By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Rock music drum legend, Carmine Appice has been going at it for 45 years now. Over that period of time, he has performed with some of the most talented and popular performers on the face of the earth. That list includes Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Stanley, and many more. Although Carmine has played with some true music legends, one of Carmine’s most favorite musical projects of his impressive career, was his 80’s glam-metal band called, King Kobra.
Recently, Carmine brought almost all of the original line-up of King Kobra back together, along with ex-Quiet Riot, Rough Cutt vocalist, Paul Shortino, handling the vocal duties. Original vocalist, Mark Free, underwent a sex operation years ago, and now goes by the name Marcie Free. He/she currently sings in the band Unruly Child. The other members of King Kobra did not have sex changes, who are: Mick Sweda – guitar, Johnny Rod – bass and David Michael Phillips – guitar.
This past Tuesday (5/3/11), King Kobra released their first CD in over two decades. The self titled CD was released by Frontiers Records, and features some of the most crafted tracks that band have ever written.
What follows is an exclusive interview with the ‘King’ of King Kobra – Carmine Appice. During this interview Carmine discusses the events that led the band to getting back together, the new CD and much more.
RockMusicStar: Carmine, over the years, you have been involved with a ton of bands and projects. The last I heard, you were playing in the Michael Schenker Group. So, why did you decide to reform your 80’s glam-metal band, King Kobra, at this point in your career?
Carmine Appice: It wasn’t so much a reform, it was more of a getting together and doing a album. Dave Michael Phillips came over to LA (he lives in Phoenix), and works on computers, he came to LA to program some United States airforce fighter jets. He called me and said that he was going to be in LA, and asked if I was going to be around. I said, “Yeah, let’s go out to dinner.” While we were out, he told me that Pat Regan, who was my engineer for many of my releases, was in the studio mixing Keel. And Dave use to play in Keel, before King Kobra, in the old days. He (Dave) asked if I wanted to go over and see him (Pat). I said “sure.” So we got together with Pat, and he mentioned that we should do a King Kobra album, because it seems like all the 80’s bands are getting back together, and doing an album. And I thought that would be interesting. So I called my manager, and ask him if he could look around, and see if he could get us a record deal. So he came back, and said that he has a couple of labels that were interested. He said, “I really think we should go with Frontiers Records, because they have that market down.“ So he put a deal together, that was in December 2009. So one day, when I was playing in Las Vegas, I called Paul Shortino, because he lives there. I also called all the other guys, and they all agreed to do it (King Kobra). Paul said that he would love to do it too.
So while I was in Vegas, I got together with Paul. Dave Michael also came to Vegas with me, and we went to Paul’s house for a few days. We went over ideas for new material, because Paul has a recording studio in his house. And that’s how it started. It wasn’t a vicious plan to take over the world. It was like, “Shit, let’s go do an album.” And now we did the record, and it sounded great, and now everyone wants us to go on tour. That really wasn’t the plan. But we would love to tour and do a few shows, but it’s very difficult to do in this economy.
The offers that we were getting weren’t even enough to even help pay the costs of travel. We have five in the band and a couple in the road crew. I’m at the age where I don’t set my drums anymore. (Laughs) And I’m not about to start. So we need a couple of roadies, and the money to do that just isn’t there. Back in the day, when we were with Capitol Records, they would pick up any deficit. But that not happening these days.
RMS: So you don’t have any gigs plans at all, no festivals or one offs?
CA: No, nothing. We are not going to do anything, if we are going to lose money. But we would love to do another album, If we could sell enough records to do another record, we would be pretty happy. But, if someone made an offer that made sense to us, we would do it. I lost $200,000 in the old days, and I’m not about to do that again.
RMS: Whose decision was in to bring Paul into the band?
CA: Well, Dave and I talked about it, and I always thought that I had a good concept of what works, and what doesn’t work. Dave was with me, when I called Paul that night, and he said he’d do it. And I’m glad that he said yes, because he’s a great singer. But also a great pro tools engineer. And the same with Dave, he really knows how to record well. He has a studio in his house, and so does Mick. So we did this whole album over the internet, basically. There were never more than two members of the band in the studio at the same time. There was a lot of telephone calls and e-mail. The CD was mixed by Michael Voss in Germany. Michael is also singing back-up vocals, and produced the upcoming Michael Schenker album. I played a couple of tracks on that one as well. We gave him a test track to mix called “Monsters and Heroes,” which was all about Ronnie James Dio. Paul re-wrote all of the lyrics, and we did a separate deal with that with Steve Vai’s label, Favor Records. It’s a download deal only, and all the money goes to Ronnie’s charity. This song isn’t even on the new record. You can find it on itunes and on my site. But, Michael Voss did an incredible job and that’s how it all came together, and it took nine months.
RMS: The new CD really sounds like the early King Kobra releases. Was that the goal, to keep the sound and style, as close to the original sound as possible?
CA: Yes, and that’s what we did. In 2000, I did an album under the name King Kobra, which is my name, I own it. I was asked to do a deal with MCM, over in Europe, and it never came out anywhere else. It was called “Hollywood Trash.” It had Kelly Keeling singing on it. He was with Michael Schenker, Baton Rouge and George Lynch. I had Mick Sweda play on it, we also had CC Deville on it. David was busy at the time, so he couldn’t do it. Johnny Rod was in jail. But, I was trying to make it a more modern album. And this time, the label did not want that. Frontiers Records specifically stated that they wanted an album like the ‘old’ King Kobra. On this new album, we even have some songs that were written in 1984, that we brought out and put on the album. We changed them a little bit, to make them fresh, and better, and gave them some lyrics. So those songs were written before the first album, “Ready to Strike,” came out. “Midnight Women,” “Top of the World,” “You Make it Easy” and “Screamin’ for More,” were all tracks written in 1984. So for the other songs, we just stayed in that style, the style that we know how to write. But that comes very easy for me and David. We were always the backbone of the songwriting for King Kobra. David had certain chord structures and melody lines, and I had hook lines and certain grooves. I made sure that all the songs had different tempos. Every song on the album is in a different tempo. It keeps the interest in the album.
RMS: You’ve had an amazing career. Seriously, you have performed with practically everyone. How does King Kobra rank in all the projects that you have been involved in?
CA: Musically, I put it up there with anybody. I’m in Florida now with the owner of Dean guitars and D Drums, and a guitar player named Michael Angelo Batio (Nitro). The three of us are going to Central America tomorrow, for a clinic tour. They were both raving about how great the CD sounded. They both thought that the band was stellar, and really on top of it. And it really is. Johnny Rod blew me away with his bass parts. He did them all in one day. He had really good bass parts, the notes he picked and the riffs were all really good and tasteful. Same with David on guitar, and Mick and Paul’s vocals were awesome. So these guys are top of the line musicians, and they can really play anything.
RMS: I remember seeing King Kobra several times in the mid-80’s opening for KISS, Ted Nugent and once with Kim Mitchell. I was always really impressed with the level of musicianship, and the energy of the live performance. For a while, King Kobra was actually my favorite band. Why didn’t the band ever reach the level of stardom that you deserved?
CA: Thanks. It was Capitol records that blew it. They fucked it up so bad. C’mon dude, we were on tour with KISS, and Capitol couldn’t even put together an in-store right. We did one and the store didn’t even have our record in stock. They didn’t have our records in any stores when we were on tour with KISS.
See what happened, was the guy that was in charge of radio, was breaking all of these bands on Emi/Capitol. They then bumped him into A&R, and then he signed us. But when he was in A&R, he wasn’t doing radio. So, for the whole two years that we were releasing records, he wasn’t doing radio. Finally, the label realized that they weren’t breaking any bands anymore, including us. So they put him back in radio, and the first band that he worked with was Poison. He made them big. They actually opened up for us. They took our whole image, the whole King Kobra image, with the wild blonde hair, with colors in it. They saw how crazy we were on stage, and they took a lot of that as well. Capitol busted them wide open. Boy , did that piss me right off. We had bands like Pantera opening for us. Yeah, that really pissed me off. And then they dropped us, and didn’t even give us a chance to another album, with it being properly promoted at radio. And this guy really knew how to promote a band to radio. But yeah, it was terrible.
After that, Johnny Rod left to join WASP, Mark Free, our vocalist, left because the music was too heavy for him, he wanted to play wimpy music – which he is doing now as a women. After a while, we put a new King Kobra together with Lonnie Vincent, Marq Torien, and with Mick Sweda. And then Mick left, and took half the song that we were doing, and went with WB Records, and formed the Bullet Boys. Half of the songs on the first Bullet Boys CD, were King Kobra songs, for our next album. So, I picked all these guys that went on to do something. The only guy that didn’t, was David. He went to school, and become a computer engineer. And he’s done better than everybody.
I was happy that these guys, which were handpicked by me, went on to become rockstars. So, I obviously made some good choices there. I felt like Jeff Beck, where people go through me and become famous. It was like the school of rock through Carmine.
RMS: You mentioned Jeff Beck. You were in the Beck, Bogert, Appice band. What was that experience like and why did you only do one studio album together?
CA: Jeff Beck was impossible to work with, he really was. Right now, he runs his own band, the way he wants. But he can’t be part of a real band. They say that Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck are going to work together again, I don’t see it lasting. During the time they were writing “People Get Ready,” Jeff was staying at my house. And he said, “Let’s go do some music.” So, we went to my buddies house, and we wrote and put together the whole arrangement of “People Get Ready.” And then we got Rod to sing on it. And then when it came out, there was no mention of me on it. It was just difficult to work with him. Every time I worked with him, I got fucked. I got fucked on songwriting on the Beck, Bogert, Appice (BBA) record, even songs that I wrote myself. Someone made a deal with Jeff, and then they took 100% of the songwriting. We just found out about this a few years ago. So right now, we are suing EMI, because they paid Jeff Beck all of our writing royalties. But, Jeff is very difficult. We did the second album for BBA three times. He didn’t like it. He went home in the middle of a sold out tour, because he had problems with his girlfriend. It was bullshit. I like the guy, he’s a nice guy. But he’s very difficult to work with.
I don’t know what has happened lately, someone must have put a fire under his ass, because he’s going out and kicking ass now. Maybe, because he realizes that he’s getting older. But, he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he’s getting Grammys, and he is really putting some work into it. It has shown. And he’s been a lucky guy as well, because his whole audience has stuck with him, during his entire career. He wasn’t a big platinum selling artist. He never sold that many records, but whenever he came back, be it 5 years, 7 years, whatever, his audience was always still there for him. He’s been lucky that way. And he first love wasn’t even playing the guitar, it was building cars.
But, that’s why BBA broke up, because Jeff never lived up to the contract. There was friction between Tim Bogert and Jeff, all of the time. On the last gig, Tim punched Jeff in the face. (Laughs) The music business was a lot different back then. It was all about the music back then. It wasn’t all about money. I make more money in a week doing drum clinics then I did back then playing a whole month with Jeff Beck. And those are D-Drum clinics too!!!
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