Interview with Bobby Liebling of Pentagram

Damn I can't stand being a singer. I always wanted to be a lead guitar player. And guitar is always my thing. I've played guitar for close to sixty...

Interview by Mark and Pam Schaff

MGM : Hi Bobby, It’s Pam and Mark Schaff from Myglobalmind.

Bobby : Oh…Hi Pam and Mark, How are you’s doing?

MGM : Good, how are you Bobby?

Bobby : Oh, hangin’ in, got a real bad cold I’m trying to get rid of. Whole bunch of people around here got it.

MGM: Yeah same here.

Bobby : Yeah, cough, sore throat and all that. But I’m doing OK though.

MGM : That sucks, right before a tour is always the worst time. Hopefully you kick it soon.

Bobby : Yeah, I’ve had it for six days already.

MGM : So you guys are starting your tour on March 14th in Cincinnati. Are you guys looking forward to getting back out there on the road?

Bobby : Oh yeah, very much so. We’re really looking forward to getting back out.

MGM : So on this tour will there be any new songs or just gonna be spanning stuff from the catalog?

Bobby : Not per say, I mean we’re doing ‘Starlady’ and we’re doing ‘Frustration’. We were going to be doing some other songs, ‘Catwalk’ and ‘The Diver’, but we knocked them back off the list because we’re only going to be doing like eleven songs and then three for an encore. So we ended up trying to stall the other ones off and having to put the mainstays that people are going to be wanting to hear. You know the stuff that they’re used to. And we’re playing either three or four cities, I forget which, that we haven’t played before. So people kinda want to hear the same stuff they’re used to.

MGM : Well that’s good to hear.

Bobby : It’s kinda whittled down to that since we don’t really have a new album out now.

MGM : Right, are you playing anything off the ‘Curious Volume’ album?

Bobby : Off Curious Volume, we’re just gonna play the song ‘Curious Volume’.

MGM : Oh cool, I was just wondering, I really love that record. I was just listening to it again today.

Bobby : Oh do you? Thanks, cool. Yeah we’re doing ‘Devil’s Playground’ as one of the alternates in there too, but I don’t think we’ll be doing it.

MGM : Are you guys looking to expand the tour to other cities after this one is done?

Bobby : Oh yeah, after we come back we’re already lining up for June which will be all the way from probably Maryland and Virginia all the way up through New England and even as far out as Minnesota.

MGM : Great, I hope there’s a Buffalo date in there.

Bobby : I don’t know about Buffalo, I know there’ll be a Boston, and maybe a Providence. And there will be a Portland, Maine show. We haven’t played up there before so.

MGM : That’s good that you’re reaching out to other places you haven’t gone to before.

Bobby : Yeah, then we’re gonna go out west in the summer and do the west coast usual stuff. All over the western third, and hopefully, include a couple more central states. Also on the New England and out to Minnesota hoping to add a couple places we haven’t gone to on the stretch as well. And then hopefully in October, we’re trying to go back to Europe. Since we haven’t been there in a while. Time to go there again, I love playing in Europe. That’s where we have a bigger following.

MGM : Yeah, that’s what a lot of bands say. The fans are more into this type of music some bands say that’s its better touring Europe than the states.

Bobby : Well, I don’t know about better, but they are damn good you know. They really appreciate us over there a whole lot. Really big in Germany and way up through Finland and Scandinavia. And it’s fun to play over there, it’s beautiful. I love traveling over in Europe.

MGM : For people who haven’t heard of Pentagram, would you mind just giving or running down kinda how you formed.

 Bobby : Oh my god, that’s a little bit of history.

MGM : Just the cliff notes version.

Bobby : The band started, Wikipedia says 1971, but I claim really that it’s the end of 1969.

MGM : Yeah, I don’t really like to go by what Wikipedia says most times.

Bobby : Well I mean, we even did the 40th-anniversary tour in 2011, but the band really formed in like 69-70, like right around the turn of the year. We formed originally in Alexandria, Virginia. They were saying we were from Woodbridge, that’s because Death Rows years, that were in the ’80s, the four or five years that we went under by that name, was kinda when the band started to get really popular.

MGM : Right, and the first album came out in ’85 correct?

Bobby : Yeah the first album came out in ’85 and the second one in ’87. The first one was originally called Death Row, and the album was called ‘All Your Sins’. And that was changed later on when we were signed and we changed the name back to Pentagram. Then the album was self-titled when it first came out, and then in the nineties when Peaceville bought it, it became called ‘Relentless’. So it’s gone through a few changes here and there.

MGM : Yeah I noticed that when Peaceville bought it, wasn’t both the first and the second changed?

Bobby : Well the second album was always called ‘Day Of Reckoning’.

MGM : Oh, OK

Bobby : The second album though didn’t have the original cover on it, when it was re-issued by Peaceville, when they first put out ‘Day Of Reckoning’, they put out the album with the drums re-recorded and a remix of it which we did in 1993 or ’94. Right at the end of the ‘Be Forwarned’ recording sessions, which is the third album. We redid the drums for ‘Day Of Reckoning’ and we screwed it all up, and it’s really bad, but that’s the one that people came to know. The original mix, with the original drummer Stuart Rose, was in late ’86.

MGM : What is the current band lineup?

Bobby : Right now it’s, myself singing, Matt Goldsboro is playing guitar, he played in Pentagram in 2013 and again in 2015, he was in The Skull for a while. He also headed up his own band called Carousel for a while. And Greg Turley, he’s been with me now for about 25 years playing bass. And Pete Campbell on drums. So it’s the same rhythm section as on ‘Curious Volume’. It’s just that Victor is not with us now and Matt is playing guitar.

MGM : Are you guys working on any new stuff?

Bobby : We haven’t started doing it yet, but yeah we are going to start working on some brand new stuff. We’re hopefully gonna try and get to recording a new album before the year is out. We don’t know how that looks right now, we gotta see with everybody’s personal life, and my health and everything. Stuff like that.

MGM : How are you doing healthwise? You sound really good, and you look good, I was able to chat with you over the summer at Maryland Doomfest you looked great!

Bobby : I’m doing really good except that I have got such really bad COPD. And that has really got me kinda worried, but for the most part, when you get on stage, it’s kinda like riding a bike you know. And I think the adrenaline will just kick in and I’ll be OK. With that said, I’m hoping we can get out and do all these tour dates throughout the year and get to a lot of places. We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire for like South America, Australia, New Zealand and Russia and Japan.

MGM : That’s great!

Bobby : So hopefully we’ll be out there and are able to reach some new generation of people.

MGM : Yeah, I’m always trying to turn people on to Pentagram when I get a chance.

Bobby : Well thank you! It’s a long, long old history band. This will be coming to the 50th year now.

 MGM : Going back a little bit, what were some of your biggest influences as you were growing up? What led you to want to be a singer.

Bobby : It’s strange you mention that I never wanted to be a singer. I was just thinking about that this morning saying, Damn I can’t stand being a singer. I always wanted to be a lead guitar player. And guitar is always my thing. I’ve played guitar for close to sixty years. Just to write stuff, I’ve never played on stage. I started out being a singer because my buddy that I started playing music with, we were both about 8 years old, we got our first guitars and he was better than me. And he couldn’t sing, so he said OK you sing. And that’s how I became a singer. It was kinda different then, your talking the Beatles era. My influences for Pentagram were all underground bands that didn’t make it. Sir Lord Baltimore, Cactus, Blue Cheer, the Groundhogs. Ummm Dust.

MGM : That’s all great stuff!

Bobby : Yeah all the good stuff, exactly! Bands like The Hook, and Eden’s Children that you know about.

MGM : Right, thanks to you!

Bobby : Yeah well, those were the bands that really, they had so much talent and were such a new blossoming flower back then, That genre of music. Pentagram started out, or I intended it to be one of the heaviest bands. As far as playing loud heavy stuff. But I wanted to have this psychedelic hard rock edge. And Blue Cheer was really my influence as far as wanting to play super duper loud. You know Hendrix, Cream and Blue Cheer.

MGM : We’re just fans that like to do this for fun. Get a chance to talk to people we love and bands we love.

Bobby : That’s cool, it’s like the early days of heavy rock. No one got paid, it was all fanzines and underground papers.

MGM : Yeah, just to have fun! And get to talk to a legend like you! That makes it pretty special.

Bobby : Oh God! I’ve been doing it a long freaking time.

MGM : You have, your definitely the godfather of doom.

Bobby : Haaaa! That’s so funny when I hear it. And it’s funny too because I don’t think of Pentagram as a doom band but we’ve been labeled that for many years.

MGM : Pentagram always had like their own sound. No matter what era it is.

Bobby : Well thank you, that means a lot to me. I’ve always tried to kinda tailor it to be just a little bit different. I like it to hit someone with a little uniqueness.

MGM : Yeah, well I think that many fans would agree that the reason that they’re into Pentagram is because it doesn’t sound like everything else. And people who have just discovered Pentagram, are probably for those reasons that they are sick and tired of the same old stuff.

Bobby : Well that’s good then. I mean the doom thing, I understand for obvious reasons why they call me that, and they call Pentagram doom. But if you listen to it, we were like a psychedelic, acid rock band completely in the really early years. Those demo tapes from ’73 and stuff, that’s who we were to me.

 MGM : Yeah, when those got released in the ’90s, I didn’t even know there was a whole other history behind the band. I thought you guys just started in the eighties. I was like, whoa what is this. This is amazing.

Bobby : Yeah, I’m an old dog at this shit!

MGM : I think when people my age heard that stuff, we started searching out more stuff from back then. Like Black Cat Bones and Sir Lord Baltimore. Because of hearing the old Pentagram. I think it spurred a new generation to appreciate the 60’s early 70’s underground music.

Bobby : Yeah, yeah, that’s what it was just called back then. It was just underground. That’s like when I turned you on to stuff like The Hook and Eden’s Children, that’s the very, like ’67 beginning of it, you know. Those were like the first bands that I knew about. Eden’s Children were from the Boston sound which preceded the Detroit sound. It was the early stuff from like ’66-’67. Bands like Ultimate Spinach and old Iron Butterfly and stuff like that. Iron Butterfly to me was one of the first baroque bands that there was. They really had that medieval gothic sound. Not what people you know associated with it now, but the real traditional like gothic music. And I love that kind of stuff. I love all those old bands, Vanilla Fudge.

MGM : Yeah, like Captain Beyond.

Bobby : I love Captain Beyond of course.

MGM : We got to interview Bobby Caldwell a couple of years ago. He was blowing our minds with all these bands he was talking about and that he was involved in.

Bobby : Yeah he knows all of them too. Every single one of them.

MGM : It’s great to hear and talk to people who have been around that music.

 Bobby : I like short concise songs, I’m a UFO fanatic. I like songs that are direct to the point. Early Scorpions and stuff like that. Bang, Tin House. Maybe Bobby Caldwell mentioned them. Tin House was a three-man band. One of the guys was in Johnny Winter and….with him. A guy named Floyd Radford, and Tin House was from Florida actually.

MGM : That does sound familiar. I’m gonna have to look that up.

Bobby : They were a three-man band and only had one album, on Epic in 1971. They then had another album that came out I found out about six months ago in 1996 or something. And it’s incredible. It’s really great and the same three guys. Which was really cool to me, it’s like somebody knows, someone’s doing it authentically still. The lead guitar player is a Filipino guy that was from Texas originally. Texas and Florida, Captain Beyond is huge. And my drummer Joe Hasselvander is good friends with Bobby Caldwell, my ex-drummer. See I still call him my drummer, he’s still part of the family. It’s sort of a family affair.

MGM : Nice!

Bobby : Joe and I are gearing up this year to try to do a second volume of a two-man album of Sub-Basement part two.

MGM : I was just listening to Sub-Basement earlier today.

Bobby : Well that’s my favorite Pentagram album. Hands down, Sub-Basement. I mean it’s so sick and so demented. And depraved and bummed out. Fucked up in the head, but it’s such good heavy original hard rock stuff. I’m really crazy about it.

MGM : Yeah I love that record!

Bobby : Yeah, Joe and I are supposed to do a second volume of that this year. Just the two of us. Then I’m also working on finishing up um, I only did one song out of four in Austin with the Dead Boys. I sang for them on their 40th anniversary at south by southwest a couple of years ago. It was really cool, it was an honor to be up there with Cheetah and Johnny Blitz. To be able to sing with them, there’s a clip of it somewhere online. And I’m supposed to go down there when we play Austin, hopefully, if I have enough time, now I got two radio interviews to do that day. But I’m supposed to try and finish writing and singing words on those three songs and get those nailed down.

MGM : That should be awesome!

Bobby : Then I’m doing this thing this summer, I don’t know if you know who Sonny Vincent is, he’s a really famous, legendary punk guy. He’s done over 80 albums. He’s recorded with everybody from Johnny Thunders to the guys in the Stooges. Debby Harry, you know all the original punk scene. The Damned, Wayne Kramer. So him and I are planning this summer to do an album together.

MGM : We just re-watched the documentary “Last Days Here” the other night again. I feel it was really brave of you to let people see the struggles you were going through at that time with addiction. Do you regret that or do you think it helped you to see yourself like that. It seemed like after the documentary came out you got yourself cleaned up, and Pentagram back up to being an active band once again.

Bobby : Yeah, that’s why I did it, I had nothing to hide from anybody. I’m all torn up and scarred up and everything from those days. And many before them, and after them. You know I’ve been sober now for two years.

MGM : That’s awesome to hear!

Bobby : Yeah, it’s pretty cool. But that’s why I’m kinda afraid for the tour. I’ve never played straight in my life.

MGM : I think your gonna kill it.

Bobby : I hope so.

MGM : You sound great, and you looked great when we saw you in Maryland.

Bobby : I’m fat! A fat old man now! 65 years old baby!

MGM : I just seen a clip of you guys rehearsing on Facebook, you look great. Your gonna go out and kick ass!

Bobby : Well thank you. With my all grey hair that I’m not gonna dye. I can’t do that now. Fuck’em feed’em beans right! I figure if they’re coming to us, then they have to know what they’re coming to see. I don’t think there’s gonna be any great new awakenings to us right! I figure most fans are familiar with what they’re paying to come and see. And the ones that haven’t seen us, that’s why we play the same songs. The same list as usual. We cut out a lot of them we were bored with. We don’t play ‘All Your Sins’, we don’t do ‘Death Row’. I mean we gotta do some like ‘Forever My Queen’, ‘When The Screams Come’ and ‘Review Your Choices’. All of those kind of things we still have to play them, and ‘Relentless’.

MGM : Yeah, we can’t wait to see you guys in Maryland in the summer. Wanted to go see you guys when you played Webster Hall. That would have been a show to see.

Bobby : Yeah that was pretty cool. That was pretty touching. It’s hard for me to watch it. Makes me cry when I watch it and stuff.

MGM : Well they should do a part two, now that you’ve been sober for two years.

Bobby : Yeah, That’s what I said. Do ‘Last Days Here Again’ or something. It would be cool to follow on, a lot of shit has happened. You know it’s portrayed I’ve been in my parent’s basement for 30-40 years or something. Like I’m a hermit in a cave or something. There was 610 hours of cutting room floor edit on that. And it was made over the course of 5 1/2 years.

MGM : How were your parent’s reaction to the video cameras in the house?

Bobby : It was just this little hand-held camera when we were in here. There was no big production crew. There was when they came and did the stuff up in Pennsylvania. Then of course after the movie came out and they all this acclaim, everyone started calling. So now though, I’ve been alone and secluded for such a long time, with the jailing and stuff like that. I’m kinda gun shy I guess or something. I’m not supposed to be out there in the limelight, with all their phones and cameras being help up. I don’t know how I’m going to take to that. I hope it’s like riding a bike.

MGM : I’m sure you’ll be fine once you get out there.

Bobby : Yeah I don’t think I’ll freeze up or anything like that. I mean I’ve been doing this for 55 years.

MGM : Bobby, you mentioned the jailing, do you feel like that was a blessing in disguise? Was that the catalyst for you to finally get sober?

Bobby : I think it was for the drug aspect of it. Because when it happened, I was really looking pretty bad. I mean I’m a fat old man now, with a big belly, and I weigh 150 pounds. But then, I weighed like 110, and I was smoking a lot of coke. I mean what the hell, I love drugs. I still wish I could do drugs, but I can’t. It’ll kill me, so I just don’t.

MGM : That’s good because we want Bobby Liebling around for many years to come.

Bobby : Well, from your mouth to God’s ears. I want him around too. Sometimes the guy’s OK, he’s a weirdo, but he’s OK. Now he wears earplugs when he practices even. For the first time in his whole life. Because he heard himself on all these youtube things, and I’m so off key all the time, I can’t stand listening to Pentagram live. It’s disgusting to me. It’s like, god this singer sucks.

MGM : Really? I love it!

Bobby : Well maybe 3-5 of the videos on my little thing, its called Pentamuzak, I have my videos I want on there only. It’s the me channel.

MGM : Everybody is their own harshest critic.

Bobby : Yeah, It’s got like 250 videos of us on there, and I like maybe five of them. And the rest of them is like, oh shit man, there he goes again. So that’s why I started wearing earplugs, now I sing absolutely right on key. I always make sure I do all the albums, I know I’m pitch perfect on the records. I’m a fanatic about that. I don’t like stuff that’s off-key, or singing flat I guess.

MGM : Is there any newer bands out that you like?

Bobby : This band that we’re playing with, Dirty Street, they’re real good. They have actual singing. No cookie monster growling. They have real music, sounds like Mountain or something. A real heavy good band. Kinda like Mountain with Paul Rodgers.

MGM : I’ll have to check them out.

Bobby : Yeah, they’re good. They’re really cool, I was surprised. There’s a few here and there, but usually what it is, is something done forty years ago and not released until now. There’s really very little if any.

MGM : Yeah, there’s a lot of stale, boring stuff out there.

Bobby : I like Black Road with the chic singer, yeah that’s a friend of mine. There’s a few bands I like from overseas. I like Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. Some of the last bands I really liked, I loved Soundgarden. I thought they were incredible. I loved Nirvana because they sucked really good.

MGM : I agree, they weren’t the best musicians, but together the sound they made was just…

Bobby : Yeah it was cool, I mean Kurt Cobain was a stinko guitar player, but he sucked really cool. You know, all the feedback and shit. The songwriting was really good. I liked them, but as far as bands in the 2000’s era, there’s almost none. There’s a band from somewhere in California called Eight Stops Seven that I like. They have like five albums out, and they have this Toby that’s one of the biggest producers in the rock industry now. He did Metallica too, Toby Wright. He did something with Bob Rock from Metallica. I like some Metallica stuff, but there really ain’t shit. I’m sorry, I like the old guys, they knew how to do it. I’m a Wayne Kramer freak till this day.

MGM : We just met him last year, it was a bucket list thing.

Bobby : Wow, that’s the one person at the top of my list. And I didn’t go see the MC 50 thing when they came around. I really wanted to.

MGM : That’s what we went to. We drove to Toronto, and we bought the VIP meet and greet because you don’t get many chances to meet someone like Wayne. He was telling us stories, and one about playing in Buffalo with MC 5 at a magazine convention with all the rock magazines. Cream and all that back in the day. He was talking about walking in on a gang bang with Abbie Hoffman and all this crazy shit.

Bobby : Oh wow, I danced up on stage with Abbie Hoffman at a protest rally in Maryland. That’s so funny, I mean Wayne has all the same stories I do. We’ve done all the same crazy shit, you know.

MGM : All of you guys were out at the greatest time of rock and roll.

Bobby : It was so nice. It was so fruitful, so much fun. I mean the sex, the drugs, I’m sorry it was the best.

MGM : At least your honest, that’s why most people get into rock and roll.

Bobby : I loved it, I’ve been to about twenty-five mass orgies. (Laughs) You know, back in the sixties, you had so much fun, and you couldn’t catch anything. It was great!

MGM : That’s gonna be the header for the interview “Bobby Liebling was in 25 mass orgies”

Bobby : (Laughing) My wife will love that. I’m still friends with my wife now, be kind. Back in the day, she knows I’m a nut.

MGM : Yeah that was a crazy time. I think I was worn born a generation too late!               

Bobby : Did you ever hear of Wesson oil parties, the oil that you cook with. I actually was at a Wesson oil party. It took place in this guys house, we had this plastic, deep freezer bag. That held a deep freezer for shipping. There were fifteen of us inside the bag. And we had it sealed up, and at one end we had it hooked up to a reversed Electrolux vacuum cleaner with a huge party bowl with 1/4 ounces of hash, one after another stuffed into it. And everybody was naked, we all got oiled up and had a huge orgy inside the bag. I remember people sitting around with gas masks bongs on and stuff. Awe shit man, we had a fucking blast!

MGM : Awesome! That beats the Wayne Kramer in Buffalo, Abbie Hoffman hotel gang bang story.

Bobby : (laughing) That’s great, I saw MC 5 in 1972 before they broke up. I saw them once at a very, slightly improperly billed concert. The promoter didn’t know who he was booking, so he had MC5 open for the Ike and Tina Turner Review. Because he figured, well it’s Motor City baby.

MGM : Those are two completely opposite bands.

Bobby : And he didn’t know what he was booking, and he booked them into the 10,000 seat civic center, and me and Jeff O’keefe were the two white people in there. And they were fantastic though, it was the High Time tour before they split up.

MGM : We don’t want to take up too much more of your time Bobby, with you not feeling good, save your voice for the tour. As a final thought or something, is there anything you want to say to the fans?

Bobby : Just like I said online, I concluded my statement about all the people that want to speak on social media, go ahead, interact and have your fun. But this is rock and roll, just let the music do the talking. You keep listening and we’ll keep bringing it! And that’s it.

MGM : Right on!

Bobby : Until I drop. I imagine that I’m gonna die someday, up on stage somewhere.

MGM : Thanks for your time Bobby! Hope to see you soon.

Bobby : Thank you too!

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Photo Credit: Adam Colwell

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