What a career drummer Vinny Appice has had! Joining Black Sabbath in 1980, Appice formed a professional and personal relationship with singer Ronnie James Dio that would last until Dio passed away from stomach cancer in 2010.
When Dio left Sabbath in 1982, he was quick to form a solo band with Appice, guitarist Vivian Campbell and bassist Jimmy Bain and this version of the band released heavy metal classics Holy Diver (1983), The Last in Line (1984) and Sacred Heart (1985). Appice and Dio rejoined Black Sabbath in 1992 for the Dehumanizer album and then again in 2006 when Appice, Dio, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler decided to abandon the Black Sabbath name and record as Heaven & Hell.
In 2014, four years after Dio’s passing, Appice, Campbell and Bain got together with singer Andrew Freeman and formed Last in Line which allowed the musicians the chance to honor Dio’s legacy by playing the music they recorded between 1983 and 1985 as well as writing new music that was inspired by their time in Dio’s band.
On Friday night, Last in Line makes their Columbus debut when they perform a Dio-heavy set, with a few songs from their 2016 release, Heavy Crown, at the Alrosa Villa. Before heading out on a short run of midwest dates, Appice gave me a call and we talked about some of the highlights of his career, including having the chance to meet and hang out with John Lennon when the drummer was a 16-year-old high school student who was just starting his own career.
I know a few people who have met you and everybody talks about what a great experience it is. You seem to be a genuinely good guy. Is that just your nature to interact with fans before and after shows?
You know what, the fans are important. If it wasn’t for the fans, we wouldn’t be here. We always try to be nice to everybody and talk to everybody. Ronnie did the same thing too so I kind of learned from him that it’s very important to take care of the fans.
I had a chance to meet Ronnie once. Black Sabbath was was on the Dehumanizer tour and the night before the show, Ronnie showed up at a Lynch Mob show. He was watching the show from a somewhat hidden area near the stage. I had a photo pass and was down in the pit when I turned around and saw him there. I asked one of the security guys if he would ask Ronnie if I could take a photo with him and, much to my surprise, Ronnie said “sure”. We talked for a few minutes, I told him I was a college journalist and would love to interview him. Ronnie gave me your tour manager’s number and said to call the following day to see if there might be an opportunity to do an interview. Unfortunately, you guys were doing a radio interview so there wasn’t time for me to do anything but Ronnie left me a ticket and after-show pass so I could see the show and say hi. That’s something I’ll never, ever forget.
The first time I joined Black Sabbath, it was winter out and we finished playing the arena. We had limos to take us back to the hotel – Ronnie and I were in one limo – and so when we left, we pulled out of the arena and get to the gate and there are some kids standing there in the cold. Ronnie right away said, “Stop. Stop.” And he got out of the car and signed everything for them. I went, “Wow, that’s pretty cool” so I got out and signed stuff too and I learned, that’s pretty caring of Ronnie to get out in the cold to meet fans. And then when we did the Holy Diver tour in the UK in 1983, there were kids outside after the show waiting for the band, they wanted autographs and things like that. It was cold out, very cold out, so when Ronnie found out everybody was waiting outside, he said, “You know what? Bring them in the venue.” They brought them in the venue and when we were ready, we came down and we signed everything for them, took pictures.
It’s interesting to me because, with the internet, a lot of that mystique is gone. The line between rock stars and fans is blurred. But, back in those days, my first impression of Ronnie was that he was scary and evil. I was 9 years old when Ronnie joined Black Sabbath for their Heaven & Hell release and my only exposure to the band was seeing photos and reading articles in magazines like Hit Parader. But, obviously, we was completely the opposite of being scary and evil.
Ha ha ha. Well, I guess it was supposed to be scary. With a name like Black Sabbath, they aren’t going to be playing any love songs.
How did you wind up joining Black Sabbath?
In ’78, they fired Ozzy. They had a record deal. I don’t know exactly when Ronnie joined the band but it was probably ’78. He was in the band and Bill Ward was playing drums. They did the Heaven & Hell album and did some touring. They were on tour and Bill didn’t really want to tour at that point so in the middle of the tour, he left. They were stuck and they started pulling feelers out and somehow my name came up and they had to cancel a show in Denver. They were doing arenas. They came back to LA to look for a drummer, they called me and I went down and met Tony and we got along great. The next day we played together. Tony liked it, everybody liked it, and they go “Alright, you’re in the band until Bill comes back.” I went, “Okay, great.” And that’s how I got in the band. Ronnie brought them back to a higher level with Heaven & Hell, that album did very well, it was a great album. He was there first and then I got in there in like 1980.
The legacy of Dio carries on. You teamed up with original Dio band members Vivian Campbell and Jimmy Bain (who passed away in 2016) to start Last in Line. Around the same time, you also joined Resurrection Kings with another former Dio guitarist, Craig Goldy. And then Craig started a band called Dio Disciples with guys who never were in Dio’s band. If you’re not paying attention, it’s a little confusing.
Last in Line is my real band, that’s my baby now. It’s a real band, we write together, we play together, we tour, we’ve got an album out. The Resurrection Kings was just a session thing, Craig had a deal with Frontiers Records and with the other guys in the band. They sent me some material and asked me if I wanted to play on it and I said, “Sure”. It’s not really a real band, we probably only did 4 shows and that was it. Dio’s Disciples has nothing to do with me, that’s Wendy Dio’s project. I played with them one time when Simon Wright couldn’t do it but that was it. My main thing is the Last in Line band and some of the stuff I do with my brother Carmine. We’re all good friends, Craig is one of my best friends. I love playing with him when there is a project.
Any future plans for Resurrection Kings?
I don’t know. We were supposed to do another album but I don’t know what happened with it. I didn’t hear anything more.
I’m a big fan of Frontiers. They are one of the few labels that still care about the bands I grew up listening to in the mid-to-late ’80s and they are putting out everything from glam rock like Pretty Boy Floyd to hard rock like Dokken to metal like Last in Line. The record industry has changed so much from that time, do you pay a lot of attention to labels or are you just looking for somebody who is interested in putting your music out?
There’s not a lot of record labels around, the ones that are around are doing what they’re doing but they’re not doing rock so Frontiers stepped up and took that spot. They are doing a great thing by keeping this music alive. There’s also SPV. SPV is a label that Carmine and I released an album on a couple months back. They are doing a similar thing to Frontiers. It’s the last resort … probably the only resort.
What I like about the album that you and Carmine did is that you’ve got an amazing cast of musicians who guest on it and that’s a testament to the careers the two of you have had. It must be nice that you scroll through your Rolodex and work with the people that you want to work with. And, actually, with all the projects you do – like Last in Line and Resurrection Kings – you’re able to pull together some great musicians.
We’ve got a lot of friends and we’ve jammed together with a lot of people so when it came time to do this, we called our friends and told them what was happening, they wanted to play on it. That’s what’s cool about the business, everybody is a friend. We go over to Europe and play festivals and most of the bands are from LA! We know them all so it’s kind of cool.
I’m guessing you do well overseas, it seems like those audiences still crave rock music like Last in Line is making. That’s something you notice, right?
Last in Line is doing well in both the US and in Europe and the reason being is because it has a history and it’s the closest thing to Ronnie James Dio you’ll get. People want to see it, people want to hear us play these songs and the solos and stuff. And Vivian’s in a big, major band (Def Leppard) so it’s a very exciting thing. And, it’s actually building.
When you were playing in Kill Devil Hill with Rex Brown, you weren’t playing the same venues you are with Last in Line, at least not in Columbus.
Kill Devil Hill was amazingly not as popular.
If I understand correctly Last in Line is doing a catalog of hits from Dio and your own stuff.
We do the songs we wrote with Dio and then we do 4 songs from our record, sometimes 5.
Thanks to the internet, I only recently learned that you played with John Lennon very early in your career. What was that like?
I played with John Lennon when I was 16. I didn’t play with him on tour. We did handclaps on the song “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, that’s how we met him. We did a couple of videos with him and then we did one live gig with him where we played on a TV show – it was just 3 songs – and that was the last gig he did.
You mentioned what it was like hanging out with Ronnie and how he interacted with fans. When you met John Lennon, did you have the chance to see him interact with fans or was he surrounded by bodyguards?
We just hung out with him in the studio. We had a rehearsal room in the Record Plant studios in New York because we were managed by them. John was recording downstairs. Once we met him, we did the handclap thing on the song. He used to come up and hang out with us and we’d play pool and all sorts of things. He came up a lot, we smoked a lot of pot with him. He was very nice, very cool and we never acted like fans around him and that’s why he liked hanging out with us.
Sometimes I’ll look at venue calendars in Cleveland and Cincinnati and I saw that you’ll be playing with a Black Sabbath tribute act at Bogart’s in Cincinnati in April. How did that come about?
It’s a Sabbath tribute band and they want me to come down and play with them that night and so I said, “Yeah, that’ll be fun.” I actually did a few shows in Europe called The Mob Rules Live with a band and we did mostly stuff from Mob Rules, a couple of things from Dio and a couple of other Sabbath songs – it was great. I’m doing some more in May, going to Europe to do like 3 weeks of The Mob Rules Live. It’s a fun thing to do, I have roots and history with it, so why not? Whenever you can play some great stuff, it’s an honor to get up on stage and play after all these years. I’ve had a long fucking career, most people don’t even have a quarter of the career length, a lot of guys burn out. I’m able to play my ass off still and I love doing it. I’m not going to go out and do a tour of love songs with somebody but this is right up my alley.
The Cincinnati thing, is that Ozzy-era Sabbath material you’re playing?
Yeah, I think it’s more Ozzy stuff which will be fun. I’ve done two shows like that in LA, friends of mine do a tribute and it was a lot of fun. People loved it.
When Ozzy first started his solo stuff, I heard that your brother Carmine actually talked you out of auditioning.
I got an offer before I joined Sabbath to join Ozzy’s band, Sharon called me up. Ozzy, at that point, had been fired by Black Sabbath so I had heard all the crazy Ozzy stories. When I got the offer, I was 19, I said, “Let me ask my brother Carmine to see what he thinks.” He said, “Yeah, Ozzy is pretty crazy” so I turned it down. A couple months later, Sabbath called and they were in LA so it was pretty obvious what to do.
Over the course of your career, have you ever had the chance to play with Ozzy?
I played with Sabbath in 1999 when they did a reunion tour with Ozzy.
Did you pay attention to Black Sabbath when you weren’t in the band? Did you ever listen to any of the material that Tony Martin sang on?
No. Nope. Even when Ozzy was in the band and those albums came out, I said, “Wow, this is scary” but I wasn’t a huge Sabbath fan. I loved it but I was more of a Zeppelin fan. When I joined the band, I was into the band but when I left with Ronnie, when Tony Martin joined i didn’t follow the band. It’s just something I never did – I didn’t follow any bands when I left.
As we finish up, what are your 3 favorite tracks that you’ve played on in your career?
“We Rock”, “Mob Rules” and “Holy Diver”.
If you could have recorded 2-hours from 2017 on the DVR in your head to play back whenever you wanted to relive some memories, what 2 hours from last year would you pick?
Nothing. I play so much – and we play loud – that I have to listen to it so I try to give my ears a rest. My ears get fried. When I’m in the car, I listen to talk radio and when I’m not listening to talk radio I’m listening to what we’re doing in the studio either with Last in Line or whatever project I’m working on. I don’t really listen to anything any more. I haven’t found something that catches my eye – there’s some great shit out there but I’m really busy with what I do and concentrate on that. In 2017, I probably listened to Last in Line.