Legendary drummer’s “Guitar Zeus” re-release is better than ever
Exclusive interview with FGPO’s Jon Liebman
May 1, 2019
Carmine Appice is an iconic rock drummer, known for his tenure with Vanilla Fudge; Cactus; Beck, Bogert & Appice; Rod Stewart; Ozzy Osbourne; Blue Murder; and King Kobra. Early this year, Carmine, the first drummer to be interviewed on FGPO(!), re-released his acclaimed Guitar Zeus compilation, featuring a lineup of some of the biggest names in rock guitar history. Originally released in the 1990s, the lineup includes Brian May, Neal Schon, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Dweezil Zappa, Yngwie Malmsteen, Leslie West, Vivian Campbell, Pat Travers, Steve Morse, Ted Nugent, Jennifer Batten, Yngwie Malmsteen and many others. The new version also includes several bonus tracks, including “Mothers Space,” featuring Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal. Here’s the whole story, straight from Carmine himself, from our one-on-one conversation.
FGPO: Congratulations on the new release.
Carmine: Thank you. It was quite an undertaking, but we did it and now we’re finally getting it out there where people are actually getting to hear it.
FGPO: What inspired you to organize the project the first time around, back in the ‘90s?
Carmine: Well, originally, it was 1992. I was playing with Joe Lynn Turner, Jeff Watson, and Bob Daisley. Jeff Watson came out of Night Ranger and got an immediate record deal. I had a solo album in ’82 and I was looking for another one. It was ten years later and I still didn’t have it. And I said, what do I gotta be, a guitar player to come out and get a deal? So I started thinking, maybe I’ll get friends to play and I’ll call up guitar guys. We were messing around with the name Zeus for a band name, and I said, nah, I’ll call it Guitar Zeus. I just said that to Jeff and Bob and Joe, just for fun. When I went to bed that night I started thinking, “That’s a good idea!” How could I facilitate this? I realized I needed to find somebody to put a deal together. In the interim, I ran into people like Ted Nugent, Brian May, and the guys from King’s X, and asked them if they would play on the record. I thought if I could get those guys on the record, it would draw other people. But it took me two years to find somebody that would actually put the deal together. Once we got the deal together, I got a hold of the guys and we started doing it. I had to find somebody to co-write songs and sing, and I got a hold of Kelly Keeling, who I met when we went to Japan together to do like a rock super session tour. He sang on the second Blue Murder record and I really liked the way he sounded. I saw he had a lot of song ideas and a really unique kind of style. We started working together, writing songs, and the songs came out great. Once we got the deal together, it was just a matter of recording the songs with Tony Franklin, the three of us. We got all the tracks down in like a week, and then started farming out the guitar players. We started with Brian May, Ted, and the guys from King’s X. By doing those first, it brought other guys in.
FGPO: It’s quite a long list of guitar players on the compilation. How did you go about choosing the rest of the lineup?
Carmine: Well, Kelly was working with Yngwie (Malmsteen). Yngwie heard about the project, he said he’d like to do a track. Once Yngwie got on, I called Slash and I got him on. I knew Neal Schon. I asked Neal. Understand that in the mid ‘90s, nobody was really big any more. Everybody was like dinosaurs because grunge was king, so it was easier to get those guys. It would be harder to get them now because everybody’s big again.
FGPO: You mentioned Tony Franklin, “Fretless Tony.” His playing made the interpretations very special. You don’t really hear that kind of fretless playing too much in a rock context.
Carmine: I love Tony. When I played with him with Blue Murder, he became my favorite bass player to play with, ‘cause he makes the bass sing. He’s awesome. He’s a great guy and he’s really melodic, great bass player. I knew that me, him and Kelly would make a great trio to write all the music and put the music together for this, and I did that, and then brought the guitar players in. Brian had more of a choice of songs because he was one of the first ones there. And as the songs dwindled down, the new guys that came in had less of a choice. And then some people, like Yngwie, wanted to [play] on the track that dUg Pinnick from King’s X sang on, so I put those two together. Mick Mars wanted to play on the track that Edgar Winter was singing ‘cause he was a fan of Edgar’s, so that was interesting.
FGPO: How did you manage the recording logistics with so many artists?
Carmine: Three quarters of it was done in the studio in LA where the guys came in. The rest were done in different studios, at home. Ted was funny. He’s doing the track, he’s got the guitar on, he’s got a pistol in a holster on the back of his belt. That was pretty funny. And then I went to Houston (and) got the King’s X guys myself. And then Paul Gilbert did it on ADAT at his house, Steve Morse was sent a 24-track (tape), Brian May was sent a 24-track, Leslie West was sent a 24-track, and the rest pretty much were done in the studio in LA.
FGPO: What was the reason for the re-release all these years later?
Carmine: Well, the reason was, I was just gonna get a catalog deal, and the guy that helped me do it said you should keep the digital rights and we should really promote it and get it out there. Basically everybody was like a “has-been” in the ‘90s when we released it. It did really well all over the world except in America. We never released it here. When I tried to release it here, the label went out of business, so all they did was put it up on YouTube, and it did nothing for it. And the second time, they did nothing but put it on iTunes. So now we’re spending a lot of time getting it off of YouTube and iTunes [laughs]. The idea was to release it now because everybody that’s on it now is happening. Neal’s with Journey again; they’re doing big business. Brian’s with Queen; their career’s exploding. You got Dweezil Zappa who was just Frank’s son when I put him on. Now he sells out theaters doing Zappa Plays Zappa. Zakk Wylde was a new sideman with Ozzy when I started doing this. Now he’s an individual act and a sideman and a name by himself. Ted Nugent was always Ted, but in the mid ‘90s he wasn’t as big as he is now. So everybody on there is big again. Steve Morse had just joined Deep Purple. Now he’s been with them 14 years. Everybody on there now is doing really well. So now was the time to release it.
FGPO: What was it like trying to get a label to release it?
Carmine: No label wanted to take it without digital release, so I put it out on my own label for CDs and vinyl. There are some new tracks on there that were never released, including the track called “Mothers Space” with Bumblefoot, because that was a 24-track I found in my locker that I keep all the 24-tracks (in). I saw “Mothers Space” and I said, oh man, that’s not on any albums. I wonder if it’s finished. I bounced it to digital, and found out it was finished with everything except lead guitar. So I asked Bumblefoot if he’d play on it, and he said yes, and he did. And then I needed some more guitars (but) he went out on tour with Sons of Apollo. I had to get it finished, so the engineer I was using, Stevie D, plays guitar. I took him out on the road with me and my brother and I saw that he’s a pretty good player, so I asked him to (add) some heavier guitars and some guitar fills that I needed in the song. To distinguish him from Bumblefoot, he was on the right and the left, and Bumblefoot was down the middle with the mix. We got that finished, he mixed it, and he made it sound like the old mixes. Then I had a song called “Nothing” by John Norum that was never released, a song called “Angels” by a guy named Char, “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” with me and Pat Travers that was never released. So there was like four or five bonus tracks never released. And they’re all on the Spotify digital platforms. There’s 33 tracks on those platforms.
FBPO: How about the production process? The remastering must have made a big difference.
Carmine: Yeah. We remastered all the tracks and, as I said, there were songs that weren’t even released, so we had to master those as well to get them ready for release. The main production happened in the ‘90s, other than the Bumblefoot track. Everything was done in the ‘90s, already mixed, so remastering them was not a big deal. And there are some other tracks I’m trying to find the 24-tracks (for), one called “Mr. Fire,” and “Surrender,” and they’re really cool. I have mixes of them, but I don’t know where the 24-tracks are. I’d like to find the 24-tracks and finish those as well. We’re trying to get this Guitar Zeus to happen somewhat so we can go out and get another deal for another Guitar Zeus. I have a bunch of guitar players in mind to play on that. I’m organizing the same team, Kelly Keeling singing and writing, Tony Franklin and everything. We do all those records analog.
FBPO: You mentioned Edgar Winter. How does he fit in to the project?
Carmine: Well, I was playing with Edgar just before I got these deals, and just asked him if he wanted to sing on a song and he said sure. So he sang on the song. I paid him for it, and he sang. That’s really how it happened. At the same time, you know, we were all part of the dinosaur era, when the grunge was king and nobody wanted to hear about the big bands of the day because they weren’t big any more. Now that the late ‘70s and ‘80s are like the classic rock, all those bands are big again.
FBPO: I heard something about a new Cactus album. What can you tell me about that?
Carmine: We’re working on that. We have seven new tracks done. Next year’s our 50th anniversary, so we’re going to try to get a whole bunch of stuff out next year. We have some live recordings of Cactus live at the Action House on Long Island with the original band. We’re gonna try to put a whole package together for the 50th anniversary. (We also want) to do some classic gigs and try and bring in some people who were influenced by Cactus. Like the group Clutch has gone in the studio recently to record our version of “Evil.” And I know Greta Van Fleet plays “Evil” live, and Black Stone Cherry recorded “Evil” last year, and Dee Snyder recorded “Evil” with his group twenty years ago. There’s a lot of people recording our version of “Evil,” so we’re gonna try to see if some of those people will play with us on some gigs as a celebration of our 50th.
FBPO: You seem to enjoy restoring and reissuing classic recordings. What else do you have in the works besides Cactus? Some Vanilla Fudge stuff maybe?
Carmine: Vanilla Fudge might be doing a new record. We’re working on a deal through my record company, a three-album deal. One of them will be (with) my brother, the Appice Brothers, another will be the Cactus record, and another one might be a Vanilla Fudge record. The Guitar Zeus record’s gonna be a different kind of deal.
FGPO: Any possibility of Tim Bogert being a part of any of those recordings?
Carmine: Tim Bogert’s retired. He’s out in California riding his motorcycle and not having to deal with any pressure. Trying to stay healthy. [laughs]
FGPO: He was one of my early interviews on forbassplayersonly.com. I interviewed Pete Bremy one time too.
Carmine: Yeah, well, Tim was Pete’s main guy. That’s why he ended up in the band. He played all of Tim’s stuff. I did a record that never came out with Jeff Berlin too, I have in the can. I’d like to release that. I have four songs. It’s Ray Gomez, me, Jeff Berlin. It’s sort of like Chick Corea with vocals. It’s pretty cool.
FGPO: What about the other Jeff, Jeff Beck? Anything happening with him?
Carmine: Well, we mixed a live BBA record from 1974. It’s supposed to be coming out, but you never know with Jeff Beck. But the good thing about it is it’s only three of the old songs. All the rest of the songs are new songs.
FGPO: Nothing wrong with that.
Carmine: No. And he likes it. He told me on the phone he thought it was a great record and thought we were playing great. He said the playing is humorous. There’s a lot of funny stuff on there.
FGPO: Any new books, publications, or education resources in the works? Like a follow-up to your book, Stick It: My Life of Sex, Drums, and Rock ‘n’ Roll?
Carmine: No, not really. I think my next book might be Guitar Zeus: The Book. I made a list of all the guitar players I played with, and it’s pretty impressive to me. I said if I write stories about all that, including the making of the Guitar Zeus record and working with all those guys, it’d be a pretty interesting book.
Guitar Zeus is available here: