Song Writing

Carmine Appice Talks Guitar Zeus

by Carl Wiser

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Only Carmine Appice could gather Brian May, Slash, Ted Nugent, Richie Sambora, Zakk Wylde, Leslie West, Mick Mars and several other guitar gods (and one goddess: Jennifer Batten) for the same collection. It's called Guitar Zeus, an Olympian compilation that started with albums in 1995 and 1997, and is now being re-released with five new tracks. Every song was written by Carmine and/or one of his band members, singer/multi-instrumentalist Kelly Keeling and fretless bass player Tony Franklin.

Carmine has the personality, persistence and bona fides to pull this off. He came to power in 1967 with Vanilla Fudge, a heavy rock band that transmogrified the Supremes classic "You Keep Me Hangin' On" into a slow-burning hit. When Led Zeppelin came to America in 1968, they were openers for The Fudge. In 1972, Carmine formed Beck, Bogert & Appice with Jeff Beck and his Vanilla Fudge bassist Tim Bogert, then in 1976 he joined Rod Stewart's band, where he co-wrote Stewart's hits "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" and "Young Turks." We extracted these song stories and got the real story about that first Led Zeppelin show when we spoke with Carmine in 2004. Here, we talk Guitar Zeus and learn about some specific songs that influenced Van Halen.
Carmine with Brian May
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Do you know how to play guitar?

Carmine Appice: I can play guitar a bit. Enough to write songs. On this album, there's a few songs that I actually wrote the riffs on. We have a special tuning that we did on this album. It's a unique kind of tuning where you use one finger to play chords. "This Time Around," I wrote the main riff for that. I wrote the main riff for a song called "Nothing," that heavy riff on the guitar with that special tuning. And then there was a song called "Angels" - I wrote pretty much all the music and the melodies to that and Kelly Keeling wrote the lyrics.

I would say to Kelly, "Why don't we do a riff like this?", and then I would mouth it. Kelly Keeling is an amazing talent. He's one of those guys that's so talented that he's a bit spaced, almost like a genius. The guy plays guitar, bass, keyboard, sings his butt off, and he's great in the production area as well. All the wild sounds on the vocals were created by Kelly. We used a Zoom on the voice a lot to give it some crazy effects. The song "Gonna Rain," there's all these wild effects on the background vocals. It's got all kinds of phasing and all kinds of crazy effects on it, and that's Kelly adding his influence to the song.

When we did these records, I would put him in the hotel with my 4-track machine and I'd go over there in the day like from 12 to maybe 7 at night and we'd work on songs and put ideas together. Then I would leave him and he would stay up 'til 5 in the morning editing and doing vocals for the demos. I'd go back at 12 or 1 o'clock the next day, he'd have slept like six, seven hours and we'd pick up where we left off.

It was amazing, with lyrical content that goes between very spiritual stuff and saves-the-world kind of stuff - there's not a lot of love triangles and hurting love. "Under The Moon And Sun" is a song about God being with you all the time. And if you listen to the lyrics, it's saying, "I've been here all the time, walking beside you." You know, the 40 days in the desert that Moses did. It has all those spiritual elements in it.

Songfacts: How about "Nobody Knew" with Brian May? Can you talk about that one?

Appice: Well, "Nobody Knew," if you listen to the lyrics, at the end he says, "There's a hole in our blue sky." He's saying that the government is doing stuff just for money and destroying the Earth.

It was written in 1995, so when they go, "Here we are the year 2000, looking through glass with oxygen masks," it's talking about the future. And it said, "Nobody knows who is running the White House, it's painted all black now," and then we got Obama, so it was sort of like a premonition that we were going to have a black president and the country was still going to have all these problems with pollution and destroying the Earth.

Songfacts: So the tracks were written when the guitarists added their parts?

Appice: Yeah. The tracks were written and recorded by me, Tony Franklin and Kelly Keeling. So Kelly would play rhythm guitar, I'd play drums, Tony would play bass. We'd put all the tracks down, and then we would farm it out to different guitar players to come in and do a solo, but if they wanted to, they could do more. Like, Zakk Wylde did more - he wanted to put some rhythm on it. I think Bran May put a little more rhythm on it. Yngwie [Malmsteen] just did the leads. Everybody was different.

I did everything on analog with these records because they were actually recorded in '95 and '97. They were released in Japan and Europe - never really released here. Both times I tried to release here, the record company failed or went out of business or something. A couple of them put it up on YouTube but they never did anything to promote it, so nobody knows about these records. And they are tremendous records.

Songfacts: How did you get these guitarists?

Appice: At the time, Queen wasn't playing, Neal Schon wasn't with Journey. Slash wasn't with Guns N' Roses, Steve Morse had just joined Deep Purple, Dweezil Zappa wasn't doing anything. When I got Mick Mars, Mötley Crüe had sort of broken up and not too much was happening with them. Everybody came back and became huge again, so we said, "Maybe we should re-release this in America finally with a good push, put it on all the platforms." This is the first time it's coming out with a push.

Songfacts: What makes Brian May such a special guitarist?

Appice: Well, he plays different than most people. He plays really intricate, almost classical guitar parts. Queen, a lot of stuff they do has classical overtones to it. He's got a very "bitey" sound, but I think what makes him special is his choice of notes.

What I like about him on my record, he plays with a wah-wah, and he didn't have to really work it out, he just played. And I don't remember ever hearing him play with a wah-wah on Queen records. He gave me two choices: one with the wah-wah, one without. I took the wah-wah, and it was awesome.

He's a beautiful man. I've been friends with him for a long time, and recently when that movie came out [Bohemian Rhapsody], I emailed him and he emailed me right back. I told him we were doing this and he said, "Good luck with it." I said, "Man, you've come back with a vengeance."

I remember when he and I sat watching Aerosmith at the Forum in LA around the time we were doing this in the '90s. He said, "Man, I'd love to get back playing again." Well, he sure came back playing.

Guitar Zeus tracklist with guitarists

"Mothers Space" - Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal
"Gonna Rain" - Richie Sambora
"4 Miles High" - Steve Morse
"Nobody Knew" - Brian May
"Where You Belong" - Slash
"Out of Mind" - Neal Schon
"This Time Around - Yngwie Malmsteen / Dug Pinnick (vocals)
"Nothing" - John Norum
"Doin' Fine" - Vivian Campbell
"Under the Moon and Sun" - Mick Mars / Edgar Winter
"Code 19" - Zakk Wylde
"Days Are Nights" - Ted Nugent
"Do Ya think I'm Sexy" - Pat Travers
"Angels" - Char
"Guitar Zeus, Pt. 1" - Jennifer Batten
"Safe" - Neal Schon
"Dead Wrong" - Dweezil Zappa
"Trippin' Again" - Ty Tabor
"Even Up the Score" - Ted Nugent
"Dislocated" - Paul Gilbert
"Stash" - Stevie Salas / John McEnroe
"Perfect Day" - Warren DeMartini
"Killing Time" - Ty Tabor
"So Long" - Doug Aldrich
"My Own Advice" - Kenji Kitajima
"Time to Set Alarms" - Elliot Easton / Bob Daisley
"GZ Blues" - Seymour Duncan / Steven Seagal
"Guitar Zeus, Pt. 2" - Leslie West / Jennifer Batten
"Where you Belong" - Paul Gilbert
"Cruzin" - Denny Laine
"Couldn't Be Better" - RaiZi
"Snake" - Bruce Kulick
Songfacts: One guy you have a long history with is Ted Nugent, and he's on a couple of these tracks. What about him makes him a distinctive guitarist?

Appice: When Jimi Hendrix came out, Ted was with the Amboy Dukes and he was playing that kind of stuff. He's got a sound and a feel, and he knows how to jam. Some of these guitar players don't know how to jam - not the ones on my record, but some guitar players have to work out every part. But Ted definitely knows how to jam, and he definitely has a sound. He always plays a Byrdland Gibson which has a hollow body and a certain sound to it. Ted has a sound and feel of his own, and he played probably better on this record than I've heard him play on his own records. You know, with the rhythm section of me, Kelly and Tony it's hard not to play your best because we're right up there kickin' ass [laughs].

Carmine in Ted Nugent's band, circa 1982
Both of the songs with Ted are fairly uptempo. "Even up the Score" is really uptempo and he really loved playing that. The other one ["Days Are Nights"], I went with the tape to Detroit and I got him in his own studio. He was doing his guitar, and he's got a gun in his back on his belt. I love Ted. Ted's a good guy - we always connect at Christmastime and we always hang out. We call each other every year.

Songfacts: Which of the guitarists that came in surprised you by what they played?

Appice: John Norum on that "Nothing" track. That really surprised me because he really played his ass off.

The funny thing is, I recorded most of these between '95 and '97, and some of them were never released, like "Angels," John Norum's track "Nothing," "Mother Space." Now, "Mother Space" has its own story, and that's the lead track - we have the lyric video coming out in a couple of weeks. That track was never finished, so I found the 24-track in my locker and I transferred it to ProTools. It was a great track, so I asked Bumble [Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal] if he'd play on it, and he said, "oh yeah, I would love to play on it."

So, I put Bumblefoot on it and then my guy that mixes, Stevie D, I asked him for some heavier guitars on the riffs to distinguish it from Bumblefoot. So, in the mix we got Stevie on the right and on the left doing fill-in leads of the mix and then when Bumblefoot comes in, he's in the middle, so he makes a distinction of the guitar players.

Songfacts: Carmine, what did you learn from your time with Jeff Beck regarding guitar?

Appice: Regarding guitar, not regarding personalities right? [laughs]

Songfacts: Yes. Guitar.

Appice: Well, I learned that Jeff is probably the best and probably the most listened-to guitarist of all those guys from the Yardbirds, because he was always going after new stuff. But I used to hear all his cool solos but I never knew how he came about them. Then I found out that he came about them by putting three or four solos down and then combining them. The first time we worked with Jeff was 1968 or '69 when we did the Coke commercials with Vanilla Fudge and our guitar player couldn't make it. And because we had the same attorney, he got Jeff Beck to replace him and that's when we did the first recording with Jeff and he did the solos like that. So, it was really a nice, enlightening thing to see him doing that.

Songfacts: You've had a chance to witness so many of these incredible guitarists at work. Is there one of them that had a workflow, or some way of doing things that you thought was really special?

Appice: Well, sometimes we made it special. Everybody pretty much had the same ideas: come in and do their thing. When Slash came in, we had a bottle of whiskey and we had candles and incense going... we just made a vibe. He was the only one that we did that for. Zakk Wylde, he came in and just blasted off. Ty Tabor came in and just blasted off. I went to Texas to get Ty and Dug Pinnick on the first album and when we went in that studio they were in there ready to rock.

Songfacts: Carmine, we talked about what distinguishes some of these guitarists. As a drummer, what distinguishes you?

Appice: Me? Well, first of all, my sound, my feel, my choice of drum fills - I'm noted for certain drum fills that I sort of invented. I'm one of the originals - that's my claim to fame, I guess. People say, well who is better, you or Vinny? [Carmine's younger brother is Vinny Appice, also a heavy hitter.] And I say, I'm the original.

But I'm noted for things like the drum fills you hear on "Even Up The Score," which is sort of like "Hot For Teacher," which came from the Cactus song "Parchman Farm." So, I'm noted for that and I'm noted for my feel - I have a rock and a soul sort of funk kind of feel, but I'm really heavy. I think that's what distinguishes me.

In the space between Vanilla Fudge and Beck, Bogert & Appice (1970-1972), Carmine was in a band called Cactus with Tim Bogert and Jim McCarty.
Carmine with Edgar Winter
Songfacts: Did you say that "Hot For Teacher" came from a Cactus riff you came up with?

Appice: Yes, and "Eruption" came from a Cactus thing also.

Songfacts: Which track?

Appice: Listen to the beginning of a song called "Let Me Swim" - at the beginning of "Let Me Swim" is "Eruption."

Songfacts: Last thing I have for you Carmine: I just want to get your thoughts on what it's like having "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" become this incredible song for Rod Stewart and also an important song for you.

Appice: Unbelievable. That's all I can say. I never expected it, and I still can't believe it. It was a huge song making giant royalties, but it went down to hardly any royalties at all because nobody buys records anymore. So basically, I sold my rights back to Warner Bros. I kept my ASCAP, which is the airplay rights, but I got a chunk of money that I've been investing in real estate because, the mechanicals, sales, have gone down to nothing.

But it's an incredible song that keeps resurfacing, and it resurfaced last year with Rod and Nick Jonas redoing it. I've yet to see it in a really good commercial that's worth the song. You would think Cadillac or Mercedes or Victoria's Secret would use it, but the only commercial we ever had was 10 years ago and it was Chips Ahoy cookies. It didn't make any sense.

Yeah, it's pretty amazing. When we wrote it and put it together, nobody thought it was going to be so big - I certainly didn't. My friend Barry Goldberg had a hit song with "I've Got to Use My Imagination." He made $25,000 on it and I said, "Wow, 25 grand would be great." And this way surpassed that.

January 22, 2019
At long last, Guitar Zeus is available on a number of streaming platforms. You might also enjoy these interviews:

Steve Vai
Steve Morse
Joe Satriani
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