Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Very Candid Conversation with Vinny Appice

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?

JC: Yeah.

VA: And so that kind of got me going and got the fever going. He would show me a couple things when he was around, and then eventually he suggested to my parents that I go out for drum lessons, and then I wound up going to the same drum teacher as he did, a guy in Brooklyn, Dick Bennett. So it was kind of influence from all the drums being around that I started that way.

JC: One of the things that, many people don’t realize is that in your early stages of your musical career you got to play with a guy that most musicians would kill to be able play with: John Lennon.

VA: Yeah.

JC: Let’s talk about John Lennon.

VA: Okay. Well, when I was about 16-17, I was in a band – it was a funky rock band with horn players.

JC: Was the band like Blood, Sweat, and Tears and early Chicago?

VA: We weren’t into that so much. We listened to a little of that, though. It was more James Brown, that kind of stuff, and then we wrote some original stuff. The guy producing us, who was a really good friend of the guitar player, was Jimmy Iovine. So Jimmy Iovine brought us into the Record Plant Studios, and recorded us and produced our demos. We did about five songs. The owner of the Record Plant heard that, and he signed us for a management deal, and he gave us a room upstairs in the Record Plant studios in Manhattan on the third floor to rehearse in all the time. It was like our room. It was really cool.

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 –

JC: That’s you guys.

VA: – that’s me on there.

JC: [Laughs] That was probably the first official recording debut of you.

VA: Well, yeah. Like something that was released, yeah.

JC: Right. Well, that’s quite a start.

VA: Yeah, that’s a start. I wasn’t on the drums, but at least it was with a major, major, major, major person. So that was that. And then John wondered who we were, and Jimmy said, “Well, they rehearse upstairs.” Like, “Where’d these nine guys come from all of a sudden?” And then a couple days later, John would come and hang out, listen to us rehearse, and he liked hanging out with us.

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.

JC: And at the same time the next guy who would enter your life would be Rick Derringer.

VA: Yeah, and see, the Record Plant back then – this was like in 1975-1976 – it was obviously a good place to hang out. And because everybody recorded there – Aerosmith, Rick Derringer, J. Geils Band were big – and there were so many bands. So Rick happened to hear Jimmy Iovine playing our stuff, and he walked in and said, “Who’s that?” He goes, “Oh, that’s the band, and that’s –” “Who’s on drums?” “That’s Vinny Appice, Carmine’s little brother.” “Oh, wow, wow.”

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

JC: I understand during that time from Derringer, because I’ve read from Kenny Aaronson[who played bass the same time Vinny was drumming for Derringer], that you were opening for everybody, like Aerosmith, Frampton on when he was recording “Frampton Comes Alive.”

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.

VA: Yeah. And then Boston, we opened for them, and they were just a band from Boston, as the record says. They didn’t really know what to do on stage. All of a sudden, they were kind of a club band and now all of a sudden they’re playing arenas. So they would sit and watch us play. We opened for them and learned not necessarily from me, because it was new to me, but from Rick. Rick was a pro, you know? [To hear a sample of a live version of Rick Derringer and Vinny in action as they played “Beyond The Universe”, click here.]

JC: Right.

VA: And, God, there were so many different bands. We played with Mahogany Rush. We played with Jeff Beck. Yeah, we played with a lot of people.

JC: You and Danny Johnson would leave Derringer to form Axis.

VA: Yeah. We stayed with Rick about two years, and then we were young and crazy and we just thought, “This is not getting bigger, so let’s go off on our own,” because we had a band called Axis right before Derringer. That was in Louisiana. That’s where Danny Johnson’s from, and Jay Davis was the bass player. So I went down there before, and we were playing clubs and writing and things like that, and that’s when Rick called and Rick took Danny, the band, along with me.

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.

JC: Yeah, because I’ve heard the Axis album, and it is a little heavier than the Derringer material, you know?

VA: Yeah, yeah. It’s heavier and it’s got a cool drum sound. [“Armageddon” is an excellent example of the heavy and cool drum sound Axis has. Click here to listen to a one minute sample.] Yeah, it was a good record, actually, and that’s the one that got me in the door with Sabbath, so that was pretty cool.

Axis’ It’s A Circus World album cover

JC: Now, I heard, and maybe you can confirm this, that Ozzy also tried to approach you at the same time, before you agreed to the Black Sabbath invitation.

VA: Yeah, well, I was still in Axis. This was like ’78-’79, and I got a call from Sharon Osbourne, and she said, “This is Sharon. managing Ozzy. We heard about you. We’d like to fly you to England and see how it works with Ozzy.” So I’d have to fly to England, and I hadn’t been out of the country except for Canada at that point, so I was a kid. I was probably 20 years old, and I heard Ozzy was crazy at that point. He was still drinking and being Ozzy [Laughs].

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.

JC: Okay. So this was the studio lineup (Bob Daisley/Lee Kerslake), not the live lineup (Rudy Sarzo/Tommy Aldridge).

VA: This was the first album band. Yeah, yeah, this was at the very beginning. And I turned it down, and then like a month later, I got a call when I got back in town. I was away doing a photo shoot for Ludwig Drums at that time, and I got a call from my wife that somebody from Black Sabbath called. I went, “Oh.” So, I wound up calling back and they were in town in LA, and I went down and met the tour manager, Paul Clark. And everything was cool, and then he called Tony. Tony came in the room. He had the Axis album, and he goes, “Yeah, I really like it. It’s really good. You play good, and why don’t you come down to rehearsal tomorrow?”

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.”

JC: Now at that point, they were in the middle of the tour because Bill Ward had just left the band at that point.

VA: Yeah, they were in the middle of the Heaven & Hell tour, which was pretty successful because the album came out and did really well. So they were playing all the big sheds. And in the middle Bill left. He didn’t wanna – everybody was just a little nuts back then so I don’t know what his reasons were.

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.

Vinny with Black Sabbath now

JC: [Laughs] Yeah. I was listening to Sabbath’s Live Evil in preparation for the interview and I have to say, when comparing you to Bill Ward, you do fit the Sabbath sound, but you aren’t playing like Bill. You have a more straightforward across the beat type of feel. Tony Iommi said the same thing himself in his autobiography, that you were more precise than Bill.

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.

JC: So, okay, then from the Heaven & Hell tour you went onto Mob Rules and then into the Live Evil album, which has that infamous whole deal about the mixing of the album.

VA: Yeah, we recorded the Mob Rules and then after that, the band, we went on tour again, and everything was cool. But then it started to turn a little sour between Tony and Geezer and Ronnie, and things weren’t as pleasant as they had been. And then it was decided we’d do a live album, so on that Mob Rules tour toward the end, we started recording all the shows and putting them together for a live album. And then once that was finished, we were at the Record Plant studios in LA, and we were mixing it, so a lot of times what happened, they’d say, “All right. Start time is 2:00,” and Ronnie and I would get there at 2:00 and everybody else would get there later. It was just all over the place, so they’d get there later and we’d get there earlier. But it came out and the press said we were going in and mixing our vocals and drums louder than everything else since we were there by ourselves, but that wasn’t true.

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.

JC:And from that, you and Ronnie left to form Dio at that point. I have to ask, when Ronnie split, did Iommi and Geezer tell you to go as well?

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.

JC: Yep.

VA: And then we put the band together, and then we tried a number of different people. One of them was Jake E. Lee on guitar, he came down and we played.

JC: Really?

VA: It didn’t work out with Jake. Ronnie wasn’t happy with the sound, or I don’t know, but a lot of times, it’s just me and Ronnie at rehearsal. Ronnie would be on the stool playing bass and I’d be playing drums. We actually came up with the song, “Holy Diver.” We had some of the parts, and then Ronnie and I would just jam. And then finally it was decided he wanted to have an international band, and so, with everybody from being from the US, it’d be cool to have international players. He’d always been associated with British players and he thought it would be cool, so that’s why we went over to London and we hooked up with Jimmy Bain, and then Jimmy turned us on to Vivian Campbell.

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.”

JC:; Mm-hmm. Now those albums Holy Diver, The Last In Line are classics and I know Ronnie felt the same way because those albums were always a huge part of his set list to the very last day.

VA: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, Holy Diver, we went in just having a good time. Once Viv and Jimmy were in the band, about a month later, they came over to here and everybody lived at Ronnie’s house except me. Yeah, I had my own place. Then we rehearsed in the Sound City complex and then right across the parking lot was the studios, so we’d write four or five songs, drag all the stuff over the parking lot to the studio, and then we’d record. So we were having fun. We were having a ball. And then make good music and that album just became a classic. We didn’t know what we’d done. We was just having fun making music.

Both those albums, yeah, Holy Diver was really the cool one.

Vinny with the band Dio

JC: One thing, though, out of all the people who played with Dio, the one who seems to have the most hostility toward Dio is Vivian Campbell. No one else who worked with Dio has that much animosity as Vivian does. I mean I’ve interviewed Craig Gruber, before Ronnie’s death, and he had nothing but nice things to say about him. Sounds like something really bad had happened between the two.

VA: Yeah. Well, it was chalked down to business, there was a lot of business decisions that weren’t the best for the band, and as far as the way things were cut up and stuff, so Viv had a problem with that, and Viv was more hostile toward fighting and getting what he wanted. So, he didn’t see eye to with Ronnie. Eventually, that got worse and worse and worse until Ronnie said, “I’m gonna get rid of Viv. I’m gonna get somebody else.”

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?

JC: Then you guys went on with Craig Goldy, to do Dream Evil, although I did notice on Lock Up The Wolves, there is a bunch of songs that were credited to you, even though by that point you and Jimmy Bain are credited on several songs, but by that point, you guys aren’t even in the band anymore.

VA: No, but Lock Up The Wolves, we wound up writing – I rehearsed with the band and we wrote all the stuff that we wrote together, and so all my parts were there and my drumming was there, and, actually – and I think Simon Wright will tell you the same thing – that he copied some of the drum parts that I had because there were certain things that I played and he wound up playing the same thing, so I wound up rehearsing and writing with the band for the whole time. Just about when we were gonna go in the studio, that’s when I left, I left the band.

And Jimmy was there, but not as long as I was, so I forgot when Jimmy was actually not there.

JC: What made you leave Dio at that time?

VA: Well, it was a little different people in the band. It was like Rowan Robinson, Teddy Cook. And they were all young, and it was like, “Wow, this is like an underage band almost.” It was like, “Jeez, it’s not the same band that I’m used to with Viv and Jimmy and Claude Schnell.” So it was so changed that I thought maybe now it’s time that I leave and I was hooking up with my buddy, Jeff Pilson. He had a band called War and Peace. And he was putting something together and I thought, “Okay. Let me hook up with him and try spreading my wings a little bit here.” So that’s what I did. So I decided to leave.

JC: Right. And there was that World War III album.

World War III album

VA: Yeah, and that led to World War III. The thing with Pilson didn’t work out, and then I ran into Jimmy Bain and Jimmy said, “Hey, I got this thing playing with these guys. You might be interested.” They had a deal on Hollywood Records, they were just about to go in and do a record, and the drummer they had wasn’t really cutting it. They were going, “Jimmy, you think you can get Vinny?” So Jimmy called me, and then I hooked up with Jimmy and I listened to it. And I go, “Wow. This is cool stuff, man. I like it.”

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.

JC: Around that time, I guess Ronnie had called you back to Sabbath somewhere around that time, and stuff, after Cozy Powell didn’t work out with them.

VA: Yeah. They started doing the Dehumanizer album in 1990 or ’91. And they were working with Cozy, and it was taking forever and it wasn’t working out really smoothly, so at one point, Cozy hurt himself. He was riding a horse and he broke his pelvis, so he couldn’t play for a while so they thought at that point, “You know what? It’s not working out. Why don’t we call Vinny, get Vinny back in the band and see how it goes?”

Vinny back with Sabbath

JC: Now I have to say, I really love that drum sound on Dehumanizer.

VA: Yeah, I know. Me, too[Laughs]. That was recorded. Those weren’t even my drums. Those were just some rented Tama kit and I remember it was black. And then Mack, who did some of the Queen stuff, he was producing it, so we just put it in a room and the room was pretty live, and then he had some serious overhead mikes on it. I don’t know what kind of mikes they were, but they were really, really, really expensive mikes. And then he just got all the brightness and all the punch from those mikes, and the sound of the drums on there are really up front.

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.”

JC: The other thing about it was at this point, this was your second album with Iommi and Geezer. It wasn’t Bill Ward, but your playing had more of a Sabbath sound. It sounds like you and Geezer are now more in sync with each other.

VA: Yeah, we got to know each other pretty well, all the stuff we’ve done. It’s not like playing with people for a long time and then you don’t see ’em for 20 years. I saw him way back when I was a kid, and knew they were who they were at that point, but we played together, like, within three years the three times, and so we got to know each other really well. And then when it came time for the Heaven & Hell stuff, the later stuff, we were really comfortable with each other. Everybody was relaxed and we played great together. There was a lot of jamming going on and we felt comfortable. Me and Geezer locked in. We know how we both play, so it was pretty – I would say the word “comfortable.” We got to know them really well.

JC: Right. Now, of course, on Dehumanizer, it looked like the old things started all over again. Was there problems before or was it when they decided to do the whole Ozzy thing?

VA:There wasn’t any problems before, but until Ozzy decided he’s gonna do one show and call it his retirement thing, and Sharon wanted Tony and Geezer to play on it, and wanted us to open for Ozzy, basically, open his show, or go on before Ozzy. And Ronnie didn’t wanna do it. Ronnie said, “No, I’m not gonna do that,” and Tony and Geezer wanted to do it, so that became a conflict, and then Ronnie said, “I’m leaving,” and I’m doing the last show. I think the last show is in San Francisco, and then I’m in the middle, again. Now what do I do? [Laughs] Do I leave and go with Ronnie and leave these guys where they can’t play the gig?

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.

JC: Yeah, I’ve seen that set list that you played with Rob.

VA:Rob didn’t know all the lyrics, but he was able to rehearse and go through it. And then the day of the show, he had to use the teleprompter, and then the teleprompter broke and he had to look for the lyrics on the floor. And because there were songs we never did with Ronnie, and it was like, “Oh, shit. Not only is Rob doing ’em, cold, we’re doing ’em cold, too.” We had never played these song before. But it all worked out all right. He did a fantastic killer job. He sang great. People loved it and the fans loved it and everybody was happy about the gig. They would talk about continuing with Rob, too, but that didn’t happen. And then at the end of that, I went back with Ronnie and we started our next phase of Dio, which was the Strange Highways album and all that stuff.

JC: Two things before we get back to Dio, I’ve heard only two rumors around Tony Martin during the Dehumanizer thing.

VA: What about him?

JC: I just wanted to see if maybe they were true or not. Martin has claimed this, although I haven’t heard it confirmed by Iommi and Geezer. One of them is that at one point they were having so much trouble finishing the Dehumanizer album that Tony Martin was even considered back for a little bit.

VA: No, I don’t think so. I mean there were a couple of issues that came up, but I don’t think it got to any point of Tony Martin coming in.

JC: The other rumor is that Tony Martin claims to have been asked first before Rob for that show, but couldn’t get a Visa in time.

VA: No, I don’t know. That could be. I’m not sure, because we were in the States maybe when they found out Ronnie wasn’t gonna do it and the first guy they called was Tony Martin. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

JC: Right. I got you. Just because, as a fan who reads a lot of Sabbath stuff, I’ve heard these two stories from Tony Martin. There’s been no confirmation by Iommi or Geezer. Anyway, you went back to Dio with Tracy G. I take it you recommended him during Strange Highways from working on World War III.

VA: Yeah. We were putting Dio back together and then we were looking for a guitar player, so I told Ronnie about Tracy G, and then Ronnie said, “Okay. Let me listen to what he’s got.” So he listened to it, and Ronnie, he liked it, so Tracy became part of the band, in the band, and we recorded Strange Highways – what was the other one –

JC: Angry Machines.

VA: But he wasn’t received that well because he played a lot heavier than Vivian, a different sound and all that, and he didn’t play exactly the solos that Vivian played, so a lot of the fans didn’t like Tracy too much. In fact, a lot of fans hated him. He was darker and heavier than Viv, so when he came to the band, it changed it up a little bit.

The new Dio lineup with Tracy G

JC: You know Strange Highways and Angry Machines were similar to Dehumanizer. I couldn’t tell if that was the new musical direction that Dio just simply wanted to go and Tracy was just following orders. Or was the new musical direction the result of what Tracy brought to the band?

VA:Yeah, I mean Tracy came and we wrote all the songs. It was just a little different sound. He has a darker and heavier tone – which, at the time, the music scene was into, but that’s what happened. But the fans, they wanted more of the old Dio stuff, sound with more melody and stuff.

JC: Right. because I also know that Dio is no longer writing fantasy lyrics by that point. They were more, I guess earthy or street.

VA:Yeah. Yeah, we started experimenting a little more, too. We’d done one song in a different time signature. We were really experimenting and trying to find our niche.

JC: Right. And around that time, again, you would be called into that same battle again between Sabbath and Dio when they called you as sort of a standby for Bill Ward.

VA:Well, what happened was I was on tour with Ronnie, like Angry Machines, we were playing clubs, small places and stuff. It was quite a different tour for Dio. And it was at that point, I got a call from Sharon, again, and it was like, “Vinny –” actually, sorry, even backing up before then, I think – I don’t know what year it was. Maybe it was ’97-’98 when they did their first reunion in Birmingham. And I got a call one day, and it was Sharon’s office, Sharon got on, “Vinny, this is Sharon. Hi, can you – the guys are doing a show at Birmingham, NEC on the weekend.” This was like Monday or something. “Could you come to England?”

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.

JC: I know. You mostly sat there waiting.

VA: Yeah, I sat there and waited and waited, and it was crazy. You know, in a tour, you get into town and just everything is like a real gig, except you’re not playing.

JC: Right. But you were paid well for it.

VA: Yeah, I was paid well, and it was very comfortable.

JC: Yeah, because I had a job where I really got paid well, and I really didn’t do much. I know the feeling.

VA: I would rather be playing.

JC: Yeah, same thing. I’d rather be doing something, but like you, it was weird to be paid to be sitting there.

VA: Yeah. But that was a weird tour, but Bill was fine. Bill was cool and he did the whole tour. And then I just hung out. So history’s always repeating itself. And then with Heaven & Hell, Heaven & Hell started with Bill Ward, too. It didn’t work out, again. “Let’s call Vinny. Have Vinny come in,” and we moved along and became Heaven & Hell.

JC: Sabbath got together this year without Bill Ward. Were you called originally before they got Tommy Clufetos on drums?

VA: No, no. No, I wasn’t, not at all.

JC: Okay, let’s go back a little. What did you do between Sabbath and Heaven & Hell, at that period? Let’s talk about that.

VA: I took some time off and did different things. And then in, like, 2003, started playing with an all-star band.

JC: Was that Big Noize?

VA: No, that wasn’t Big Noize. It’s just called the Hollywood All Stars. It was Carlos Cavazo from Quiet Riot, Jimmy Bain, he and Chaz West on vocals from Bonham. And before that, I just kind of took some time off and then I did a lot of sessions, local sessions here and there and played with some friends and just reflected on, “Okay, what’s next?”

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.”

JC: That was also –

VA: I hopped on a plane, again, and there I was.

JC: [Laughs] Well, it was also good because, I mean, even though you guys couldn’t know– I mean no one could know that this was your last chance to play with Ronnie, again.

Sabbath reunited as Heaven & Hell

VA: Well, Ronnie was kind of a little bugged I left – when I left Dio for Sabbath years ago and stuff, but we talked it out and then it was cool. We hung out, and we had a good time. And it was like old times, again. And with everybody, it was a really good time. So it was planned to do another album and hopefully, another tour after that. But we didn’t know he was that sick.

JC: Yeah. I saw you guys at what was the last gig, the Atlantic City gig. Then, again, Ronnie looked great at that and didn’t look sick. I saw Heaven & Hell twice and, again, we talked about this earlier in the interview, the longer you stayed together as a band, the  tighter you were getting. I mean, not only was Ronnie great on his last gig, the band itself was even better on that last gig.

VA: We were playing great. We were playing great together. It was really cool. The interesting part of the whole thing was in 1980, when I joined Black Sabbath, the first song we played at SIR Studios was “Neon Knights,” and that was the last song we played that night in Atlantic City. That whole journey with Ronnie and all the music started with one song and ended with the same song. How weird is that?

JC: And also, because “Neon Knights” was a last minute addition. It came because Sabbath didn’t think they had a fast tempo song on the album, so they thought of that song on the fly.

VA:A lot of times, we opened with that song. The beginning earlier years, we opened with that song, but the later years, it wound up being the encore. So it strangely wound up being the last song we played with Ronnie. Crazy.

JC: Right.

VA: A wonderful journey.

JC: Okay, now, since Lisa brought us together, we must talk about Big Noize.

The band Big Noize

VA: Well, Big Noize was – I ran into Joe Lynn Turner at one of the NAMM shows. I’ve been doing this All-Star thing and I’m good buddies with Phil Soussan for years, and Carlos, of course. So I said to Joe, “Hey, man. We got this thing going on. Would you be interested?” And he said, “Yeah.”

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.

JC: Well, I saw Big Noize last year at the M3 Festival.

VA:Oh, yeah.

JC: One interesting thing is that you had this huge drum kit with Heaven & Hell. I remember at the Atlantic City gig, you do this drum solo where there are these toms above your head and in order to use those toms, you have to take one hand to reach it and another hand to hit it with a stick. Now, you got a much smaller drum kit when you were playing with Big Noize.

One of the larger drum kits Vinnie has

VA: Oh, yeah. Now I’m with Kill Devil Hill. There’s a new album that came out that we’re touring, and we do a fly out date, so we wind up playing on different gear, and the drum sets are really small. I don’t care. I don’t care. If there’s one tom on there, I’ll make it work. I love playing. I believe in what I’m doing and whatever it takes to get this thing going, that’s what we’re doing. If you’re in a big band like Heaven & Hell, you can afford to bring everything with you. But with Big Noize, Kill Devil Hill, it’s a different thing. It was fun with the big giant drum sets and everything moving and pulling ’em and it’s fun with the little drum set, too. It’s actually a challenge. Okay, I got this little set. One of the shows with Kill Devil Hill last month, I said – it came time for the drum solo, so I got the mike in front and I said, “You wanna hear a drum solo?” They went, “Yeah.” I said, “You want me to play these shitty little drums here?” They said, “Yeah.” Because it was just like a shitty little kit. And I remember playing on ’em, and it was a really good solo. I enjoyed it, the show, so in the end, it’s for the fans that are there, and it makes you enjoy it if you love playing.

JC: Now before, we go into Kill Devil Hill. With Big Noize, Sebastian Bach is now gonna be your substitute singer for the upcoming show.

VA: Yeah.

JC: With Sebastian, are you still gonna be playing the Joe Lynn era of Rainbow, or are you gonna do Skid Row this time?

VA: No, with Sebastian Bach, we’re gonna be doing some Skid Row stuff because, if Joe’s not singing . . . I mean, whoever’s in the band, we’re gonna do that.

JC: Now I know Joe Lynn can sing the Dio, Ozzy and Quiet Riot stuff. I know he’s that versatile as a singer. I’m curious, how is Sebastian doing everybody else’s stuff?

VA: Joe did good, man. He did really, really good. I enjoy playing his stuff. He became busy, so he’s unable to play with us right now and it didn’t work out. So we decided, “Well, let’s see if we can get somebody else.” and we approached Sebastian Bach, and he said, “Yeah, I’d love to do it.” So we met together. Now we haven’t rehearsed yet, so we’re gonna be doing that soon, too. It’s cool with us, too, that we can bring in other singers with names and it makes it interesting, too. And it’s not like we’re going on a major tour. We just doing gigs here and there. My main focus right now is Kill Devil Hill.

JC: Okay. Then let’s focus on Kill Devil Hill. How did that get started?

Kill Devil Hill Band

VA: Okay. Well, it started from, coming out of Heaven & Hell, I always wanted to have my own band, so that was my dream. I always played in bands that were established for people that were established, so it was my dream to have my own band. So I wound up starting to put it together, and started with some drum tracks I had. I recorded thirteen drum tracks, different tempos, different speeds. But when I had the surgery in my shoulder, I couldn’t play, so now what do I do?

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

VA: Yeah, well, we did it a long time ago. It’s called Drum Wars. We did a thing like in the ’90s where we did six or seven clinics together for Sabian cymbals. And it went over so well that we decided, “Let’s do a DVD of one of the gigs.” So we did the DVD of the gig and then we did all these interviews, which were kind of funny. But we didn’t have time between the schedules to really put anything together. We did a couple gigs here and there, and that was it. So now, we really wanna play together, so we put this together. Drum Wars is the music of Vinny and Carmine, so we have like four drum duets that we play together, and they’re kind of like a battle.

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.

JC: Oh, great.

VA: So we’re getting a lot of gigs with that next one, and we both enjoy it. We enjoy playing together. We’ll probably write some stuff, too, maybe put out a mini CD or something like that.

JC: What’s your general drum kit? What type of drums do you currently play?

VA: Well, right, I’m with d drums, and me and Carmine are all on the same company, d drums. I’ve moved over to Istanbul cymbals which is a new – they’ve been around for a long time, but they’re getting more rocked out now. And so we’re both using Istanbul, great cymbals, really great sound. And then Vic Firth sticks and then Evans drum heads. And so it’s all great stuff and great people behind it, and they really support what we’re doing and it makes it easier for us to do stuff together, and that’s important, too. We need support, you know?

JC: Two remaining questions: What’s your recommendation for anyone in the industry? You’ve been in it for a long time. You’ve been there since ’74 and you’re still there today. Most drummers’ career is like five years and then it’s over.

VA: Well, you gotta be dedicated. You gotta live, breathe, and drink this stuff. Just like I said both times, I got a call one day, “Hey, can you come to England?” And that’s it. Most people go, “Oh, my God. I can’t come. I’m working,” and this and that, and luckily, I never really worked a regular job. But you gotta be dedicated. You gotta go out there. I just did a little stuff with Dave Grohl, and he was saying how they used to just eat lettuce sandwiches with Nirvana when they first started. Go in the store and buy the loaf of bread and some lettuce, and put it in a sandwich.

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.

JC: Right, and as someone who’s still got a few more years before he can play drums before an audience, what would you recommend to me? Just give me a mini drum lesson.

VA:I would just …the trick to the drums, it’s great to learn how to read some and learn what the note values are and all that stuff, and reading. You can pick things up quicker that way. The cool thing is to try to play musically. Play to the song. Play from your heart.

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%.


Noisecult said...

Nice Job, A really good read with Vinny. I had never read an article with him where he was able to give this much detail about his time in Sabbath, DIO etc.
I loved the Dio era sabbath and got to see Vinny play with them several times. The Radio City DVD show as Heaven and Hell being the best time I had ever seen that line up.

Anonymous said...
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Gandalf said...

Good interview, very informative.