Like most metal fans, I became familiar with Vinny Appice when he replaced Bill Ward in Black Sabbath. Just like Ronnie James Dio did a tremendous job filling Ozzy Osbourne’s shoes in Black Sabbath, Vinny similarly did a great job filling Bill Ward’s shoes. Like Dio, he did not try to imitate his predecessor, but went for a more original style that was nevertheless able to fit into the unique Sabbath style. Vinny drummed his way through classic Sabbath albums such as Mob Rules and Live Evil. When Ronnie James Dio first left Black Sabbath in 1983, he took Vinny with him, forming the band Dio. During his tenure with Dio, he recorded such legendary metal classics such as Holy Diver, The Last in Line and Dream Evil. He would leave with Dio bassist Jimmy Bain to form World War III, only to be called back to Black Sabbath to record their reunion album Dehumanizer. After Dehumanizer, Dio and Appice would reunite Dio into the first half of the 90s. By the second half of the 90s, Vinny found himself in Sabbath (again) with Ozzy singing instead of Dio. In the 21st century, Dio and Appice would find themselves back in Black Sabbath again, only for this lineup to be called Heaven & Hell. While many metal fans (including myself) were happy to see this lineup reunite, it sadly would be the last time, we got to witness the legendary Ronnie James Dio on stage, as he was to pass away with cancer soon after. While Sabbath has reunited with Ozzy recently, Vinny has kept busy with his new band Kill Devil Hill, which features Pantera bassist Rex Brown. Kill Devil Hill’s band is very modern, very heavy and very loud. More information on the band can be found at the website http://www.killdevilhillmusic.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/KillDevilHillMusic
Although Kill Devil Hill is Vinny’s main focus, he finds time to play with Big Noize, an all-star heavy metal band that includes Joe Lynn Turner (of Deep Purple and Rainbow), Carlos Cavazo (of Quiet Riot and Ratt), and Phil Soussan (of Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Idol). Big Noize plays songs from that quartet’s musical era. Likewise, Vinny and his brother, legendary drummer Carmine Appice (of Vanilla Fudge, Catcus, Rod Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, and Ted Nugent) tour together in a group called Drum Wars. The two play many classic songs they had previously drummed on and combine several drum duets and solos. More information on Drum Wars can be found at http://www.drumwars.com/
Despite playing with many hard rock and metal legends, Vinny also played with non-metal musicians early in his career before he joined Sabbath. In fact, Vinny’s career started off with one of the most famous musicians in the world: John Lennon. After Lennon, he would go on to play with Rick Derringer and Ray Gomez. In this candid conversation, we talk about this early part of Vinny’s career. In addition, we look at the classic time with Black Sabbath and Dio as well as focus on the current stuff with Kill Devil Hill, Drum Wars and Big Noize. I want to thank Lisa Walker for setting up the interview between Vinny and I. Most of all, I want to thank Vinny for taking the time out to do the interview and allowing me to use several pictures from his website: http://www.vinnyappice.com
Jeff Cramer: Was it your brother Carmine who encouraged you to pick up your sticks?
Vinny Appice: Well, he didn’t actually encourage me. He’s 11 years older than I am, but there were drums in the house. And so when I started to hang around the house, there were these drums and I started banging on ’em, and that got me going. And then he used to rehearse in the house with his bands, you know the local bands, in Brooklyn, New York, so I was around like a little kid. How old was I? Eight years old, nine years old, and there’s a band playing the living room. How cool was that?
So one night, they called us and said, “Listen, we have to put some handclaps on this song that John Lennon’s doing. Can you guys come down here?” So we went down there and they were recording, “Whatever Gets You through the Night,” with Elton John and John Lennon. And John was there. We’re like, “Oh, my God. Oh, it’s John Lennon. Holy shit.” So, we did the handclaps on that song, so whenever you hear that song, that’s –
We wound up playing pool up there, so he asked us to do a gig with him, and we did a gig at the New York Hilton. A live gig it was. We played, “Imagine,” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’” with John, and we went on with jump suits and all this weird makeup and stuff, some masks. And so the whole week before, or two weeks before, we were in a van with John, going around Manhattan. He fitted us for jump suits. He wore the jump suits, too. His was red. Ours were black. And we made masks of our face and all this cool stuff, but we hung out with him doing all that. And then we wound up doing three videos with him, some of ’em which made it onto his DVDs, and then he wound up producing a singer, the wife of the owner of the Record Plant, and we did eight songs with John as a producer.
Then I ran into Rick there, and he said he liked what he heard and he was gonna put a band together. He asked, “Can you give me your number and I’ll give you a call when I put this together?” So that was the connection for Rick Derringer. And then about six months later, Rick called and wound up forming a band, and that was my real first professional thing, you know? Making an album and going on tour. So it was a good place to meet all these people, make connections.
Vinny(second to left) on the album cover of Derringer’s Sweet Evil
VA: Yeah. Frampton, I don’t remember. That might have been after I left, but we did open for Aerosmith on the Rocks tour for about six weeks, so that was like really major. And then the interesting thing was we played a lot of club shows with bands that are huge now. It was co-headlining Derringer and Journey. Derringer and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.
JC: Journey and Tom Petty opened for Derringer, wow.
So down here, we wanted to spread our wings, so we left and got back together with Jay Davis on bass. Got a deal through RCA Records, and we all moved out to California and recorded the album with Andy Johns producing. And that album came out, and that’s the album – and then we did a little tour, but we didn’t have any management that was – we had managers, but they didn’t really push it, and they didn’t know what was going on, so it didn’t work out with them. But that was the album that Tony Iommi heard when they were looking for drummers for Black Sabbath.
Axis’ It’s A Circus World album cover
And I asked my brother, I said, “You know, got this offer, and I don’t know. Is he still nuts?” My brother said, “Yeah, he’s pretty crazy.” So I turned it down, and I didn’t wanna go to England at that point.
So they told me to come down to the SIR studios on Sunset it was, and I went down and I put my drums in my car, ’67 Mustang, they all fit in there, my little drum set, and went down and play with Black Sabbath. And then they said, “You’re in.”
But he just left, and they had to cancel the gig in Denver and they came back to LA and they said, “We gotta find a drummer,” so luckily, I was in the right place at the right time. And then we rehearsed. We had about four or five days off, and then we went to Hawaii and played Aloha Stadium with 30,000 people. That was my first gig with them, so talk about a little pressure.
VA: Yeah, Bill played – when you asked Bill about drumming, he would describe himself as a percussionist, and if you listen to a lot of the parts on those Sabbath albums, you can hear what he’s talking about because Bill didn’t play four-four or a beat through a lot of the songs. He did when necessary, and then he played a lot of Tom and percussion kind of parts, which was really cool. I mean those things, parts like that are creative and – because anybody can play in four-four beat through a song. But thinking of other parts to play, that’s where creativity comes in, and it’s a little bit more musical when it fits right, and that’s what Ringo did a lot. People don’t think Ringo’s a good drummer, but he had some great parts, great drum pieces.
So when I came in, I was a little bit more straight forward and more precise. The interesting thing is when Tony, Geezer, and Bill play together, and Ozzy, they’ve been playing together so long, they are sometimes out of time a little bit, don’t come in together, and that was the whole Sabbath sound. So it wasn’t right on the beat all the time. I didn’t come from that era, so I was a little bit more on the clock, so to speak. But I did learn to really lay it back playing with Tony and Geezer and not have to rush and make it sound bigger.
We just went in and when – the same thing – whoever was there, like, “Let’s start so we don’t waste time.” So it was more of it got blown out of proportion, because who would do that? “Hey, Ronnie, let’s go in and out put our drums and vocals loud.” That ain’t going happen. Besides, then if that were true, Tony and Geezer can come in and go, “Hey, the drums and the vocal are a little too loud. Mix it down a little bit.” It could always be changed, so it wasn’t like it was set in stone once you put the levels up. It just got blown out of proportion.
VA: Well, actually, what happened was Ronnie had a record deal through Warner Brothers, and his intention was stay with Sabbath, obviously, and when he got time, he was gonna do his own solo record, which was pretty much Ronnie James Dio and friends. He would have like Cozy Powell on there, and people he’d played with over the years, some guy from Kansas, Kerry Livgren was his friend from Kansas, the band Kansas. I was gonna play on it, maybe Jimmy Bain. So it was like that was the intention.
But then when Sabbath started to go south, he realized, “Well, you know what? I’m just gonna form my own band,” so he decided that instead of a solo record with friends, he would like to put a band together, so he asked me. He said, “Look, I’m gonna leave Sabbath. I’m gonna put this together. Do you wanna play drums?” And then at the same time, Tony and Geezer asked me if I wanted to stay with them. So I had to make the decision, and I decided to go with Ronnie because he was a little easier to work with, being from LA. We both live close to each other and it was just an easier choice as far as continuing with a career.
And I thought it would be more exciting – “Wow, a new band with this great singer. Wow, this could be cool,” – and I thought it would be a lot more exciting starting from below where we were with Sabbath. And, of course, it would have been amazing with Sabbath. But I thought this would have been more of a challenge, so I decided to go with Ronnie.
So we wound up hooking up with Jimmy and Viv, and then we went in one night and jammed. Then we went, “That’s it. That’s cool.”
Both those albums, yeah, Holy Diver was really the cool one.
Vinny with the band Dio
I didn’t think it was a great decision, because Viv was part of that band, part of the magic, and a great guitar player, but it was Ronnie’s band. So, yeah, it just got worse and worse and worse until one day, it was the bubble burst, boop, Viv’s out. So that was crazy. But they didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, and didn’t work together. It was more down to business. It wasn’t a musical thing. It wasn’t like Dio was gonna start playing disco songs, you know?
And Jimmy was there, but not as long as I was, so I forgot when Jimmy was actually not there.
World War III album
So I wound up going and meeting the guys and really liked the guys, Mandy and Tracy G, and wound up playing on the record and just really playing on the record, and they wound up booking a tour, so I wound up playing on the tour. Yeah, we were trying to get that band going. That was a cool band. I liked that band. I still like that album. World War III is a pretty good album.
Vinny back with Sabbath
Interesting thing is when it came time to mix an album, we were in Wales. We did all that stuff in Wales. That’s where we did The Devil You Know, too. And mixing sometimes gets boring when you’re not playing and you gotta sit there. So after a while, I said, “I’m gonna go home and you guys are more than capable of mixing it without me,” so I left. So Tony, Geezer, and Ronnie were there mixing, and they were really concerned that they wanted to make sure the drums are loud, make sure they’re not too low. And then when Ronnie came back and played it for me, I went, “Holy shit. I should leave more often.” They were louder than if I were there. If I was there, I’d probably say, “Maybe the drums should be down a little bit. They’re popping out.”
So I sat down with Ronnie and said, “Look, I don’t wanna choose sides or anything, but what’s the best thing to do here? I don’t wanna leave ’em –” and you know, Ronnie was a gentleman. He said, “Finish the tour with them. Don’t just jump ship and leave ’em hanging.” So he was very considerate and gave me good advice. So then I worked it out with the managers and all that stuff, and so I was gonna do the show. And then we needed to have a singer, so we contacted Rob Halford, who was in Arizona, and Rob was in town. We were in town playing, but we had a night off the night before the gig, so interestingly enough, we wound up calling Rob on the day off and we set up a rehearsal place somewhere in Arizona, Phoenix, and Rob came down and we went over all the stuff we were gonna do, which were new songs that I never played, so it was a little nerve wracking.
The new Dio lineup with Tracy G
I said, “Well, when?” She goes, “Well, today?” [Laughs] I said, “Okay.” That’s what you gotta do in this business, so I wound up getting on the plane, hopping on the plane. It’s funny because that day I planned to fix my sprinklers and go to Home Depot and buy some sprinkler parts, and the next thing I know, I’m on the plane going to England, going, “Holy shit.”
So I got on the plane and went over there and they were doing a DVD. They were doing an album which became Reunion, and they were doing a live show all in one night. I’m like, “Oh, man.” And they sent me over all the Sabbath catalog and everything and I had to look through the songs they were doing. And, again, they were different songs than I was used to. So I had to listen on the way over on the plane. I had to make out charts, all this stuff. I finally got there at the hotel and it was still uncertain if Bill was gonna do the gig or not.
So Bill was there, but they were having the same issues that they were having now, I guess. And so Bill – it was up in the air, so I kept listening to songs. Finally, they – and time was running out to rehearse. So finally it worked out with Bill and so I was there and I didn’t really play. I was just hanging out, and that’s the last time, actually, I saw Cozy Powell, and was able to hang out with him a little bit.
So what else happened? So then after that, I went back with Dio, and then it came down to we were on tour and then they were doing the reunion tour and Bill had a medical problem, so they called me and said, “Look, do you wanna come play this thing?” And I said, “Well, I’m on tour with Ronnie,” but we were doing clubs. We were doing really small places with Dio and so I thought, “Well, at this point, maybe I should go do it.” It was a lot more money and it was a way bigger event. I thought at this point, maybe I should do it, so I decided to do it.
But I didn’t leave Ronnie just hanging. We brought in Simon Wright. Then a couple days at rehearsal, and showed him the parts and sat with him and guided him as much as I could for the next three days. I left and flew to England, so that’s when I played with Ozzy and the band the first time, so the original Sabbath which was cool. It was really cool playing with Ozzy. And it was thrilling playing in that band with those – that was the band, the real – it was thrilling playing with Ronnie, but this was the original old Sabbath band. It was like really cool.
So that’s how I wound up filling in for Bill. And then that was in Europe. We did about four or five weeks in Europe, and then when that was finished, there was a break, and then they were gonna do the States. So they took a break. And then when they did the States, Bill was better. He was able to play. But they wanted me on the tour anyway. Sharon wanted me on the tour in case Bill couldn’t play. So that was the weirdest tour I ever did.
So then the All-Star thing, we started doing gigs. And then I played with George Lynch a little bit, and then we kept the All-Star thing going until 2006. So for about three years putting around. And then 2006 is when I got a call from Heaven & Hell saying, “The guys want you to come over and play with them.” So, “Oh, okay.”
Sabbath reunited as Heaven & Hell
The band Big Noize
So we put it through an agent with some gigs and we rehearsed and did the gig, and we had a good time. It was fun. We did a whole bunch of shows and it was fun playing all the old stuff from everybody’s past. The fans seemed to really dig it and like it. It was cool. It was a good band. So we did that for when there was time on and off.
One of the larger drum kits Vinnie has
Kill Devil Hill Band
So I started listening to these tracks and they were really good, really great sound. And I had Jimmy Bain come down, the bass player from Dio, and he started putting some bass on, and we arranged it more into a song, some of these fills and tracks. And then heard about this guitar player Mark Zavon, and he lives close by, so I invited him down and we worked together, “Let’s see how it goes.”
And he came down and we started coming up with songs with these things, these drum tracks. This is cool. And he played me a song of the singer Dewey Bragg, and soon as I heard it, and I went, “That’s the guy, man. We’re gonna put the band together. That singer’s great. He sounds really cool, modern.” That’s what I was hearing.
So Dewey came down. He started singing on some of the stuff, and it really worked out good. So eventually we kept writing songs and then it didn’t work out with Jimmy, so we wound up with a different bass players and then it wound up with I heard Rex was looking for something new, and I called Rex. We go back from when we played together with Pantera, Black Sabbath, on a lot of those European Festivals, so I called Rex, played him the stuff. He loved it. He put his bass on it. Then we got some managers to get us a deal. And then we finally recorded a record and it just came out last month and it’s doing great. We got some great reviews. Then we’re doing all sorts of gigs coming up. It’s good, and my heart’s into this. My heart and soul are into this baby. [To hear a one minute sample of Kill Devil Hill’s “Strange”, click here.]
JC: Okay. And the other thing that you have is [laughs] for the first time, a drum rivalry between your brother Carmine.
Vinny and Carmine in Drum Wars
The drums face each other on the stage and then most of the time. And we have a band, and we do a couple of drum pieces, then we bring a band up and play “Holy Diver” and “We Rock”, a couple Dio and Sabbath songs, and then we do another drum piece. Then Carmine plays a couple of his songs. Then we play a couple songs together from our histories and then we do a couple solos each –short solos. And then we do a big battle at the end, and we end with “Crazy Train.” We go crazy playing against the song while our band holds down those accents and stuff. So it’s a really good show. We’re playing, actually, this weekend in Tennessee.
So you gotta just play from your heart, believe in what you’re doing, and give the best. And if it doesn’t work out, at least you gave it your best, and that kind of thing.
Try to develop a sound. It’s hard to do, but try to develop a sound. But, you know, mess around with tuning the drums, see what sound you like best and … it’s hard to develop a sound. You can’t practice it, but you can try, and eventually, you might be able to come up your own sound, and that’s important. Not many people have that.
And then just practice. You gotta be flexible and easy to work with, and you gotta give it your best the whole time. I don’t care if I’m on a small drum set and there’s ten people in the audience, I play to huge audiences with huge drum sets. But if it’s the gig with a small drum set and it’s ten people show up, I’m gonna play the same. I’m gonna kill it as much as I can. So you gotta have that kind of attitude, give it 110%.