“You have to be prepared enough in your playing, in your chops, to be able to go for your goal.”
By David Feltman
You may not have heard the name “Carmine Appice” before, but chances are you’ve heard his work. For nearly half a century the award winning musician, producer, author, teacher and philanthropist has released countless records with over 20 bands and side-projects. He’s worked with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne Pink Floyd Ted Nugent, Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck to name a few. To put it simply, Carmine Appice is one of the most accomplished and influential drummers still walking.
At 66-years-old, Appice’s incessant output puts the young’uns to shame. Appice has a vast assortment of peers and friends to fuel his all-star projects like Cactus, King Kobra and Guitar Zeus. And yet, between the recording, the touring and the charities, Appice found a moment to tell us the secrets of becoming a one-man dynamo in the music business.
I’ve read that you were the first rock musician to organize instructional clinics, is that true? What motivated you to start doing clinics?
Yes, that is true. It was Ludwig Drum Company that kept hounding me to do it. When I was in Vanilla Fudge they kept asking me to do clinics and I never did. I was like a pop star in Vanilla Fudge. But then when I was in Cactus, I started thinking about it.
I wrote a book titled “Realistic Rock” which became a big hit and the reason why I wrote the book is because I had seen some books in the music store, that were supposedly rock drum books, but the authors had nothing to do with playing rock drums. Once I wrote it, the drum company said now that you have a book, you should be able to go out and do clinics and sell the book so I did one at Sam Ash in Rhode Island and I liked it. We had 250 people there. Then Ludwig started booking me and I was their main modern clinician because no one else did it. I found out later, was the first rock player to do it.
Between Little Kids Rock, the drum clinics and even SLAMM, you seem to spend a lot of time aiding younger and less experienced musicians. How has that sort of mentorship benefitted you?
With SLAMM, it was good to see new people in the business – the excitement of seeing them going through the motions of making and playing big stages. It was always something that was exciting to see young people get involved in the music business. One of our SLAMM members, Veronica, ended up playing with Jeff Beck on some shows. With that kind of thing, it makes me feel good to help someone get into the business With Little Kids Rock, it’s a whole different thing – it’s an actual charity. It’s more like helping kids in the school. It’s not about them making it in the business – it’s about them playing an instrument, watching them begin to play and getting into music. It’s a good feeling to me to do that.
Glancing at your discography, it doesn’t look like you ever slow down. How do you maintain such a high output?
I don’t know, I guess I’m just from Brooklyn (laughs). I got a lot of energy. Probably because I love what I do and I have a passion for music, for drumming and for anything with music, and when you have a passion for it you just love to do what your doing and you keep pushing forward.
You’ve worked in other well-known musician’s bands like Jeff Beck, Ozzy Osborne and Rod Stewart, but for the most part you generate your own projects. Do you prefer to be your own boss?
Actually, I would love to play with these other people. I heard one time from Ted Nugent’s manager the reason why I wasn’t playing with Ted anymore is that I am not a side man anymore; I am more like a leader like Ted. They told my manager one time that Carmine has his own record deal, his own publicist, his own records – he’s like a leader, not a sideman. So I think I brought it upon myself to have to do that because you build your name up to a certain point, and artists who are like solo artists say they don’t want Carmine in my band because I am more like a leader than a sideman. So that’s what I think happened. I would rather be in a big band lead by someone else because to tell you the truth, I’m tired of being the leader (laughs).
You’ve amassed an incredible pool of associates in your 40-year career. But have you ever found it difficult to find talented musicians for your projects?
Not really. I never really had a problem finding people to play my music. Even the Guitar Zeus project went a lot easier than I thought it would go. I had a lot of great names offering to play. If I called someone up and asked them to do it, they were interested and did it. A couple people didn’t do it I wanted, but as a whole though, I had a really good output of people. All the other solo projects like with Pat Travers, we always wanted to play together. Me and Rick Derringer wanted to play together so I never really had a problem where I had to sit around and wonder who was going to play with me.
Considering all of the amazing people you’ve worked with over the years, what was it about Kelly Keeling that inspired you to do the tribute album?
I only did one song. I did that song for Sandy Serge. She called me and said we want to do a song that you wrote with Kelly and Tony [Franklin] “Perfect Day” for this Kelly Keeling tribute album and would you be interested in doing it. So once we figured out what we were going to call the band, we went into the studio and Sandy had an arrangement with the singer Anthony Z’sler, as far as the arrangement of the song, and put the bass on it. Then they sent it to me and I put the drums on it.
That’s pretty much how it went down. I was a co-writer with Kelly on the song. When I worked with Kelly on my Guitar Zeus records, he was a brilliant songwriter, great singer, great talent – guitar player, bass player, keyboard player. The guy’s really a talented guy and I loved him like a brother. We wrote some great songs together. We wrote about 25 songs together for that Guitar Zeus project. Perfect Day was really the only one that ended up on the tribute album.
You were classically trained, how important do you think formal education is to a musician?
It depends on what the musician wants to do. If he wants to cut shows on Broadway or anything like that, they have to get classically trained, to learn how to read music and read shows. If you are trying just to be in a rock band, you don’t have to be classically trained. A lot of people that made it are not classically trained.
Today, there are a lot of different avenues you can go. It’s always better to have lessons. Classically trained in my case is taking lessons for 4 years. When I grew up, I was in all these school orchestras and bands. I never really played in a professional orchestra, but I did have that experience of doing that in junior high and high school. When I joined Vanilla Fudge, I used that experience in the drum parts I wrote for VF. My drums were considered more like a percussion section in an orchestra than a drumset.
Depends on what they’re doing. Some great drummers aren’t great readers. Buddy Rich doesn’t read. Gene Krupa didn’t read, but all the other guys like Billy Cobham and Tony Williams, all the drumming greats that are around, most of them read. Reading is good for, if nothing else, to improve yourself. If a new book comes out, you can grab it and go through it. If you don’t know you how to read, you can’t improve yourself.
In this business is it important to be selective about what projects you take on or is it better to keep an open mind and tackle as much as you can?
I always do projects that have a career benefit. If Joe Shmoe called me up and asked me to do 3 songs for $5000, I probably wouldn’t do it. But if Pink Floyd called me up and asked me to do a track for $1000, I would do it. The Pink Floyd one would be more of a career move.
I might on occasion do a project for a friend of mine for a reduced rate. If you look at my discography, most of my projects are pretty big name people or my own bands like King Kobra or Vanilla Fudge or Cactus or DBA. I played with Edgar Winter. I never did a recording with him, but I played with him. That was a good career move and whenever I played with him I got billing. It was always Edgar Winter featuring Carmine Appice. If you look at the length of my career and the discography, it comes out to be really one or two albums a year which really isn’t a lot versus somebody like Gregg Bissonette who is a session guy who did 45 albums in a year. I do albums for career moves.
What advice would you give to a musician trying to build a career in the music business?
I really don’t know what advice to give them except to get a good band together and push all together to try to make it. To make it today, I don’t know how the bands do that. All I know is a band comes out and all of sudden, their playing Madison Square Garden with no radio airplay or television exposure, and somehow they are selling out Madison Square Garden. I really don’t know how they do that.
To make a living in the music business, get lessons. If you are a drummer, try to learn to play something else so you can write songs, maybe write tv commercials. Just set your goals and go for it. You have to be prepared enough in your playing, in your chops, to be able to go for your goal. If you want to be a session guy, you have to learn to read. If you want to play on Broadway, you have to learn to read.