Sometimes, drummers get overlooked because of the band they play in or the style of music they play. Other times they get overlooked because their contemporaries are flashier, or sometimes they are a sibling of another famous drummer. Such is the case of Vinny Appice, younger brother of Carmine Appice, and a member of such bands as Axis, Rick Derringer, Black Sabbath, a founding member of DIO and Last in Line, and the supergroup Heaven & Hell.
Vinny has carved out a drumming legacy that gets lost in the mainstream; drummers who know Vinny really know who he is and what he is capable of. A thunderous player much in the vein of John Bonham, Vinny has played on some of the most important songs in the hard rock/heavy metal lexicon such as “Mob Rules,” “Holy Diver,” and “Rainbow in the Dark.” The list below is by no means definitive, but it gives you an aural introduction to Vinny’s abilities and how he plays wonderfully inventive fills while grounding the band in any tempo. Put on your blackest T-shirt, crank the music, and throw those horns up!
“Straight Through the Heart”
Holy Diver, DIO
Can we talk about this intro for a second? Vinny is a master of the triplet hand-foot patterns much in the vein of Bonham, but he takes it to an extreme level on this intro. The lick was recorded down the drums and then overdubbed up the drums to give it that unique sound. Also, listen for the fills in this track and how each one is more inventive than the last. Check out this link to see and hear Vin discuss how to play the pattern and how they recorded it: youtu.be/9kzmp61lzgw
“The Last in Line”
The Last in Line, DIO
This is probably the biggest hit that DIO ever had. One of Vinny’s trademarks is the drag he plays on the snare after beats 2 and 4, and you can hear this in the “quiet” opening. As he’s said in interviews, he likes to start his fills early and sometimes over the vocals. You can hear this in the first and last verses. And Ronnie’s voice on this track? My goodness!
“King of Rock and Roll”
Sacred Heart, DIO
Much in the style of “Straight Through the Heart” this intro highlights Vinny’s foot abilities. The track begins with an overdubbed live audience and then here comes Vinny’s sixteenth-note snare and kick opening. This track may have been recorded in the studio, but the energy has all the earmarks of a live DIO show. Check out the guitar solo played by the amazing Vivian Campbell. For a frantic (no exaggeration) version of this song, check out the live DIO album Finding the Sacred Heart — Live in Philly.
“The Sign of the Southern Cross”
Mob Rules, Black Sabbath
One of the best examples of Vinny playing at “sludge” tempo (roughly 60 BPM), “Sign” is a nearly eight-minute plod through one of the best heavy metal songs ever written. After the quiet intro, you hear Vinny’s first fill going down the drums, and you know something great is about to happen. This is a perfect combination of performances from all four members of the band, and Vinny holds everything down while moving along. Every fill in this song is classic Vin, and during the outro the gloves are off.
“Master of Insanity”
Dehumanizer, Black Sabbath
Released in 1992 at the height of the Grunge era, this album has since become a fan favorite. “Master” starts out with a thundering riff in seven before settling into the main theme. Vinny brings it all in with a hand-foot, sixteenth-note pattern down the drums. The pre-chorus features a half-time feel, and in each of the chorus there is a nice displacement of the snare that mimics the guitar riff. At the end of the last chorus, you’ll hear one of Vinny’s signature herta hand/foot fills. This is a great representation of what time and maturity sound like from the Sabs.
“Sins of the Father”
Dehumanizer, Black Sabbath
Another half time feel/straight feel track, this one starts off slow but quickly picks up steam. Heavy and thudding, Vinny is relatively restrained, but at 2:24 you can feel the change coming. Vinny drives the next section with a four-on-the-floor kick and drives the track to the end. The fills he eventually gets in are pure Vinny.
“Burn This House Down”
Heavy Crown, Last in Line
The great thing about this track is that for most of the verses it is only Vinny and Andrew Freeman’s vocals. This allows us to hear how Vinny takes an ordinary beat and personalizes it. The song becomes a fist pumper for the choruses and solo sections. Another signature Vinny lick starts at 3:33 where he augments sixteenth notes to become thirty-second-note triplets. He’s still got it.
“I Am Revolution”
Heavy Crown, Last in Line
This is a classic Vinny beat, reborn in 2016. This type of beat is reminiscent of such earlier tunes as DIO’s “I Speed at Night,” “Stand Up and Shout,” and “Overlove.” Vinny plays a train beat on the verses along with Jimmy Bain’s driving bass line. He squeezes in a few hertas and his trademark explosively fast triplets down the drums.
“Shadow of the Wind”
Heaven & Hell (available on the box set Black Sabbath: The Dio Years)
What better way to end this list than with one of the heaviest and sludgiest songs from the Vinny catalog? Coming in at a top speed of 51–53 BPM, this song shows the immense control and power Vinny has behind Tony Iommi’s grinding riff and Geezer Butler’s thundering bass. Ronnie James Dio is in full (again, no exaggeration) voice, and the entire band plunders this track for over five and half minutes of aural assault. My key takeaway from this track is Vinny’s unrelenting commitment to the time; it is steady as a rock even when it “quiets” down for the bridge.
Eric C Hughes is chair advisor for the PAS Drum Set Committee. He lives in Houston, Texas where he is an active percussion teacher for in-person and online lessons. A full-time musician, Eric drums for Blaggards and The Allen Oldies Band. You can find his schedule at echdrumlessons.com.