Behind the Curtain: Hanging Out with Legendary Drummer Carmine Appice

Behind the Curtain: Hanging Out with Legendary Drummer Carmine Appice

In the summer of 1967, Carmine Appice was a 21-year-old kid from Brooklyn, New York living out his fantasy in the Summer of Love. For a brief heartbeat there during the summer of 1967, Vanilla Fudge were one of the hottest bands in the world.

Carmine was the drummer and their amped-up and slowed-down version of the Supremes’ song “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” released on their debut self-titled album, was a Top 10 hit around the world. Barely out of his teens, he was about to take off on the adventure of a lifetime. A trip in the first-class cabin of the rock and roll express.

Though we’re just beginning our rock and roll tale and I don’t mean to interrupt, I know some of you readers might already be wondering and may have been wondering for a long time, “How does Carmine pronounce his last name?” That is a very good question and precisely the one I asked him when we met for the first time in mid-1973 while he was playing with Jeff Beck in Beck, Bogert & Appice. I know it was something my brother and I talked about all the time and even my friends wanted to know how he said his last name.

That interview 44 years ago was just supposed to be with Jeff Beck, but when management offered me the opportunity to speak with Carmine as well (I don’t want to give away too much about that encounter here because I’ll be talking about it in detail just a few hundred words from now), I jumped on it.

“How do you say your last name?” I asked him when he first sat down. Full of anticipation, I felt like an archaeologist about to uncover the last missing bone of some mysterious creature. The Appicesaurus. Like a detective hot on the trail of some elusive figure whose identity had remained a mystery for years until this very moment. I couldn’t wait for the answer.

“Well,” he said, taking a moment to gather himself, which I thought was a little strange since he must have been asked that same question a thousand times before. Actually, he acted as if no one had ever bothered or cared enough to ask. I was flabbergasted. I would soon find out that the reason he hesitated was not because he’d never been asked but because he had been asked countless times and had never come up with the definitive answer or at least that’s the way it sounded to me. He took a few more seconds and in his Brooklyn Italian American accent replied, “Well, sometimes I say it like this” and he rattled off several different versions. I was confused because I still wasn’t sure how it was pronounced when he continued, “Or sometimes I’ll just say…” and he offered up several different combinations. If I was confused before, now I was completely stumped. Dumbfounded.

In answer to your question—to my question—about how Carmine Appice spoke his last name, the answer was there was no answer. After he’d recited this veritable list of pronunciations, I just sat there, smiled, looked stupid and said, “Cool. Let’s talk about playing with Jeff Beck.”

However, I do believe one of the following three interpretations is right:

  1. A—peace—see [accent on peace]
  2. App [like phone app]—isee [last part rhymes with kissy; accent on first syllable]
  3. A—peach—ee [accent on peach]

I know that was kind of a detour but we’re back on the main road now. So here he was, Carmine Appice, the drummer with no last name, barely out of his teens and already playing in a rock and roll band at the very moment when the greatest music the world would ever hear was being created, recorded and performed live. In August 1967 when the Vanilla Fudge album came out, that same month saw the release of a series of extraordinary records including:

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn                     Pink Floyd

The Byrds’ Greatest Hits                                 The Byrds

Big Brother and the Holding Company      Big Brother and the Holding Company

Magical Mystery Tour                                    The Beatles

Not to mention all the drummers around at that time including Cream’s Ginger Baker [the trio released Disraeli Gears in November 1967]; the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Mitch Mitchell [that trio put out Axis: Bold As Love a month after the Cream album and three months before the Fudge’s album saw light, Hendrix gave birth to his first album Are You Experienced]; and the Who’s Keith Moon [two weeks after Axis: Bold as Love hit the streets, the Who issued The Who Sell Out.

So Carmine’s legacy would be forever connected to these astonishing drummers, and while he would never attain the stature of Baker, Mitchell or Moon, he was widely recognized as one of the most influential American rock drummers of his time. That reputation wasn’t lost on Jeff Beck, who would ultimately give Appice [Reader: Please insert your own pronunciation!] the nod to join him in Beck, Bogert & Appice and that’s when I would first meet him though in a somewhat circuitous fashion.

I mentioned earlier that I was originally scheduled to only interview Jeff Beck. Both Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert had left Vanilla Fudge and formed Cactus with singer Rusty Day and guitarist Jim McCarty. After three albums that band split up [a crying shame since Cactus was one of the heaviest bands to ever come out of America] and the Appice/Bogert rhythm section were now backing Beck. Jeff was in Los Angeles promoting the newly-formed BBA band.  After I spoke with Jeff [click here to read about that encounter in one of the earlier installments of the Behind the Curtain series], either the guitarist’s manager, road manager or maybe even somebody from the record company asked me if I’d like to talk with Tim Bogert. I loved his playing on the Cactus albums and knew he was a huge Jack Bruce fan and of course I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to meet Tim.” Somebody walked me down the hall of the Continental Hyatt House—dubbed the infamous Riot House as some of you may well know—to his room and escorted me in. That’s when the nightmare began.

Tim was sitting on his bed and I don’t think he even got up to walk across the room to greet me, which seemed like an auspicious start. I walked over and said hello and thanked him for taking the time to talk to me and blah blah blah. I had written in an earlier Behind the Curtain story [Billy Cobham] how I could tell in a heartbeat of beginning a conversation whether it was going to unfold excellently or terribly. Though at this time, I had only conducted a couple dozen interviews, I had already developed that sixth sense, which told me disaster was headed my way.  I had barely sat down, barely taken a breath to ask the first question and I knew the storm was approaching.

That afternoon, Bogert was everything an interviewer feared: rude, sarcastic, cocky, disengaged, bored. I didn’t know if this was how Tim always acted but I was pretty sure it wasn’t. What I thought was, “Tim Bogert is now playing with Jeff Beck, the greatest guitar player in the world, and he thinks that gives him a license to be the biggest idiot in the world. He thinks he can do no wrong, can blow off interviewers and treat them like garbage and just generally act like a total a—hole and nothing can touch him.”

Tim was wrong. His reputation as someone who treated the press with disdain would haunt him for the rest of his career. Though he would occasionally become involved in various projects—Bobby [Weir] and the Midnites, Boxer, Rick Derringer—the bassist would never attain the status he deserved. Back in the early 1970s before the Internet, social media and a thousand different musical websites and a million useless bloggers, there were only a handful of rock writers writing for a handful of rock magazines. It didn’t take long for word to spread amongst the journalism community that so-and-so was an uncooperative interviewee and treated interviewers like second-class citizens.

So there I was, trying to coax something, anything out of Tim and getting nowhere. I was still a bit fragile from speaking with Jeff—he had been one of my greatest heroes and meeting him almost stopped my heart—and on top of that, I had to endure the debacle of not pressing record on my cassette player. Sitting there with Tim and being verbally abused and humiliated tested me to the core.

Imagine my relief—at that point any distraction was welcome—when  there was a knock at the door and in rushed Carmine Appice. Looking like some holy figure with long black hair and a full beard, he came galloping into the room like a man on a mission and that mission was to save me from Tim Bogert. I don’t know if the drummer was standing outside the hotel room door and listening to the conversation, which seemed unlikely, or he just knew how his longtime bass playing friend acted in situations like this but the bearded Brooklynite stormed up to me and gave me the biggest smile I’d ever seen. All at once, I felt like I could breathe. All the pressure left the room and I could feel my shoulder blades relaxing and my heart rate slowing.

Carmine saved me that day. That was an important moment in my young career—interviewing Jeff Beck for what would be my first cover story in Guitar Player—and had he not made his presence known, the scars of that ill-fated Bogert interview might have festered for years. As it was, Appice plopped down on a bed and just started talking, I didn’t have to do anything. I might have prompted him by asking about what it was like playing with Beck but other than that, I hardly had to say anything.

At one point in my conversation with Carmine and yes, Tim was still there silently seething, I could have sworn Carmine gave me a look that said, “I know what you’re going through with Tim. He is my good friend and I love him but I know how he can be.” Looking back now, I’m sure I just imagined that but that’s how I felt.

I would be forever grateful to Carmine for what he did that day. I think he recognized the fan in me apart from the young rock writer and sitting there and being torn apart by Tim was really crushing to me.

My relationship with Carmine Appice would continue for decades. Several years later I interviewed him for the second time at his house in Los Feliz, a very elite part of Los Angeles. The two-story house was rustic and charming. A red Pantera was parked in the driveway. Oddly enough, I had seen that Pantera several times previously around Hollywood [there weren’t too many red Panteras back in the day].

Just as he had been when I first met him, Carmine was charming, affable and as approachable as any musician I’d ever met. There was a pool in the backyard to which he directed the comment, “That’s the pool Rod built.” He had played with Rod Stewart and co-wrote the singer’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and from the royalties earned from that hit had built the swimming pool. His first wife Marlene was there and seemed quite nice. I had brought my brother along and he mentioned seeing Carmine’s car around Hollywood.

I’d subsequently interview Carmine several more times. At one point, he was thinking about writing his biography and asked me to help him write it. I did help him put together some of the chapters, but I ultimately backed out of the project. That book was just recently published and was titled Stick It! My Life of Sex, Drums, and Rock ‘N’ Roll. He was kind enough to mention me in the acknowledgements section: “Steve Rosen, thanks for your help cleaning up the writing in the early days of the book.”

I ran into Carmine at the 2016 NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA. He was signing posters at the Istanbul Mehmet cymbal company. I walked up to him and thought he would greet me with a big hello and even a hug. His head was down signing an autograph and when he looked up, he said, “What’s your name?” I realized instantly that he wasn’t joking around but that he didn’t recognize me. He looked at the plastic press laminate hanging around my neck and saw my name and wrote, “Steve. Rock on…Carmine Appice” on this little poster and handed it to me. My brother was there with me and we looked at each other and he had the same thought: He doesn’t know who you are.

I was saddened by that. Carmine was only 71, but maybe a life of sex, drums and rock and roll might play havoc with your memory after more than 50 years. Or maybe he was just too busy that day at the NAMM Show to notice.  Still, I only need to go back to that hotel room on the Sunset Strip on a sunny afternoon in 1973 and picture a young, electric and caring Carmine Appice coming to my emotional rescue to make me smile.

I will always have that.

One Response to "Behind the Curtain: Hanging Out with Legendary Drummer Carmine Appice"

  1. Kaptain beyond   November 17, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Um, reading about great reads that are elsewhere is not really a great read.

    Reply

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