Sometimes before interviewing a musician, I find myself fighting a preconceived image I’ve gotten of the person. Perhaps it was a picture painted by another journalist in some other publication, or maybe the image was conceived in my own mind as a result of the kind of songs that person writes or the kind of music that individual plays. I’ve learned that preconceptions are often as useful as stereotypes; both are non-realities.
I couldn’t help wondering, though, what Vinny Appice would be like: raucus like the music he plays, or even outspoken and aggressive like his brother, Carmine. He really wasn’t either—not offstage, anyway. Vinny was warm, down to earth, and relaxed. He took me from his early beginnings with John Lennon and Rick Derringer, through his life with Black Sabbath to his current position with Dio. I realized it wasn’t merely his playing experiences, however, which qualified him to author Rock Steady, a technique book for drummers. It was his training and knowledge, which also made this interview so interesting.
RF: What inspired you to start playing drums?
VA: When my brother Carmine, who is 11 years older than I, started playing in his first professional band, Vanilla Fudge, I was eight years old. My parents used to take me to see him play and I was just amazed. I used to sit there, and probably get more nervous for Carmine when the solo was coming up than he was. Eventually, there were drums left in the house, and I started banging away, playing my little things. Then, Carmine would show me a couple of things. Eventually, he suggested that I take drum lessons from Dick Bennett, the same guy who taught him. Carmine had gone for lessons for about three or four years, so at 11, I went to Dick. I took lessons for three years, and from there, I got into some bands and went for it.
RF: You never found Carmine’s playing intimidating?
VA: Oh no. His being so good just made me want to be better, faster, and louder. In the beginning, when I was 12 or 13 and really learning how to play, I listened to every lick Carmine played. I’d get it down, he’d come home, and I’d show him. Then, I listened to a lot of other people, too. I really studied albums and got all these licks down. Eventually, as I got a bit older, I stopped listening so much to Carmine and started concentrating on my own style, which was good, because I don’t want to play exactly like Carmine. That’s why we vary now.
RF: How did you develop your own style?
VA: I didn’t stop playing licks like Carmine, but I didn’t concentrate on playing his exact licks. To develop your own style, you start practicing on your own, you come up with something good, and you write it down. Basically, I think it just comes from within. You can always tell someone’s style who is really unique. I just started concentrating on little licks here and there, and got into a more technical style than Carmine’s.
RF: So, it was really healthy competition.
VA: Yes. Then when I was a bit older, like 14 or 15, we would get together and play on two drumsets. Carmine and I would take four-bar solos and really go for it, which was good practice for both of us. It was real good competition. He saw that I was getting better, so it kept him on his toes, too. We were both on our toes. Now it’s just, “Hey, let’s do that triplet paradiddle thing.” We’ll play new records we’re on for each other, and we’ll know exactly what the other is doing. It’s great.
RF: Do you think the drums have made you even closer as brothers?
VA: Oh yeah. We can sit around and talk paradiddles all day. At family get-togethers, we’ll be tapping on the table. The whole family will be saying, “Stop already.”
RF: How did your folks feel about your interest in music?
VA: They were really helpful. They wanted us to do what we wanted to do in life. As long as Carmine graduated high school and wanted to play drums, that was okay. While he was still in high school, he was playing around and making some money, so they could see that he was able to support himself. Eventually, he got to the professional level, making albums and doing tours. My parents are really into it. They go to every show, even now. They were a great help. Then, when it came time for me to do it, the way was paved. They knew the drum teacher I should go to. They paid for the drum lessons, books, and the whole thing. I was a bit more radical. I hated school and, eventually, I quit. They had to handle that at that time. My parents love music, though. If you go to their house, my mother will be playing Rod Stewart, Dio, or King Kobra. We got a stereo for our parents last Christmas, so my mother has 20 watts per channel now and she cranks it up.
RF: Was there ever a point where you felt, “Who needs lessons? I don’t want to do that.”
VA: I think everybody should go for some lessons, for a couple of years at least. But you can overdo that also. I know some people who go for lessons and who go through ten books as a routine each day. When they play, they sound like a computer. There’s no feel. It’s all rudimental stuff. There’s just a point where I don’t think it’s going to help you, unless you want to become a real technical whiz. I think you lose your feel when you really get involved in being so technical, right from the book.
RF: How do you know how much to do—where to start and where to stop?
VA: I guess it depends on what your goals are when you first start lessons. My goals were to learn how to read enough so that I’d be able to read a chart and know all the different kinds of drum music. In my third year, I went through something like 20 books, and I started getting a little bored playing out of the books. I felt that was enough, and I just practiced everything on my own.
RF: What did you do then to further your own abilities?
VA: I’d practice every day. I’d still go through the books now and then, but mostly I’d practice on my own, tape myself, listen to it, and steal things off records. Basically, when I practiced, I put headphones on, put the record on, and played with that. That was good, because it gave me the feeling of playing with some sort of band. Then, I’d just sit down and play. I’d have warm-up exercises like triplets with my foot to get my foot warmed up, as well as left- hand and right-hand singles. I got everything warmed up and then just played. I would stumble across something really good and say, “Hey, what was that?” So I’d figure it out and maybe take it on from there. Sometimes I’d practice real mechanical stuff, like paradiddles between the toms, and see how fast I could get them.
Then, I got in a band and put what I knew into the band. There’d be certain songs where I’d try these killer fills here and there. When I was about 15 or 16, I had a nine-piece big band with four horn players. We were managed by the owner of the Record Plant in New York. He gave us a big room in the Record Plant so we could rehearse every night. In Manhattan it would have cost a fortune, but we could go whenever we wanted. We met John Lennon there and got to know him real well. He loved the band. Then one night, they called to ask us if we wanted to come down and do hand claps on John’s record. Of course we did, so we did that song he did with Elton John, “Whatever Gets You Through The Night.” We talked to him a lot. Our manager’s wife was a singer, so he wanted John to produce her. John agreed to produce demos for her, and they needed a band, so we started backing up this singer in the studio with John producing. We really got to know him and, in fact, my mother even made lasagna for him, which I brought to him. Then John was doing these TV shows, and one was taped at the New York Hilton. It was a black-tie affair, with all sorts of notable people in the audience, and we were in the band that did it. That’s when we met Yoko, who was real radical. Since it was such a black-tie affair, she wanted to do something really political. They made masks of our actual faces and they put them on the back of our heads, so we had two faces and no hair, which represented being two-faced. We had these black-satin jump suits on. John came on with the same one in red, with his hair tied back. It was really crazy.
RF: How did you feel playing with John Lennon?
VA: I was 16. I’d be in the studio with him and we’d finish recording. While we were doing overdubs, I’d just sit there thinking, “I can’t believe I’m hanging out here with John Lennon.” That’s why we quit school. We would go to school, and then at night, we’d play with John Lennon. Then we’d go back to school the next day.
That was rough. Actually, I wish I’d finished school. They gave me French and I’d always say, “What am I going to use this for?” Now when we go to France, I wish I could speak the language. I know how to say “Open the window,” but that doesn’t get you very far.
RF: Was John Lennon your first recording experience?
VA: That band was. Because we were associated with the Record Plant, our manager would take us in the studio to cut demos. That was the first time I was in the studio. He showed me a lot. When you first go into the studio, you tend to rush so much. You don’t know what it’s all about. He really showed me how to record in the studio, as far as playing steady was concerned. He’d hook up a metronome light that would flash, and I would watch it. I learned so much doing that.
That’s how I met Rick Derringer. He used to work in the studio now and then, and he heard a tape of this band. He really liked the drummer. When I met him, I was freaked out. It was probably the same year as I met Lennon. He asked for my phone number, and I heard from him six months later because he was putting a band together. So I joined his band. I was 16 at the time.
RF: That could have a bad effect on a kid.
VA: I took it very professionally. I thought, “I’m going to do this, it’s going to be a career, and I have to stay on top of things.” I really wanted to learn and go on tour. I wanted to do it, so it was really easy for me and natural for all that to be happening. The John Lennon thing was heavy, but it all felt natural.
RF: You’ve been on tour since you were very young. Do you like to tour?
VA: I love it. This band is a lot of fun. It’s the first band I’ve ever toured with on a bus. We really get along well and have a lot of fun. It’s great. Plus, this band is becoming very successful now, so when you go to a town and play 15,000-seaters, it’s great. We play, get back on the bus, and party. The band is great to play with on stage, and the show we have is really massive with pyro effects. I enjoy playing the show with all the effects and watching everything happen.
RF: Do you ever worry about those effects, such as the lasers?
VA: The only thing I was ever afraid of was when they had fire that went off on the drum riser. I just pictured the thing tipping over with the flame toward me. We have a licensed pyrotechnician, so he knows what he’s doing. The lasers are okay, though. The only way the lasers can hurt you is if you look at them. They come from behind me, down on the floor. If you look right in there, you can burn your eyes, but by the time it gets up, it’s very diffused, and you can even put your hand in it.
RF: So, what happened after the John Lennon episode?
VA: I came out to California to be in a three-piece band that Carmine was going to produce. It was Jimmy Haslip on bass and Phil Brown on guitar. I was 17, and we played and played and played, but nothing really happened. So I went back to New York, and a friend of mine called and said they needed a drummer for a band called Axis. I’d always heard about Axis, which was a heavy metal trio. I wasn’t doing anything in New York, so I went down to Texas to play with the band. We were together two months, which is when Derringer called. Derringer came down to Louisiana to see the band, and he took me and the guitar player, Danny Johnson, into Derringer. Jay, the bass player in Axis, went on to play with Foreigner when they first started. We were together for about two-and-a-half years, and we did three albums. That wasn’t happening, so Danny and I decided to put Axis back together in California. We got Jay back and got a deal on RCA. We did one album one crappy, disorganized tour, came back, and it just wasn’t happening.
In ’79, I left the band and went on to play with Alfonso Johnson, who was putting a new band together. It was a rock band called Out. We did one album on Elektra, which they didn’t release because Elektra was going through a bad time. The band broke up, and a month later, Sabbath called. They had auditioned 11 drummers and couldn’t find one. I went down, played with them, and they liked it. We rehearsed for about three days, then went out and played a 20,000-seater in Hawaii. With Sabbath, I had to learn 15 songs in four or five days, and they hated to rehearse. They’d go to the bar, and I’d be down there with Ronnie, who was trying to show me. I had never seen anything like this before. So I wrote charts out on the songs, I listened to the songs day in and day out, and then we played Hawaii. I hadn’t played in front of people in about two years, but I was really calm. I was reading the charts, when all of a sudden, it started raining. My book started bubbling and the ink started running. I kind of winged it through the set, but it came off okay. The funny bit was that the original members of Sabbath had never played with any drummer other than Bill Ward. From what I heard later on, they were more frightened on stage that night than I was. Bill didn’t return, so I ended up being in the band for almost three years. That got old after a while, though. The band just wasn’t working anymore. It wasn’t creative. Ronnie wanted to leave and asked me if I wanted to leave with him to put a band together. We left the band in ’82, and we wanted to get some British players so the band would be international. We went to England, found the people for this band, and started rehearsing. We did the album in ’83 and did our first tour.
RF: Everything I’ve read indicates that you and Ronnie left Sabbath, but in one article I read it said you were, and I quote, “axed.”
VA: That was their way of trying to get back at us. Also, what they were putting in the press was that, while we were recording the live album at the Record Plant, Ronnie and I would turn the vocals and drums up. Then, they’d come in and have to mix it right. The truth is that we were supposed to be in there at 2:00 in the afternoon. Ronnie and I would be there by 2:30, but they didn’t show up until 8:00, at $2,000 a day. It just got stupid after a while. So to get back at us for leaving, they were saying we were fired and all this nonsense, when all in all, there was just no band left, no money left, and nothing was happening. Then they continued with that in the press, and said Ronnie was a tyrant and all these stupid things. We remained real quiet. Ronnie refused to say anything about them until the right time a year later. Now we’re much more successful than they were when we were all together, so the table is turned.
RF: What about the playing experience with Sabbath?
VA: It was great, because it was such heavy metal and boomy rock that, as far as my playing needs were concerned, I couldn’t get much more. I was able to play a lot in that band, and I played really hard. It was a learning experience, because I had never really done it on that level. By playing all those big places, I got to learn how things work. That was great, because it all led up to this band. We work twice as much as Sabbath worked. It really was a good start in learning how to do everything. It was a good band, too, at that time. But things change.
RF: Would you say that all of your technical practicing and formal training is utilized in your present situation?
VA: Oh yeah. That’s why I think drummers should go for lessons. For instance, when I’m playing a song and hear a fill coming out of me, I know what I’m going to do, and I’ll try it. I’ll know that was a paradiddle between bass drum and my two tom-toms, or something. So, I know exactly what I’m playing all the time.
RF: Why is that important?
VA: Say you have a small amount of time to do a fill leading to a next verse. Maybe you can put five beats in there instead of four, so you actually know technically what would fit. If you have to put five in there to fit in the place of four, you might have to keep three beats steady and rush two beats at the end or something. I think it makes you play a bit more melodic, too. It’s a bit cleaner than trying to do something and thinking, “Oh, I wonder what that was.” Also, if you don’t know what it is, you can’t repeat it. It helps when you hear records and hear John Bonham play some- thing. You think, “I know what that is.” You can actually hear it off the record, picture it in notes, and put it on your own set. I think that it’s really important to get a basis of knowledge, so you know what you’re playing.
RF: When we did our Update, you mentioned that the most important element of rock drumming was feel. If you’ll allow me to play devil’s advocate for a minute, so many people will say heavy metal drumming is just a lot of bashing. Where does the feel enter into that, and how do you maintain that?
VA: A lot of heavy metal is real rustic and just a bunch of riffs. A lot of drummers just play fast, and don’t even have the technical knowledge to play anything in there that’s flashy or melodic. They just play as loud as they can without any feel. I grew up learning how to play with feel and applying the feel to everything I played. That’s what makes Dio different from a lot of these heavy metal bands. We’re a bit more melodic.
RF: The music is also more complex than that.
VA: It’s not just a bunch of riffs. We tear songs apart and come up with ideas that you’d think would never work. Then, we’ll try them, and it’ll be really nice. My feel just comes naturally, even when they come up with a fast riff. My feel will naturally come across in that song, as opposed to just bashing through it. Bonzo’s feel was so great that, when he did a simple roll, it was so melodic and it really counted as something special. You have to think about the song, and play something that will really fit in well and not get in the way of things. But there are a lot of drummers who bash through it, because they don’t know anything else. They haven’t taken the time to take lessons and really sit down to try to play better than that.
RF: When you say you grew up learning to play with feel, what kind of music were you mostly playing?
VA: Mainly, I listened to bands like Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Back then, there were a lot more musicians around. Everyone in the band was a musician, and all the drummers were exceptional. That’s why Carmine became so good. He was thrown out there with all this competition. They all played with a lot of feel. They had their own styles, and you can hear them come across. I think those people back then really put their guts into it. I listened to some black music, too. That horn band I was in played some funky stuff. It was like a rock/funk band, which was good, because I learned how to play a bit more funky and that involves playing with a bit more feel. Finesse in heavy metal is not playing the average stuff. It is being a bit more clever. You have to be somewhat good and know what you’re doing. You can’t just play through things. Listen to the song. I listen to Ronnie a lot. He’ll come up with some really good melodies. He’ll sing something and I’ll say, “I can follow him on that.” If he sings “never, never, never,” I’ll punctuate that. A good example of that is that drum thing on “Pride In The Name Of Love” by U2. It’s a simple little thing, but it works in that song, and he uses it all through the song. It’s a little hook for the song, too. I think that’s a good example of how you can play melodically.
RF: Is it different playing with Ronnie Dio, whose band is vocal oriented, as opposed to Derringer, who was guitar oriented?
VA: Oh yeah, there’s a difference. All the bands I played with actually had weak vocals, except for Sabbath and Dio. They were always strong bands, especially Axis. You end up playing so wild and hard that it almost buries the vocals. Ronnie is the only singer I’ve ever played with or heard who is actually another instrument in the band. Not many vocalists can do that. Dio is such a powerful band when just the three of us are playing together that it sounds so full, and you think, “How can you even sing over this stuff?” Then, Ronnie comes in, starts singing, and takes the song up three more levels. It’s a whole other instrument in the song. He’s the only one who can compete with me, because if you let me loose, I’ll go crazy. He can just slap it right down again because he’s so strong. He kicks us and we kick him, and that’s why the band works.
RF: In the press, Ronnie always talks about how the band is a band, yet in something I read, he said it’s a democracy with a dictator.
VA: That’s kind of true. It’s a band, and it’s his band. He is the leader of the band. It’s not a complete band where everyone is involved in every aspect. He makes the final decisions, but that’s because, in the beginning, he put the band together and it was his record deal. He actually laid a lot on the line in the beginning, as far as money, the house, and cars went. If it hadn’t worked, he’d be in really bad shape now. He’s responsible for all the business decisions. But as for the music, it’s a complete democracy. He’s a great bandleader. I prefer to work under those terms, anyway.
RF: You’re in the middle of creating an album. How does that work?
VA: When we first start rehearsing, the band goes down and plays together. That’s the way we come up with a lot of songs. Then we’ll stop and make a couple of changes, add this and that, and come up with another chord change. A lot of things we write come out by our playing together. We’ll record it and listen to it, like “Rainbow In The Dark.” Then Ronnie comes in, and we really start tearing it apart. Instead of just doing a solo, we’ll work out different changes for the solo or maybe some stops, like, “Let’s stop on the solo and give Viv [guitarist Vivian Campbell] a little thing.” We’ll try anything.
Basically, the band will play and come up with some really powerful raw stuff. Then Ronnie comes in and we refine it. We change it and mold it to become more of a song. If it were up to us, we’d be like the other bands who just put the riffs out, but Ronnie takes it a step further and molds it into something more melodic. He knows exactly what he wants to sing when he gets a melody in his head.
Another way we come up with songs is when someone actually brings in a riff or something that we’ll try. Ronnie plays a little bit of guitar, so he usually puts some things down on tape and brings them in. We learn what he did and then play it our way. Then, we work on that the same way. We refine it, take parts out, and try different things. We really tear the songs up. It gets very frustrating sometimes, too, but in the long run, it’s worth it. Just when we think the song sounds really good and is close to being finished, Ronnie will say, “I don’t like that part. We’re more special than that.” If you’re satisfied with the way it is, you’re never going to get a step beyond that. Then we’ll throw in our ideas, or maybe we won’t have any ideas at that point, so we’ll get loose and start playing again. One thing will lead to another, and we’ll wind up having a whole other part. It becomes a song somehow. Sometimes we’ll have two riffs from different days. I’ll listen to the tape, and a couple of times I’ve realized, “This is the same tempo as this one. They’re in the same key and they sound good.” We’ve tried them together and they’ve worked. So, we do it a number of different ways.
RF: Is there a tune you might have had more to do with than others?
VA: A real good example of that was with the band Axis, on a song called “Armageddon.” It starts out with the drums. It’s this beat that was just in my head. I don’t know where it came from. It’s in 4/4, but it sounds like it’s in seven. We used to jam on it a lot, and we came up with a song. It’s a riffy song and built right around what I played on the drums, which is a real off-the-wall beat. On the Dio stuff, it’s more or less a whole unit playing together. When I hear what they’re playing, I’ll try different feels.
RF: Live, you play with earplugs.
VA: I can hear better with them. When I was playing with Sabbath, at the end of the show, I couldn’t hear anymore. By the last few songs, I couldn’t even hear the tempo of the song. I started using little swimming earplugs. I got used to wearing them and noticed that they cut the top end off. You can hear better with your fingers in your ears, because when the top end is loud, it distorts your whole hearing. I really got used to playing with these things and it’s great. Plus, the cymbal crashes kill you. If you hit the cymbal and you turn your head and your ear is facing the cymbal, it’s not very good for your ear. Also, the earplugs make me play harder, because the drums sound a bit more dead than normal, so I tend to smack a little harder. You can’t complain about that.
RF: When I was watching the Dio concert video, I didn’t notice any monitors.
VA: They’re behind me, and they’re called Harwells. We use a Harwell PA, which is about the best PA around. They’re made by a company in England, and they’re incredible. I use just two 12″ speakers in this big enclosure, but they’re faced a different way and have all this baffling which is scientifically thought out. These monitors can be turned up loud without distorting. The only drawback is that they’re real big and all the cabinets are huge, so we end up taking an extra semi out on the road just to carry this PA. It’s worth it, though. Also, hearing my drums through that makes me play better. I have my overheads and my monitors through them, so I get a bit more of a wet sound—a bit more live. It just makes me play so much better, too, because I can hear it and feel the power. I’m eight feet up in the air, in the middle of nowhere, so these monitors are great.
RF: Doesn’t being so far away from the rest of the players affect you somehow?
VA: It takes a lot to get used to that. On the last stage we had, I was eight feet high and it was a pyramid shape, so the front of it sloped down. They couldn’t even come close to me. It takes getting used to as a band—the eye contact and all the count-offs and stuff. I’m used to it now because we did the same thing with Sabbath, so it kind of built me up to getting used to it. But I have bass, guitar, keyboards, and vocals through the monitors also, so it sounds like the band is near me because these monitors are so efficient. There’s no big problem with it at all.
RF: What do you do with your sticks?
VA: On this last tour, I was finding the sticks slipping a lot, so I had my roadie take a file and grate the hell out of the sticks. If anybody else touched these things, they’d probably bleed because the sticks are so rough. It gave me more grip. What happened eventually was that my hands were so hard that, after playing two songs, they’d smooth out from the friction. I use rosin on stage. Before my solo, I’ll play with one hand, then grab the rosin bag, and try to get it on both hands. It really helps my grip.
RF: Speaking of solo, what to you is a good solo?
VA: You can’t just be real technical and flashy with big arenas, because a lot of people in the audience won’t know what you’re doing, and you don’t want to bore them. So what I like to do is put in some technical stuff that I like to do, and a lot of little simple open things and visual stuff. Then, of course, at the end, there has to be some kind of real big buildup, and I have these pyro bombs. So, basically, I like to do a combination of everything—visual, technical and things people can hear that they can get into. For the solo I did last time, I had drums 360 degrees around me, so that was a visual thing. Kids love it, because they’ve never seen someone do it like that before. Things like that go over well, as opposed to just playing a Buddy Rich kind of solo.
RF: Are you keeping this 360-degree setup?
VA: Oh yes! I love it. It keeps me off the streets, [laughs] Now I’m getting it down to where I can do it in songs. Instead of just doing a little fill, I’ll do the fill in the same length of time, but get around the whole kit in time. Once you start doing all this stuff, it becomes easy and natural. That’s why I’m adding more drums to the next tour.
RF: Tell us about your setup.
VA: I use one bass drum in front, seven immediate toms—four in front of me and three floor toms. Then, on both sides of me, I have four aerial toms, two of which are about four feet high and the other two are right above those. It’s like a little wall of tom-toms that go up to about six feet. Directly behind me are two smaller aerial toms, right above my head. I also have a bass drum directly behind me, which I use for the end of my solo. When I do my rolls and I’m all the way in the back, I’ll stay in the back, with my back to the audience, and play all the aerial toms, then stand up, and use the back bass drum. Then at the end, the bomb goes off and I go deaf.
Tama is making me a brand new set, and I’ll be adding a couple of unique drums to the set I have now. It’s going to be massive. So all together, there are 13 tom-toms in my present set. The next set will probably be 14 tom-toms and something else. But I play them all. I don’t believe in putting things up for show. If you put things up and don’t use them, it’s like a prop and it’s against my religion to do that. Basically, I kept adding things, got used to playing that size set, and then added to it. Thirteen tom-toms sound like a lot, but after you play them for a couple of years, you’ve done that.
RF: What are the sizes of the aerial toms?
VA: The aerial toms are two 16 x 18 and two 18×20. The back ones are 16 x 16. If you listen to the Dio albums, you’ll hear that they’ve become like a trademark of this band. In “Rainbow In The Dark,” which has become our trademark, we play the riff of the song, then stop, and the riff keeps playing. Then there are quarter notes over the riff, and we use these toms all of the time. I record with them and I set them all up at rehearsal. You have to in order to get the whole feel of it. If I feel like twisting around and playing all of them, I do it and it keeps me in shape for the next tour.
RF: I was curious about the fact that your regular toms are single-headed. That’s unusual in this day and age.
VA: Right. I like them because, when you hit them really hard, the air immediately moves out of them. You don’t find any resistance coming from a skin. When I hit double-headed toms real hard, I get a little vibration on the head. I can feel the air choking in there. I like to play a lot of fast things, and they’re faster drums. The air just shoots out of them. There isn’t as much bottom, boom, or ring to them as there is with the double headed. Actually, my drums have a lot of bottom to them, because they’re all wood. They don’t have the ring of the double-headed tom, but I like that sound. Then, I use the aerial toms if I want a real big buildup to an end of a song or a big boomy sound. It makes up for what the other ones lack. I’ve always used those drums. I use a single-headed bass drum for the same reason. It’s fast and it’s louder.
RF: Did you ever use the double bass in the traditional sense?
VA: I did when I was 12, for about a year. I found that I wound up playing the single bass anyway. With a band, you wind up playing the beat, more or less, with one. With double bass, you wind up playing everything that’s been done before. Everybody plays the same stuff with the double bass, with a few exceptions like Terry Bozzio, Billy Cobham, and Carmine. I found it very boring to play double bass. Plus, I think you can get lazy playing double bass. You can basically do the same things with one bass drum and have it almost be as full sounding, if you try hard enough. And I’d rather try hard. So now I have the double bass behind me.
RF: What about your cymbals?
VA: What kills me is that a lot of the jazz drummers at clinics will say, “If you hit the cymbal here, you get a real tingy sounding . . . ” And I think, “Yeah, sure!” That’s because the music I play with this band is a bit louder than what you’re going to hear at the cymbal demonstrations. All I want is a good crash. I love Sabian cymbals and I use all 20″ crashes, with one 18″ crash and a 21″ ride, all medium weights. In the studio, I’ll use smaller ones—an 18″, or maybe a 16″—because the big ones tend to ring a bit too much. Then you end up taping them and getting a real garbage-can sound out of it. I like to use smaller, lighter-weight cymbals in the studio, so I get more of a splash, and then it simmers down for the next crash I’m going to do. No gongs—I hate gongs. Years ago, when I was with Derringer, I used all 22″ heavy cymbals. They’d sound like mini-gongs. You can’t actually stop the cymbal if you want to. I don’t know why I did that, [laughs]
RF: Obviously, you don’t approach the drums the same way in the studio.
VA: Believe it or not, I do. We set the whole kit up. We record with a real live sound, so we don’t worry too much. I don’t tape the tom-toms up. The only thing I put a little bit of tape on is the snare drum. The aerial toms could take a little bit of tape, because they’re the double heads and ring a bit more. We set the mic’s up around everything, and we build a little room around my drums out of plywood, so my whole enclosure is plywood. It’s so loud in this little room that you can’t stay in there without headphones on. Off the plywood, you get a lot of ambience, a lot of live sound, and a lot of bottom. We do that, put some overheads up, and we get a great sound. We actually use it all in the studio. Then we overdub. If we overdub the toms, we’ll move them maybe to the middle of the room, and sometimes we’ll speed the tape up. We’ll do one set normal and then one set speeded up, so when we play it back, it’s lower and we have a good combination of things. This band believes that you have to eat, drink, and breathe what you’re doing, so we go for it all the time.
RF: It must be a nightmare for your recording engineer.
VA: Yes, because there are so many toms. We work so well together, though. Any other recording engineer would probably feel it was a nightmare, but Angelo Arcuri and I have grown up together. As a matter of fact, he was the bass player in that first horn band, and he has been with me during Sabbath and all the bands I’ve been with. He engineered the last two Dio albums, so we know each other. The toms are the easiest things in the world to get a sound on. Just tune them down a little bit more than usual. It’s usually the bass drum and snare that you really have to concentrate on. We work well together. The funny thing is that my setup on the recording board takes half the board. Live, we almost need two boards. We had to get an additional board because I have so many drums, and I almost have one board for the drums.
RF: Is there a lot of overdubbing in the studio?
VA: Drum-wise, no. We do the aerial toms and a couple of things here and there, but usually I end up being on the original tracks. We experiment a lot, too.
RF: How do you feel about electronics?
VA: I hated them last year, but my mind has opened up a bit more. I honestly haven’t sat down and tried them. I don’t like the way they look, although some people just put them in their drums. I think when you do that it’s just too much of an easy way to get a sound on a drum, and to me, it sounds like electronic drums. I do like them for some of the music people are using them for, but I don’t think they really have a place in our kind of music. This year I shall experiment with them, though, and see what I can do with them. Maybe I’ll do something with them in my solo, but to me, there’s nothing like natural drums. Maybe they’re useful in the studio, but what happens is everyone then uses them on their records, and all the records end up having the same drum sound. You can’t tell who is playing what anymore.
RF: What are some of your favorite tunes to play?
VA: I like “We Rock,” which is a fast thing. It’s a real foot one, too. I love “Rainbow In The Dark” because it’s a straightforward rock ‘n’ roll song. “Don’t Talk To Strangers” has a real melodic slow bit in the beginning, and then it gets real frantic. At the end, it gets back to where it was in the beginning. There are a lot of different dynamics in the song, so that’s fun to play. I like all of them, really, except for some of the old Rainbow and Sabbath songs we do, which we probably won’t do this tour. Those are my least favorite, because I like the songs we do now better than the old stuff.
RF: You told me in Update that your motto is “We never close,” and I wonder how musicians who have to put out so much energy in the show can party, too.
VA: There were a number of nights where we partied on the bus, and the whole crew and the trucks had left. We could see the guy closing the arena doors and our bus was still there, partying, with music going on. We’ve cut that down a bit more. Now, usually what happens is we play the gig, go back to the hotel, and stay there until 3:00 A.M. We get on the bus and leave at 4:00 A.M. We’ll stay up until about 6:00 and then, when we get to town the next day, we’ll sleep until 4:00 P.M., until we go to soundcheck. So we still get rest.
RF: I wasn’t just referring to rest, but rather partying and drinking, etc., and then having the stamina to perform.
VA: I don’t drink that much. Three beers and I get very wasted. So after the show I’ll have a couple of beers, then wind up staying up on the bus and then crashing out, sleeping the whole day and playing. I never, ever drink while I play. I’m completely straight. I don’t see it going any other way because there’s too much energy involved, like you said. I keep myself healthy, and when I feel run down, then I’ll get on the bus and go to bed. I take care of myself. I take vitamins and exercise. I don’t drink or do drugs. The whole band is like that, although they drink a little more than I do. When I play and feel tired on stage, that’s when I’ll say, “Okay, that’s it,” and I’ll discipline myself to go to sleep. Then on the day off, I’ll sleep all day. I don’t want to sacrifice playing because I’m staying up all night. That defeats the purpose of being there.
RF: Carmine is a very vocal kind of person. When he told me he was forming King Kobra, he said he wanted to get away from the sideman kind of thing and take a shot at having a band. Do you see yourself as doing your own band somewhere down the line, or does Dio fulfill that?
VA: I think Dio fulfills my need to be heard, definitely, because even though it’s Ronnie’s band, it’s a band situation and I’d rather play in that situation. I’d rather be known as a great drummer in a great band than to do a solo thing. With this band, I do get heard. I play anything I want, I have drum solos, I have this massive key of spotlights, and I’m under the name of Ronnie Dio, who is one of the greatest singers around. I’m honored to play with him in this band, and it’s such a good band. As long as I’m playing what I want to play, I’m really happy. I don’t know how long all this will last. When it’s not happening anymore, maybe I’ll want to do my own band. But basically, my feelings have always been to want to be in a band I’d never put a band together, and call it Vinny Appice & The Melotones. But if I’d put a band together, I’d do the same thing as this band—get great players, a great singer, be the drummer and call it a name. If I was being told what to play or playing wimpy stuff, then I would be dissatisfied with it, but as long as I can play what I want to play, I’m really happy. And I think that will get across to people, which is what Bonzo did with Zeppelin. He didn’t do solo albums, and he was known as one of the greatest drummers. So, I don’t see any need to do it the other way.