Q&A with premier rock drummer Carmine Appice, astonishing live performances and highly sought-after session musician

"Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Joe Morello, they were probably my major idols. Just to keep things going like we do in a band. It is harder for drummers to make things work in this business as you are always in the back so you have to constantly keep moving to get the train moving… Drummers are many times those most organized in the band!"

Carmine Appice:

Rock n’ Roll Balance on the Tightrope

As drummer for Vanilla Fudge, Carmine Appice set the grooves for the groundbreaking band‘s 1967 psychedelic debut, inadvertently inventing Stoner Rock in the process. Vanilla Fudge went on to tour with Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and even had Led Zeppelin as an opening act. Post-Fudge, Bogert and Appice formed Cactus. Post-Cactus, the rhythm section found Grammy-winning Guitar Hero Jeff Beck to form the first supergroup: Beck, Bogert & Appice (BBA). One of the premier showmen in rock, Appice became known worldwide for his astonishing live performances, in addition to becoming a highly sought-after session drummer, recording with countless artists throughout his career. In ‘76, he joined Rod Stewart‘s band, touring, recording and writing two of Stewart‘s biggest hits. He left Stewart to record his first solo album, “Rockers’, and tour Japan and North America with an allstar band. In the early 80’s, he toured with OZZY and Ted Nugent. In the mid 80’s, he formed King Kobra for two Capitol albums and international touring and in the late 80’s, Carmine played on a Pink Floyd record “Momentary Lapse of Reason’ and formed Blue Murder with John Sykes and Tony Franklin. In the early 90s, he pounded away soul-style for The Edgar Winter Group.                         (Photo: Carmine Appice)

The rock legends Cactus came to be known as The American Led Zeppelin, a moniker they owned by virtue of their explosive blues rock stylings, subdued yet undeniably brilliant musicianship, not to mention their energetic and vivacious stage presence which made them a staple of arena rock venues around the globe. Now the band have returned with a smashing new 12-tracks album called Tightrope (2021) that strikes a delicate balance between powerful, driving rockers and more complex, heady album tracks. Still led by iconic drummer Carmine Appice alongside long-time members Jimmy Kunes on vocals and Randy Pratt on harmonica. They are joined by new lead guitarist/vocalist Paul Warren and James Caputo on bass. Tightrope will also give long-time Cactus fans a reason to cheer as it includes special guest appearances from original Cactus guitarist Jim McCarty and singer Phil Naro!

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special Thanks: Carmine Appice & Billy James (Glass Onyon PR)

New Cactus' album called Tightrope (2021). Why do you think that the Cactus music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Tightrope is one of the best Cactus albums we’ve ever done. From playing to production and songs, we really took a step up! I thought it was gonna be a lot more popular than it was. Unfortunately, for whatever reason it didn’t happen that way. A lot of people feel that way too. A lot of musicians that loved Cactus like Richard Fortus who plays with Gun N’ Roses now. He was very surprised that Cactus didn’t become a very huge band. He’s a ‘70s fan. We did pretty good. There were a lot of areas where we had 5.000 people. But that band wasn’t huge everywhere.

What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

It is really hard to pick which one was the best or which one I liked the most.  Playing with Rod was the biggest, and we played the biggest gigs with him.  Vanilla Fudge was the first, and it was special. Cactus was great energy. BBA was big with great playing, so it’s hard to pick. I’ve been blessed to be able to playing all the great situations.

What were the reasons that you started the drums and rock n' roll researches and experiments?

Originally, my cousin was a drummer. I would go over to his house and play on his drums and then I’d go home and bang on pots and pans. So my parents saw that it kept happening so they bought me a drum set. I had the toy drum sets when I was real little, but I used to break those. A day after Christmas it was done, you know. But, then they saw that I was a little serious about it and they brought me a real drum set.  A cheap set, and after a few years of playing that and I actually got some gigs with it, they realized that I was really serious. so they bought me a real good drum set and starting doing more and more gigs with it and eventually I bought more pieces to the drum set. Eventually I bought my own car from the gigs that I played. My cousin Joey was first and then there was me. There was seven drummers on my father’s side. They’re all still playing except for one cousin.

"It is really hard to pick which one was the best or which one I liked the most.  Playing with Rod was the biggest, and we played the biggest gigs with him. Vanilla Fudge was the first, and it was special. Cactus was great energy. BBA was big with great playing, so it’s hard to pick. I’ve been blessed to be able to playing all thee great situations." (Photo: Cactus, still led by iconic drummer Carmine Appice)

What do you think is key to be an unique drummer? Who have been your idols over the years?

Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Joe Morello, they were probably my major idols. Just to keep things going like we do in a band. It is harder for drummers to make things work in this business as you are always in the back so you have to constantly keep moving to get the train moving… Drummers are many times those most organized in the band!

Do you have any memories of your jam with the late greats Janis Joplin and Johnny Winter?

Oh, yeah. I will always remember that. I was shoved down a bottle of Southern Comfort booze right down my throat. I almost fell off my drum stool. She said: “Come on guys, kick my ass”. I knew her from Big Brother. From the days we played with Big Brother & the Holding Company in San Francisco. You know, obviously she was heavily on drugs and booze.

You knew everybody. Who is the most talented person you have ever seen?

I can’t say only one person. I mean, come on: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page. I just named a couple.

Do you remember George Harrison at Electric Lady Studios when Cactus were recording there?

Oh, yes. Definitely. He walked in and said “Hi” to Eddie Kramer who was working with us. The whole band was extremely happy because George Harrison came in. George Harrison asked Jim McCarty “Which is the name of the band?” and he said: “Hi, my name is Jim McCarty” and George said: “No, I asked the name of the band, Jim”. Yes, it was very nice that a member of The Beatles walked in and said “Hi” to our band. I had met three of The Beatles: I met George, I met Paul and I met Lennon.

How started the idea of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”? What is the story behide this cover?

That was very important. I don’t think we would have done it without having that song as a hit. That was Mark and Timmy’s idea. We used to slow songs down and listen to the lyrics and try to emulate what the lyrics were dictating. That one was a hurtin’song; it had a lot of emotion in it. “People Get Ready” was like a Gospel thing. “Eleanor Rigby” was sort of eerie and churchlike …like a horror movie kind of thing. If you listen to “Hangin’ On” fast… by The Supremes, it sounds very happy, but the lyrics aren’t happy at all. If you lived through that situation, the lyrics are definitely not happy.

"Yes, just to keep things going like we do in a band. It is harder for drummers to make things work in this business as you are always in the back so you have to constantly keep moving to get the train moving… Drummers are many times those most organized in the band! Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Joe Morello… they were probably my major idols." (Photo: Carnine Appice with Vanilla Fudge, 1967)

Did you enjoy Vanilla Fudge's tour with Jimi Hendrix and band's performance on The Ed Sullivan Show?

Yeah, I was very nervous because you had 50 million people watching you live. We were nervous until we had to go to the show. Back in those days everybody knew each other. It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about business. In those days it was about music, we all wanted to have fun, we all were young, we were all in our 20s and we had a really good time. It was exciting. Everything was very new. The whole business model was new. Playing arenas was new. All that stuff was new at that time. We knew all of them. We had a great time and I got along with Jimi, I knew Jimi before he was Jimi Hendrix. I got along with Jimi well. I know that some nights we blew them up on stage. We had great press reviews.

Anything you'd like to say about your studio sessions with Pink Floyd and a few things about the late great John Bonham?

When we met John Bonham and Led Zeppelin nobody knew who they were. They were totally unknown. I was two years older than John and I was two years in the business. I had my endorsements together and everything and used brand new stuff. I was also the kind of guy who tried and helped younger guys a lot. So, we became friends and I helped him getting endorsement and we stayed friends until he died. Pink Floyd's story was fun! When I got the call from Bob Ezrin my first question was where’s Nick (Mason)? He said Nick has been racing his Ferrari’s and his calluses are soft and quite honestly, they wanted some new blood in there to give it a little bit of energy. So I said okay. When I went in they had the song on the four track, I played all day and kept playing the song and filled up two twenty four track machines of tape, thirty minutes each. So I probably had about two hours worth of performance. Then Bob edited it all together somehow.

What has made you laugh and what touched you from your work with George Martin?

It was awesome working with him. I was really disappointed that I’m not on that record. I recorded these songs and I was very excited to do that because I turned Jeff Beck onto that kind of music. When we were in Beck, Bogert & Appice, we used to listen to Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea and all that stuff and basically for me that was the music of the day in 1972. I used to play these records all the time and Jeff Beck would ask: “What is this?” and I would tell him: “Oh, I love this! I love this!” When BBA broke up, I went to England simply to work with Jeff and develop that kind of music with him. But it ended up as a Jeff Beck solo album and they screwed me up, you know.

"Originally, my cousin was a drummer. I would go over to his house and play on his drums and then I’d go home and bang on pots and pans. So my parents saw that it kept happening so they bought me a drum set. I had the toy drum sets when I was real little, but I used to break those." (Photo: The soupergroup of KGB, 1976; Carmine Appice, Mike Bloomfield, Barry Goldberg, Ray Kennedy and Ric Grech)

How did you started with Rod Stewart and being in his band? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?

After Cactus, I had a band with Mike Bloomfield (KGB), another guitarist who died of an overdose. After he died, we made another album with a different lineup and I wasn’t really into it. Then I heard that Rod needed a drummer from a friend of mine, Sammy Ginero from New York. He auditioned for it and didn’t make it, so I said ‘Do you have the number?’ He gave me the number and the name. The name was Pete Buchland and I knew Pete because Cactus toured with Rod and The Faces for sixty shows. I knew Rod anyway from the Jeff Beck days. I called Pete up and said I hear Rod is looking for a drummer and what, you don’t call me? He said, “you are always busy.” So I said, “I’m not busy now, I would love to work with Rod.”  Rod to me is one of the best frontmen and voices in rock, period! I knew the guys in the band and Rod said, “If you want the job, you got it. Just play like you did in Cactus. I know you have fans, so I’ll give you a solo every night.” That was that! Writing the song “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” I never wrote such a successful song in my career. It went #1 in all countries and it is still doing well. Every song that we played, every album, sold 5 million and that’s why I have a tribute show because we never get to play those songs any more: songs we wrote, songs we promoted, songs that we recorded. There is Rod’s catalogue that we never get to play. Now, with our tribute show I get to play all the old songs that I played with Rod and it’s a lot of fun.

What are your memories with Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa?

We all use to tour together on different shows. I knew Hendrix before he made it big – he was Jimi James. We played some really small empty clubs together. After we both made it big we meet at The Speakeasy in London where we played with the Fudge and became friends again. We did a full tour with Hendrix in the fall of ’68 when “Hangin’ On” was a big hit in the States. People told us and in reviews that we had stolen the show from Jimi many nights. We always wondered who will blow us off – and it was Led Zeppelin. Our shows with them were always lots of fun. We all became real good friends. We sometimes would switch rhythm sections in the middle of “How Many More Times” and Zeps would come up on our set and jam on “Shotgun” with us. It was really Fun. We did some shows with Frank Zappa but not a lot. But I did tell Frank about the Mudshark story and we were friends for year casual. I did speak to him 2-3 weeks before he died. Big lost to the world.

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(Photo: Carmine Appice)

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