Rock drummer Carmine Appice is a living legend. There are few musicians who have had the amazing experiences that Carmine has had. Among his many great successes, he has been a part of such great bands such as Vanilla Fudge, Cactus and Beck, Bogert & Appice. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Carmine about his musical influences, his experiences as a musician, and the current state of the music business.
Please read the interview below:
Who were your earliest musical influences?
Well, that’s easy. I started playing drums at 12 or 13 years old. Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa were definitely two of my biggest influences – first and biggest. You know, a lot of people ask “what’s the first album you bought?” and it’s always The Beatles. Well, the first album I bought was a Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich drum battle album. Rock musicians have influenced a lot of musicians, but when I was growing up there weren’t a lot of rock musicians that were really great and who you got influenced by. It was the big band drummers, the jazz guys, so my influences were a little different. If you talk to my brother, he would have Buddy Rich, John Bonham…a lot of different influences than I had because I’m eleven years older than him. So, Gene Krupa was my first album and I wore it out. I knew every note on that album, every drum solo. Then, there was a movie that came out called The Gene Krupa Story (1959), and it really influenced me. I got to really see Gene Krupa’s persona. He loved his fans, signed autographs, and drove nice cars. That really left an impression on me. So, then I went and bought The Gene Krupa Story soundtrack and I really liked the music and learned every note on that album, too (laughing). So, those were the first two albums that were really big influences, and the movie was really amazing for me because the movie made me want to be like Gene Krupa…having the female fans, signing autographs and people dancing and screaming in the aisles. My mother used to tell me that Gene liked to have people dancing in the aisles…it was unbelievable. It left a big impression on me and I wanted to be just like him. As a matter of fact, I use that movie as a bible to my career. I remember seeing press headlines like “Gene Krupa Takes Chicago” or “Gene Krupa Takes New York City” and everybody was going crazy for Gene Krupa. I remember the spinning newspaper on the (television) screen. That’s what I wanted to do. I hired press people and my concept was to be the Gene Krupa of rock.
When did you know that you wanted to make a career out of being a musician?
Before I was even playing drums I used to be one of these kids who sang doo-wop on the streets of Brooklyn, so I thought maybe I’d make it as a singer in a doo-wop band. I used to practice my autograph, which I use now…I’ve used it all my life…then I started playing drums. At the age of 13 or 14, I started playing weddings, jazz gigs, rock gigs, and I started making money. In 1964, when I was 17, I went out and bought a brand new car with the money I made playing. I didn’t have all the money, but my parents cosigned for me and I made the payments. I did this all by playing music. That’s when I realized that maybe I want to do this for a living. At the time, I was taking drum lessons and I had a teacher who had a great lifestyle. He worked on the weekends and made a great amount of money, maybe $800-900 a weekend, and he was also being paid teaching students, so he’d make like $1000 a week. In 1963 that was a lot of money. I said “Man, I want to be like Dick Bennett (his teacher’s name)….work on the weekends and give lessons.” That was my idea at the time. My parents made me go to a vocational high school just in case the music business didn’t work out. I didn’t like it, so I only went for a year. My high school is actually the school in (the beginning of Welcome Back, Kotter (TV Series from 1975-1979). I majored in music and learned how to play chords and melodies…I started to learn how to build chords, and though that experience I learned to play guitar, bass and keyboard to write songs later in my career.
Up to this point in your career, what has been your most memorable moment?
There isn’t one…you sound pretty young and I’ve probably been doing this most of your life (laughing). I was lucky to have such a long career that is still going on. I’ve had so many amazing points in my career. If I could name a few quickly they would be: Vanilla Fudge on the Ed Sullivan show twice (Vanilla Fudge performed “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, which aired on January 14, 1968; and “Shotgun”, which aired on February 2, 1969), playing with Beck, Bogert and Appice in Tokyo – we were the first band to sell out the Budokan (May 14, 1973), playing six nights at the Forum in L.A. with Rod Stewart and having people like Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire see me play and then hearing from Gregory Peck that Fred Astaire loved my drum solo…,getting a letter from Fred Astaire because I gave him one of my drum books…I’ve had so many great things happen to me. Right now, I just signed a contract to write my autobiography, so I’ve been writing that. I’ve had so many great things happen to me and I really have some great plans for this year. Eventually, I want to be a speaker and go to colleges and talk about rock history. Rock music is a course now in college and some people go and lecture on it, but I lived it. I was there with Hendrix, I hung out with Hendrix…Led Zeppelin opened up for me. There’s not many people who can say that who’s still in the business. I want to teach, I like communicating with people. I’ve done countless clinics. I was the first rock musician to do a clinic back in 1971 and now so many people do clinics. I opened the whole door and that’s been an amazing experience…meeting my idols, like Buddy Rich…so I’ve got some great stories for the book. They will all be in there. I’m going to try to keep the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll in there. A lot of the (autobiographical) books I read, they leave out the sex part, when really, back then it was crazy. Women’s rights were coming up and it wasn’t like women were saving themselves to be married. There was plenty of sex before marriage and there were no diseases that you couldn’t cure with penicillin. So, it was just crazy. There was naked women on the stages, there were see-through blouses in those days with no bras. Me, being a 19-year-old kid growing up in this, becoming worldly, it’s a great story.
When do you expect the autobiography to be released?
Probably in the fall…the guy who’s writing it (Ian Gittins) is the guy who wrote The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star with Nikki Sixx, which was a big book…my publisher wanted him to write my book because Ian’s a great writer. Nikki’s book, from what I understand, is just a bunch of notes…scattered notes that were crazy because he was stoned out all the time. So, Ian took all of that and made a hit book out of it. I already have 250 pages written on the computer and I’m really happy about it. What I really want is to do a television tour, a radio tour, and in-stores and really promote the book. Give it a shot. Who knows, it might end up being a movie, just like Gene Krupa…that would be amazing.
What do you think about the current state of the music industry?
Well, its sad (laughing)…it’s sad. The Internet, computer and cell phones are like visions of sci-fi that we used to have in the 50’s and 60’s. If you told me that one day I’d be sitting here talking to you on the phone and then I could flip a switch and go on this thing called the Internet and look up any information I want, or have a website or Facebook, or order anything I want in the world on the Internet, I would say “wait, what kind of sci-fi movie are you talking to me about?” My girlfriend just got a phone that talks to her…it’s like watching 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)…when that came out in the 60’s that was way in the future and now here it is 11 or 12 years back. It’s an amazing thing, but it has ruined a lot of businesses. It ruined the music business because of all the free downloads. I have to have a guy chasing down the websites that have my music, and even my drum book for free downloads. Excuse my language, but what asshole sits there and scans 95 pages of a drum book so he can give my book away for free? …Blockbuster is out of business, all the video stores…some of the department stores are going out of business between Wal-Mart and the Internet. It’s got some amazing factors, but it’s ruining the music business. Back in the 60’s, if you had a number five album, it was selling probably 50-70K a week. Then between the 70’s and 80’s, you had to sell 100K a week. Now it’s back to these low numbers again because of these downloads. People are selling a lot of records, but they aren’t selling the way they did in the 80’s…you have the giants like Beyonce and all, they sell a million maybe, you know? But its between downloads and cd’s. It’s going the wrong way, but then the economy is bad. Let’s talk about that for a minute. It’s horrible. The record companies are hurting. All of the indie labels are going out of business because there’s nowhere to sell them. The only places you can put a cd now is in Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, and I hear Best Buy is having problems…those are really the places unless they move it into Guitar Center, but they don’t have a lot of stores…maybe like 300 stores. A lot of the mom and pop stores are out of business, the record chains are out of business…what you’ve got is a much less music business. The only part of the music business that’s thriving is the live part, but for the live part to survive, you must have a recognizable name that people know…it’s not easy to get new projects off the ground. That’s pretty much the state of it, but knock on wood, I’ve been lucky enough to keep going and making a living at it and I’m having fun. Yeah, maybe I’m not playing the big arenas that I used to play, but I’m working a lot and I’m having fun and probably making more money than when I played the arenas. (laughing) In the arenas, everything gets blown up by production (costs) and you end up making X amount of dollars…but there’s no record deals. They are hard to come by. For instance, I did a thing called Guitar Zeus and it sold really well around the world. This is an example about the music industry – the last time I got $200K to make (Guitar Zeus) and it actually cost me $110K to make it, so I made some profit…I’m working on a new one now and I’m trying to involve Japan and China. I’ll be lucky if I get $75K to make it, so there’s the difference. Budgets are way down…but fortunately you can record stuff cheaper today, because of the computer. That’s pretty amazing, too…we just did a new King Kobra album in 2011 and another one we are doing in 2012…we recorded the album completely on the internet because everyone lives in a different city…it’s incredible. There are some amazing about the Internet, but there’s also some sucky things about the Internet (laughing)…
What do you think upcoming musicians need to do in order to make it in the music industry today?
You know, I almost don’t know in the market today. Half the groups that make it today, I’ve never heard of them. I don’t know about you, but I watched Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve this weekend…this guy Pitbull – who is he? I’ve never heard of this guy before. I mean, where do you hear him? My girlfriend says on Top 40 Radio, well I don’t listen to that. I never listened to Top 40 in my career. Even when I was on Top 40 with Rod Stewart, I never listened to it. We had hit after hit, but I never listened to it. I only listened to album radio, but there is no album radio anymore, it’s just Top 40. So, I don’t know anybody. I didn’t even realize that Will.I.Am was in The Black Eyed Peas, but he was actually cool…he was good. All the New York groups sucked…they were mediocre. Lady Gaga? Give me a break. That was a joke…today no one knows the groups anymore, only the songs. There aren’t any heroes anymore. There’s no kids growing up saying “I want to be like the guitar player in Pitbull”…he had a full band, it was awful…the guy was over there dry humping while he’s singing…it’s ridiculous. The west coast had some good acts. Blink 182, they’re cool. The drummer’s good…there’s a drummer idol, Travis Barker, but that’s probably the last generation of that. It’s really sad. There’s no guitar heroes, no drum heroes, no singer heroes…unless you are a pop singer…Beyonce…fantastic, Christina Aguilera…love her, Justin Timberlake…fantastic, but that’s already like 10 or 11 years old, you know? These guys came out in the 90’s. There’s nothing that’s come out of the 2000’s. The only thing that’s come out in the 2000’s in Lady Gaga…awful. Give me a break. Unbelievable. Anyway, that’s what the state of the (music) business is. You know what the funny thing is? They call Lady Gaga the biggest act in the world. If that’s the biggest act in the world, then that shows the state of the music business. Really sad.
Before we concluded the interview, Carmine talked about what fans can expect in 2012. He is really excited about his upcoming book, and told me that the book will be a major part of this year. King Kobra is working on a new album for 2012. Cactus will be touring, and that includes dates in the U.S. He and his brother, Vinny, will be performing several drum clinics around the world, including in Hungary. Carmine is definitely grateful for everything he has experienced in his life, and for all of the great things to come.
For more information about Carmine: http://www.carmineappice.net/
Fore more articles written by Michelle: http://www.examiner.com/rock-music-in-denver/michelle-humphrey