Vinny Appice Riffs on Screamtaker, Last in Line, and 30 Years of Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer
Vinny Appice’s drum carousel rarely stops spinning. Be it with Drums Wars, Last in Line, Screamtaker, or the myriad of other projects he has on tap, Appice’s drumsticks are perpetually twirling. But lately, Appice is promoting Screamtaker and their outstanding new record, Kill the Beautiful.
Not unlike much of his past work, Screamtaker is a roaring blend of Black Sabbath-inspired hard rock and heavy metal, the likes of which any self-respecting Dio fan can’t help but love. And with Appice being bookended by veteran rockers Jim Crean (vocals) and Steph Honde (guitars), metal-hungry fans can be sure that Kill the Beautiful is yet another home run in the veteran drummer’s deep catalog.
When not promoting Screamtaker, it’s a safe bet for Appice to pivot to Last in Line, which currently features former Dio alum Vivian Campbell (guitars), Andrew Freeman (vocals), and Phil Soussan (bass). Paying tribute to days of yesteryear while producing new music is Last in Line’s specialty, so if you’ve dismissed it to date, reconsider.
But when it comes down to it, Appice will always be fondly remembered as a member of Black Sabbath and Dio. To be sure, all of Appice’s work is a meaningful and invigorating listen. Still, for metal fans, transcendent records such as Mob Rules (1981), Holy Diver (1983), Dehumanizer (1992), and The Devil You Know (2009) remain his most essential work.
During a break from his usual drum-related chaos, Vinny Appice took a moment to dig in with me via phone in running through the origins of Screamtaker, what’s on tap for Last in Line, and his memories of Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer era 30 years on.
Kicking off with Screamtaker, give me the rundown on how the group got started.
Well, I’ve been friends with Jim Crean for a long time. We first worked together when Carmine [Appice] and I were doing Drum Wars, and we needed a singer. So, Jim ended up working with us there, and we’ve been friends ever since. So, Jim became part of me and Carmine’s band, and when he did his two solo records, I came in and played on some of the tracks. It’s just something where Jim and I became good friends and have always kept in touch.
And then Stephen Honde, who is a great guitarist, bassist, and keyboard player, I’ve known him for some time, too. Jim and Steph were talking about doing something together, and eventually, when it came time to make a record, they needed a drummer, and they thought I’d be perfect. But I have to say, Steph is incredible; he did everything on the record. I’d played on his solo record, and I knew that, but hearing what he did with this record reminded me of that.
How did the songs on Kill the Beautiful come together?
So, Jim and Steph started writing some stuff, and they sent it to me as they saw fit, and when they thought it was ready for me to add drums in. And you never know what to expect, but as the songs began to trickle in, I said to myself, “Wow, this stuff is pretty good.” So, from there, it moved quickly, and we started putting our heads together. And as we kept adding songs, it became this cool-sounding album to the point that we felt we really had something here.
So, we decided we needed to get it out there, and Jim was able to secure Screamtaker a deal with Deko Entertainment. They’re friends of ours, and we knew it would be a good fit. We told them, “We’ve got 11 or 12 songs, and we’re ready to get this album out there,” so Deko was on board, which was great. From there, the record came together quickly; man, we’re very happy with it. It’s got this very slow, doomy, Dio/Sabbath vibe to it, and as we all know, that’s right up my alley. [Laughs].
What did the recording process look like, given that Kill the Beautiful mainly came together during the pandemic?
Oh, this was a total internet record. It’s not like the old days when we were all in a room together, but that’s not to say that was bad; it’s just different. But it was easier for me because I’d played with both Jim and Steph before, so not being in the same room together didn’t hurt us. I knew what to expect and the feel, and like I said, the stuff we were putting together was right up my alley. Jim and Steph know I like to mix in the fast and slow stuff, some dark things that create a vibe, so they called me; I was a fit for their writing.
As far as recording, Jim and Steph would send me the files of what they’d done: guitar, bass, and keyboards. Usually, Jim would lay down a scratch vocal over the top to guide me along, and then I would put the drums on it at my studio that I’ve got at my house. And it was great because I love doing this, and I love recording here because I can be the engineer, the producer, and the drummer. It becomes something where I can do anything I want. If I want to try different things, I can. And if I hate something, I can just cut it out. It’s much faster than sitting in a studio and trying to communicate through the glass to an engineer.
Tell me about the video for “Stone Cold.”
Well, I loved that song when we did it. It was one where I felt like I had a lot of room to breathe, and I think it’s a favorite. Jim and Steph agreed, so we did a video for it that’s about vampires and stuff. And yeah, the video looks like a cheesy old horror movie, and it’s not to be taken seriously. [Laughs]. It’s just like, that’s what it is, we’re having fun, and that’s it. We don’t take ourselves too seriously with that video, but we think it’s hilarious.
As far as the way it was done, I played in my house with a green screen, and in the end, it got us sitting in this haunted house kind of atmosphere. And with the green screen, I could play and then have things projected behind me that matched what Jim and Steph were doing. But it’s crazy, Steph was in France, I was at my house, and Jim was somewhere else. So, we’re all over the place, but it looks like we’re in the same place.
Along with Screamtaker, you’re also active with Last in Line. How does your approach change when bouncing between the two?
With Screamtaker, I had to use a click track because we were sending over the internet with files through email. I wouldn’t say I like using a click, but it’s what you have to do in that setting. But the good part is I was in control and could spend as long as I wanted to get the fills right because no one was there to bother me. [Laughs]. So, it’s pretty simple; I take their file, record my drums, send it back to Jim and Steph, and then wait.
But with Last in Line, it’s a bit different. We’ve got an album coming out next year, and with that record, we wrote the stuff the room together. And then we played together and recorded together old school, no click or anything. So, playing together live in the studio element alters my approach. The drums ultimately sound like me, but the path to getting there is different. And playing together in a room ensures a lot more energy going down. The live-in-the-studio thing puts me in a spot where I need to go for it right then and there because I don’t have time to think about it.
What else does Last in Line have on tap for 2023?
We’ve got some shows coming up for next year. We plan to go to Brazil, but it’s pretty nutty there right now, so we’ll have to see how it pans out. And Vivian will have time limits because of Def Leppard and their European tour, so we will have to work around that. But we need to make time for the Dio and Black Sabbath stuff, so we’ll make it work. So, we’ll wait and see how it pans out and if it makes sense. Because the thing with touring with any band is you’ve got to figure out how much it’s going to cost, can we make any money, and if it’s going to work. But Last in Line is an established band, and we know we can go out and make money.
Unlike new bands, unfortunately, they face the fact that they might lose money every time they go out. We’re in a good spot with record label support and have faith in our bottom line. So, we’re waiting on Viv’s schedule and watching the craziness of the world. And it’s the same thing for Screamtaker. We’re a new band, but we feel that once we get out there, we’ll be able to make some money. We have to wait to see how things develop around schedules and do what makes sense.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer. Initially, Cozy Powell was slated to play drums. How did you become involved?
When it started, they were playing with Cozy Powell because Cozy was playing with a version of Black Sabbath before Ronnie [James Dio] came back. And from what I remember, it was going slow and not well. Ronnie wasn’t getting along with Cozy and vice versa, so there were some issues. And then, at one point, Cozy fell off a horse, broke his pelvis, and he couldn’t play for a while. So, they’re trying to get this album done, and everything stopped because they had no drummer. And it wasn’t just any drummer; it was Cozy Powell. That’s tough shoes to fill. So, somewhere along the line, I guess they said, “Let’s call Vinny and see what he’s up to.”
Given that you had left Ronnie’s band a few years prior, did you have any reservations going in?
Well, yes and no. I had worked with Ronnie for a long time, so I knew I could work with him. I wasn’t concerned about making music together, so we just had to iron stuff out. But once we did, it was fine between Ronnie and me, which is why we continued after our version of Sabbath ended again. But when they called me, I was playing WWIII, which had Tracy G on guitar, and Jimmy Bain on bass. We were backed by Disney also, which was good, so I wasn’t hurting for a project. But Ronnie and the guys in Sabbath called and explained what was happening and just asked me, “Do you want to come out and play with the band again?” I thought about it and ended up going out there, we worked out a deal a couple of days later, and I was back in Black Sabbath with Ronnie.
As things began, were you able to pick up where you left off ten years prior?
That version of Black Sabbath always had chemistry. It was a chemistry that was much different than the Ozzy years and different than versions without Ronnie and me. We were a very different band from those other versions. I think the sessions were great. It was all business from the very start. I flew to England and started working with them on the album. And once I got in there, things went fast because I’m easy to work with. A lot of people wonder if it’s actually Cozy on the album, and it’s not. He recorded his versions of the songs, but his stuff isn’t there. And I didn’t copy what he did either. Once I got in there, I did what I always did, and that chemistry kicked in quickly. One thing about me in the studio – and anyone who has worked with me will tell you this – I’m fast, and once I get going, things happen quickly.
How did the sessions unfold once you settled in?
I got in, I got work, and we made an awesome album. I came in and started working on the songs they had, and then we put together some new songs as well. The vibe in the studio was good, and we jammed just like we used to. We had a house we were working in; Ronnie and I lived in a place out there, and Tony [Iommi] and Geezer [Butler] would drive down to rehearsal every day and jam at the house. We rehearsed in the living room, which was a cool setting; it wasn’t deafening, but it was good enough for the drums, amps, and stuff.
From there, we wrote the rest of the record, demoed the tracks, and then we laid the tracks down. Like I said, we started from scratch when it came to drums and rerecorded anything that the guys had done prior. Contrary to what some believe, we recorded a whole new album. It came out the way it did because we rehearsed it live in that house, so when we got into the studio, we were prepared to start recording the songs. I love the sound of the record, it’s huge, and it shows that we were together on what we wanted to do,
When did the cracks in the façade begin to show?
When I got there, honestly, there were no issues between anybody. I didn’t have any problems with anybody in the band, and they didn’t have any issues with me. But I guess maybe the first sign was when I left during the mix. We were mixing the record, and I said, “Well, I’m not doing anything. I’m going to fly home if that’s okay with everybody.” No one had an issue, so I flew home, and they kept mixing the record. But then they were concerned that the drums might not be loud enough, so Ronnie had to remix them. And when Ronnie came home with the mix, we listened to it, and I went, “Holy shit. The drums are so loud, Ronnie. I love it.” We felt it gave it a lot of punch, and the overall sound was amazing, especially the drums. Kind of like it was in the past in Sabbath; there was a bit of funkiness with the mixing process, but it all worked out, I thought.
What was the nail in the coffin of the Dehumanizer era?
I think it was a lot of things. There are all these stories about infighting and issues with Ronnie and not getting along with the Sabbath guys. And yeah, there was some of that going on, and in some ways, I think it was part of the dynamic—sort of the yin and yang. But what screwed Dehumanizer was that it was released right in the middle of when grunge was rising to the forefront. And here we are in Black Sabbath, trying to reclaim the sound of the early ’80s, and even though we made this monster of a record, we came off looking like dinosaurs.
How did it all come to a head?
So, we released the record in the grunge era, and things were already getting weird in the band. And the result of all that was we had to play smaller places once we got out on tour. But the thing is, we got out there, and at first, it was going well. Everything was fine, and the crowds were small, but the people who did turn out really liked the album. It was a situation where we felt like if we could see it through, eventually, it would turn around because the quality of the music would win. But things started to go bad again, and we ended up breaking up like the first time.
I think what broke us up was Tony and Geezer wanted to play Ozzy’s retirement show out in L.A., and Ronnie didn’t want them to do it. Ronnie was deadest on not having anything to do with it, and he didn’t want any of us to do it either. But Tony and Geezer disagreed, and Ronnie ended up having a blowout with those guys, and he walked out on the whole thing. But we had a tour to finish and wanted to do these last shows, so we got Rob Halford to sing with us.
Was there ever a discussion about Rob potentially joining Black Sabbath?
No, there wasn’t. We called Rob in, asked him to do it, and he said, “Yes.” We finished the last two shows of the Dehumanizer tour with Rob, and that was it. But I gotta say, Rob was incredible; he learned those songs so quickly, and he nailed them live. But it was the end of that version of the band for a while, and there was no thought of asking Rob to come in. I mean, Sabbath continued, and as was the case back in the ’80s, I chose to move forward with Ronnie in Dio. That made the most sense for me then, and I always had a special relationship with Ronnie. I love all the guys in Sabbath, but Ronnie and I were like brothers in many ways.
Do you regret not making it work, given the chemistry you all shared?
Well, yes and no. I would say that it’s a shame that it happened the way that it did. We all know that Mob Rules and Dehumanizer came out great and that they’re well-loved by people who enjoy that version of the band. But we did get to play together when it was all said and done, and so I think we got to make it right in the end as Heaven and Hell. I think that The Devil You Know is as good as the first two we did, and if Ronnie didn’t pass, we would have made more.
Looking back, I think it’s interesting how that version of the band would keep getting together but only last for a couple of years. So, it’s very interesting how many times we reformed over the years. I think it’s a testament to our chemistry, and we all knew it. It’s just that we couldn’t make it work over the long haul or for overly long periods. But no regrets; the music we made stands up, and I think it’ll stand the test of time.