Carmine Appice’s 1976 Realistic Rock Drumset
Welcome to the first installment of “Donn Bennett’s Drum Vault.” As a dealer and collector of rare and vintage drums, I’ve had the good fortune to work with many of the greatest drummers of our time. In this column, I’ll write about the legendary drums and drummers that I’ve encountered in my thirty-plus years in the vintage drum business.
It’s impossible to overstate Carmine Appice’s influence on the drum world in the 1970s. Between his distinctive in-your-face playing style, high-profile gigs, enormously popular instructional books, and exhaustive clinic schedule, it was virtually impossible for a drummer not to feel his presence.
Appice was the featured drummer with Rod Stewart, the Jeff Beck Group, and Beck, Bogert & Appice, which were some of the most popular rock acts of the decade. You couldn’t miss him behind his massive drumset, with his name emblazoned across his bass drums. His extended drum solo was a highlight of every show. If you didn’t know who Carmine Appice was when you arrived at a show, you definitely knew who he was by the time you left.
Appice’s Realistic Rock book is one of the top-selling drum instructional texts of all time. Realistic Rock created a pathway to professional drumming for countless drummers, imparting skills needed to start playing in a rock band. What set Realistic Rock apart from other drum books at the time was the fact that it was so inspiring. Carmine was a true star, and fittingly he was pictured on the cover behind his massive set of blonde maple Ludwig drums. The book even included a foldout poster of that same drumkit. That poster hung on my bedroom wall for years. Along with millions of other aspiring drummers, I dreamed of playing a set like that someday.
I first met Carmine in 1980, at the height of his popularity with Rod Stewart. I was put in charge of organizing one of his clinics at the music store where I’d just been hired as drum manager. I was twenty years old and thrilled to get to work so closely with my favorite drummer, the same drummer that just months before I’d watched from the front row at the Seattle Center Coliseum. I’d organized clinics before, which generally involved printing a few flyers and setting up some folding chairs in the back of the store.
Carmine was never afraid to push boundaries, and his clinic was more like a full-blown rock concert, requiring a theater with a P.A., lights, fog machines, and a full band. His drumset was delivered the day before the show. I’ll never forget opening the boxes to discover the same maple Ludwig set that was on the cover of Realistic Rock. I felt like an archeologist opening King Tut’s tomb!
That drum clinic was the first of many Carmine and I worked on together over the next thirty-five years. Sometime around 1998, Carmine asked me to help him sell the Realistic Rock set. I had just opened my own shop, and my funds were spread extremely thin, but I managed to round up enough cash to buy the set myself. I displayed the set prominently in the shop for about twenty years. I can’t tell you how many times a new customer would walk in and immediately recognize the set from the cover of Carmine’s book. It made me extremely proud to be able to keep inspiring drummers with these drums over forty years after they were made.
The Realistic Rock kit was an evolution of the twelve-piece Octa-Plus concert tom set that Appice popularized in the early 1970s. He used the kit through most of his tenure with Rod Stewart, from 1977 through 1981. These drums can be heard on dozens of Stewart tracks, including “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” “Young Turks,” and “Hot Legs.”
In addition to being visually stunning, this massive eleven-piece 1976 Ludwig outfit in Natural Maple Thermogloss finish introduced drummers to several innovations that had previously not been available on modern drumsets. For instance, this was one of the first Ludwig sets to feature the company’s new 6-ply shell. The thicker shells were designed to be louder and to project better than the 3-ply shell they had been using since the 1940s. The thicker shells suited Carmine’s powerful playing style perfectly. The 6×10, 8×12, 9×13, 10×14, 12×15, and 14×16 double-headed toms are mounted on floor stands with Sturdi-Lok mounts that were first introduced on the Octa-Plus.
Deep-shelled bass drums are very common today, but virtually all bass drums were 14″ deep in the ’70s. This set features two extra-deep 15×24 bass drums that were custom-made to Appice’s specs. There are also a pair of Joe Pollard Syndrum electronic drums installed inside the shells of the 6″ and 8″ concert toms. Joe Pollard’s Syndrums were the first commercially available electronic drums. They were introduced the same year as this set and were considered extremely cutting-edge at the time. (We’ll talk more about Joe Pollard and his Syndrums in another issue.)
The set also featured two inverted China cymbals mounted on boom stands. Chinas had been used on drumsets for decades, but their prominent placement on Carmine’s set helped make the China cymbal a standard piece on most modern setups.
For all of its flash and innovation, the snare on the Realistic Rock set is an aluminum 5×14 Supraphonic, the most popular snare ever manufactured.
Donn Bennett is a world-renowned dealer and collector of rare and vintage drums. He specializes in drums owned and used by the world’s greatest drummers. His collection can be seen at DonnBennett.com.