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Vanilla Fudge Drummer Carmine Appice’s Unlikely Connection To Fred Astaire And Gregory Peck

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In the first two parts of this interview series with drummer Carmine Appice, we discussed his many sticks friends including Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, John Bonham – the A-list guys. Appice’s stories are fascinating, real rock history. Here, we deviate a bit to the Hollywood big screen. We discuss a musician, John Lennon, but also dancer Fred Astaire and actor Gregory Peck. Appice also tells us what he would like his legacy to be. Following are edited excerpts from a longer conversation.

Jim Clash: Why did Vanilla Fudge cover The Supremes’ big hit, “You Keep Me Hanging On?” 

Carmine Appice: Back then, they were doing what we called “production numbers” in New York, or slowed-down versions of hit songs. What we did was make a slowed-down version of that one, then match the music to the lyrics. “You Keep Me Hanging On” had “hurting lyrics,” all about relationships gone-bad. Anyone who’s been in a relationship gone-bad knows it’s emotionally hurting. When The Supremes did the song, the music was happy and upbeat. But the lyrics weren’t. We changed that. When we later covered “Eleanor Rigby,” we also matched the story to the mood of the music – very eerie, churchy, spiritual, in a demonic kind of way. 

Clash: You have met and played with some incredible people. Give me an anecdote or two from your memoir, “Stick It!: My Life Of Sex, Drums, And Rock ‘N’ Roll.” 

Appice: When my brother Vinny was at the Record Plant doing hand-claps on “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” he became friends with John Lennon. He said to John after the session, “My mother makes great Italian food. Do you like Italian?” John said, yeah, so Vinny had my mother make him some lasagna. Vinny gave it to him, and never heard anything back. Well, I played Madison Square Garden with Rod Stewart a couple of months later, five nights in 1979. John was at one gig, and came to the after-party, as did my parents. When my mom saw John, she asked if he had liked her lasagna. He said that he loved it, that it was delicious. So my mom looked at him and asked, “Can I please have my pan back?” Classic story [laughs].

Here’s another one. I have a letter hanging in my studio, from Fred Astaire. I met Fred at our gig at the West Coast Forum. When Rod [Stewart] had gotten married, Allan Carr, producer of Grease, threw a party for Rod at Allan’s mansion in Beverly Hills. I’m at the party and see, out of the corner of my right eye, somebody walking up, real tall. It’s Gregory Peck! He grabbed my hand, said he was Gregory. I said, “I know who you are. My mother would die if she were here.” Anyway, we got to talking and he said that when Fred Astaire saw me do my drum solo at the show, Fred said that it was the best solo he’d seen since Gene Krupa. So I’m thinking, Fred Astaire said that, and Gregory Peck is telling me about it. Wow, let me pinch myself. Then Greg told me that Fred was a drummer, which I didn’t know, that Fred had always wanted to play rock drums, but didn’t have a clue. I told Greg that I had a book called “Ultimate Realistic Rock Drum Method,” which teaches rock drumming. I said I could get him one to give to Fred. He said that would be great, and that next time I was at Rod’s house – he lived next door to Gregory – knock on his door and he’d give it to Fred. I said, “Okay Greg [laughs].” So I signed the book, “Dear Fred, I hope this helps you learn to play rock drums. Love, Carmine Appice.” Two weeks later I get an envelope, rip it open – ruining it, of course. The letter inside says, “Thank you, Carmine Appice, for the lovely inscription. I’ve enjoyed your work many times. You sure are terrific. Love, Fred Astaire.” I almost fainted. Goes to show you anything can happen, even to a kid from Brooklyn.

Clash: What would you like your legacy to be?

Appice: That I was a drummer who tried to lead, and to try new things. I had big drums first – the power tom-toms, the extended bass drum – which started the fad of big drums by Ludwig. I had a wah-wah on my snare drum. I just want to be remembered as a guy who was experimental, who helped bring the drums out front, like my idol, Gene Krupa.

MORE FROM FORBESCarmine Appice Opines On Other Great Drummers, Including John Bonham, Ginger Baker

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