Songwriter Interviews

Carmine Appice

by Carl Wiser

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One of the greatest drummers in rock is also responsible for "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." Carmine Appice co-wrote that song and another Rod Stewart hit, "Young Turks," when he was part of Stewart's band in the late '70s. A decade earlier, he was in Vanilla Fudge, which packed arenas and peppered the charts with cataclysmic covers of songs like "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and "Season Of The Witch."

There's a lot of rock history here, including Led Zeppelin's first American tour, when they opened for Vanilla Fudge in 1968. In this talk from 2004, Appice takes us through many of these memorable moments, starting with the "Sexy" story.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): How did "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" come about?

Carmine Appice: We were in the studio and "Miss You" by The Rolling Stones was a big hit. Rod was always a guy that used to listen to what was going on around him. He was always looking at the charts and listening. He was a big fan of The Rolling Stones, so when they came out with "Miss You," disco was really big at the time, so he wanted to do some kind of disco-y song, but nothing like Gloria Gaynor.

With the band, he would always tell us, "I want a song like this" or "I want a song like that," so I went home and I came up with a bunch of chords and a melody. I presented it to him via a friend of mine, Duane Hitchings, who is a songwriter who had a little studio. We went in his studio with his drum machines and his keyboards, and he made my chords sound better. We gave Rod a demo of the verses and the bridge, and Rod came up with the chorus.

We played it with the band many, many ways before we got the correct arrangement with Tom Dowd. Unfortunately, they put so much stuff on it that it dwarfed the sound of the band. It made the band sound smaller because it had strings and two or three keyboard players, congas, and drums. When we were doing it, we thought it was going to be more like The Rolling Stones with just the band playing it. It came out and went to #1 everywhere.

If you look at the lyrics, it was a story. Rod told stories in his songs: "The Killing Of Georgie" was a story, "Tonight's The Night" was a story. Any of his songs are like little, mini-stories. This was a story of a guy meeting a chick in a club. At that time, that was a cool saying.

If you listen to the lyrics, "She sits alone, waiting for suggestions, he's so nervous..." it's the feelings of what was going on in a dance club. The guy sees a chick he digs, she's nervous and he's nervous and she's alone and doesn't know what's going on, then they end up at his place having sex, and then she's gone.

Songfacts: How about "Young Turks"?

Appice: "Young Turks" was written by me and Duane in his studio. Duane had just gotten this drum machine - Rod was always trying to be on the cutting edge at that time, so we did drum machine stuff. Duane had just gotten a sequencer, so we started screwing around and came up with the chords and melodies, then we presented it to Rod.

This one was easy because we used the whole concept that we came up with. We just transferred it from the 8-track that Duane had going right onto the 24-track. We used the drum machine and everything. Once we gave Rod the music, he wrote the lyrics.

Songfacts: Do you have any insight on the lyrics?

Appice: In English slang, a "Young Turk" was a rebellious kind of teenager that would go against the grain. That was the story of this guy Billy leaving his town and getting his chick pregnant. It was another story. It was a great chorus.

Rod would put the lyric melody to the music we came up with. On that one, we used a drum machine, and I played hi-hat and cymbals overdubbed to the drum machine.

Songfacts: The video for that one has the distinction of being the first with breakdancing.

Carmine in the "Hot Legs" video
Appice: The videos were cutting edge. He had top-of-the line people. When I first joined him, the first video we did was for "Hot Legs," and that was a great video. It was played all over the world. For every album we did with Rod, we did two or three videos. There were a lot of stations that would play videos. There were video outlets in Australia and England. Top Of The Pops would play the videos all the time.

Songfacts: With Vanilla Fudge, you did a famous cover of the Motown song "You Keep Me Hangin' On." How did that come about?

Appice: In 1966, when I joined the band, there was a thing going around the New York area and Long Island that was basically slowing songs down, making production numbers out of them and putting emotion into them. The Vagrants were doing it, they had Leslie West in the band. The Rich Kids were doing it, they had this writer named Richard Supa. The Hassles were doing it, they had Billy Joel. It all started from The Rascals, I think.

We were all looking for songs that were hits and could be slowed down with emotion put into them. "You Keep Me Hangin' On" lyrically was a hurtin' kind of song, and when The Supremes did it, it was like a happy song. We tried to slow down the song and put the emotion the song should have into it with the hurtin' kind of feeling the song should have. We slowed it down and put the emotion into it.

When I was with Rod, he always said to me, "I wish I had done that song, it's such a great song the way you guys did it." I said to Rod, "Why don't you do it? I'm in the band, it will give you an excuse to do it." So we put together an arrangement a little different than The Fudge. It was similar in that it was slowed-down, but the whole middle section was a piano and orchestra thing. When we did it live, it came out tremendous. When I was on stage in 1977, playing "You Keep Me Hangin' On," with Rod, I was thinking how 10 years before I was on arena stages playing it with The Fudge.

Songfacts: That was the first Vanilla Fudge single. How did that happen?

Appice: Our manager had a connection with Shadow Morton, and he connected it with us. The object was to get us in the studio. When he saw us, he loved us, and we cut "You Keep Me Hangin' On" in one-take mono. One take, straight to tape.

Songfacts: You also did the Junior Walker song "Shotgun."

Appice: With "Shotgun," we always liked the rhythm part, we always liked the song, so we thought we'd do it as Vanilla Fudge and do a wild arrangement on it.

Songfacts: What was your approach to covering "Eleanor Rigby"?

Appice: Most of the songs we did, we tried to take out of the realm they were in and try to put them where they were supposed to be in our eyes. "Eleanor Rigby" was always a great song by The Beatles. It was done with the orchestra, but the way we did it, we put it into an eerie graveyard setting and made it spooky, the way the lyrics read. "Some Velvet Morning" we did the same thing to that.

"Ticket To Ride," that's a hurtin' song, so we slowed it down so it wouldn't be so happy. We would look at lyrics and the lyrics would dictate if it was feasible to do something with it or not.

Songfacts: And you saw something in the Backstreet Boys song "I Want It That Way."

Appice: That is a great song. Whenever I used to hear that song, I used to hear Vanilla Fudge harmony behind it with the spooky kind of organ. The lyrics didn't dictate that song as much as the mood. That was another one where we said, "Let's just put on a great arrangement and make it really sound Fudge. Put some emotional vocals in there and stuff."

Vanilla Fudge made five albums before splitting up in 1970. Carmine and Fudge bass player Tim Bogert formed a band called Cactus, then in 1972 teamed with Jeff Beck to form Beck, Bogert & Appice. That group split in 1974 ("both Jeff and Timmy are kinda temperamental," Appice explained at the time), and Carmine re-formed The Fudge, the first of their many resurrections. One notable reunion was at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert in 1988, where Led Zeppelin also performed.
Songfacts: And you gave the Fudge treatment to one of your own songs when you did "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" with the group.

Appice: The way we ended up doing "Sexy," when we started playing together again, after the gigs we'd sit by the merch table and sign autographs, and a lot of fans came up to me and said, "Why don't you guys do 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy'? Rod doesn't do it much anymore, you co-wrote it, and you guys could probably do a great arrangement on it." I had just done an arrangement on the song for myself for my MP3 site, which ended up going to #1 on the covers charts on MP3.com. I thought it would be really cool to take that arrangement and mix it up with Vanilla Fudge, put an organ intro and see what happens. We tried it and we did it live. We thought we'd stop at a point and see if people would sing the song, and they did. They gave us a great reaction, so we thought, Maybe we should record this.

Vanilla Fudge promotional card with Carmine's name misspelled
Songfacts: What are some other songs that get a great reaction when you play them?

Appice: "People Get Ready" is a heavy-duty favorite in our live performance. Whenever we do "People Get Ready," we usually get a standing ovation.

In the middle '60s, we were into Beatles stuff - Revolver and all that - and we were also into the R&B stuff: The Temptations, The Impressions, The Supremes. The Impressions were a favorite of mine, and I believe of [fellow Fudgies] Tim Bogert and Mark Stein as well. We came across "People Get Ready" and said, "This would be a great song." It sounds like a gospel song, let's make it sound like a churchy, gospel-type song.

We came up with a very symphonic kind of intro, as we've done with many songs, but most of the song was done just with an organ and a vocal, and I actually sang that. With the background harmonies singing, 'Thank the lord,' it made it sound very gospely. At the end, it built into a big, powerful last verse and chorus, and then it went out with gospel vocals. That was a great arrangement for us, and today it still goes over great.

These songs definitely have longevity. When we did them, we never thought that 30 years later, we'd still be talking about them.

Songfacts: What was it like having Led Zeppelin open for you on their first US tour?

Appice: It was great. People can't believe it now, but when they came over, they were green. They were a brand new band, nobody knew Robert Plant, nobody knew John Paul Jones, nobody knew John Bonham. Their first date with us was Vanilla Fudge and Spirit [the band involved in the nagging "Stairway To Heaven" lawsuit], and we were already sold out when they were added to the show.

When they went on, the audience was yelling, "Bring on The Fudge." It was hilarious. I remember telling Robert Plant he should move around more on the stage. In March [2004], we went to Europe, played England, and Robert came up to jam with The Fudge. We told that story on stage and we both had a chuckle about it. Then they became so big. I got John Bonham a Ludwig endorsement, the same drums that I had, which were big 26 bass drums - a totally unique Ludwig kit that started all these crazy sizes. Bonzo saw it and loved it, so I got him the endorsement. Six months later when they came back to tour again, we toured together again, but this time it was equal bill. They got so big so fast, then they went on to become the biggest band in the world. We played with Hendrix, Cream, The Who, and at times, we blew everybody off the stage. We were a very hard act to follow. We were known for being very aggressive live and different from anyone else. We were wondering who was going to blow us off the stage - it was Led Zeppelin.

Songfacts: Did you play on a Pink Floyd song?

Appice: Yes. I was on "Dogs Of War."

Songfacts: How did that happen?

Appice: I don't do a lot of studio albums, just a few here and there. I came home one day and there was a message on my machine from Bob Ezrin [producer of Pink Floyd's A Momentary Lapse of Reason album]. He said, "Hey Carmine, I'm in the studio with Pink Floyd and there's a track that's just screaming for some Carmine fills." I called him back, I said, "Where's Nick Mason?" He said, "He's here, but he's a bit rusty and everybody wants a bit of a change, so they're bringing in guest drummers."

So I went down and did it - it was pretty wild. Nick was there. I said, "Why aren't you playing?" He said, "Well, I've been racing my cars, my callouses are soft..."

Bob said they were just looking for a little different inspiration from the drumming.

All I did was fill up a 24-track with drum parts and they edited it all together. I didn't hear the whole drum part until the album came out. Every time I'd ask Bob, "What about it?," he'd have one word - Daring.

Songfacts: Did you record with Ozzy Osbourne at some point?

Appice: At the end of Bark At The Moon I was in the studio with Ozzy as sort of an associate producer. I was in the video. I didn't play on it, but I acted like I played on it in the "Bark At The Moon" video.

We spoke with Carmine on December 8, 2004. The information was used in various Songfacts entries, and was posted here in full form on January 16, 2019. For more formidable drummers of rock renown, check out our interviews with Carl Palmer and Don Brewer. Carmine's website is carmineappice.net.
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