Note: This interview originally appeared in two parts in The Houston Press.
He may be a senior citizen, but 67-year-old classic rock skin thumper Carmine Appice will have a busier 2014 than you for sure.
In addition to co-launching a new startup label, Rocker Records, he has rehearsal and recording sessions with a new group, and a busy slate of live gigs with three different bands.
He is also working with a writer on his autobiography, the opening scene of which he says takes place in my town of Houston. Appice has also drummed for Rod Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, Blue Murder, and Beck, Bogert, and Appice.
“Oh yeah, that’s how I’m opening the thing, in Houston. Because that’s where I got fired from Ozzy’s band!” Appice laughs. And while he wants to save details of the ousting after the February 17, 1984 show at the Summit during Osbourne’s Bark at the Moon tour for the book, he will give some details of the night involving a local radio personality.
“I have been friends with [then-KLOL disc jockey and current motivational speaker/coach] Dayna Steele for a long time, and I was staying at her house that night,” Appice recalls.
“I drove her car to the gig. And then Sharon [Osbourne, Ozzy’s wife/manager] fired me after the show, so I drove back right away. Dayna was looking for me at the gig, but I was already back at her place, and she didn’t know where I was with her car!”
Of Appice’s other projects for the year, he will be part of a new hard rock supergroup, the appropriately-named Legacy X, with vocalist Joe Lynn Turner (ex-Rainbow, Deep Purple), bassist Tony Franklin (ex-Firm, Blue Murder), and guitarist Jeff Watson (ex-Night Ranger).
Then there are live dates with the relauched Cactus. And then he will also be doing more “Drum Wars” shows with brother and fellow drummer Vinny Appice (ex-Black Sabbath, Dio, Heaven & Hell) in which the duo and a full band play material from both of their lengthy careers. The show culminates in a pound-off between the two siblings.
But perhaps the most intriguing stint will be his shows with “The Rod Experience.” It’s a multi-media Rod Stewart “tribute” show featuring former members of his band (Appice and bassist Phil Chen from the original lineup, guitarists Jimmy Crespo and Danny Johnson from later incarnations).
Rounding out the band will be keyboardist Alan St. Jon (ex-Billy Squier) and, on vocals, Rick St. James impersonating Stewart – complete with blonde rooster hair wig and white leopard print tights.
Appice himself co-write two of Stewart’s biggest hits, “Young Turks” and the dance warhorse “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” How the latter came about owes a bit of thanks to…Mick Jagger.
“Rod used to listen to what was on the charts all the time. He would hear something and come to the band and say ‘I want something that sounds like that or that.’ And we’d come back with ideas,” Appice recalls.
“So he wanted a song like ‘Miss You’ by the Rolling Stones. I went back to my house where I had a keyboard and drum machine and put my ideas down, then went to [producer and songwriter] Duane Hitchings’ house studio and polished it,” he continues.
“We presented it to Rod, and he loved it. He came up with the chorus line, we then we had the verse and bridge done, and that was it…I never expected it to be so big!”
As for Cactus, they were one of the most underappreciated hard rock ‘n’ boogie bands of the era. Few would have predicted their short, but prickly story would still not be finished in 2014.
Formed in 1969 and hailed by Creem magazine (somewhat prematurely) as “the American Led Zeppelin,” Cactus was a semi-supergroup bringing together members of Vanilla Fudge (Tim Bogert, bass; Appice, drums), Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes (Rusty Day, vocals), and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels (Jim McCarty, guitar).
But by 1971 after three records and scores of live gigs, the classic quartet split amidst (what else?) drugs, egos, and creative differences, with a different lineup producing a final LP.
Cut to June 3, 2006 when a Cactus grew again as Appice, Bogert, and McCarty took the stage at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York City for their first gig together in decades. The trio also brought Jimmy Kunes (ex-Brownsville Station) on vocals – as Day was murdered in a 1982 drug deal gone bad – and Randy Pratt on harmonica.
A live CD of that show, Cactus Live in the U.S.A., is one of four initial releases from Appice and partner Mike Cusanelli’s new startup label, Rocker Records (a DVD of the show was previously released, and bootleg CDs had already appeared).
Others in the batch include Bogert and Appice: Friends, Travers and Appice: TNA Live in Europe, and Cactus Live in Japan, and are available for download at Rocker Records.
“That was an amazing show, and who would have thought it would have happened?” Appice. “We had already been doing some recording for what became the record Cactus V, and got an offer to play the Swedish Rock Festival. But we needed a warm up gig, so that show at B.B. King’s worked out great.”
It turns out that the impetus for the three-quarters reunion was musician Pratt, a “billionaire” (thanks to inheritance, according to Appice) and huge band of the band and whose late father was the CEO of Pfizer.
As for replacing the charismatic Day, Appice says Kunes had a challenge, but met it.
“Sometimes it was scary he sounded so much like Rusty. [But while] Rusty was a great front man and could get the crowd in the palm of his hands, but he wasn’t a great singer, just like Mick Jagger,” Appice says. “But he did write incredible lyrics. I mean, just listen to ‘Alaska,’ ‘Restrictions,’ and ‘One Way or Another.’”
Today, Cactus continues to tour, though Bogert has since left the group.
Appice says that the idea for Rocker Records came after he had some business dealings with Cusanelli, who inquired if Appice or any of his many other classic rock pals had material they’d like to release.
“He was looking for bootlegs, live shows, unreleased things, and I looked on my hard drive and had a lot of it. And the live CD with [Pat] Travers actually came from a fan.” Appice offers. “So we cleaned them up, remastered them, and here you have the first four records.”
At this stage, the current and future Rocker music is available only as digital downloads. And while Appice doesn’t rule out physical releases, he says that the realities of the music industry today provide some steep challenges.
“The way the business is today, there’s no way to sell hard copies – especially for music like this – unless you’re AC/DC or Van Halen and you make a deal with Wal-Mart,” Appice laughs. “Plus, given our [age demographic], some of our fans might not even know how to use a computer to download stuff!”
For more on Carmine, visit his website at www.carmineappice.com