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Groovers and Shakers - Carmine Appice

I’ve been waiting patiently to get to Carmine because he’s very much of my generation and I know there’s far more to him (and the effect he has had on music) than meets the eye. For my money, he had a great deal more to do with the development of ‘rock’ drumming than he’s been given credit for.  I say this because he was responsible for drumming on the seminal record where pop music morphed into heavy rock.

“You Keep Me Hanging On” was a Holland, Dozier and Holland song recorded by the ‘Supremes’ which ‘Vanilla Fudge’ grabbed by the throat and started a revolution. If there was heavy music prior to this I’d be interested to know what it was. It’s extremely pertinent to note that “You Keep Me Hanging On” came out in 1967 at a time when John Bonham was not really on the scene. Led Zepplin didn’t begin until 1968 and before this even though Bonzo was playing exuberantly with Tim Rose he was simply backing someone who was ostensibly a pop/rock  singer, he certainly wasn’t licensed to play as heavily as he was going to once Led Zep got their act together. Carmine Appice however certainly was playing hard at this time and really becoming noticed.

There are plenty of accounts on the internet as to how Carmine was John Bonham’s idol and how he influenced Ian Paice, Cozy Powell, Nicko McBrain, Phil Collins, Roger Taylor, Tommy Lee, Neil Peart, Bill Ward, Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell and even Ginger Baker. It’s safe to say that, because of this extensive list, he directly (or indirectly) influenced anybody and everybody who wanted to play drums in a more exciting, dynamic, not to say satisfying way. Rick Van Horn, when he was Modern Drummer Magazine’s editor, said of him: “Carmine Appice set the foundation for heavy drumming – before John Bonham, before Ian Paice – before anyone else”.

Depending on what sort of music you played, Vanilla Fudge’s first record was a precursor or a threat of what was to come. Drummers of my ilk and persuasion loved it because, it started with a pompous (in a good way) orchestral-type percussive figure which set the song in progress perfectly before a four bar tacet to set-up the unaccompanied first part of the verse – “Set me free why don’t you babe”. The drums once they came in were unbelievably heavy,  and this was at a time when heavy described something which was difficult to lift rather than music which was intrinsically louder than usual!

There are plenty of accounts on the internet as to how Carmine was John Bonham’s idol and how he influenced Ian Paice, Cozy Powell, Nicko McBrain, Phil Collins, Roger Taylor, Tommy Lee, Neil Peart, Bill Ward, Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell and even Ginger Baker. It’s safe to say that, because of this extensive list, he directly (or indirectly) influenced anybody and everybody who wanted to play drums in a more exciting, dynamic, not to say satisfying way. Rick Van Horn, when he was Modern Drummer Magazine’s editor, said of him: “Carmine Appice set the foundation for heavy drumming – before John Bonham, before Ian Paice – before anyone else”.

Depending on what sort of music you played, Vanilla Fudge’s first record was a precursor or a threat of what was to come. Drummers of my ilk and persuasion loved it because, it started with a pompous (in a good way) orchestral-type percussive figure which set the song in progress perfectly before a four bar tacet to set-up the unaccompanied first part of the verse – “Set me free why don’t you babe”. The drums once they came in were unbelievably heavy,  and this was at a time when heavy described something which was difficult to lift rather than music which was intrinsically louder than usual!

He started out playing jazz, rock and latin music at society gigs, weddings and Barmitzvahs and said he wanted to be like his drum teacher who was doing all the same sort gigs and making a good living at it. Dino Danelli from ‘The Rascals’ was a New York drummer who came to Carmine’s notice around 1963 and  before long the penny dropped and he decided if he wanted more from his playing career he’d need to join a band, make records and eventually get out on the road. So he joined a bunch of musicians called the ‘Pigeons’ who, in my humble opinion, wisely changed their name to ‘Vanilla Fudge’. These guys rode the wave of success until Carmine broke up the band to join ‘Cactus’ with Jeff Beck on guitar and Rod Stewart on vocals.  After Cactus he joined ‘Beck, Bogert and Appice’ before ultimately transferring to Rod Stewart’s band in 1977.

From here he formed ‘King Kobra’ and ‘Blue Murder’. He’s been in several bands over the years with bassist Tim Bogert fronted by various virtuoso guitarists like Rick Derringer, Pat Travers, Jan Akkerman and Javier Vargas. In 1983 he threw his lot in with Ozzy Osbourne  and not too long after this he played on a track called ‘Dogs of War’ with Pink Floyd on their ‘Momentary Lapse Of Reason’ album. And talking of classic bands, Carmine was vociferous about his disappointment when he didn’t get the gig with Led Zepplin for their reformation, feeling he had much more historical right to it than Jason Bonham.

In his time, Carmine has endorsed several different drum manufacturer’s products, including Mapex, Slingerland, Pearl and now ddrum. He became a Ludwig endorser from 1968 and when I first met him in 1970 when he was playing with Jeff Beck, and Argent were supporting them. Actually Cozy Powell was playing at the beginning of this US tour and Carmine was hanging around at every gig (conveniently with Tim Bogert) and half way through they changed places.

To tell you the truth I found Carmine difficult to take to. He was a New Yorker through and through and I didn’t find that mythical brotherhood of drummers had extended itself to our relationship. Anyway I had supper with him at NAMM probably thirty years later and he apologised for his unfriendliness.  One anecdote was we both played at a place called ‘Pirates World’ in Florida which was an outside gig and I distinctly remember all of us artists being sprayed with insecticide just before we went on to brave the mosquitos.

But it wasn’t just the playing side of drumming he changed, he also was also instrumental (no pun intended) in changing the actual  hardware of drumming – for instance, the original Atlas stands from Ludwig were evidently a result of his nagging the company. Carmine realised early on that if the stands and other equipment wouldn’t stand up to the way he was attacking them, it wouldn’t be too long before other forceful players came up against the problem. Carmine was without a doubt the heaviest of Ludwig endorsers by a long way and Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer and Sandy Nelson were the only other representatives of the rock and roll side of drumming.  He was doing clinics for Ludwig in 1973 and his tutor book , ‘Realistic Rock’ was the first to be written by a rock drummer who was actually out there doing it. It’s evidently sold 300,000 copies and was evidently studied by Dave Weckl and Greg Bisonette.

I thought I remembered him playing a natural maple set on the road in 1970 but having looked through Ludwig catalogues from before and after that time they don’t seem  to have offered it.  So unless it was ordered specially (like Joe Morello’s Silver Glitter) I’m a victim of false memory syndrome because all I can find are photos of him with what appears to be a walnut-stained set with single-headed toms . His set from 1976 had a pair of 26 x 14 bass drums, a 15 x 12” mounted tom, 16 and 18” floor toms and a 6.5” metal-shelled 402 snare drum. He also had a 22” bass drum mounted sideways as a tom.   

I interviewed him years ago and the subject of what drums he used on “Keep Me Hanging On” came up and he told me there was nothing special about them - a 20” Rogers bass drum, just a couple of toms and a Rogers ‘Powertone’ snare drum. Not the loudest set you could put together - even then.  On the other hand this goes to prove what I frequently bang on about: “It ain’t about the bike”. 

However by the time he got to the UK towards the end of the sixties he was using larger and louder drums . He brought a Gretsch kit with him with a Leedy and Ludwig bass drum, all of which he’d stripped, sanded and covered himself in red sparkle.  The bass drum measured 26 x 15” and, according to Carmine, drummers marvelled at the sound it produced. Because it put the small tom so high up he had to mount it on a snare stand. 


I said at the beginning that perhaps he hadn’t received the kudos he should have. That said as an educator he’s had a whole day in the City of Los Angeles proclaimed for him by Mayor Tom Bradley - and he’s been presented with the ‘Best Rock Drummer’ award by Modern Drummer Magazine. He plays a drum duet with his younger brother Vinnie called ‘Drum Wars’ and has had a bash (pun intended) at a multi drum extravaganza with young drummers called ’Slamm’ (described as being like ‘Stomp’ on steroids). He’s also immortalised on the Hollywood Rock Walk.

He still seems to be enjoying good health and I send him a birthday card every year but he’s on record as saying as far as his ‘causa mortis’ is concerned:  he either wants to be sitting on a drum set [when the end comes] or in bed having sex!

Bob Henrit
July 2015

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