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Bobby Liebling of Pentagram

If Anvil! The Story of Anvil was a documentary that exposed the lighter side of a down-on-their-luck metal band, then Last Days Here is the darker counterpart. In a perfect universe, Pentagram would have followed the likes of Kiss and Blue Öyster Cult up the charts during the mid-1970s - if things had gone according to plan and if they received a break or two. But... no such luck, resulting in decades of obscurity.

Last Days Here focuses primarily on Pentagram singer Bobby Liebling, who despite penning such doom metal classics as "Forever My Queen" and "All Your Sins," seems to always sabotage himself and the band's career when it counts most. But as the documentary shows, Liebling was seemingly able to turn his life around, and as soon as he did, Pentagram finally began receiving the attention, accolades, and popularity they should have many moons ago.

Liebling spoke with us about the aforementioned must-see documentary, as well as who his all-time favorite songwriter is, the stories behind several Pentagram anthems, and the pros and cons of touring Stateside vs. touring Europe.

Greg Prato (Songfacts): Let's start off by talking about the documentary Last Days Here. What were your initial impressions after you first saw it?

Bobby Liebling: After I first saw it? The first time I saw it, I thought it was real amateurish for some reason. I don't know why, because the next seven times I've seen it I followed it all the way through. It was at Sundance, and now it's gone over to Showtime - it's shown eleven times on Showtime. Proudly to say it's the only thing I've ever done right in my life and it made a clean sweep of every award in 15 countries and seven states.

Songfacts: Were there any scenes that were hard for you to watch?

Bobby: Yeah. Of course. They're the ones where I look like rotting flesh, green knee alarm, see the bones, hahaha, real funny, you're dying. Those were toughies.

Songfacts: What were your parents' reaction to seeing the documentary? [Bobby's parents are featured in the film]

Bobby: They think, "Eh, nothing new. Same old, same old." Unfortunately. My dad wanted me to be a government man. My parents are Yiddish, I grew up in Brooklyn, I was born in Washington, D.C., I'm Christian, I'm an only child, a long-haired dope fiend hippie, and a boy who's supposed to be a lawyer or a doctor.

Songfacts: But I would think by your parents seeing that whole documentary, that they also got to see how your music has touched so many people and how people are finally discovering Pentagram.

Bobby: Yeah, they did. I was really happy. My dad said, "I'm proud of you. You're better than most of the bands I've seen on TV." So that made me feel good in my heart. And my dad's 93. My mother's 82 and they've been married 62 years. They never thought they'd see anything like this come along, that's for goddamn sure. I was a juvenile delinquent.

Songfacts: And how would you say that your life has changed since the release of the documentary?

Bobby: How has it changed? It grounded me. It's the best way to put it. It grounded me and showed me that, "Hey, Too Big for His Britches, you're mortal like the rest of us. And remember another thing: no Pentagram, no you." That's what it told me to myself.

Songfacts: How do you find yourself writing your best songs? Do you like writing it on your own or collaborating with others?

Bobby: I write them the best on my own. I have written shit the last thirty years, except for maybe five songs. Otherwise every song you see is a collaboration from 30 years ago, written usually with me and the original drummer, Geof O'Keefe.

I just like writing the lyrics now. It's kind of like I shot my wad. I mean, I've got over 450 songs at the Library of Congress registered and written, and I have 2,000 more songs in my head. So I don't think I'm going to run out any time soon.

Songfacts: That's pretty crazy that you wrote all those classic songs just in that short amount of time, but then you said you haven't really written anything for the past 30 years.
With a name like Pentagram, it's understandable to assume that Liebling and company are Satanists. But as the singer explained to the Metal Sucks website in 2010 this is not the case - "Pentagram was never a 'Satan' band like people think it was, it was always just giving you the layout, like the album says, of your choices, because you have to make a choice, and there are two ways you can go. The songs were sort of like warnings, and people mistook those for us being black metal and all that kind of stuff."

Bobby: Yeah. Here and there, I mean, I wrote "Sign of the Wolf" in 1980, which is one of the "new songs." [Laughing] That's neither here or there. I was kicking in a hospital bed somewhere and I said, "I want to write." So I real quick had somebody bring me in a bottle of wine in the hospital and chugged that down, wrote "Sign of the Wolf" on the guitar.

Songfacts: Who would you say are some of your favorite songwriters?

Bobby: Dick Wagner of the bands the Lost Men, that's the first band he was in, in the '60s, didn't make it out of Detroit. The second band he was in was called Dick Wagner and the Frosts, which did one single, didn't make it out of Detroit. The next band he was in was called Ursa Major, which was with the Amboy Dukes ex-bass player Greg Arama, and Ricky Mangone. They were a three man power trio, which spent $60,000 total on one album, and a non-LP side of a newer single, which I have all of.

I have my own personal autograph by Dick Wagner. He's my hero, one of my great unsung heroes. Dick's 71. He was around the VU [Velvet Underground] era, like when I stayed the weekend at Lou Reed's house when I was... oh, shit, I was 21 years old. I just read he's 71 now. He had a liver transplant, which is real trippy. I hope these old guys make it, because they deserve it. They're the ones who spawned the whole thing, not me. But they're the ones that I looked up to so greatly, they're the guys with real talent.

Songfacts: A band that a lot of people compare Pentagram to is Black Sabbath.

Bobby: I was a fan of Black Sabbath. I was more a fan of Kiss than Black Sabbath, which lots of people make fun of nowadays. There's nothing to be fun about. They are a force to be reckoned with, because they did what The Beatles did, even though they had the media and The Beatles didn't - it was all word of mouth, town-to-town. But that's the way my guy Dick Wagner did it. He's the director of Rock and Roll Animal Lou Reed era of the band, which I saw. I waited in the pouring rain outside so he'd come unhook his own pedals, because he was a studio guy, and nobody was going to help him with shit. And sure enough, he wandered out in the dark after the whole concert was over and I saw this great, big, tall heavy-set guy, and it was Dick Wagner. I was shitting in my pants, but I went up with my Date record - you remember the label Date at all?

Songfacts: Yes, I've heard of it.

Bobby: Well, they had some affiliations with RCA for distribution for a while back then. The single came out in '68. Then Dick went on and he also became a studio musician, he had seven strokes, had water removed from the brain three times, couldn't get published, but had an incredible book that I have a transcript of, with vignettes, and they're all vignettes called Not Only Women Bleed. Because Dick Wagner co wrote all the Alice Cooper solo album songs, all of them.

Songfacts: Yeah, I think Dick is probably best known for co writing those hit Alice Cooper ballads ("Only Women Bleed," "I Never Cry," "You and Me," and "How You Gonna See Me Now") and he also played on a few Kiss songs, on their Destroyer album.

Bobby: Believe it or not, he plays all the guitars on Get Your Wings by Aerosmith.

Songfacts: Yeah. I've heard that, that he plays on "Train Kept a Rollin'," I think I've heard that rumor before.

Bobby: Oh, he's on the whole album. Every single guitar on that album is Dick Wagner. Believe it or not. All of them. So he's a real hero of mine. Bob Ezrin is my favorite modern day producer, because there aren't any Phil Spectors around anymore. People had "the big sound," you know? Where they go out in the street, they grab 100 bums off the street, and say, "Hey, put me on a record?" And they drag them in and say, "What do you want me to do?" Clap the hands, so they do it. Now, Dick Wagner after that - if anybody gives a shit where he is - he is in his home and he lives in Tempe, Arizona, with his daughter-in-law, and she helps him. Thank God for Sandy Wagner, my hat goes off to her. Without her, I don't think Dick would be with us anymore.

Songfacts: Would you ever consider possibly writing songs with Dick Wagner?

Bobby: I'd give my right nut. I don't think he needs me, though. I mean, he writes such great stuff by himself, now. He's one of my true mentors. When people ask who my favorite groups are, they're always a little surprised at that, because they go, "Who, Black Sabbath? Budgie?" No, sorry, you're just a little bit off. And my favorite band used to be Wishbone Ash. I've gotten carried out of two Decca - before it was called MCA - promo press parties, when I was 18. And since then, Andy Powell took over the band, which I'm proud to say is another great fan and friend of mine. And I just got to see Wishbone Ash again, I took my wife to see them at the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. I don't even know where the hell the place was when we got there. And Wishbone Ash played and she said it was the best concert she'd ever seen in her life.

Many of Pentagram's classic tunes harken back to the early '70s, and were recorded as demos that comprise two compilations issued years later - First Daze Here: The Vintage Collection and First Daze Too. Quite a few of these tunes were re-recorded for Pentagram's subsequent studio albums from the '80s onward, but do not feature the original Pentagram band members playing on them. That said, two of Pentagram's all-time classic tunes - "Sign of the Wolf" and "All Your Sins" - are anomalies, as Bobby explains.

Songfacts: What do you remember about the writing and recording of the song "Forever My Queen"?

Bobby: "Forever My Queen," I was broken up over a Dear John letter I got from a high school sweetheart, from Morocco, whose parents sent her there to get away from a bad boy - who was me. Who ain't shit for bad boys, but, you know, I did wear a leather jacket. So that's where that song comes from.

Songfacts: Did you ever hear the Dead Weather's cover of that song?

Bobby: Oh, I've got five copies of it. Jack White sent them to me Fedex overnight.

Songfacts: What did you think of that cover?

Bobby: I think it's the best cover of all of them. All the versions I've ever heard. And I don't like girls in rock bands. I'm prejudiced. But she [singer Alison Mosshart] did a bang up job.

Songfacts: And what about the song "Review Your Choices"?

Bobby: I remember I was real deep into Satanism, which is the wrong way to go. I'll tell you that right now, I don't care how self serving you are. You don't step on people's faces to get there. I learned that the hard way, because I was with Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman [producers of] Blue Öyster Cult and The Dictators. Murray's in the movie.

Songfacts: Yes. I remember him.

Bobby: So you remember Murray. Murray's down to earth. Now, I believe he knew we were going to be the next big thing, but of course, loudmouth here blew it, like I did with so many deals and big shots. I still made it, but I didn't make big bucks, because big bucks is gone after the '70s. They gave you six figures for 45 minutes, but you're lucky if you get fives and tens now. Fives in clubs, tens in festivals, and that's it. Anything besides what they provide, which is usually pretty half assed, they give you shit for the rest of the United States. They don't treat you like they want you to have anything comfortable at all. It's just, "Here, play your music, shut up, and go that way." You know? Do your thing and get the hell out of here, the check's in the mail.

Songfacts: And what about the song "All Your Sins"?

Bobby: "All Your Sins" is one of the only two co-writes Victor [Griffin] and I did. It's a great song. Now, there's a spiritual song for you. Archetype serious reality, you know. Right then since we were in all that stuff and we learned that this is a no no, this is not the way to go go. And a lot of that had to do with my big mouth, like Ralph Kramden used to say on The Honeymooners.

Songfacts: Would you ever consider playing a show with the other surviving original Pentagram members, Geof O'Keefe and Greg Mayne?

Bobby: Yes. I would do that if I could have my guitar player that I have now. His name is Matt Goldsborough, like the British old spelling. He's a great guitar player, he's conscientious, he's 33. That right there tells my story to me. He's 33 and I can't do that anymore. I messed up my chance. But I still got another one, I'm very spiritual and people I don't think I am. They expect to come out and see me fucking monkeys and bats flying around my head or something live on stage. This is not the Reeperbahn and this is not Amsterdam and all you're going to see is what you get, which is hopefully a good concert and some guys who are as enthused as the fan is to go see it, that we're as enthused to play it.

Songfacts: And are there plans to do a new Pentagram album?

Bobby: Plans to do a new Pentagram...? Okay. We're not signed to anybody right now. Well, we're signed to Metal Blade - we signed there for the new album Last Rites, and so they own everything lock, stock, and barrel. They gave me a three album contract. I knew I was going to get gold before I signed it, but it didn't sell anything. I'm learning the business quick and the business is nothing but shysters, and they're going to promise you the moon and deliver zilch, nada, zip. And that goes for everybody, I hate to say. You don't get your riders met, the dressing room is that puddle of piss over there next to the second toilet: that's for you, Bob, special. And the puddle of the smaller piss is for all three of them guys. And, "Oh, there's your lunch tray. We know you haven't eaten all night, so you must be really hungry. So here's three rotten grapes."

Songfacts: So would you say the venues over in Europe treat the bands better than the venues in America when you tour?

Bobby: Oh, hell, when we go to Europe I feel like God. They treat you like you're a person, that's all. All I am's a person, but goddamn, they're treating you like one, at least. Because that's all I am, that's all you're ever going to get out of me is what you're seeing is what you're getting. So this is what you've got to work with. You can work with me or you can putz around against me all day and in the end, the contract's still going to say we ain't leaving till you pay us what you're supposed to. I mean, when you're only getting 5 grand and you were getting 50 in the '80s, well, what's wrong? Just pretend that the dates got messed up. You can't dispute that the pay now is shitty. It's this economy. I mean, we're all in it and I'm sure you're in it like anybody else, no matter who boasts that they're not, they're either the Beverly Hillbillies or Donald Trump.

Songfacts: The last question I have is why do you think it took so long for the public to discover Pentagram and also Pentagram's music?

Bobby: Because there was no Internet, for one. So anything that was Pentagram was discovered through the media of talking, which is a lost art.

July 23, 2013
For all your Pentagram needs, visit facebook.com/pentagramusa.
More info about the Last Days Here documentary is at the IFC site.
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