2011 ushers in another blast from the past for Appice, in the form of King Kobra’s magnificent self-titled reunion record. Well, reunion might be a strong word, given the fact that founding vocalist Mark/Marcie Free—who penned one of rock’s strangest tales with his gender identity issues and subsequent sex change—is notably absent from King Kobra. Yet, King Kobra is at it once again with former Rough Cutt frontman Paul Shortino taking over vocal duties with his soulful, bluesy croon, and the results speak for themselves: this is one reunion which deserves to be shouted from the rooftops.
We managed to nail down the legendary Appice for some commentary, while taking the prerequisite detours along the way into the man’s storied, extensive history.
MetalGeorge Pacheco: What influenced the decision to reform King Kobra?
Carmine Appice: Basically it wasn’t a thing I sat around and thought about for very long; I actually didn’t think about it at all! David Michael-Philips is actually a computer programmer, came to L.A. to work on programming computer systems for U.S. fighter jets and asked me if I was around. I live in New York and L.A., so we went out to dinner and he played me some of his new music. He mentioned to me that Pat Regan—who mixed my Guitar Zeus records and Vanilla Fudge albums, to name a few—was in town mixing the latest Keel record, so we went out to say hello.
Dave had played briefly with Keel, and it actually turned out that Paul Shortino was involved helping mix Keel’s vocals for the record, so we all hung out together for a bit. The idea for doing a new King Kobra album came up from that, and David was into it. We called up Johnny Rod and Mick Sweda, knowing that they’d be up for it, as well. As far as a singer went, I knew Marcie Free wouldn’t be an option, so we just asked Paul, and he was on board!
And how about the label choice of Frontiers?
Well, we probably could have scored more money from other labels at the time, but our manager convinced us that Frontiers was the place to be; they have this whole '80s thing wired. They didn’t want me to explore the more modern-sounding material I had to King Kobra’s 2000 release, or the Guitar Zeus records—which are more Soundgarden meets Blue Murder meets The Beatles—so we definitely had the freedom to do an '80s sounding record.
Once we got the deal, then work started, and we did everything via internet. The only time the three of us got together was in December of ’09, when I was doing a gig in Vegas. We actually did four songs that we wrote IN the '80s, modernized a little bit, with changed lyrics and arrangements, and they made it to the record. They probably would have been on our first two records, but our producer at the time wouldn’t let us put them on there.
Which ones were they?
“Midnight Woman,” “Screaming For More,” “Top of the World” and “You Make It Easy.” The rest are all new.
Paul sounds really great here, too. You have songs which sound really aggressive—as if they could have easily fit on Ready to Strike—yet you have a song like “Live Forever” which is so melodic.
That’s a great song. We wrote that in parts. Dave sent the song to me, and Paul cut and pasted different chord and lyrical ideas. Between the internet and phone, that’s how we wrote it, and when it was finished I just said, “Jesus, man…if Bon Jovi did this song, it would be number one!” It’s true! A group with major label push could easily push that song into number one. Not to say anything bad about Frontiers, but I don’t think they’re going to give the kind of push and money you need to make a hit song a hit song, you know? Unless they REALLY think it’s a great song and want to make it a hit.
Who knows? I look at everything in the minimal now. People ask me what my goal is with this album, and my answer is, “to make another album.” (laughs) If we sell enough records where Frontiers wants to do another one, great; we’re already writing new songs anyway!
How does it feel to always be “in demand” as far as drumming goes, whether it be in a band situation or session work? I think just recently you were touring with MSG, right?
Yeah, last summer, and in February we were in South America. I’m definitely a lucky guy that I came into the business during an era where everything was new; even FM radio was new. By doing that, I pioneered playing loud and playing with big drums; I was the only one doing it, and in doing so, became a template for what a rock drummer is “supposed” to be. I look around at all these rock drummers twirling sticks, playing hard and heavy with double bass drums…that was all part of the stuff I was pioneering when we took Led Zeppelin out on their first tour. It built my career up at the same time.
I’ve had such a diverse career playing with Cactus, Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent and Ozzy, and I was talking with Robert Plant one time, and he said, “I’ve been in the same band, singing the same s--t for forty years! I’m bored!” To which I replied, “Yeah, Robert but look at your bank account and look at mine!”(laughs) Still, though, I’m very lucky to still be here in the music business. Someone had mentioned to me at a drum clinic how I was the last one of my era doing what I do, apart from Cream’s Ginger Baker, who doesn’t really do anything. Everyone else is dead. I’m lucky that I’m still here, aspiring to play and aspiring to get better.
The first Blue Murder record is one of my absolute favorites.
Oh that album is awesome! To tell the truth, when (Blue Murder vocalist/guitarist) John Sykes left Thin Lizzy, I thought we were going to do Blue Murder. We were talking about it, and Lizzy’s manager was going to do it, but when John left, there was such a sour note that the manager just said “forget it.” It’ll be two years in June since John left Lizzy, and there have been so many conversations about, and jam sessions between me, John and Tony, yet nothing ever happened. Unbelievable. Blue Murder would kill if it came out now.
Will there be any King Kobra touring for this record?
If someone comes up with the money to do it, then yeah, but these days there’s no way to do it without losing money. I can’t back this thing anymore. I backed it in the '80s, and it cost me 200 grand! (laughs) It’s not the time anymore. The record business is so bad with the downloading screwing everybody up. It’s a drag.
We sold a lot of records in the '80s, but we never got up to arena status, which is why we can’t tour today. We were never up to that status. We only sold two nights in L.A. at 900 a piece, and so on, so we were never really in the big numbers. You have groups these days who used to play arenas playing clubs, so where would we be, playing in someone’s basement?!? (laughs)