Interview with Carmine Appice (King Kobra/Vanilla Fudge/Cactus)

Drum legend Carmine Appice is a busy man.  With a new album by King Kobra just released and tours with Vanilla Fudge, Cactus and Drum Wars lined up, Mick Burgess caught up with Carmine during one of his few days off for a chat about his upcoming projects.

Your new album, King Kobra II has just been released. Are you pleased to finally get it out?

Yeah. We actually finished it a long time ago back last October. We spent most of 2012 making it. We didn’t do it by saying that we’d put three weeks aside to get it done. We could actually have finished it in three weeks if we had done so. It’s been done over the internet as everybody lives in different cities so it takes a lot longer and we didn’t have a budget to fly everyone in to be in the studio together. The great thing about King Kobra is that we all know how to record so it didn’t sound sterile, it has a real live feel to it. The drums were the first things that were put onto the record and I worked to a click-track which is what I’ve been doing since 1983 and the drums were done analogue with the old Andy Johns kind of miking. Although it’s been done over the internet it has a real organic vibe to it.

How do you write songs together when you live so far apart?

Me and Paul sat together a number of times and put ideas together in Vegas. I sent some ideas that I’d done on Garageband on my iPad to Dave and he’d add parts on. We’d just throw ideas around until we ended up with 13 tracks. Me and Paul did most of the arranging. It was only really me and Paul in the studio together doing the drum tracks then the other guys would do their parts and send them over.

Dave Henzerling who is also David Michael Philips co-produced the album. Does Dave use his own name as a producer to differentiate between his role as a musician?

I don’t really know. When I first met him he was David Michael Phillips but lately he’s been using Dave Henzerling, I’m not sure why though as David Michael Philips is easier to remember.

Do you all contribute to the production side of the recording process or does one of you take the lead in this?

We were all involved but Dave did more on the engineering side so we gave him a little more credit for that. Me, Paul and Dave were the ones that really pulled things together. We put our heart and soul into making the record.

This is your second album since getting the band back together in 2010. How do you see II as a progression from the self-titled King Kobra album released in 2011?

Our aim was to make a better record than the last one and I think we’ve accomplished that. I think it’s Blusier and has more influences from the ’70’s and ’80’s on there.

Listening to the album it is a very balanced record. There’s some driving Rockers, some soulful Bluesy ballads and the big ballsy epics. Were you looking to pack in a lot of diversity when making the record?

It’s got a bit of everything on there. Whenever I’m involved in a record I always try to keep the tempos and keys different on each song so it takes you somewhere. The album starts with “Hell On Wheels”. I have a Jaguar XKi supercharged sports car and I was out in it the other day and that song really tells a story. “Knock Them Dead” is a straight ahead Rocker while “Have a Good Time” is like a heavy Rod Stewart and Faces kind of song. “Deep River” has a real Blue Murder feel to it so there’s a lot of my influences from over the years coming through the music.

“The Ballad of Johnny Rod” has a real Van Halen vibe to it. Is this a true tale of Johnny’s bad behaviour?

Well Johnny has always been over the top, he’s been in jail many times for doing stupid things. He’s just a crazy guy. We’ve had to bail him out a few times over the years. Originally that song was going to be called “Somebody Get The Police” then Paul suggested making the song about crazy Johnny Rod, about the times he’s spent in jail. We did a Van Halen type of intro and we thought it would be a lot of fun.

Why did you decide not to go with Mark (Marcie) Free or Johnny Edwards who sang in the 80’s version of the band?

When Frontiers asked us to put the band back together I was talking to David Michael Philips and Pat Regan, who was in a studio mixing a Keel record and we were wondering who we could get to sing. I’d had a falling out with Mark Free, who’s now Marcie, about some live footage that we had on DVD. It wasn’t great footage but it was the only live footage of a King Kobra show that we had. It was a five camera shoot in front of 10,000 people. It wasn’t the best quality but it would be good for fans of King Kobra to have. Unfortunately he prevented me from releasing it and threatened to sue me if I didn’t pay him a certain amount of money. There was no money in it. It was something I wanted to release for the fans. I didn’t need the trouble. I didn’t have to release it. It wasn’t for me to make money so I dropped the idea. After that I certainly wasn’t going to call him up and ask him to do a new King Kobra album. Mark also left the band but then so did Johnny Rod, but he left to play the same kind of music in a bigger band. Mark Free left as he didn’t like the music we were playing. He wanted to play more single orientated stuff like John Waite but we wanted to do more Rock. So I figure, why bother?

How did you decide on Paul Shortino as your new singer?

I knew Paul from way back. He was actually on the Keel album when we were talking to Pat Regan and that brought my thoughts back to Paul. A few years back we did a gig together and there was a five hour ride to the gig and the whole time we were singing these great songs by The Temptations, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Al Green and all the Motown stuff and also The Beatles. Paul sang all of them so well. When they mentioned Paul was on the Keel record I said that we should get Paul in to sing on our record. I called Paul and told him that we were trying to get the original King Kobra back together and asked if he’d like to sing and he said he’d love to do it. He didn’t even hesitate. With that there was me, Dave and Paul on board and I called Johnny and Mick and we got a manager called Adam Parsons who’s worked with Motorhead and that’s how it all came together. I’m so glad to have got Paul into the band. He’s such a good singer and frontman. He’s great with lyrics too and he’s also the nicest, nicest guy around. I’ve stayed with Paul and his wife so many times and they are such nice people. Having Paul in the band has made this project such a lot of fun to do.

What about Europe? Can we expect to see King Kobra over in the UK at some point?

If the right money was offered we’d love to do it. We were asked to play four festivals in Europe but believe it or not the money offered wouldn’t have even paid for our flights. They were also going to put three guys in one hotel room. I’m 66 years old and I’m not going to start doing three guys now. Everybody is old and snores and you can’t get any sleep so, no we didn’t want to do it that way but we would love to come and play if the right offer came along. Maybe by some strange twist of fate the record will sell really well and the new video will go viral and the promoters will change their tune and bring us over.

Your schedule is pretty busy at the moment. One of the projects you’ve been involved in is the Bonzo Bash, which was a celebration of the work of John Bonham. How did you come to put that together?

Brian Tichy put that together and he asked me if I’d do it and I thought it was a great idea. Anything that involves Led Zeppelin draws a good crowd and we had about 20 drummers playing. I played at one of those shows and did some hosting at others. I actually preferred doing the hosting if truth be told. John was my friend and he was unknown when I first met him when Zeppelin opened for Vanilla Fudge. John said that I was a big influence on him and Cozy Powell said that too which is really good to hear. I never said that I taught him everything he knows but the style he adopted and the style Cozy adopted wasn’t Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon or Ginger Baker, it was my style. I’m just funny about playing it like a fan. I never sat down and figured out and wondered how he did that as pretty much everything he played I knew how to play anyway. When I did “Black Dog” at the show I only put the second part like John played it as that was a key part of the song. A lot of the other stuff were my own fills and then on You Tube you get people saying “he wasn’t even playing the right fills”. Give me a break. You don’t copy everyone’s fills, you do your own stuff and only play the important ones. Anyway, I thought it would be better if I was telling stories about John and Led Zeppelin and entertaining the crowd that way. Nobody got paid for doing these shows; it was just done for the love of the music. I had such a good time at those shows that my voice is still hoarse and that was a month ago.

You’ve also toured with the Drum Wars show with your brother Vinnie. What did you do there?

That was a lot of fun. It’s not a drum clinic. If you know who Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa are then they used to do drum battles in the Jazz era. Basically we’re doing that with Rock and Metal. Vinnie is more like Buddy Rich and I’m more like Gene Krupa. I’m more of a showman, the good looking guy…Ha !! Vinnie is very vicious and animalistic. We have an intro tape like a wrestling announcer so there’s a bit of humour in there too. We play stuff like “Mob Rules”, “Lady Evil”, “Bark at the Moon” and Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and stuff also by Dio like “Stand Up and Shout” which is really awesome. We play some of our own stuff like “Drum Wars” and a song called “The Flintstones” which is based on the TV show and we have a drum battle. I also strap on a snare drum the wrong way round and play it with a pick. It’s a lot of fun to do and the audiences have loved it.

Did you ever see the drum race with Buddy Rich and Animal from The Muppets?

I can tell you a story about that. That whole thing was my idea. I used to do the Carmine Appice Drum Off and once when I was in Australia in the ’70’s doing some drum clinics someone said they’d seen me on TV. They said they had seen The Muppets and that I looked just like Animal. I checked it out and they were right. He had all the big drums that I had and all this hair. He was like a cross between me and Keith Moon. I said that I’d like to challenge Animal to a drum battle so my manager called up Jim Henson Productions and said that he thought Animal had my persona and that I’d like to challenge Animal to a drum battle. The guy at Jim Henson Productions thought it was a great idea and said he’d get back to us in a week. He calls back with some good news and some bad. The good news was that they loved my idea and were definitely going to do it but the bad news was that they were going to use Buddy Rich. So I called up Buddy, who was a friend of mine and said that he was going to drum with The Muppets and he asked how I knew. I told him it was because it was my idea. I wanted to do that. He laughed and said they wanted the best. So I got replaced by Buddy Rich which is not too bad really.

You made your name with Vanilla Fudge in the late 1960’s and also Cactus in the ’70’s. Both bands are still active and touring. What’s the latest with these?

Vanilla Fudge has been going on and off since 1999 but Tim Bogert is out of the band and Cactus as well, he’s retired as he doesn’t want to be on the road anymore. He doesn’t need to tour to pay any bills or anything and he’s fine just riding his motorcycles in California. Vanilla Fudge also features Mark Stein and Vince Martell from the original band with Pete Bremy singing Tim Bogert’s parts in both Vanilla Fudge and Cactus. We seem to alternate both bands. I’ve just done some shows in June with Vanilla Fudge and there’s some lined up soon with Cactus including some festivals in Europe. In August I go back out with The Fudge and then I’ll be doing a clinic tour. I’m having a great time as I’m playing a variety of music and I get to play with my brother too. I also do the teaching thing too which is another cap for me to put on.

Will we get the chance to see you over in the UK soon?

You know, I’d really like to but we don’t get that many bookings over there for some reason. Cherry Red Records are going to re-release the four Cactus albums and hopefully that will lead to some shows. We used to do really well in the UK with Cactus but we just haven’t had much call to go over yet. We’ve done other places in Europe but not the UK. We’ve done really well in Germany and Poland recently. We’ve also recently been to Japan and they went nuts for us over there. We’ve got a live DVD coming out from that on my label which should be good.

You made you first record with Vanilla Fudge way back in 1967 and you’ve recorded with Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ozzy, Blue Murder amongst many others. How many records have you actually made to date?

I’ve done about 45 records which isn’t really that many when you consider that this is my 45th year in the music business so that’s an average of one a year. People think I do a lot of sessions but I don’t really. I only do those that I call “career sessions” like Pink Floyd, Stanley Clarke, Eddie Money, Paul Stanley, Ronnie Wood. I’ve worked for a handful of artists in what I call a career move and every now and then I’ll do some work for a friend. Most of the albums I’ve done from Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Beck Bogert and Appice and the Rod Stewart Group have been my own bands and in between there have been sessions but not many.

You spent a few years with Rod Stewart and co-wrote some of his hits including “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”. Rod had quite a band back then?

I loved working with Rod, he was a nice guy. I’d like to get together with Rod again as he really needs to Rock again. I’m actually getting the original Rod Stewart Group back together with Gary Grainger, Billy Peek and Philip Chen. I was trying to get Jim Cregan too but he’s got his own thing going on so we’ll be getting Danny Johnson who played on the “Young Turks” record. We’ll do a show with a frontman that looks like Rod and we’ll do a show based on his ’78-’80 period with the white stage. It’s really going to be a kick ass show.

Rod’s supposed to be returning to his Rock roots with his latest album.

Have you heard it yet? It’s like elevator Rock. His band is just full of wimpy session guys. When we were with him we were a real band. His music is just so clinical just like everything else today. We were a great band and were hand-picked by Rod. There were eight members who were together for 7 or 8 years. It was the Rod Stewart Group and there were RSG logos all over the place. We actually got a percentage of the royalties. I want to get that band back together along with audio and video from the ’70’s that we’ll play at the start of the show. This is the ultimate tribute to Rod when he was still a Rock star. I wrote to Rod asking him to endorse the show but I’m waiting to hear back from him. Most of these songs are not performed by Rod anymore and we wrote, performed and produced these songs so it will be great playing them again. Maybe we could get a residency somewhere like Vegas and if it does well then maybe we could bring it out on tour.

With everything you’re involved with at the moment you could have your own Carminefest festival with you playing in every band in the line-up?

Ha!! Yes, that sounds like a great idea.

You toured with Ozzy on the Bark at the Moon tour. I bet life on the road with Ozzy was never dull?

That was quite an experience. At that time he wasn’t that big yet. I love Ozzy, he’s such a nice guy but I think he’s been worked to death over the years. The band was awesome with Bob Daisley on bass and Jake E Lee on guitar and Don Airey too. That was such a great band. The night Sharon Osborne fired me she said that my name was too big and she needed more of a side man. I got a lot of press and she didn’t like it. We’d just done an amazing gig in Houston, Texas, it was unbelievable. Everybody came off stage so high and she took me into a room and fired me. I was so depressed. I was an associate Producer on that record but they took my credit off. I was due some bonus money and I ended up suing them for it and it was a long lawsuit and the only ones that really won were the lawyers. Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake got fucked over real bad by her too. When she replaced Bob and Lee on the record that was just crazy. It’s like replacing Ringo and Paul McCartney on a Beatles record. It didn’t even sound like the same record when you heard those versions. Lee and Bob sounded great on that record and they ruined it. I haven’t talked to her since 1983, she just had it in for me since then. Even when I heard she had cancer I sent her a message hoping that she’d get better but I never heard anything back from her. When I saw Ozzy recently we gave each other a big hug and asked each other how we were doing and we talked for a few minutes before the security guards whisked him away. She didn’t want anybody to bother him. It’s ridiculous. Life’s too short man.

Blue Murder was a great project that you put together with John Sykes and Tony Franklin. That first album was a classic record and has just been reissued. Have you talked about putting the band back together for some shows?

When John Sykes left Thin Lizzy I thought he’d done it so we could proceed with a Blue Murder reunion but it never happened. We did play at his house and it sounded great. He just called out the songs and we played them. It sounded awesome. Maybe it’ll happen one day. I was recently on Eddie Trunk’s That Metal Show and he gave me a remastered copy of the Blue Murder album and when I got home I put it on. What a great record that is man. I wrote to John Sykes and told him that he sang and played great. Tony was my favourite bass player and the production and songs were great. Just everything about the record was perfect. I can’t believe it didn’t make it to where it should have gone. John e-mailed me back and said that maybe we should do something together. Everywhere I go you’d never realise how many people ask me to get Blue Murder back together. I think we’d do really well over here and it would be huge in Japan. We should just hurry up and do it as I’m a senior citizen now!! .

You’ve inspired many drummers over the years. Which drummers inspired you when you first started playing and who impresses you now?

I don’t really listen to a lot of new drummers these days, I still listen mainly to the old stuff. I listen to Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, the classic stuff. I’ll go and see some of my friends like Steve Smith, Terry Bozzio and Gregg Bissonnette play at small clubs and that’s always fun to see. There is one guy who was in Mars Volta and has just done an album with Eric Gales and Doug Pinnick of King’s X called Thomas Pridgen, who is a great player. There’s also John Blackwell that played with Prince, he’s an awesome player. When we did the Bonzo Bash, Chad Smith played great. It’s inspiring to see such talent. The guy with Biohazard, Danny Schuler, he’s awesome too. I like to watch my brother Vinnie play too.

Your book the Ultimate Realistic Rock Drum Method is seen as the definitive drum tutor book. What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a kid just starting out on the drums to get them hooked?

Basically just practice but you also have to have the passion because without the passion it’s just a waste of time. I’ve known guys who have the talent but without the passion they just haven’t got anything. My son is like that; he has a lot of talent and has a natural feel for the drums. I’ve told him that if he practised and let me and his Uncle Vinnie give him some lessons he’d end up being really good but he didn’t have the passion for it and didn’t want to practice so that’s that. You have to want to play to become a great player.

What have you got lined up over the coming months?

I’m having some time off at the moment and I’m just hanging out spending some time in the countryside of Connecticut. I’ll be releasing a live album with Pat Travers that we recorded in Europe. I’m not sure when that will be released but we’ve signed the deal this week so it should be soon. I like Pat, he’s a great player and a really nice guy. I’m also working on a book of my life that I’m doing with Ian Gittins who wrote The Heroin Diaries with Nikki Sixx. That’ll be out sometime next year. Everybody has been saying to me to put all of my stories into a book so that’s what I’m doing. It’ll have plenty of great stories of my life in the music business.

For more on Carmine Appice visit

King Kobra II is out now on Frontiers Records

Photo Credit: Frank White


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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