AN INTERVIEW WITH VINNY APPICE
By David Iozzia
Photos courtesy of Ian Scott Entertainment
Vinny Appice has drummed throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s in many bands; DIO, Black Sabbath, and Derringer are the most well-known. In 2006, some of the musicians in a fun cover band of Vinnys called the Hollywood Allstarz started a new hard rockin outfit called 3 Legged Dogg. In 2007, Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbaths Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler enlisted Vinny to drum in Heaven and Hell. Supporting a greatest hits compilation called Black Sabbath The Dio Years, Heaven and Hell are touring the world featuring a handful of new songs and material sung by Dio during his stint as Ozzy Osbournes replacement. Im honored that Vinny took a few minutes to chat about his two new bands during Heaven and Hells historic and highly anticipated tour.
Dave: Hello Vinny, and thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Congratulations on landing the drumming gig with Heaven and Hell and best of luck on tour.
VINNY: Thanks Dave. The response for Heaven and Hell has been overwhelming. I dont think any of us thought thered be so much excitement.
Dave: After Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward decided not to tour, were you handed the job or did you have to audition?
VINNY: I dont audition for nobody, not after all these years! They were working with Bill but something didnt work out. I dont know exactly what all the details were. Obviously, Im the next choice in the family. Plus, I played on most of the Sabbath-Dio records anyway. I know the band and you never know what can happen. Sure enough, I got the phone call. They said, Its not working with Bill. If you want to do it, get on the plane to England tomorrow. We all know each other so well and there was no auditioning involved. We knew what it would sound like.
Dave: Ive read that the project started when Rhino Records, which is releasing an anthology later in 2007 called Black Sabbath The Dio Years, requested that three new songs be included. Is that how it happened?
VINNY: The record company did insist on some new songs. When Ronnie and Tony started writing the new songs, they decided to support the record with a tour. When I came aboard late, we got all of the songs done in a couple of days. Devil Cried, Shadow of the Wing, and Ear in the Wall sound awesome. Theyre pretty heavy Sabbath songs. Tony and Geezer are playing their asses off, and Ronnies vocals sounds like they did on Mob Rules. Hes got a lot of energy and excitement.
Dave: The tour dates Heaven and Hell have played so far include an 11-city Canadian run, a show in New York City at Radio City Music Hall that sold out in an hour, and a U.S tour that wraps up in the middle of May. Whats next?
VINNY: We want to keep it going with short breaks here and there until November when we tour in the U.K. Were playing some of the outdoor music festivals in Europe this summer, including Germanys Bang Your Head festival, the Swedish Rock Festival, and the Rockwave Festival in Athens, Greece.
Dave: Is it firm that the Heaven and Hell setlist will only be Black Sabbath material from the Dio era?
VINNY: It looks that way so far.
Dave: You drummed on Black Sabbaths Dehumanizer tour with Ronnie James Dio on vocals, and you also drummed at a series of gigs in 1992 when Rob Halford sang with Black Sabbath. Did Ronnie or Rob interpret and deliver any of the classic Sabbath material differently than Ozzy?
VINNY: Ronnie sings it his way, and theres a whole lot of power going on. Its a style within its own and the songs change a bit. To defend Rob, we only had one rehearsal and then Rob had to sing right away. Rob sounded better singing the Ozzy material because their vocal ranges are similar. The simplest way to say it is Rob sounded like Ozzy and Ronnie sounded like Ronnie.
Dave: You had two stints in Black Sabbath, two with DIO, and now youre joining up again with Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Ronnie James Dio in Heaven and Hell. Two important lessons youre reinforcing for other musicians is not to burn bridges when you depart bands and to always leave the door open for other possibilities down the road.
VINNY: You just never know! Dont burn your bridges is an important lesson at any job, especially when youre a musician. Some people depart bands, and they fight their way out the door. They stop talking to each other. I never thought Black Sabbath would ever have gotten back together again, but everybody had a lot of music still inside of them. Everybody still wants to play and for me, the Heaven and Hell version becomes the icing on the cake. I never thought it would happen but here we go.
Dave: Your other new band is called 3 Legged Dogg, and their debut record Frozen Summer was released October 31, 2006, on Perris Records. Its available for purchase at the Perris website, in record stores, and from all of the online retailers. Music fans can link from this interview to hear song samples at your MySpace page as well as the bands page. For people hearing about the band for the first time by reading this interview, how would you verbally describe the musical direction of 3 Legged Dogg?
VINNY: The musical direction has an old-style feel and performance in it but its a lot more modern. Its not sure what people would expect from us based upon the bands we were in during the 80s and 90s. Different people are hearing a lot of different elements in the music.
Dave: A review I read said it has a grunge sound, but with the bluesy guitar work, Im thinking its sort of what the original Bad Company might have played if they were recording their debut today.
VINNY: I dont hear grunge either. The guitarists Carlos Cavazo, who used to be in Quiet Riot, and Brian Young, who used to play with David Lee Roth, brought in heavy and bluesy styles. Some of the material was written with our co-producer Greg Hampton and some of his songs and riffs were turned around and revamped. It wasnt just the same four people writing everything. It all ties in together. It doesnt sound like all different things; it sounds like a cohesive band playing with different styles.
Dave: Bass player Jimmy Bain joined you in the rhythm section in both DIO and the Hollywood Allstarz, and 3 Legged Dogg came together when the two of you decided to start a new band. In its conception stage, did you and Jimmy have a pre-conceived sound in mind or did that take shape as you started to write and record the songs?
VINNY: No, nothing was pre-conceived. It took shape as we started to write. None of the bands Ive been in have walked in trying to sound like something. Thats too hard to do. We got together, started laying things down, and our vocalist Chaz West got involved. When we listened we liked what we heard. We watched it so that none of the riffs sounded too 80s or too bluesy. When it did, we re-arranged it.
Dave: Some music fans, given the band members resumes, were probably expecting old-school metal. To be taken seriously as a new band, was it necessary for 3 Legged Dogg to avoid that sound and show a different personality?
VINNY: Yeah, I didnt want it to sound like we were still in the 80s. But when we got together, it didnt sound that way as people found out when they gave it a listen. I have a studio in my house, and everything was recorded here during pre-production. I listened more to it than the others and I made sure certain parts didnt sound too 80s.
Dave: Given your busy touring schedule with Heaven and Hell, can your fans expect 3 Legged Dogg to play any live shows in 2007?
VINNY: Well try to do some shows on the breaks during the Heaven and Hell tour. Well also do some videos that can be shown on youtube.com and the Internet. Hopefully, thatll keep the energy of the band going while Im off doing the other tour with Heaven and Hell.
Dave: Once the band gets onstage, I cant foresee the band members forgetting their metal roots. Is it safe to say that when 3 Legged Dogg plays live, metalheads can expect the setlist to be rounded out with a few DIO, Rainbow, and Quiet Riot songs?
VINNY: Oh yeah, it would be stupid not to do that. Like the Hollywood Allstarz, we play stuff from our history. Since it was a pretty good history, people want to hear those songs. The crowds love when we rock out with the old Quiet Riot and DIO songs. When DIO was formed, we rounded out the live set with material from Rainbow. You have to give the live audience what they want to hear.
Dave: Whats going to be your favorite cut from Frozen Summer to play live and why?
VINNY: Theyre all fun to play, but I think Give and Take Away will be the most fun. Thats our first video and we just uploaded it at the MySpace page. Its slamming, with a mellow intro, and then it punches into a Led Zep kind of thing. That song has a lot of power behind it.
Dave: We already talked about the fans expectations. On the other hand, in todays music industry, can a band like 3 Legged Dogg release a record on an indie label and have expectations or do you have to take on a lets wait and see attitude?
VINNY: Its definitely wait and see because this is a different way of releasing a record. Its not a major label release. Itll need a slower build which is good. A lot of major label releases dont get promoted right and that becomes the end of that. When nothing happens, the album is dead. We got Frozen Summer released, its starting to sell, a publicist is working with us, and were doing a video. It keeps going forward with a slow build, which we feel is the better way to go in this musical climate.
Dave: Based upon the response 3 Legged Dogg has received so far, will they carry on and start writing songs for a follow-up record?
VINNY: Yeah, we might sit down to write some before I leave for the Heaven and Hell tour. The response and reviews have been positive. Its a real fun band, and we like what were playing so well be writing more stuff. Absolutely!
Dave: You have a great drum sound, in particular the songs recorded by your ex-band mate and co-producer Jeff Pilson. They have a French-door sound quality that I cant explain. Whats your thoughts on that unique sound and was that French door open or closed?
VINNY: Where did you get that French door thing from? Did you speak to Jeff?
Dave: Jeff obviously fed me that question when he heard I was doing this interview. Whenever I share any musician friends with my interview subject, Ill sometimes ask them to play journalist and pinch-hit with a question.
VINNY: Jeffs old house had a studio in the garage. He had a Pro-Tools set-up in his living room. The whole house was overtaken by wires and cable and mikes and speakers. Theres the drums in a corner of the garage, I look over to the other side, and theres an old French door from a remodeling project of mine from six years ago. Everybody loved the drum sound and I said it had to be the French doors. The sound reflected off the doors into the mikes, and it made it sound great. He just moved into a bigger house and a nicer studio with a drum room. But he doesnt have the French door.
Dave: Speaking of pinch-hitting with a question, heres one from your friend and mine, Scorpions drummer James Kottak.
VINNY: Oh no!
James: Hey Vinny, have you built any gingerbread duplexes or town homes lately?
VINNY: James and his wife Athena know Im into building: computers, cars, houses, you name it. They bought me a kit for my birthday in September where you build a real gingerbread house. I remembered around Christmas to take it out and build it. It had a little drum set on it, and I meant to leave it on their doorstep but I never got around to it. Believe it or not, it was pretty hard to build.
Dave: Im sure youve already been asked about the significance of the name 3 Legged Dogg. Ill skip that, but I would like to have a little fun with the bands name. A dog with three legs has an obvious handicap that cant be fixed, yet it can live a normal and productive life. Self-critique your band. Whats missing from your 3 Legged Dogg and is there any way to fix it?
VINNY: In all actuality, there was a three-legged dog who hung around the studio. The sound never bothered him, and he walked right in while we were playing. We said that was our name until somebody thinks of something better. Of course, nobody even tried so the name stuck. I like the way you say it though. I dont know yet exactly whats missing from 3 Legged Dogg. Its too soon, weve only done one album and I like what Ive heard so far. Every band has something missing. Thatll turn up more as we write more records. It becomes hard to not repeat yourself and not sound the same all the time.
Dave: I guess when I wrote the question that I was thinking we all would like to be twenty years younger when breaking a band and full of youthful energy.
VINNY: I dont have that problem yet. When I play, I have a fire in me that wont quit. Im not finished yet!
Dave: Because Black Sabbath and DIO were such influential bands, you as a musician made an impact on an entire generation of metal drummers with your powerful style. Whats the number-one drumming lesson that youve tried to teach by example that should forever be a part of your musical legacy?
VINNY: I just tried to lead by example like many of the great drummers who influenced me. Listening to Led Zeppelin growing up, there were a lot of drums and Bonzo did some incredible things that paved the way for future generations of drummers. His triplets on Good Times Bad Times was the first rock recording to have that, and it was so tasteful how he worked in it there. Some of the insane drumming Billy Cobham did with Mahavishnu Orchestra inspired me the same way. I tried to be flashy, without crossing the line of overplaying and being tasteful. I play the songs before we record them so that I can feel them in my heart. Then I have a feel for where I can put some crazy stuff in the songs for the drummers, making sure it fits the song and that its not overplayed. I want the things that I add to the record to stand out to drummers and music fans. Drums dont have to be played safely all the time. You can play them aggressively and kick the band in the ass.
Dave: The last time you played out my way in New Jersey was with your fun cover band called the Hollywood Allstarz. Are they defunct or still active when schedules allow?
VINNY: Im busy doing Heaven and Hell but the Hollywood Allstarz want to keep it going. Theyre talking to Eric Singer and Wild Mick Brown from Dokken about doing some shows. Its a fun gig and you dont have to take it too seriously. Its a no-brainer because we have the set list down and anybody stepping in will know those songs.
Dave: Didnt you just have a recent onstage drum battle with your brother Carmine at a benefit for the late, great Runaways drummer Sandy West?
VINNY: I went over to Carmines house, and we came up with a few good ideas and practiced on the pads. We wrote it down and actually rehearsed a lot. We battled, we did things together, and we got everybody up singing when we played Queens We Will Rock You.
Dave: Was the drumming more fierce and competitive than on the DVD that Carmine and you did called Drum Wars The Ultimate Battle?
VINNY: Yeah, it was a battle and it was more intense. The DVD was recorded at Musicians Institute in front of 300 musicians. There was a lot of tension recording it there. It didnt go smoothly. We should have recorded it low-key in a different place.
Dave: In the 1960s, there were no videotapes, no DVDs, and not 1001 cable channels on television. You had less than a dozen channels, and if you missed a show you had to wait six months for the repeat. You and I were probably too young to be heavily impacted by The Beatles February 9, 1964, performance on The Ed Sullivan show. For your family, the bigger thrill had to have been watching Carmine and his band Vanilla Fudge on the Ed Sullivan show on January 12, 1968, and February 2, 1969. What do you remember about either of those nights?
VINNY: I remember the whole thing. My whole family and the entire neighborhood watched it on television. My house was packed and everybody was tense and nervous because it was live television. I couldnt believe theyd play it live. What if Carmine dropped a drumstick? It was incredible!
Dave: You were only 16 years old when you met John Lennon at the Record Plant recording studios in New York City. You went on to drum for him in several projects. Was John was a bigger influence on you than Ringo?
VINNY: The whole band was equally influential on me because of the stuff they wrote and the music they played.
Dave: Was there a particular musical lesson you learned from John Lennon?
VINNY: No. I was so young and I really didnt talk to him about much. I watched how he worked. The video we did was mimed to a pre-existing track. I did a recording session where we played original songs with a female singer that he produced. Watching him work, I was amazed at the ideas he came up with, but I was too inexperienced to start applying Johns knowledge to myself.
Dave: Everything changes and everything evolves but an old expression is the more things change, the more they stay the same. Metal music may not be for everybody, but its shown that its here to stay. Yet I read a story the other night where the author feels metal is evolving and adapting to the death metal scene. I disagree with that author, because many of the classic metal bands are still going strong, and new bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Trivium have a sound that headbangers from the 80s would enjoy. Do you think metal music, with its new generation of followers, is evolving into something else?
VINNY: Its evolving in a way, but on the other hand its staying the same. Classic rock stations around the country are playing old metal songs. That material from the 80s is a foundation thats not going away. There are no stations devoting their playlists to classic 90s stuff. There are new bands that are taking metal a step further, but some of them are too polished for me and you cant tell them apart.
Dave: The music industry in general sure has evolved since you got started. We can spend all day talking about that but Ill spin my last question another way. How has Vinny Appice evolved as a music professional to keep up with the drastic changes in the music industry?
VINNY: Ive learned a lot, and seen a lot, and you have to go whichever way the industry goes. The Internet has changed everything. You have to adjust and I can do that easily. Im not stuck in the past. Im open to change drumming-wise, recording-wise, and sound-wise. I embrace new technology.
Dave: Unless you have any other upcoming projects that youd like to promote, thanks again and feel free to add any closing comments for your fans.
VINNY: Id like to thank everybody for listening all of these years. Ill be out on the road in 2007 with Heaven and Hell, as well as 3 Legged Dogg. Come on out and see me.
Full Name: Vinny Appice
MySpace pages: www.myspace.com/vinnieappice www.myspace.com/3leggeddogg
Birthday: September 13, 1957
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York
Favorite beverage: Root beer
Favorite food: Italian
First record you ever bought: I Get Around by the Beach Boys
Last CD you bought: Audioslave
Favorite U.S. city to visit: Las Vegas
Favorite international city: London
Favorite venue to play: too hard to pick
Favorite film: Goodfellas