Heavy-Vinyl Presents: An Interview with Pentagram's Bobby Liebling
Pentagram really doesn’t need much of an introduction if you have listened to heavy metal for a reasonable amount of time. The hellbilly country singer, Hank III, summed Pentagram’s sound up perfectly when he said: “They are the American Black Sabbath.” While Pentagram may not have had the same level of fame as Black Sabbath, they have enjoyed success and the respect of the underground metal scene for much of their 40+ years of crafting old school doom metal.
Frontman Bobby Liebling has struggled with personal demons for most of his life, and one of the recent results of this struggle caused Liebling to serve 13 months in the Montgomery County Detention Center in Maryland in late 2017.
But now the rehabilitated and remorseful Liebling and Pentagram are back and touring the U.S. through March with the bluesy rock bands, Brother Dege and Dirty Streets. We talked to Liebling by phone as they were prepping to hit the road.
Heavy-Vinyl:Hey Bobby, how are you?
Bobby Liebling:I’m well, man, how are you doing?
HV:Doing well, is it still a good time to call talk?
BL:Yeah, I can talk to you. I’ve got a terrible sore throat, and a cough, and a cold, but otherwise, yes, I can talk.
HV:Oh man, are you getting what been plaguing the rest of the country for the last month or two?
BL:No, I don’t think so. A friend of mine just had a cold and came over, and the next day I had a cold. It’s a real messed up time, too. I’ve got to go on tour soon, so it’s kind of fucked up! (laughs)
HV:Yeah, no shit! You kind of need your voice and your throat to operate.
BL:And my strength too, but I’ll be all right. It all works out.
HV:Well, I’ll try not to abuse you too much on this interview today. So Pentagram is doing a tour through March, tell us about your plans for it.
BL:Well, it’s what I do. It’s a matter of finances and stuff! (laughs) I have to work, but we are all very enthusiastic about playing again together.
HV:What is the set list going to be like this time around? Obviously, you’re going to play the classic tracks like ‘When The Screams Come’, but are you going to dip a little deeper into other releases, like “Curious Volume”?
BL:We’ll do some from “Curious Volume”, like the track, ‘Devils Playground’. We started off with the set being a lot of alternate stuff, but eventually stepped back and said, “No, we can’t really do that.” Now we’re doing eleven songs-fourteen with an encore-and so many people are going to expect to hear certain songs and we’re going to do that for them.
HV:Did you do a major tour with the “Curious Volume” record?
BL:Yes, we did quite a bit in 2016.
HV:That was a pretty well received album.
BL:It did all right, but I would’ve liked to have seen it done better. We had a problem with it when [drummer, Tim Tomaselli] left the day after he recorded the original tracks to it. So we had to fly in Pete Campbell-who is with us now-and then re-record all the drums. It wasn’t easy! (laughs)
HV:Sounds like it was no stress for Pete.
BL:Right! None at all...we were just rushed by the end. But, you know, it did okay.
HV:I really enjoyed it.
BL:Well, thank you. We just try to keep it simple. The basic formula is going to stay the same. When we do another album, which we hope to do this year, we’ll still have some of the old classic stuff that I wrote in the 60’s and 70’s, and then some co-writes and new stuff, and blend them together. That’s been the formula all along really. I mean, this is what people have come to expect; this is our signature and so we plan on keeping it like that. We’ve got Matt [Goldsborough] playing guitar now, because [original guitarist, Victor Griffin] is not in, and that’s the only real difference coming up.
HV:Why is Victor not with Pentagram any longer?
BL:He has a lot of personal things going on in his life. His mom’s not doing too well and he’s getting her estate in order, and he has a lot of personal things that I won’t get into.
HV:That can’t be easy trying to juggle so many different personal commitments and trying to be in rock band at the same time.
BL:Right. And he also has his band, Place of Skulls, and he’s trying to put the band, Death Row, back together again. We saw each other briefly last month and he was doing well. We got along great and he’s a good guy, like a brother to me. But we have to keep on moving.
HV:Yeah, that’s the business aspect of rock n’ roll that people don’t really pay much attention to.
BL:It gets sticky sometimes you know? It’s a family. Especially in our situation: Victor is [bassist Greg Turley’s] uncle and Greg’s dad does our merch. I mean Greg’s been in Pentagram now for twenty-five years.
BL:It’s been a long time already! Yeah, he’s been there since 1995.
HV:That’s hard for me to wrap my head around! 1995 was almost 25 years ago?
BL:Yeah! How old are you?
BL:Well, Greg 45 now. When I met Greg he was seven years old! (laughs) It’s a trip, man, Greg’s been in the show for a long, long time now!
HV:Well, I imagine you have a really good bond at this point.
BL:Oh yeah. We have a lot of the same ideas and he’s a really good dude.
HV:When I was looking at the Pentagram Facebook page announcing your upcoming tour, one of the things I noticed was that there was a lot of support for the for the tour, but there also seemed to be quite a bit of saltiness directed at you.
BL:Yeah, I know. That’s social media. You’re always going to get that kind of thing, where people have no idea what really happened. And it wasn’t as bad as it was reported to be at all. I pled guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor in the end, which could even be a verbal assault. I got into an argument and my mother fell off the toilet seat, and it’s taken out of context. But people are going to take pot shots anyway, the people that don’t like you or the band to begin with, I think that’s always going to happen. I’ve gotten angry a couple times online with a couple people, but I simmer myself down and tell myself: “Hey, Bob, you know you’re in your 60’s. Take it easy and let the music do the talking because that ultimately what’s going to tell the tale.” We’ll just get up and play the songs. There’s no added bells or whistles or anything like that. One of the differences is I’m wearing earplugs, which I’ve never done before, because I can’t stand all the YouTube performances I see-I’m off key constantly. And it bugs the hell out of me! This way I can hear myself properly, because the monitors are not what they’re cracked up to be on stage. And when you’re playing at a volume like we do-which is pretty high-it starts sounding like all the instruments are not in tune to me...it gets pretty weird up there. So I’m just going to stand still this time and sing on key. (laughs) But I’ve got to do that, since I have BAD COPD and it hampers my breathing, so I’m just going to take it easy. I’ve never had the slightest insecurity like I do now. And it’s not because of the jail stuff-that’s no big deal to me, really. It’s a thing of the past. It’s something that happens to rock n’ roll people in the same way that it happens to other people.
HV:I guess the difference is regular people don’t have the media breathing down their neck.
BL:Exactly. Exactly. You have people up your ass when you’re in the public eye and it can get out of hand. So I now just need to shut up and be a good boy and play my music, because this is what I do! (laughs) And if you don’t like it don’t come. I don’t need a bunch of troublemakers coming around anyway.
HV:Yeah, why would they waste their money to come in and just to be a pain in the ass anyway?
BL:It’s like a heckler-they just don’t have anything better to do.
HV:While you were serving time, did you have any issues with withdrawal?
BL:Yeah, as a matter of fact. I had a huge benzo habit; I had been taking Xanax for about 40 years and I almost died from it. I had a seizure in jail. I had a pretty large habit of oxycodone besides that. Cocaine. A little of this, a little of that. So it was tough in the beginning, but after a few months you resign yourself to “Hey I’m here, I’m stuck, I’m not going anywhere!” (laughs) I pled guilty to the charges because I have so many past drug arrests and convictions that they were originally going to try to...give me 4 to 5 years in rehab. So I said to hell with it and just plead guilty. They were also going to offer me 10 years of time to do and I said “screw you!” That’s a life sentence for me in my age, I’m 65. Then they said: “Okay, we’ll give you 18 months.” Which I don’t know how they come up with these numbers-“If you don’t like that, then we’ll give you this.”
HV:It does seem random the way that they sometimes sentence people for their crimes.
BL:Yeah, exactly. And once I was in there, I was sentenced under a new law passed in October of 2017 that takes a third off of the sentence off automatically. Then I worked while I was in there, which took another third off, but I had 7 ½ months of jail time that I didn’t get any credit for where I was just waiting to go to trial.
HV:Oh, I thought they gave you credit for that time.
BL:Nope, no time served. So I did 13 ½ months, but it would’ve been six months.
HV:Were the other inmates pretty cool to you in there?
BL:Yeah, I got along with people in there. The CEOs in there were pulling my stuff up on YouTube while saying, “Hey, I’ve heard of you guys!” I was in the county jail the entire time, I was never in a penitentiary. I didn’t have to go “up the road” as they say.
HV:I hear there is a big difference between the two.
BL:There is, there is, but it’s also more confining. When you’re in there you don’t have freedom of movement, you can’t go outside. You’re just stuck in a block. But I’ve had people ask me “Well, you can still smoke cigarettes, right?” There’s no smoking in any prison in United States! That’s been gone for 10 years. I mean, when you’re in a penitentiary, sure, there’s all kinds of pot and Coke and shit coming in and out, but I’m in a local jail. There’s nothing.
HV:Well, with the space being so small and confining, it’s probably easier for the CO’s to keep an eye on the situations also.
BL:Yeah, of course, and they have a zero tolerance policy in Maryland, they are very strict.
HV:Your first public appearance after you were released from jail was at the Maryland Doom Fest, wasn’t it?
BL:Yes. People swamped me, and I took pictures and stuff like that. And they were all very receptive and very kind to me. I went with a buddy, Dave Sherman, from Earthride.
HV:Oh, I interviewed him a while back. That dude is a character! Do you guys ever get together and jam?
BL:Yeah, he’s a character. He’s a good guy. We haven’t jammed together, but he and I did that one album, “I Plead The Fifth” in 2006 on a thing called “The Ram Family”. We’ve been planning on doing another one, but we haven’t gotten to it yet. I potentially have a couple of things I’m going to do this year.
HV:What are they?
BL:I’m planning to do a second volume of “Sub Basement” with [former Pentagram drummer] Joe Hasselvander. That’s my favorite Pentagram album ever. So we’re planning on doing one of those this year. I’m maybe doing a project with the famous punk guy, Sonny Vincent [1970’s NYC punk band legends, Testor].
HV:Wow, that would be really cool.
BL:That would be pretty neat. Sonny and I have been talking and hopefully this summer we’re going to get to do some recording. I love the guy, he’s great.
HV:Are you planning to do these projects in addition to recording new Pentagram music?
BL:Potentially I’m hoping to do three albums this year. Plus, I’m doing a thing that I started with “Dead Boys” guitar player, Jason Conaway...we got one track done and there are three more tracks we haven’t finished. I was really elated to get to sing with them on their 40thanniversary thing at SXSW in 2017.
HV:Holy shit, the “Dead Boys” ‘Young, Loud and Snotty’ is 40 years old now? How did that happen?
BL:Yeah, they just re-recorded it as ‘Young, Loud and Snotty at 40’. (Laughs)
HV:This really has my inner nerd excited that I’m going to see all of these projects come to fruition this year!
BL:Well, I really hope so, man. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be doing this stuff, you know, so I’m trying to get out all the stuff I can now.
HV:It sounds like you’re becoming Robert Plant trying to produce nine projects per year.
BL:Hell, I’m getting old man! (Laughs) You got to catch up while you can. I’m still a kid in my heart, but that’s not what my neck, back, lungs, kidneys and all that say when I wake up in the morning! They’re like “Oh, shit!” And being sober is a real different thing. I’ll be clean two years this month.
BL:Well, thank you. I just want the fans to know that I’m really glad to be back out there and hopefully they’ll give me another shot. We’ll see where we get to this go around. Here we go again!