. Basically, everything holds up. All of my cymbals are Paiste. They don’t crack on me for some reason. I’ve got a 52″ Paiste gong that is great sounding. I’m really happy with my set-up. I’ve got a stainless steel set and I’m trading them in on a new Ludwig six-ply wood. Those drums are really good, really thick. Stainless steel sounds good for a small club gig, but when you get into big places and start running them through monitors, you can’t turn them up. They feedback. There’s too much ring inside. I took them on tour of Europe when I was with Jeff Beck. We had fifty dates, and I used them on the first twenty five. I was going crazy trying to get a sound out of them through the P.A. My walnut set was in London. We put it up the second night in this place where we were playing six nights. The difference was unbelievable. The whole band said, ‘Now, that’s what we’re looking for.’ When I hit the tom’s, you could feel the stage rattle, so I said that’s it. The six-ply maple set was supposed to have been ready for the Stewart tour, but manufacturing of the custom bass drums held up the works.”

Carmine had been using 26 X 14 bass drums, but he wasn’t able to get the bass drum beater to hit the head dead center. So, Ludwig now makes him a special set of bass drums, 24 X 15. His snare drum is a Ludwig Super 400, with Remo CS heads. Ludwig Silver Dots are on all of his tom-toms. Another addition to the set-up are the Syndrums. “They were invented by Joe Pollard of Pollard Industries. I think they go very well with natural acoustic drums because they’re total opposites. One is totally electronic, and one is acoustic. They have the most incredible natural tom-tom sound. In fact they’re used on that hit by Rita Coolidge, Higher and Higher. That’s how Hal Blaine and a lot of the L.A. players get their tom-tom sound. I use it that way, but I also like the Star Wars type effects. What’s good about the Syndrum is that you operate it yourself. Cobham and Palmer have synthesizers on their drums that are plugged into a synthesizer legitimately. It costs like twenty thousand. Syndroms cost about $400 a drum, and with each drum you get the brains as well. Each brain is like one little synthesizer for each drum. I’ve got a set of four, but I only use two at a time. I put them to the side of me and I can operate them as I’m playing. I also use a wah-wah pedal on my snare drum. It’s my own invention. It’s hooked up through the P.A. and the monitors. I work the pedal. I like to have control over my own things. When I’m working it, I can control it dynamically. It’s a lot better to have full control of your total sound, electronically. Andy Johns did the sound on the new Stewart LP and the drum sound is superb. There’s a little piece of electronic music on my album called Syndrum. It’s eight Syndrums playing different patterns and melodies.”

Sometimes we hear sounds on records that are hard to define or duplicate such as the use of the Syndrum as a tom-tom. I asked Carmine if he altered his drums in anyway from stage to recording studio. “I’m totally against stuffing drums. As a matter of fact, in the studio I try not to make the drums sound like non-drums. I don’t go into the drum booth either. I go right in the middle of the room and get all the room sound. A really big, gigantic sound. Playing huge bass drums full of pillows, blankets and newspapers, is stupid. Then you’re back down to a twenty-inch bass drum sound. I’ve never taped my drums. When you tape them up they sound like pillows. I like a big fat sound. My drums are very easy to record. In ten minutes I’ve got my drum sound down. I’ve come to a point in my playing where I know exactly what has to be done. I know that my big tom-tom rings a little, so I put a little piece of tape on it. I don’t dampen it very much, or stick tissue paper on it. Just a piece of tape to stop the vibration when I hit another drum. That’s about it.”

The road life gets hectic, in fact Carmine wrote Realistic Rock in hotel rooms while he was with Cactus. I questioned him about any possible comradery between on the-road drummers. “Most of the guys I run into on the road are guys that looked up to me. So I give out all my secrets. In the rock business, the only guys I’ll sit down and rap with are John Bonham and lan Paice. They’re good friends of mine. When Carl Palmer and I are around, we’ll call each other up and rap for an hour. I’ve talked with Louie Bellson and Joe Morello. Like tonight, I’ll get to see Max for the first time. Hopefully, I’ll get to rap with him, but I feel funny going up to him and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Carmine Appice, and I play Ludwig Drums’, y’know. The first time I saw Tony Williams was when he had Jack Bruce in Lifetime. He was the only drummer to ever floor me in twenty seconds. Totally blew my mind. When I was with the Fudge, I was on an ego trip. I went to hear Tony and said to myself, ‘Alright, let’s see what you can do’ — well, he played like twenty seconds, and I said, ‘are you kidding’. He had a four-piece set with an 18″ bass drum and I didn’t know where he was coming from, or where he got his rhythms from. As I progressed and started doing more clinics and getting into it, I started realizing what was going on. I probably do the same thing to these young kids. I’ll play some odd figure and they look at me like, ‘Wow, what is it?’ ”

Drumming has both progressed and digressed since the heydey of the 60’s, when Carmine first came on the scene. There are many good players around but there seems to be an increasing public demand for bands that offer little creativity for drummers. We reminisced about the 60’s and tried to bring the current music scene, especially the drummers, into perspective.

“The business now is almost like it was ten years ago. Underground progressive music like Cream and Mahavishnu aren’t making it. All the big Madison Square Garden things are not progressive music anymore. It’s all commercial. The Rod Stewart’s…the Zeppelin’s…it’s very easy drumming. Simple drumming. I feel I was lucky to come into this business when I did. I made my reputation by my association with a lot of big name people. Being with Beck, and now with Stewart. I couldn’t play in a band if I didn’t have my little spot. I’m known as a soloist. That’s where I shine. I shine playing with the band also, to a point, but like playing with Rod, I just play rock. Very simple and powerful. I play eighty-five percent of what I play, with him. But most of my stuff, I do during my solo. I’m worried. I don’t think it’s a very good time for drummers. I mean, what new drummer has come along that has really blown everybody’s mind? Cobham was the last one with Mahavishnu in ’72. That kind of music just isn’t around anymore. Today, it’s all very commercial, image oriented music. Disco, rock, heavy rock, and Kiss type music. When I first made it with Fudge, there was Cream, Hendrix…all the instrumental based music. People were freaking out over it. Nowadays, it’s weird.

Today we get knocked in the news because Rod Stewart has a band that does solos. I mean, do they want to hear Tonights the Night, all night long? I really feel sorry for young drummers starting to come up, because they’re going to get stuck in the realm of just trying to make it. They’re going to end up playing so commercial and so simple, that there isn’t going to be a new generation of great drummers.”


Speaking about his own future, Carmine was optimistic. “I plan to book a month of clinics, and maybe charge a couple of bucks at the door. In the last five years, they’ve only charged at three of my clinics. I’ll bring a road guy with my own drums, gong…the whole trip. A couple of amps with a tape of music that I’m gonna play. No bass player or guitarist, just the tape. This way, I’ll never have a problem. I’ll make the presentation a drum show rather than just a clinic. I think that’s all virgin territory, like a mini-rock thing, y’know? Going to a clinic that’s on as big a scale as a concert. I could do a whole month of that and really create some excitement, maybe even bring some lights along. I think there’s a lot of room in rock drumming. I’m trying to promote it like big band drumming, by writing the books on it, doing the clinics. I’m the only one doing it, and I’m proud that I was the first. A drummer today has got to accept where music is at, and try to do it. Anything could change. I’m sure this pop stuff isn’t going to last more than three or four more years. Maybe it will get a bit more progressive. I think that any drummer who wants to play progressive, first has to learn it. I mean, really get it down. Then add a little bit of flash. Spinning sticks. Tricks. It’s all part of the show. People want to be entertained now. It’s very different, but you have to adjust with each change, y’know.”