By Peter Lindblad
Carmine Appice is doing his best to redefine the phrase “golden years.” The legendary drummer has revived 1960s psychedelic-rock innovators Vanilla Fudge, as well as Cactus and metal underdogs King Kobra as touring and recording entities.
And he’s launched his own record label, Rocker Records (www.rocker-records.com), which focuses on the digital market. The label’s latest release is Ethan Brash’s “Live The Dream.” It was preceded by two Cactus concert LPs (“Live in the USA” and “Live In Japan”), Travers and Appice’s “TNA Live In Europe” and “Tim Bogert, Carmine Appice and Friends” featuring former Vanilla Fudge bassist and founding member Tim Bogert. From joining Vanilla Fudge to starting Cactus to touring with Rod Stewart, Appice touches on a little bit of everything in this interview.
GOLDMINE: What prompted you to want to start this new label?
CARMINE APPICE: Actually, I started working with this guy, Mike Cusanelli. He was involved in World Sound, which is another label and management company. And with that management company, we put a book deal together for my life story. So Mike, being a records kind of guy, says, “If you have product laying around, you should probably start a record label and then sell other people’s product – friends of yours that have product that maybe want to release it.” So, I said, “Really? That’s interesting.” So then he had a talk with the head of eONE, which is our distributor, and he was totally into the idea. So, I thought, “OK. Let’s give it a try.” These first releases are stuff that I’ve had basically in the can, with really nothing to do to them. They’re from my personal collection. So he says, “Well, let’s get it out to the fans.”
GM: Tell me about some of the releases, especially the Cactus ones.
CA: We had a DVD years ago — 2006 — that came out on MVD. Somebody in Europe took the soundtrack off the DVD and released it, unbeknownst to us. So, when we found it, we said, “Huh.” And it was selling well, so we worked out a deal with the guy, and he paid us royalties, and when I listened to it, I said, “Wow, this sounds really good.” Now it (“Cactus Live in the USA”) has Tim Bogert on it. So you’ve got Cactus with Tim Bogert — the original lineup, except the singer, Rusty Day, who’s been dead since the ’80s. And then we went to Japan last year in December, and our deal over there was to record two nights. And the one night — the second night — we would also record video. It was the first night we played in Tokyo, and it was great. It was a kick-ass show, and Jim McCarty was on fire. The band just sounded great. This live one has Pete Bremy on it, who’s been our bass player for about two-and-a-half years now, since Tim retired. And he also plays with Vanilla Fudge, which we’re working on some live things with that’ll come out (in 2014), too.
GM: How did you come to join Vanilla Fudge?
CA: Well, we were all just playing gigs around New York at the time, and I was in a soul, R&B kind of band. We had horns and stuff, and one day, these guys came into a club where we were playing and said they heard about me, that I could sing. I could sing lead and harmonies, and I had a great right foot and that I was technically a pretty good drummer. And they had this thing going on with this manager in Long Island, and they were going to try to make it in the record business and all that. I actually didn’t know whether to take them seriously or not, because I was doing well. I was making $200 a weekend, not having a day job at the time. It was ’66 or ’67. I had a brand new car. It was my second new car. I was only 19 years old, and I didn’t know if I wanted to make a change, but then they told me what they were doing, and I went out and played with them and they were all f**king great. I said, “OK, let’s do it.” And nine months later, we had a record on the charts. We used to call them “production numbers,” slowing the songs down, putting what we’d call “hurtin’” lyrics and drama into the songs — and luckily, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was the one. It just broke out all over the place, and it took the album to No. 6.
GM: You guys decided to re-make so many songs in your own image. What was it about “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” that made you want to cover that one?
CA: The lyrics, the lyrics. Yeah, if you listen to the lyrics, we used to call those lyrics “hurtin’ lyrics.” If you’re an adult or in love when you had a girl or a wife, and you were in that situation, you wouldn’t be singing it (in a high, feminine voice), “Set me free why don’t you, babe” – like a happy song. So we just slowed it down, with all the songs — “Eleanor Rigby,” “People Get Ready” — we tried to fit the mood of the song with the lyrics and musically feed that into the song and create a whole new environment for the song.
GM: When you and Tim decided to go off to start Cactus, what was going on with Vanilla Fudge that made it seem like that was coming to an end?
CA: Well, things started changing. You had the Jeff Beck Group starting to get big; Led Zeppelin was starting to get big. And then there were all these other bands coming out, like Deep Purple, who copied Vanilla Fudge and they started getting heavier ... me and Tim, we were kind of fed up with the organ and everything slow, and (there was) no real energy. We started doing things like “Need Love,” which was more rock-y. We heard that Jeff Beck loved me and Timmy’s work on “Shotgun” and wanted to start a band with us. In fact, John Bonham told us that. So we had a talk with Jeff, and he wanted to definitely do it, and he talked about having Rod Stewart as the singer, before Rod went solo. That was the plan. It was going to be me, Rod, Jeff and Tim, and in those days, you didn’t just do a side project, because everything was one project at a time — so this was going to be our super group. When we were supposed to meet with Jeff at the end of ’69 with his manager, Jeff got in this car accident.
GM: Right when Jeff had his accident, you realized it was over?
CA: Yeah, because Jeff was going to be 18 months recuperating. He had a concussion and all that sh*t, so we put Cactus together and we went out and started doing our gigs. In ’70, we played a lot of cool gigs. We played with The Who, we played with Hendrix and we did a lot of festivals. We did the Atlanta Pop Festival, we did the Strawberry Fields festival, we did Isle of Wight, we did festivals in Germany, we played over here – we got big in a lot of areas. New York, we played four shows at the Fillmore. It was packed ... so we have a two, two-and-a-half-year stint of playing and doing Cactus, and everybody loved us. Then we got thrown off tours because we were too good. Our singer, before he left, he really knew how to get an audience in the palm of his hand. And we had a really high-energy band. A lot of bands couldn’t follow us because we had so much good stuff going on. And then Jeff Beck came back with his Jeff Beck Group, but he soon got sick of that, and in the summer of ’72, I think it was, he asked us to come on the road with him and replace Cozy (Powell) and the bass player (Clive Chaman) and he got a new singer, and this would be a start. We always had management stuff, so we discussed that this would be the start of the thing, and we’d probably call it Beck, Bogert & Appice. But we didn’t want to make it a big hype. We wanted to gradually build into it. So that’s what we did, and then, before Rod joined the Faces, he bowed out of the thing, even before Jeff was going to come over.
GM: What are your memories of working with Rod?
CA: The memories were great, just great. I mean, what can you say? Rod was God at the time. He just took off in his solo career – huge, bigger than The Faces. I mean, we did six nights at the Forum and five nights at the Garden, and five or six nights all over the world in 20,000-seat venues. And the private planes ... you know, I never took a bus in my life until I played with Ozzy. We got wardrobe girls and masseuses with us, and we got paid good money. The audiences were just unbelievably responsive, to the point where they would sing all the songs by themselves — “Maggie May” and all that kind of stuff. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my career.
GM: What was it like being on the road with Rod?
CA: It was amazing. It was a lot of fun – a lot of fans all the time, big money. And there was this thing called the “Sex Police,” which was just crazy, where anyone who had a chick, the Sex Police would break into their room and stop whatever they had going on. And Rod would participate in that stuff. We would lock people in their rooms — crazy stuff, a lot of fun. It was a great band. We were like The Rolling Stones, you know? GM