In 1967, the U.S. was convulsing as old modes of thinking gave way to innovations that would resonate for decades to come. The Vietnam War raged on, civil rights riots erupted from Detroit to Newark, the Space Race was promising that we’d conquer the moon, and New York’s Vanilla Fudge scored its first chart-topper, “You Keep Me Hanging On.”
A radical cover of the Supremes’ 1966 hit, Vanilla Fudge’s version was a half-time slab of white-hot proto-metal soul. A four-piece band that churned hard via Mark Stein’s Hammond B3 organ, Vince Martell’s electric guitar, Tim Bogert’s bass, and Carmine Appice’s blistering drumming, Vanilla Fudge sounded like no one else, its heaving grooves and passionate vocals presaging Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.
In a Vanilla Fudge video performance from the period, Carmine Appice’s originality is obvious: the oversize drums, rampaging full-set single-stroke rolls, cymbal crashes quickly muted by arm movements, and mighty grooves that would be dissected in his yet-to-be-published best-selling book of 1972, The Realistic Rock Drum Method. Only twenty years old in 1967, with the acts Cactus, Rod Stewart, King Cobra, Travers & Appice, and Beck, Bogert & Appice still ahead, Carmine set the template of the modern rock drummer. And he isn’t finished yet.
MD: What was the life of a successful rock drummer like in 1967 as opposed to now?
Carmine: There was no drumming world back then. When Modern Drummer began in the mid-’70s I was in the first issue. I was always into drums. Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich were my idols. Back then we were rock stars; we weren’t drum stars. The only place we got any coverage as drummers was through our drum company, which for most of us then was Ludwig. Ringo Starr, Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker—all Ludwig.
MD: How did 1960s Ludwig kits compare to today’s drumsets?
Carmine: I haven’t played a modern Ludwig kit, but the drums then had a different tone. My Ludwig bass drums had more midrange punch. Drums today are designed to produce more bottom end. Today I play ddrum’s MAX model; they sound similar to my 1967 Ludwig drums.
MD: What about hardware? Did you play Speed King pedals?
Carmine: Oh, yeah. Speed Kings on both bass drums. I started the fad of the 26″ bass drum in rock. I’d bought a 15×26 Leedy & Ludwig marching bass drum for Vanilla Fudge. When I recorded “You Keep Me Hanging On,” I was playing a Gretsch kit with a Rogers snare drum. Then I got a Ludwig endorsement. I’d wanted two bass drums since seeing Louie Bellson, but I couldn’t afford two. But with Ludwig I ordered two 14×26 bass drums, and because those bass drums were louder than a 22″ bass drum, I ordered a 12×15 tenor drum as my main tom, positioned on a snare drum stand between the two bass drums. I also had a 16×16 floor tom and a 14×22 bass drum turned on its side as my really big floor tom. I used that giant tom on recordings, live—everywhere. And I played a 6.5×14 Ludwig snare drum.
MD: What about cymbals?
Carmine: Back then a Paiste endorsement accompanied a Ludwig endorsement. I had a 22″ 2002 Heavy ride on an L-shaped stand attached to the bass drum, a 20″ 2002 Medium crash attached to the other bass drum, and an 18″ 2002 Medium crash on the right. And 15″ hi-hats—bigger meant louder. I was competing with Marshall stacks. There was no monitoring. PAs were the Altec “Voice of the Theater” cabinets used in movie theaters. I miked my drums using a Shure mixer with five Shure SM57 microphones and a Fender Dual Showman amplifier with two 2×15 cabinets. I put those amps next to the Altec PA. That’s how we toured with Jimi Hendrix, and Mitch Mitchell used my drum amps.
MD: How did touring differ in 1967?
Carmine: There was no lighting, no staging. You had a riser and an amplifier. No merch, no backdrops. We all traveled on planes. We would back up the equipment truck to the plane and unload the gear into the cargo hold.
MD: How did it feel to go from being a local guy in Brooklyn to a rock star?
Carmine: It was unbelievable. It was all new. The underground FM radio movement, the counterculture—everything was innovating. The music Vanilla Fudge played was innovative. Out of necessity I created an innovative drumming style by accident. Sabian awarded me for creating a heavy rock style that continues today.
MD: How did you record “You Keep Me Hanging On”?
Carmine: We recorded a one-take demo of “You Keep Me Hanging On.” Seven and a half minutes that changed my life. [Producer] Shadow Morton brought us into the studio, and we played the song. The demo was played on underground FM radio in New York. It was in mono, so the drum sound was monstrous. It created this new R&B rock drum sound that influenced many drummers. The album was mostly live takes.
MD: Did you tune your drums any differently between stage and studio?
Carmine: No, wide open. There was no dampening until the mid-’70s.
MD: What was your goal for The Realistic Rock Drum Method?
Carmine: I’d been teaching students out of Syncopation and Stick Control. Then I walked into Sam Ash and saw a rock drum book in 1971. The title was Learn to Play Rock Drums. The drummer on the cover had slicked-back hair, and he was using traditional grip. The material in the book was worthless. So I decided to write a book that focused on a realistic way to play rock drums. I used variations of rock grooves that worked. I covered syncopation, using the hi-hat, double bass drum workouts…. I got a $500 advance, which was great. I owned the copyright. It sold 4,000 units in the first year; 400,000 sold in total.
MD: What keeps you busy now?
Carmine: Cactus re-formed in 2006; Vanilla Fudge started performing again in 2001. I’m leaving on a cruise with Vanilla Fudge, then a U.S. tour. Cactus released a new album, Black Dawn. Vanilla Fudge released Spirit of ’67 in 2015. This year is our fiftieth anniversary. Ddrum is releasing a replica of my 1968 Ludwig aluminum snare drum. Istanbul Mehmet cymbals is reissuing my 22″ Heavy ride. And my brother Vinny and I are recording an album, The Appice Brothers.
Carmine Appice plays ddrum drums and Istanbul Mehmet cymbals and uses Vic Firth sticks, Evans heads, Calzone cases, and Audix mics.