Drummer Carmine Appice believes the roots of heavy music — the bruising rock that predated Led Zeppelin — boil down to four bands: Cream, The Who, Jimi Hendrix Experience and his first band, Vanilla Fudge.
“Fudge set the precedent for American bands,” he said in a recent phone interview. “Hendrix was considered English even though he was from here.”
At the core of each group was a solid rhythm section. Vanilla Fudge had Appice and bassist Tim Bogert. Their slowed down, throbbing cover of the Surpremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” hit the pop charts in summer 1967. When the group broke up in 1970, Appice and Bogert formed Cactus, and later played in Beck, Bogert & Appice with guitar hero Jeff Beck.
Complications from a motorcycle accident forced Bogert to retire from music in 2010, but Appice continues to tour with versions of both Cactus and Vanilla Fudge. The latter perform Sept. 22 at Tupelo Music Hall; the reconstituted Fudge appears at Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury, Mass., Oct. 14.
Cactus formed by necessity when the first incarnation of Beck, Bogert & Appice was delayed.
“Jeff had his famous car wreck of 1969 and screwed up our plans,” Appice said. “So me and Tim said, ‘Let’s just continue here’ and found Jim McCarty, the original guitarist from Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels; he was the American version of Jeff Beck.”
With former Amboy Dukes singer Rusty Day, the band lasted a few years, until the supergroup with Beck finally formed. Cactus never reached headliner status, but did a lot of damage as a supporting act; in the early 1970s, rock concerts often became shootouts, with openers trying to show up the band topping the bill.
“We did, too, every night, and got thrown off tour many times, with Hendrix, Ten Years After, The Who, everybody,” Appice said. “Rusty Day ... was a master front man [and] he’d get the audience in an uproar, yelling for an encore. At some of those shows, you’re not allowed to do encores, but they were almost riotous.”
Appice had been on the receiving end of such activity, when Vanilla Fudge headlined a show that marked the first American appearance by Led Zeppelin in early 1969. It was a friendly rivalry — Zep drummer John Bonham often cited Appice’s hard-hitting drumming style as an influence. Watching Zeppelin’s opening set from the wings, it was clear he was a force to be reckoned with.
“We thought, wow, these guys are kickass. ... They’re gonna be big,” Appice said. “That was the understatement of five decades.”
He later learned that in addition to the impossible task of following the band’s set, Vanilla Fudge ended up paying half of the English band’s performance fee.
From his early days in Vanilla Fudge to co-writing Rod Stewart’s hit, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” Appice had a key vantage point during the classic rock era but never considered that he was making music for the ages.
“We didn’t even think about that; we just thought about the next album, the next tour, the next gig,” he said. “It was all about playing and partying. We made money, but we pissed it away. We wrecked hotels, we’d fly equipment and have roadies on salaries — it’s not like it is now.”
He’s mystified by Cameron Crowe’s 2000 movie Almost Famous and its depiction of life in those heady days.
“It’s talking about getting on tour buses and going everywhere,” Appice said. “Excuse me, but nobody used a tour bus in the 1970s. We flew, took limos, rented Continentals at the airport and never took a bus.”
The current Cactus lineup has Appice and McCarty, singer Jimmy Kunes, bassist Pete Bremy and harmonica player Randy Pratt. The group recently released Black Dawn, its first studio album in a decade.
“We spent a lot of time to get it where it sounds really great,” Appice said. “McCarty always says, ‘How many guys our age can rock so hard?’ To me, Cactus is still a high-energy band.”