You've undoubtedly heard Carmine Appice playing with some of the many bands and artists he's worked with such as Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Pat Travers, Ozzy and lots more. You've heard his songwriting abilities in the form of the Stewart's hit singles "Do You Think I'm Sexy?" and "Young Turks". You've heard the music of his own bands Vanilla Fudge and Cactus. Now you can see and hear him in a different situation: a musical presentation that takes a bit of Stomp and adds some heavy rock to the mix. He's created a musical event that has considerable visual appeal as well: Slamm. Using a vast number of drummers and a couple of guitarists, Appice puts the show back in show biz. The project got a great helping hand when shortly after forming, they were approached by ESPN to make a video involving the NASCAR garage. I spoke with Carmine to find out what Slamm is all about.
antiMusic: How did Slamm come about and how long ago did you start thinking of something like this?
Carmine: Well it came about at the beginning of last year. I guess it was in 2005 & 2006 we were doing the original Vanilla Fudge and it didn't go great. Whenever we get the original band together it never really goes great. I got fed up with all these complaints and everything and I was working with Cactus also and one of the guys from Cactus was always complaining about something so I just said, you know, I'm just really sick and tired of hearing these people complaining. It's like, I just want to go out and play and have a good time, you know, not complain. My girlfriend suggested to me, well, if you had the chance to do something that you want to do, what would you do?
So I started thinking about it, I said, you know, in 1983 I did a drum show and it was really a lot of fun because it's a lot easier dealing with drummers than it is with full bands of bass players and guitar players and singers, different kinds of egos. Drummers are all the same kind of people. They just want to have a good time and play and you know all that. So she said well maybe you should think about doing that.
So I started thinking about it. And I basically came up with this concept of mixing up urban stuff with rock drumming and mixing it up with like guitar or an instrument or a melody instrument. At first I thought of a keyboard because you can get a lot more out of a keyboard but then we ended up actually getting a guitar player who can play keyboards. And then, once I had the idea I went on the Internet and researched different kinds of percussion ensembles that are out there and came up with the idea of putting the melody instrument in with the percussion with no bass because the bass just clouds up the bottom end of the bass drums and the big 55 gallon tubs we have.
And then I started writing some stuff with one of the guys, Marcus who lives in L.A. and he's a Pro Tools guy. He's a drummer and plays a lot of different percussion, and also a little bass and guitar too. So we started messing around in his studio, and came up with these different song ideas. Once I was done that, then I came to New York and I auditioned people there because I wanted to base it out of New York. At the time my girlfriend was a New York radio talk show host. Her name was The Radio Chick, she was on a lot of major stations in New York City and always did well and she said, look, I can help you from the radio standpoint if you base it out of here. And east coast, there's a lot more cities, a lot more places to play in a smaller mileage area than there are on the west coast. So we decided to base it out of here.
So I auditioned people, put ads out in The Village Voice, Craig's List…a bunch of different places. And I auditioned different people. I came up with pretty everybody in the outfit except, I still wanted a female drummer in there. And it ends up; she ended up finding us, which was pretty cool. So we rehearsed, and the way to put something together is you have to have a gig. You have to have gigs lined up, and have a goal. You don't just say, hey, I'm going to put a drum show together. And you put it all together and then you don't have a place to play. (laughs)
So we booked 7 shows in a small venue in New York City called the Cutting Room where I knew we'd probably fill it up and we'd have a good time. And playing the shows one after the other, it would take a week to do that on the road, where here I did it in four days and stayed in one place. So pretty much, that's how it all got it together. And little by little we made it better. The more gigs we had, the better we did with it and added more stuff to it. So now it's at a point where were ready to book more gigs, and we have been booking more gigs in the fall, and little by little we're building.
We recently put up the YouTube of the NASCAR song. What happened was when we played those shows we had a guy come from ESPN and at that point he asked me if I would be interested in having Slamm play the NASCAR garage. And I didn't know what he meant, I said; "Do you mean play the garage as a concert?" And he said, "No, play the Garage. Play the tool boxes and you know, play the things in the garage."
And I said, "Wow, that's interesting. We'd LOVE to do that." So it took us six months from June last year to put it all together. And by the end of December we had the deal going with ESPN and we actually wrote a song and put it all together with the percussion and everything else. We did a video in February. They flew us out to Daytona, and we did this video with all of us, a major video shoot you know. When we got the video and saw it, we thought it was amazing. Little by little they have been adding it to the Saturday and Sunday race shows of NASCAR on ESPN 2.
So pretty much what's been happening is we've been getting airplay on that, and people have been calling us and telling us they've been seeing us on NASCAR. So that took us to the end of the year and then we did a New Years gig at a theater for a thing called First Night, where you pay a 20 dollar ticket and you go to 20 different venues in Providence. Our show was the biggest venue so we headlined the show, three shows at this theater and we ended up having 6800 people seeing us that night. Then we went on to a smaller gig in New Jersey, at the School of Rock there.
And then we went on to do it in February. We filmed the video for NASCAR and then a week later, we did a benefit at Providence again at the Dunkin Donut Centre which is a big arena, for the Great White fire victims, who got killed in that fire years ago. We were on that show with Twisted Sister and Tesla and a few other heavy metal bands. And they asked me to bring like whatever I wanted to. So I decided to bring SLAMM because it thought it was heavier and cooler and more now and interesting. So we did that.
Unfortunately VH1 aired it but they didn't air our show. But we ended up jamming with everyone at the end. So we took out all our trash cans and 55 gallon drums and went out on the stage with Twisted Sister and everybody from the show and ended up jamming with them. So that was pretty cool. And then, you know, that took us into the rest of the year, which is May. So little by little we're building it up. More people are checking it out. We seem to be getting a nice, steady flow of hits on YouTube. And I'm hoping to get a couple hundred thousand hits on it so more people will get to know about SLAMM.
antiMusic: Who else is part of Slamm and how did you find them all?
Carmine: Yeah, they're pretty much unknowns. The only person who had any bit of experience was this guy named Z. Zoilo. We call him Zman. He played with Stomp; he was in the Stomp play. But everyone else is completely unknown. You would have never heard of them. That's what I wanted. I wanted people who wouldn't be complaining. (laughs) I wanted people who had the fire to go out and get it, like I've always had my entire career. And with this, you have. So you end up having a really high energy, cool show, very different from Blue Man Group, different from Stomp, and much more of a rock show than those things are.
antiMusic: You must have gotten a massive response for the auditions?
Carmine: Yeah, we got a lot of response, probably numbered in the hundreds. I'm glad it wasn't 1,000. (laughs) Because we had to go through everyone and it was a long deal because we kept saying to everyone: please send a link to your MySpace, or a link to a video to exactly where you're playing. And what they would send would be a note: here's my MySpace, you go to the link and you don't have a clue where the video is so you have to go searching around. It got to be a nightmare. So we needed up with probably three days of auditioning and went through 40 people of actual auditions. Some of them had problems; some of them didn't live in the area. I needed them to live in New York. I had one guy who wanted to audition fro Sweden. It's like crazy. You can't be flying in from Sweden. I mean, it's hard enough to fly someone in, especially now that the airlines have changed so much. A year ago it was a lot different. So what we're doing now is we have like an east coast-based crew and then we have two or three west coast-based substitutes. We don't have to take everybody to the west coast. And that way it's a little less expensive while we're building this up'
antiMusic: In the promotional video, you're utilizing things like ironing boards. How much experimentation was there in terms of finding things to try that were also visually exciting and were there many things that you had to dismiss because they didn't work out for whatever reason?
Carmine: No not yet. The ironing board thing happened because when we started recording the NASCAR song, we had shipped all our equipment to the east coast because that's where we were doing the gigs. So one of the things we were playing on when we did the demos was an old drain pipe. Where Marcus lived in L.A., there was an old drain pipe that had fallen down in a storm, from his building. So he picked it up, cleaned it up and was playing on it and it had a great sound. But we didn't have that anymore because we were on the east coast now. So we had to look for something. So I said, "What else do you have here?" We had one trash can; we had a couple of buckets. I said, "Do you have anything else metallic?" And he said, "The only thing I have is my ironing board." I said, "Well let's try it." So we put the ironing board down. I sat down and set it up, and I was playing it like I was playing a cello --- the way I was playing it over my shoulder, the way it is in our video. And I said to Marcus, "You know what? We've got to write a song and use an ironing board like a cello. And we got to dress up like an orchestra. And it'll be funny. It'd be hilarious. But then we come out and actually play it and make music out of it and I think it would be great." So that's how that idea happened.
I put the music together and the chanting with the audience and all that. Z, when he's playing with Stomp, he goes out and he has a percussion ensemble like three or four guys. He does like corporate gigs. He does weddings. He does all this weird stuff. He had this routine with the poles. He had a routine with buckets. So out of his routines, he had about 3 or 4 routines, I had to figure out how to incorporate them, put them into the songs we had, and then incorporate the routines and make a show out of it. So that's what I did.
So we used the first routine as the opener, where we're all on the four 55 gallon oil drums. We open up with that. Then we do another little bit with that, where one of the songs that me and Marcus wrote and then we put one of Z's in the middle of that, on those tubs, and then we went onto another bit of his with the buckets, and then we play a song with that. And the end of that goes into a drum ballad on snare drum, which was my idea to do. So a little bit of everything. Then I've got to put things together and what parts work with what songs, and how can we incorporate the bucket bit with what song. There was another song that I wanted to use some electronic scatting of a drum. And so we use it in a song called "Mouthpiece" where we all yell out "slam" you know and beating up on a garbage can and then crushing it, just destroying it, you know.
And the poles had to be put together, so we had this industrial 7/8 song that we put together with them, so now it's called 78 Poles. So that's how things went together.
antiMusic: How did you go about selecting the musical framework for the set? Did you intend to have original music all the way through or did you think about doing any covers or previous stuff you'd done in the past?
Carmine: I wrote all this original music with Marcus. We wrote a bunch of stuff, and then when we started playing we said, you know, let's do "Wipe-out", but not the song, let's just play the drum part. But we did it so fast that we called it "Workout", and then we changed the arrangement and changed it to different things. And then we did "You Keep Me Hanging On", some of the stuff from my history, you know?
So, those were a couple of hits that people know. As this thing develops we will probably need a longer show. Maybe get it in a place where we're doing five nights a week, where we can really concentrate…because now it's hard because I still live in L.A. and New York. To get everyone together and rehearse, they're all over the city, different parts of upstate, out of the city, so even if you rehearse it's sort of a major operation, you know?
It's a lot easier if you're in a place playing two, three, four nights, where you can go in the afternoon and work up some new things. All the gear's there, all the equipment, all the affects, everything's there. But I've got plans, I was thinking of maybe doing a tribute to John Bonham since he's a friend of mine. And maybe doing "Moby Dick". But doing it with this thing. It may be really cool. So yeah, we've got other ideas, maybe doing "Young Turks", another song I do with Rod Stewart.
antiMusic: Excellent. You decided to prepare a promo video to showcase this project. How did that come together?
Carmine: Basically, the first 7 gigs, we filmed the last two gigs, because I knew that I would need some sort of promo video to show managers, agents, promoters. When telling somebody about Slamm, we do this and we do that, but you know it's hard to get. You know, if you didn't see it, it's hard to get an idea of what it actually was, you know what I mean? They'll immediately think of Stomp, and Blue Man Group and think that's what it is, but it really isn't that. It's something totally different. So we hired a video guy to come out and video it and edit and put together. The first piece was like a four minute, a promotion piece basically. And then when we did the New Years Eve gig, we videoed that again, because now we're on a big stage. One of the managers who I was dealing with said, you know this needs to be on a big stage so it doesn't look like it's small, so it looks like it's bigger than life. And I said, yeah, okay. So when we did that show, we videoed it again and then we redid the promo video.
antiMusic: How much practice went into this?
Carmine: Well, we actually rehearsed about three and a half weeks, mostly five hours a day. Some of them were 7 hour rehearsals. And again, preparation had to go on beforehand where me and Marcus distributed to the show members all the different songs that we were going to do, as far as the new stuff that was Slamm songs. "The Slammer" is one of them and "Nawlins Strut" is another one. "Mouthpiece" is another one. "Sinister" is another one. The "7-8 Poles" song. We had a whole array of songs. We had all these different song ideas so we made mp3s and sent them to everybody so they had an idea of what the songs were going to be like. When we actually started playing them, people would know that there are different parts going on in the song so we can give out parts. We can go ok, you play the main part which is this part. And Z you play this with Veronica in this part. And we need somebody on the tubs playing this part. So it was just orchestrating it. And then once we orchestrated, we would try and do one or two songs a day, until we had all the songs down. The hardest one, believe it or not, was "Workout". There's not really much "Wipeout" in it because we did this whole elaborate arrangement on it where everybody played a different part, like for instance there's a break that goes babababa, and then the next guy would go babababa (lower), and the next guy: dadadada, and the next guy would go, ddadadadada, and the tempo would ddididldldddldy, really fast. But it had to be all on, everyone had like one beat or two beats. So that was the hardest thing to arrange, is to get that to where it's tight. We also did that in the ironing board number also but by then, we were tighter, it was easier. But the arrangement for the Wipeout/Workout song was really difficult. That took the most time of any of the things we did. And then we have an 8 foot ladder with two bass drums on top of it which created a really big sound. And I wanted that to be really big also. And use that for big sounding stuff, maybe with the 55 gallon drums. So it was really cool putting all this together. It was like arranging little orchestra parts, you know.
antiMusic: In the video, it looks like you're having a blast. As a drummer, how much fun is it to participate in a project that's predominantly rhythm-based from beginning to end?
Carmine: It's great. It's a lot of fun. This is what I like about the fact that everybody is young and amazing. They go to rehearsal. They'll start working up other routines, new routines just because it's fun, and this is what they love doing. They're not new in it, but they're excited about it. Like the last rehearsal we went, Veronica, Phillipe and Z started flipping sticks around and doing this stick flipping thing, you know, and it looked really cool. So Veronica videoed it and put it on YouTube. (laughs) It's called "Drummer Jam" or something but it was really good. We have lots of fun like that. But there's a bunch of routines that we can still work in to different songs make the show a little better and stronger. We're going start working with a director too to make the show a little more theatrical, you know.
antiMusic: How did you feel after the first show, seeing all your work come together?
Carmine: Well, it was the first show at a smaller venue in New York, and it was amazing. I was really excited. I mean we finished that night and we all said, you know what? It works. It was really a good feeling knowing that it works. Because it could have went the other way too, people could have said "What the hell are they doing? This sucks. I don't like this. This is weird." But I mean, I've been in this business and entertaining people most of my life and I think I have a pretty good handle on what works with what audiences and what doesn't and I think that experience really paid off in putting this together. And the very first show it was pretty tight, and it looked really good. We brought in lights and everything. I bought strobe lights, and more black lights, and a fog machine. And I've got this thing it's called a disappearing drum solo, where I'm going to start introducing in the show also.
antiMusic: What's been the response from any of your counterparts, any body from the past commented on the show?
Carmine: Well, two guys from Cactus checked it out and really liked it. When we played that arena in providence we had like Dee Snider and Twisted Sister and Rod Morgenstein from Winger, and the guys from Tesla and a few others of the guys that saw the show, they loved it. They were raving about it. They came raving about it to me. And every time I see them, even the sound man from Twisted Sister, I saw him a couple of days ago, he was raving to me about the show. So far, everyone that has seen it has been really, very up about it, very excited about it. So the gigs that we have coming up in September, like we're playing BB Kings in New York, will be a big gig for us. I think there's going to be a lot of people, like David Sanborn.
Carmine: He goes to my gym. He wants to come down and see us at BB Kings also. Davey Jones from the Monkees is going to see it at BB Kings. So the word is getting around.
antiMusic: Some of the members must have been intimidated to play along side one of the legendary figures of rock. Did you have a hard time getting anybody over their nerves in the beginning?
Carmine: One of the guys that was in New York moved to L.A. so that gave us 2 guys in L.A. and you know with the way plane flights are now and the hassle with the luggage and everything else, it's too much to fly people in from L.A. to do shows New York. So I had auditions to grab two other people, I had one other guy who was a roadie with us for a while, so he knew a lot of the show. And he's a great drummer and he's a great showman. And we told him, if anything opens up, we'll bring him in. So we brought him in. but I needed one other guy. So we auditioned and that guy was really nervous. And we did our first gig with him on the 25th of May and he was very nervous before the show. We rehearsed with him once. He worked with the video, so he knew his parts. He was very well trained on that. But he was just nervous, because of the show, and working with me and all that. But they get over it after awhile. Then they realize I'm just like one of them. That I can be old enough, I could be their dad, you know? (laughs)
antiMusic: If this takes off, do you intend to work it for awhile or is this just a side gig for you?
Carmine: No, no. if this takes off, this is it. This is what I'm doing. There's a few gigs this year, seven gigs over the whole year. That's not a lot of gigs. It's not easy to book that thing anyway. And the same thing with Cactus. So for me, this could be what I was looking for to play a lot, have fun, create new things and again do something different. Not just going out playing with my old band. I started doing that in 1999, so my career, from when I broke up with Vanilla Fudge and Cactus, from 1972 to 1999…what is that, 27 years? I never went back and played with Cactus, I never went back and played with Vanilla Fudge. Except for the 40th anniversary of Atlantic. Every so often we might do a little something with Vanilla Fudge, but I never depended my career on playing with Vanilla Fudge or Cactus. I always had new things going on. I always kept. My plate was fresh, you know. And it was fun doing that. I might have been more successful being with one band like Vanilla Fudge my whole career if we never broke up. I don't know. But I had a good run of playing with a lot of different things. I did everything. I wrote hit records. I wrote #1 songs. I played in front of 250,000 people. I've played in front of 50 million people on TV. I've done movies. I've produced songs for movies. I shot and directed instructional videos and my own Drum Wars which is like a mini movie. I've done everything you know. And now, this for me is like, if my career ends with Slamm, it would be a great way to end a career. Because it's all drums. And my whole dream, all my career was to bring the drums out front like Gene Crupa did. And that's what I've done many times throughout my career and this would be a great way to continue and finish a career. Like when you get old enough to say I'm going to retire---if that ever happens.
You know, I'm not planning on retiring any time soon. And hopefully if it gets really successful, knock on wood, pray to GOD!!!...if it gets real successful where I can have a troupe running around in Europe and in a theatre in Vegas and a troupe running around America and one in Asia, that would be my dream for this. Because it definitely has that kind of potential.
antiMusic: At this point in your career, you have played with a who's who of rock names from Beck to Pink Floyd. Is there anybody you wish you had played with or a project you wish you had been involved with?
Carmine: I mean, I wish Led Zeppelin would have continued and I ended up playing with them, replacing my friend John Bonham who you know, listened to my playing and had a lot of the same kind of feel and fills the way I play it, I think I would have fit in really well with Led Zeppelin. I would have maybe liked to do that. Otherwise, there's not really anybody that I would think, wow I wish I could have…well maybe there is. Maybe I wish I would have played with the Police. (laughs)
antiMusic: (laughs) I didn't expect that.
Carmine: There you go. I love The Police. I love the kind of music. I love what they're doing. I think the drum parts are great. I would play them like Stewart Copeland because you know, he came up with a whole new style of drumming, as far as I'm concerned. But you know, pretty much, I don't sit there and go, man I wish I would have played with Clapton, or I wish I would have played with, I don't know, (laughs) Nirvana. (laughs) You know what I mean?
antiMusic: (laughs) Yeah, yeah.
Carmine: Because I pretty much played with all the people who I love. I loved Rod's voice. I always thought he was the best front man in rock. I ended up playing with him. I always thought Jeff Beck was the best one out of the three in The Yardbirds. I played with him. I wanted to play with John Sykes and Tony Franklin with Blue Murder. I played with them. Edgar Winter I played with him. I always thought he was great. I never thought about playing with him. But then once I was playing with him I was very happy that I did. I always liked Pat Travers. I played on albums with him and I toured with Pat. I liked Ozzy. I played with Ozzy. I liked Jake E Lee as a guitarist and I played with him. I love Bob Daisley as a bass player, he was in the Ozzy band too. So you know, there's not much going on… I loved Stanley Clarke, I played with Stanley Clarke with Jeff Beck. So there's not a lot that goes by me.
antiMusic: Vanilla Fudge was the prototype for heavy bands, with your drumming setting the course for a generation to come. What was your mindset when starting this band in terms of how you approach the rhythm to these songs?
Carmine: Well, in those days, it was different from today. There were no p.a. systems, and my style evolved from necessity because I had to flip the sticks backwards. I had to bang on the drums hard which eventually led me to get bigger drums. It's like anything: bigger amp, bigger louder sound. Bigger drums, louder sound. So I ended up getting oversized drums, which ended up becoming a fad. And then I ended up getting John Bonham the drum set that he wanted which was the same as my drum set. It became the Led Zeppelin drum set. So indirectly I was involved in creating that Led Zeppelin drum set which indirectly helped get the Led Zeppelin drum sound. Then I look at even Spinal Tap, they have the drummer on a riser with two Chinese cymbals and a gong. Those are the two things that I brought. One of the things that I brought was the gong. The other thing was the two Chinas on the boom stand. And the other thing was just the big drum set, the big oversized drum set which became sort of the epitome of what the rock drummer was and with all the twirls and everything, it's probably a combination of me and Keith Moon on that one. So I did it out of necessity. And then looking back, and people going "wow, you created a whole new genre of rock playing that's still going on today." And I go, "Yeah, I guess you're right, but I didn't sit down and go, hmmm, I need to create a new genre of rock playing. Let me see how I can do that." You know?
And that's usually how things happen. When Led Zeppelin first opened for Vanilla Fudge, John Bonham and Robert Plant were brand new kids. They were green. Nobody knew how big this group was going to be. And that's the way things happen. The Beatles when they got together, they never thought they were going to change the world. They just wanted to play music and have fun, you know. But they ended up changing the world.
So you never know when something happens. If it happens from...magically or necessity… And then all of a sudden, we…me and Ludwig changed the face of rock drumming.
antiMusic: Absolutely. Your songwriting aspect was something that surprised a lot of people even though you had been writing with Vanilla Fudge from the beginning. Tell us how your Rod Stewart period came about and do you remember how "Do You Think I'm Sexy" came about? There must have been a lot of laughs while that song was being put together?
Carmine: Well, it was. Rod was very…I don't know what he is like now, but when I was with him, he'd always look at the charts and see what was happening. Like when Bruce Springsteen came out, he'd look at that, and he'd want to do some songs like that. When the Rolling Stones did "Miss You", he said, "I want a song like that". And that's what I based "Do You Think I'm Sexy" off of. The same tempo. I came up with these chord changes on the keyboards at my house at that time. And then I went to my friend Dwayne Hitching's studio and we put it down in the studio. And Dwayne made it sound a lot better because he had a drum machine and a bass and he had all the instruments there. And he played keyboards and I didn't. So when we put it together and we presented to Rod, he really liked it. Except we just gave him the music. All we had was the bridge melody (hums it). You know, that melody there. But the rest we had a verse and we had a chorus as far as musically. And then Rod came up with the dadadadada, he came up with that. He came up with the lyrics. But you know we recorded this song so many times to get the right feel, once he made a song out of it. We recorded it and recorded it, a good ten different days trying to record it, to get what he wanted out of it. And we did it. And then on the next, or two albums after that, we did "Young Turks", me and Dwayne Hitchings wrote "Young Turks" with Rod. Again, that was another thing. That was a drum machine. That's when drum machines were just starting to come about. People were using them on records because they sounded like real drums. So we used a drum machine and I played the high hat and I played the real cymbals to make it a little more realistic. I was also sort co-producing that record, you know.
antiMusic: I guess then, just in closing, how long is your show, and where would you like it to end up?
Carmine: Our show right now is about an hour and 10 minutes. I'd like it to be a 90 minute show, with maybe an intermission, or not an intermission. I don't really care. But ultimately I would like to see it in a casino in Vegas or a three or four month run every year, or a month every year. And then a month later you go to a casino in Reno and you play there for a month. And then you go to a casino in Atlantic City and play for a month. And then you might go to some other casinos and play for a week. So you end up doing that kind of thing with it. and then building it up and maybe try to get it into some sort of TV commercial or something where you get some recognition, immediate recognition, and then just keep building it, you know.
Because it's not about a hit record. I mean we could probably do some recording and maybe go after the dance market and sort of get a name that way. Or maybe do a live DVD and go after people buying the live show rather than just music, because it's not just music, it's a definite show. If you hear the music without the show, it's different. And then if you hear the show without the music, it's different you know. (laughs) The show is nothing without the music. I think the whole package is a DVD kind of set up; a visual and audio thing. Whether it's a DVD or a new download format that people could do.