When you hear the name Appice, you know good, solid, mammoth drumming will follow. With older brother Carmine leading the way into rock & roll by playing with Vanilla Fudge, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart and Ted Nugent, it was inevitable that his younger brother would pick up the sticks and follow right along behind him. Carving out his own niche keeping the groove with such metal legends as Black Sabbath and Dio, Vinny Appice is back on the beat with his new band Kill Devil Hill.
Speaking with Appice just prior to the release last month of KDH’s self-titled debut, he was excited about bringing some new music to the airwaves. Building a reputation started early when John Lennon caught wind of Appice when he was just 16, still in school yet playing with a band that noted producer Jimmy Iovine was working with. Going from Carmine’s kid brother to a respected drummer in his own right, Appice worked hard to stand out on his own. As Poison drummer Rikki Rockett proclaimed a few days ago, “Vinny is, in fact, The Man! Vinny is the epitome of a hard hitting drummer with impeccable finesse! Inspiring on every level!” With praise like that, it’s no wonder Appice is always in a perpetual good mood; even after a long day of interviews.You tired of doing interviews yet?
(laughs) Naw, it’s fine. I like it. It’s fun because it’s a new band so it’s exciting.Before we talk about Kill Devil Hill, tell us about your childhood. What was it like growing up in Brooklyn?
Well, it was cool because you’re easily in the city so you’re around a lot of people. You go to school there and if you wind up being a musician, obviously with so many people in a certain area with a dense population, there’s going to be more musicians, more whatever, in that area. So I was able to hook up with a lot of different musicians. They were all usually older than I and I remember jamming with a lot of people. There were always jams. When somebody’s parents went away for the weekend, downstairs in the basement, they would have a little party and everyone was going to come and jam. So it was actually cool that way.
Then when you wanted to go to Manhattan, the city was a train ride away. There were shows, musicians, everything. So it was a cool area to get around in. When you’re young you didn’t really need a car or anything, you could take the train and buses and stuff. So it was a good way to grow up. Plus, it wasn’t a relaxing atmosphere in Brooklyn, you know. Where I lived there weren’t a lot of gardens and trees so basically you kept your ass going. “I want to get out of here one day” and then just worked hard. That’s the way I thought. How much older is Carmine than you?
He’s eleven years older than I am and when he started, he had a band and would rehearse in the house and I was like eight years old and I would watch the band rehearse. So it was the best entertainment ever. Here you are, eight years old, watching a live band play in your house with all the gear and equipment. It was pretty inspirational, inspiring. So that kind of got the bug going, you know.So with Carmine playing drums that what made you want to play drums as well.
You know, I was a kid and he played drums so I wanted to play drums. Then when I started playing the drums and as I got serious, I was like, you know what, if I’m going to play then I really have to be good cause Carmine is such a great drummer. So I’m really going to have to practice and work on it, you know, and that’s what I did. I went to drum lessons and practiced everything and really listened to records, tried to copy stuff. So I worked hard to get as good as I could get.Did you have to play on his drums or did you have your own?
Well, he had drums in the house and when I was real young I used to get on there and bang’em. I wasn’t really playing, I was just banging on them and I’d break stuff and he’d start yelling at me, “Don’t get on the drums.” (laughs) One time he said, “Don’t get on the drums, I’m going out.” Then he left and I waited like ten minutes. Ok, he’s gone so I start banging on the drums and he came running in. He’d hid. “I told you not to play the drums!” (laughs). So he couldn’t keep me off them. Eventually, he got going with Vanilla Fudge and started touring and then he got another kit and he eventually went on the road and there was a drum set left in the house. Perfect.What was your first band?
It was neighborhood stuff and then the first real thing was like a funk rock band. I was about sixteen years old, four horn players, and we got a deal. The guitar player knew Jimmy Iovine, who produced John Lennon, worked at the Record Plant Studios and he wanted to produce us. So he got us a management deal with the Record Plant Studios and they gave us a rehearsal room up on the top floor and it was free and it was awesome. We would go every night and go hang out; it was like the boys club, you know. Rehearse, write songs.
Then we wound up hooking up with John Lennon in that situation cause they needed handclaps for a song called “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”. One night Jimmy calls and says, “Hey, can you guys come down here and do handclaps?” So we go down there and there’s John Lennon in the control room, so that’s my band and me doing the handclaps on that song. Then we all left, it was nine of us, and John said, “Who’s that?” and Jimmy said, “I’m producing them, it’s a band upstairs and they’re here every night rehearsing.” Eventually John started coming up to our room and watching us play. Then he eventually asked us to do a gig with him and we did a live gig and played “Imagine” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’”. We had to get fitted for jumpsuits and different make-up, we wore masks on our faces. We spent a whole week in a van driving around the city doing this with John Lennon. Just incredible, you know. We did the live gig and then he asked us to do three videos with him then we did some recording. He produced the owner’s wife who was a singer, at the Record Plant. He was the producer so we went in and recorded eight songs with him as the producer and that was an incredible experience and I was going to high school in the morning. I was sixteen going on seventeen. I’d go into high school the next day and was like, “I don’t want to be here!!” (laughs)How do you think you were able to do this at such a young age?
It comes down like with anything – first you got to have some talent, then you got to be good and stand out, and like I said before, I made it a point of, I’m really going to practice my stuff here and really work hard. So I was pretty good when I was real young and that stood out and I wound up getting in bands that were always older than me and I always wound up standing out a little bit more than the average drummer. That’s how we hooked up and I got in that band; Lennon thought we were good enough to work with him and the next day in the studio Rick Derringer heard some of the songs we recorded with Jimmy Iovine. He said, “Who’s that playing drums?” and Jimmy said, “That’s Carmine’s brother Vinny.” And I met Rick there and he asked me for my number. So it’s a matter of talent and being good and it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time, networking, and all those things need to come together cause you could be really good but be in Wyoming in the middle of nowhere and nobody’s going to hear you. So when people say, “How do you make it?” It’s a lot of different parables and you really do have to have a network and you have to be in the right place at the right time sometimes. And really networking yourself. People got to know you’re out there and know how you play and that’s the thing, you know.I know that Carmine was a big inspiration to you, obviously, but who were some other drummers that you liked to listen to?
Once I got into it, I saw Buddy Rich and was like, Lord, Oh my God, he was like a god to me. I would watch him play and he was just incredible. My parents would let me stay up late when he was on the Johnny Carson Show
. You’d look in the TV Guide
back then and if Buddy Rich was going to be on I got to watch him when he was on. So he was one of my main guys and then when Zeppelin came out it was John Bonham and then Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cobham, Max Roach and people like that. But mainly Buddy Rich and John Bonham and my brother and Mitch Mitchell who were my main influences. And Billy Cobham. All of them, the hell with it (laughs).How did you get hooked up with Black Sabbath?
I was playing with some bands in LA. After Rick Derringer, I had my own band and then I wound up doing a couple of other things and then I got a call actually from Sharon Osborne and she asked me to join Ozzy’s new band that he was putting together, Blizzard Of Ozz. At that point I was really young still and I thought, Ozzy, he’s crazy. So I asked my brother who knew him. I said, “I got this offer to go play with Ozzy. Isn’t he nuts?” And he said, “Yeah, he’s crazy” so I turned it down. Naw, I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to go to England, I don’t even know where England is, you know (laughs). So I actually turned it down, which is funny, considering what an opportunity it was.
Then a couple months later I get a call from the tour manager for Black Sabbath saying, “Hey, we heard about you, we heard some of your stuff and the guys are interested in you coming down and meeting them.” So I said ok and went down one night in Hollywood and met Tony Iommi. The tour manager and Tony came down and they had the album I did with my own band called Axis. Tony liked it and they liked me and we talked and everything was cool and they wanted me to come down tomorrow and play. So I did and I went down to the studio in Hollywood, brought my drums in my car, a little Mustang, and set up and then we played together. The first song we played was “Neon Knights”. I didn’t know the whole song but I heard it on the radio and I thought, well, I know the tempo and I can follow along. So that was the first song I played with them, right after I met Tony,well I met Tony the night before, then met Ronnie, Geezer and Geoff Nicholls, the keyboard player.
Then from there we played a couple songs, worked on stuff, then they went, “Yeah, this is good. Can you do the tour?” And I said yeah and that’s how I got started with them. And incidentally, that was the first song I played with Ronnie, “Neon Knights” and that was the last song I played with Ronnie on the last show. Weird. After thirty-something years, you know.What would you say was the greatest thing you learned from Ronnie James Dio?
Ronnie is an amazing person, just amazing, like no other person you met. You could feel the aura around him and stuff. Very creative, very personable and what Ronnie was all about was his music and his fans. Those were really, really one of the two most important things in his life. And of course his family and stuff, but he loved his music and that’s what he lived for. And his fans. From the early days to the end, he was out there signing autographs. He was meeting everybody and when you met him, you might see him on the next tour or a year later and he remembered your name. It was incredible.
When I joined Sabbath we used to fly commercial to go to gigs but when we’d get to the airport there were two limos for us. So usually me and Ronnie would load into one and Tony and Geezer were in the other so at the end of the show Tony and Geezer would leave and Ronnie and I would hang out. Then when we’d leave, if there were kids out at the gate, Ronnie would go, “Stop the car, stop the car,” and he’d get out and go sign through the gate and sign all the autographs. Might take him forty-five minutes or an hour and I was like, wow, this is cool. So then I would come out and do it. People kind of knew me and they got my autograph and after years had gone by I always did it with Ronnie. He’d go out and I’d go out with him and I learned that that is important. The fans appreciate that and if it wasn’t for the fans we wouldn’t be able to do this and live this life so it’s an important thing. And that is what Ronnie was all about. He loved his music and just an intelligent guy. He would get a book and get on the airplane and by the time we’d fly to London, the book would be finished (laughs). Just an avid reader and very, very smart.Ok, let’s talk about your new band. You have a new CD about to come out and the songs seem really moody.
(laughs) It’s dark but it’s got a lot of hooks to it. I’ve always wanted to have my own band. I’ve played with Sabbath, I’ve played with Dio, but they were established in their own ways and I was lucky enough to be part of that. But there wasn’t anything that was started from the very beginning with nothing and that’s what this started as. Started with just drums and I got some people involved, eventually leading up to the guitar player Mark Zavon. He came down and we started working, I had some drum tracks that were pre-recorded and I started working with him on these and we got along really well. I love the way he plays, super nice guy. Then he knew the singer Dewey Bragg and he played me a song and as soon as I heard that, that’s the guy. He sounds great, that’s what I’m looking for. Eventually we went through different bass players and I heard Rex Brown was leaving Down and I called Rex and said I got this project and I want you to check it out. I sent him some songs and he loved it and eventually he played on it. Then we got together and played and it all came together. With the demos we did we were able to get a deal last year and start recording an album and finally it gets to be released in late May.Who did the album cover? It’s really atmospheric.
That’s interesting. You’re the only one that mentioned that and that’s cool. All the other interviewers asked questions about the music. The cover was done by a friend of Geezer Butler’s and Gloria Butler’s. I got an email from him saying, “Hey, I’m a friend and I do artwork” and blah, blah, blah, blah. He put something together and he sent over that. As soon as he sent it over I got a feeling about it, like, that’s it. You know how you get a feeling, like I knew when I heard Dewey Bragg sing, I knew this was it. So as soon as I saw that, I thought that was cool. You don’t know what to think, like what happens if you sit in that chair? (laughs) Is that skull the last person that sat in this chair? Is that book a Bible or is it something else? That’s what I was wondering
I don’t know (laughs). I think it’s supposed to be a Bible but it’s all like, what if? What if? And I just liked the way it looked and it looked good with the name Kill Devil Hill. It just felt right and that’s going to be it. At first everybody liked it and then everybody was trying to get other things and people submitted different things and every one was good but that one just stood out. It was like, just look at that thing, it sticks out. His name is Rory and he’s from Canada, the man who created that, and he’s credited on the album for that. He’s awesome.You have an acoustic song, “Mysterious Ways”, also on the album.
That was something that we recorded at Mark’s house, just in the studio. Dewey and Mark laid it down and when they played it, I went, “That’s awesome, Man.” When we were doing the album, it was produced by us and Warren Riker, and he didn’t like that song. He thought it was like these boys sitting around the campfire or something. But we said, “No, no, it’s not. It shows another side of the band that, hey, we’re really serious about writing songs and Dewey can sing like that and it’s a cool song. We started playing it for people and everybody liked it.” So he said, “Well, let’s put that on the record. That’s a good break from all the dark, heavy stuff.”That’s exactly what I thought. You’re coming through all these songs and then this one just comes out of nowhere. It’s really cool how it’s near the end so you stop and listen.
Yeah, it wasn’t anything like, “Hey, let’s write an acoustic song and put it on there and strum some shitty chords and stuff.” It was just a song that was written from the heart and the soul and it’s a real song and I’m like, that is really good, it touches a certain nerve when you listen to it. It gives you a good feeling so let’s put it on the record. So what if it doesn’t match the other stuff, it shows another side of this band. We thought it was great so we put it on and we’re getting a great response.Have you had a chance to play any of the new songs live yet?
We did shows last year when we were just starting and we played the whole album. We didn’t play “Mysterious Ways” but we played the whole album. At that point there wasn’t a whole lot of buzz with the band, people didn’t know who it was or what it was. They knew me and Rex so it was an interesting tour. But everybody we played for, they got it. Once a couple of songs went by they were like, Yeah, and they were totally into it. This band is a real band. It’s not a paper band with different stars from different bands. This came together the way a band should come together, it was natural and it’s got a vibe to it. We’re all on the same page, we all mean what we’re doing up there. So people got it, got the songs. They’re very hook-y, they’re melodic even though they’re heavy and they’re easy to grasp on to. So we did that and we did a bunch of dates and now with the buzz on the band, there was a lot more people at the shows and they really got it. They still haven’t heard all the songs cause the album’s not out yet but they get it. So that’s a good thing.Are you going out with Adrenaline Mob?
Yeah, we’re going out with Adrenaline Mob, doing I think nine shows. We’re managed by the same manager and it was his idea to put us together. After that we’ll go out some more by ourselves. Go to Europe, maybe Canada, and then continue in the US. We’ll just keep pumping the album.I interviewed Mike Portnoy not too long ago. You think you guys will go out there and do a drum battle?
We’re not going to do a drum battle cause there’s not room for two kits on the stage. But what we’re going to do is a jam at the end with all the bands. Both bands will get up and play some songs and stuff to make it cool. But Mike’s a different player. I play a lot harder. I play with loud bands all the time and you got to have some power. All my life I’ve played hard so it’s easy for me to play with a lot of power. But Mike is a great player, he’s got great technique, a lot of ideas and riffs and stuff, a lot of those combinations so it’s going to be good cause we’re both different kinds of drummers.Who was the first rock star that you ever met and don’t name your brother.
The first real rock star I met was Jeff Beck and that’s because my brother was playing with him. Jeff was a big rock star back then, he still is now, but back then I was a little kid and it was like, “Oh my God” (laughs). One day Carmine called up and said – we lived in Brooklyn and Carmine lived in Long Island – and my Mom makes great Italian food and always cooks for the bands and everything so he’s going to bring Jeff Beck over to the house in Brooklyn. I was like, “Oh my God, Jeff Beck is coming here. Holy shit.” (laughs). So my mom made great Italian food and he’s a vegetarian so she made vegetarian manicotti, not meatballs, but sauce and everything. She made a whole feast and then Jeff came in and it was like, oh my God. So I met Jeff when I was really, really young and he was a real rock star and it was cool. But I was like ashamed of the house cause the house was small, we didn’t have a big house or anything like that, but it was a rock & roll house (laughs). And Jeff loved it, you know. We had to put the table in the living room cause we had a small kitchen and that kind of thing. We didn’t have a dining room. So he came over and it was like amazing, like wow, this is Jeff Beck, holy crap. So that was cool. That was a big one and from there on in, I started meeting everybody.Is there anyone left that you haven’t met yet but would love to meet and maybe play with?
I would love to meet Jimmy Page. I’ve never met him. I’ve seen him and I’ve met Robert Plant; I actually got to play with Robert Plant, got to get up and jam with him one time years ago. But Page I never met. I was influenced a lot by Zeppelin so he would be a cool guy to meet.What is your all-time favorite album?
Probably Led Zeppelin I.
That just had a vibe and I remember when it came out. Actually, before it came out, they opened for Vanilla Fudge on tour and when we went to see him, Carmine gave me that album before it was released and he said, “Check this album out, it’s really good. There’s a good drummer on it; a really good drummer.” That’s like the understatement (laughs). So that album meant a lot and when I went home and played it I went, “Whoa, what the hell is this?” You know, he didn’t play it safe, he played riffs in the songs, he played aggressively and it was melodic. That album I would say still to this day you put it on and it still sounds the same. That vibe is still great.You’ve been away from Brooklyn for a long time and living out in LA.
Yeah, I’ve lived here since 1978, 1977. Been here a long time. It’s nice. A rat race but it’s nice.Do you have children?
No, I just have lots of drums (laughs)So what happens next with Kill Devil Hill?
Well, we’ll be out there so keep an eye out. We have a website, www.killdevilhillmusic.com, and then Facebook and you can go on there for all the latest stuff. We’re going to be on tour so there’s tour dates on there, VIP packages, we just got shirts done and we’d just love to see everybody at the shows. Come out and see the band.Next week come join us as we sit down and have a trip down the psychedelic memory lane with one of the founding members of Big Brother & The Holding Company – Sam Andrew – as he talks about Janis Joplin, San Francisco in the high 60’s, the historic Monterey Pop Festival and the new release of a pristine recording of Big Brother live from 1968.