Portraits

Carmine Appice

by Scott K. Fish

Carmine Appice
photo by Paul Jonason

The first time I met Carmine Appice was back in 1978 at a drum clinic on Long Island. That was the day we taped the interview that appeared in the April 1978 issue of Modern Drummer. He spoke about a new album that he had in the works that would feature a “drum single” called “A Twist of the Wrist.” Well, as often happens with any new idea, Carmine had difficulty finding a record company that believed in his project as much as he believed in it, and that album was never released. It took Edison 9,999 experiments before he came up with the electric lightbulb. When asked if he had been discouraged by so many failures Edison replied. “I didn’t consider them failures. I just found out 9,999 ways how not to make a lightbulb.” Carmine continued with his experiments and a new album is scheduled for release in June 1981.

 

Carmine and I spoke on the phone recently and discussed his new album. “I have a solo album coming out, probably in June,” he said. “It’s going to be a drum oriented album. The people that are playing on this album are also the nucleus of the new Rod Stewart band. Jay Davis is on bass. Danny Johnson is the guitar player. Duane Hitchings is not in the new Rod Stewart band, but he’s playing keyboards on my album. Duane played on Rod’s Blondes Have More Fun album. We’re doing it at this studio called American Recorders. The producer that I’m using is Richie Podoler. He produced all of Sandy Nelson’s drum hits. I wanted to do that kind of thing for the 80’s, with the most amazing drum sound to ever come out! The studio here is unreal. It’s 20 years old. The board and everything is all tubes. No transistors, so the “punch” of this place is unbelievable.”

Historically, this is the same studio where Sandy Nelson recorded one of his biggest singles. “They did “Let There Be Drums” here, all of Three Dog Night’s hits, and Steppenwolf’s records,” Carmine said. “It’s a real history making studio. The sound of the place is unreal and it’s the first time they ever got a drummer like me in it who beats the heck out of the drums! The sound is just unbelievable.

“I’m writing the material in conjunction with Danny Johnson, Duane Hitchings and two lyricists: Jim Diamond, a singer from Scotland and English singer Pete French. I wrote some of the lyrics, but I’m not really the world’s greatest lyricist. So, we all split the tasks of lyrics, arranging and writing the chords to the songs. It really worked! We’ve got some great songs; some real showcases for drumming. I’m trying to stay away from the sort of Billy Cobham-ish style of drumming that everyone’s doing on albums,” he explained. “I’ve just been trying to stay in the vein that I’ve always been noted for: Power Drums! I’m trying to add all the Krupa-ish stuff, that jungle tom-tom stuff except with a rock feel. Throughout the whole album there’s a lot of tom-tom work. I really love that sound.”

Carmine is using his famous Ludwig set-up in the studio and he says, “This is by far, the best drum sound that I’m ever going to put out in my whole career. I’m using a combination of the way I get my drum sound, and the way Bill Cooper, the engineer, gets his drum sound. Because of the electronics of the studio, and the way it’s set up, we don’t lose any of the “punch” of the drums. It’s very hard to get that on record with drums these days because everything is so clinical sounding. You get electronic punch. You don’t get real punch, and it makes a big difference.

“I’m probably going to dedicate the album to John Bonham,” Carmine added. “It’s the stuff that he and I have been doing for years, and now that he’s gone, I’d just like to dedicate it to him. I really dug him. We were good friends. He always treated me with a lot of respect. When he died, I was in England and all these interviewers kept asking me if I was joining Led Zeppelin! Because me and Bonzo were the only two guys that were alike. And it was terrible…those interviewers. It really was, Bonzo was a grand friend of mine, and I just want to dedicate the album to him. That triplet bass drum thing that he played in “Good Times, Bad Times”? I put it in specific portions of songs, ’cause I’ve been doing that since ’68, and John came out with the first album doing it.

“Actually, the drum sound that we’re getting here is very similar to that first Zeppelin album sound. They recorded it at Olympic and it had the same tube setup. So, it’s the same kind of punch. No one else has really come up with that kind of sound since then.”

In addition to his drumming, Carmine is also singing on the album. “I’m doing 7 vocal tracks. The old Brooklyn singing voice, singing some lead, all the harmonies, and most of the arranging. There’s a good back beat in a lot of it, but I’m trying to stay away from your normal everyday drum beat. I’m trying to be a little creative. There’s a thing we’re doing that’s very similar to Talking Heads. Instead of playing eighth notes on the hihat, I’ll play it on the rim of the tom-tom, just to give it a robot-like effect. Staying away from your stock boom-bop-boom bop sound.

“I wrote a lot of the songs on the road. When I got back from Europe around December 20 we started getting together casually; playing the songs and putting them together. First we rehearsed with acoustic instruments to learn the songs and then we moved rehearsals to Duane’s house. He has an 8-track studio and we recorded the material using a drum machine. Then we went into the studio and rehearsed 2 or 3 songs a day for about 5 days. We didn’t play the songs more than twice. The day of the actual recording, we freshened up the songs while the engineer was getting a sound check. It stayed real spontaneous. I didn’t even get to play the songs until the rest of the band really knew them. When I played with them, rather than them using the drum machine, it made the songs, even fresher. It’s a good way to go about it. It keeps me fresh, and if you have fresh drums on a track it keeps that energy. It kicks the other guys in the ass. When the drummer gets bored . . . it’s all over!

“We’ve had crazy people come by the studio. Henry Winkler dropped by with his son. Roger Taylor from Queen came by. Even the old drummer from Three Dog Night, Floyd Sneed. Alice Cooper has been hanging around because he’s going to do his next album here. So, there are good vibes. Right now we’re doing an experiment with one of the drum sounds, actually one of the drum singles. I’ve got a great title for it. It’s called “The Ballad of Drum City Surfer Girl!” You know how long I’ve been talking about these drum singles, right? The record companies didn’t want to listen to me. Now we’ve finally got Rod Stewart’s label doing it. His manager hit me up to do drum singles.’

“We’re experimenting now with a piece I first heard in The Gene Krupa Story. There’s a scene where Gene plays three different rhythms and the band answers him. So, I’m taking the three different rhythms and I’m doing that. I just had my brother Vinnie in here. He was playing the counter tom-tom parts. Now we’re putting in the actual drumset overdub so I can play the solo that goes over the whole section. It’s pretty crazy. We’re taking some time to really get into the detail work on the drum end of it. There’s really no formula,” Carmine explained. “You don’t know until you start experimenting what’s going to work and what isn’t going to work.

“The time I first came here, I played with Richie Podoler who plays guitar. We jammed and wrote a song that I did on a show called Hollywood Heartbeat. That just came out of a jam. I’ve sort of written four or five drum singles with melodies and different concepts. I know it can happen again! That’s why I’m using Richie, because he’s the only guy that has a track record of doing drum singles. I don’t even know if they’re commercial enough to be actual drum singles. I think they might end up being real heavy-duty popular album cuts. Like “Stairway To Heaven.” That was never a hit single, but it was such a big song.”

Carmine plans to perform with his band between Rod Stewart dates. “We’re going to release my album to coincide with the Rod Stewart tour which comes up in July. Then, if we play four nights at Madison Square Garden and have a day off, maybe I’ll do the day off at The Ritz with Danny, Jay, the band and a keyboard player. Danny’s got an album coming out too, so we’ll kill two birds with one stone. In between all that we’re going to be doing five tracks on a new Rod Stewart album. It’s a double LP. Three sides live and the fourth side will be the five new studio tracks with the new band. That’ll be out for the new tour as well.”

“There’s talk of doing one of the songs on my album with Rod. I did over a song called “Be My Baby.” Rod heard it and just loved it. He said, ‘You know, it might be a good idea to include this in the show to give me a little break,’ And he’ll sing on the choruses.”

There’ll be some use of electronic percussion on the album but not much. “I’m just going to use it as effects,” Carmine told me. “Remember what I was saying about playing eighth notes on the rim? I’m going to do things like that with it. Make it sound like a slide guitar at one point, or use it for a Star Wars kind of effect. I’m keeping this thing really ‘roots.’ Raw, kick-ass, the raunchiest, biggest jungle tom-tom sound that anyone ever heard! We’re getting into some really interesting stuff. Some of the best stuff I think I’ve ever done. And there’s ‘controlled’ playing. Instead of playing on the hi-hat to an uptempo rock and roll thing, I’ll be playing on the tom-tom. I mixed in some Police sort of rhythms with the heavier drum sound, though. No one has really gotten into that yet. This is what I’m trying to accomplish. Keep the old kick-ass Carmine sound like in the old Cactus days in combination with what I do with Rod, Vanilla Fudge and everything.

“Richie Podoler did many Surf records and we’re adding a little bit of that flavor as well, in total contrast to my drums. I hope it’s a hit record. We have seven or eight tracks that are very strong vocally, and three drum things that I think will satisfy the drum market. I’m really happy with the way that everything’s been happening. We’re trying to keep everything at different tempos.

“One of the things we’re going to do to promote this album is run drum battles all over the world. What I’m trying to do is bring back the old spirit of drums like Krupa had. The big band days and the drum battles! We ran a thing out here last year in conjunction with a radio station called K-West. It was called The K-West/Carmine Appice First Annual Mother’s Day Drum-Off. This year I’m going to be away for Mother’s Day but we’re going to run it on Memorial Day out at the beach. We’ll have fireworks at the end of the whole drum battle. It was a beautiful day last time. We’re going to go on as Carmine and the Rockers and play songs off the album and finish up with an amazing drum solo, which I’d better do or I’m in trouble, right? We’re going to dedicate that whole Memorial Day to John Bonham as well.

“I’m determined to bring the drums up front, man. I really think the kids are ready. The kids today never heard stuff like this! We’re talking with Ludwig about maybe giving a drum set to the winner of the contest. There’s a battle of the bands in Daytona, Florida sponsored by Ludwig and I’m going to be the guest-star judge. Sometimes I wonder about myself!” he laughed. “People ask me, ‘Well, what do you do for fun?’ This is what I do for fun! You gotta keep that New York attitude. Once you lose that, man . . . you’re in trouble!”