Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tales From The Abyss Pt. 1: Pentagram, Lee Dorian And The Serpent's Gold

Here's one that I have been holding back for some time. This is my personal account of my experience on the 1994 Black Sabbath tour for their album "Cross Purposes". This 3 month romp through Heaven & Hell was an extremely noteworthy one and is not likely to exit my brain anytime soon as I sacrificed much and gained very little. In hindsight I would not have missed it for the world!

It was Halloween night 1993 and my old band Pentagram had made it's 3rd attempt at re-forming due to public response for the re-releases of "Relentless" and "Day Of Reckoning" on Peaceville Records now part of Music For Nations. We had just played our first show back on the circuit in Northern Virginia a month before to a capacity crowd of new and old fans that was absolutely overwhelming! This Halloween night though was to be an extra special one for us as a band.

The venue was an old ski lodge in Braddock Heights, Maryland that was rumored to once house Nazi spies in World War II and a few of them as the story goes took their own lives in that place rather than divulge what they knew about the Third Reich! It was kind of spooky to say the least with it's dressing rooms stretching down very old and poorly lit hotel hallways.

Fans and old friends kept sneaking through security to get a peak at us, especially the girls wanting to see their favorite Penta-member in a compromising position getting our stage clothes on! I finally gave up and just asked them if they would please not spill their drinks on my clothes.

A beautiful nymphet dressed in her devilish best drops by Joe Hasselvander's dressing room as he indiscriminately removes his drawers!

The show at Spectators on Halloween night was packed with pretty girls looking for heavy sounds!

The band took a few photos on the stairs in the hall as a drunk Marty Swaney attempted to put his fist up my ass through my leather pants so that I would take a bad photo. You can see this stupidity in the photo. We were wondering if he was going to be all right to play the gig.

Catching a quick photo session with funny man Marty Swaney diddling where he shouldn't!

We all huddled in Bobby's room to go over our set when Lee Dorian, vocalist for British Doom band Cathedral popped in the doorway with a female friend. He had come all the way from New York to see the show. He told us he had waited his whole life for this night as he was a huge fan of Pentagram. We had a great conversation about the state of doom metal and how it fit in to contemporary hard rock.

Lee Dorian stops by to catch the Pentagram set at Spectators in Braddock Heights, Maryland

Bobby Liebling contemplates wearing his carrot orange outfit but luckily comes to his senses!

Bobby putting on the war paint!

It was time to hit the stage and it was no easy task as the small room we were playing in was packed to the rafters with very drunk touchy feely fans! I barely got to the stage with all my clothes and jewelry intact! We played a blistering set which still exists on video today. What I didn't know was that meeting Lee Dorian was going to change my life forever.

Pentagram bring down the house!

Weeks later Victor received a call from Lee Dorian informing him that Cathedral were still in the states wrapping up promotion for their new album, "The Ethereal Mirror" and wanted to do a couple of shows with Pentagram before returning to England. He also wanted to have our friends Iron Man on the bill. All of us in the band agreed and a concert was set through Cellar Door Productions at the Bayou in Washington, D.C. and the following week at The Grand in New York.

Ads in the local music papers for Pentagram's two gigs with Cathedral

The day of the show the band arrived early at the venue and met the rest of Cathedral who were really nice lads. Their road manager came walking up and told us that Pentagram would be headlining the show even though the tickets said that Cathedral were headlining. I asked the guy what was up with that and he told me that Lee Dorian considered us his Gods and that he would not feel right headlining over Pentagram in their home turf!

A night of Doom Metal in Washington, D.C. that the fans would never forget!!

Iron Man was the first on that night and it did my heart good to see them playing a more prestigious gig than what they were usually offered. Then Cathedral hit the stage with their slower than molasses riffing and Lee Dorian's stage antics with the microphone cable wrapped around his neck feigning suffocation! They were the heaviest sludge band I had ever seen!

It was now time for Pentagram to start getting ready when Victor told me that Bobby was not in the venue and wouldn't come out of his house some 15 miles away near the Pentagon! I couldn't believe that he was doing this! Whether or not a friend brought him to the show or if Victor went to get him was unclear but suddenly he arrived and was out of his friggin' mind! He was talking gibberish, locked himself in one of the dressing rooms and wouldn't come out. He was having an argument with his imaginary rubber gorilla, "Gilla"! That's when I knew we were in deep trouble. The stage manager kept coming up to us asking why the hell we weren't on stage and told us we were now 11 minutes late! He told me that if we didn't take the stage in 5 more minutes that he would shut the show down! This was the first time that Bobby's substance abuse got in the way of his usual professional work ethic! Little did I know that this event would repeat itself many times down the road ( Read "The Grusome Twosome, The Rebirth and Fall Of Pentagram" in an earlier blog.)

The band took the stage anyway and suddenly Bobby appeared and seemed to be fine. The show went down well and was videoed. I remember seeing the footage and hearing that Marty Swaney's bass had swallowed up the rest of the band's sound! I remember my drum throne vibrating off the ground from his bass.

The Bayou, when Bobby Liebling did finally arrive it was like prying out teeth to get him out of his dressing room to play the show.

We didn't know what to say to Bobby but realized that he had come to a grim impasse and his days as a performer were waning. We just kept silent so we could fulfill our obligation with Cathedral in New York the following week.

We arrived in the "Big Apple" in the afternoon as the show would be an early one because at 9:00 pm the venue turned into a disco. About 50 people showed up to see the event including my band mate from Raven John Gallagher and his wife Melanie. My old vocalist from Savoy Brown and now Catus, Jimmy Kunes was also there with his new wife. It was great for them to come out and support what I was doing and they made the last week's fiasco with Bobby melt away! Now I was ready to kick ass! The venue didn't give anyone time to fiddle about with their gear. They said, "You're On!" and the curtains opened. It reminded me a lot of "The Gong Show".

Later after the gig we said our goodbyes to Lee Dorian and thanked him for the chance to play out with them. He promised that he would keep in touch with Victor in the future. When I finally arrived at the Hotel I found a nodded out Bobby Liebling on the toilet with full stage clothes on. I thought, "If this is what it means to be a rock star then I want no part of it".

Unfortunately my last memories of a day's work are the ones I remember the most! This was becoming a recurring story with Bobby!

The following weeks found Pentagram doing a new album for Peaceville/Music For Nations called "Be Forewarned". If only I had heeded that warning! By this time Bobby was more than "out there" and staying in the public bathroom in the hallway outside the studio going about his twisted business. The studio engineer actually set up a camera facing the downstairs door that lead to the outside so that he could monitor the front door in case the police happened to charge in looking for the source of the strange chemical odor coming from the building. It was as if Bobby was now recording the album via TV remote. He came in to the control room only a few times during the recording of the whole album and that was only to argue with Marty Swaney to the point that Marty was ready to punch him. Bobby was going on about how Pentagram could never do any wrong and that he was a super star. Of course at that time, we all knew different!
Some of this stupidity was caught on video by Victor's nephew, Greg Turley which ended up on YouTube.

Victor also didn't seem well during this period and had started drinking heavily and finally quit the album for 2 weeks because he was unsatisfied with his guitar sound. When he finally came back with a good amp rig we laid down the drum tracks to "Vampire Love". after listening back he told me he didn't like the way I played it. I couldn't see anything wrong with it. It was a simple song to begin with but he insisted that I change it. I suggested that we leave it alone for a day and move on with something else and later come back and see if he felt the same about it. If it still didn't sit right , then I would retake it. Victor blew his top and smashed a beer bottle! With the bottle still in his hand, the jagged edge was now intended for me! I told him that he would have to kill me if he tried to use it on me because it would certainly be the last thing he ever did if he didn't use it! Victor was also coming apart at the seams like Bobby but alcohol was his problem. The whole project was becoming a nightmare! If it weren't for the engineer we never would have finished that album. Victor later apologized to me but I told him that what he had done would never happen again, at least not the way he thought it would work out.

Victor Griffin threatened me with a broken beer bottle in the studio but I knew it was a case of bad nerves and beer muscles and I was able to defuse the problem!

I came by Victor's 2 nights later to ride up to the studio with him when the phone rang and it was Lee Dorian calling from his hometown of Coventry. He told Victor that their guitarist had quit the band and that they were considering him as their new second guitarist for the upcoming support tour with Black Sabbath! He muted the phone and told me the news and then asked me what I thought he should do because they needed him in one week. Seeing how the "Be Forewarned " album had been going and the negative environment around it, I told him that he ought to take the job and never look back! After all, if he kicked ass he could finish all his remaining guitar tracks that night! Then he got back on the phone with Lee and once again muted the phone and turned to me and said " Their drummer quit the band too and they're looking for a drummer!" My mind started flipping over all the possibilities. This would be a dream come true as Victor and I both had been massive Black Sabbath fans since we were kids. I'm thinking, "How cool would that be?" Maybe this would also heal the recent incident between him and I for good and it would once again be like old times when we were in Death Row together. I told Victor to ask him if they would be interested in having me fill the drum slot for them. On the other end of the line Lee Dorian said he would think that one over but he would have to ask his partner Gaz and their manager Paul. He said that he didn't think it would be a problem.

Needless to say Victor finished up all his remaining guitar parts that night and we set up for our first mix the following evening. We were getting ready to go up and mix when we were again contacted by Cathedral but this time from their manager, Paul Lowesby. He told us that we were in the band and that we were now to learn the material that spanned 3 of their albums. He would be giving us flight information soon.

Over the next 2 days Victor and I mixed "Nightmare Gown", "Petrified", "Vampire Love" and "Too Late". We then informed Bobby and Marty what our plans were. Marty said "Man, if you don't go on that tour you're crazy" but Bobby was crushed like an egg, He kept asking why we couldn't get Pentagram on that tour. I told Bobby it was because it wasn't our tour, it was Cathedral's. He somehow couldn't grasp that concept. Suddenly he wanted to come out of the toilet and work but it was too little, too late! We were going! The engineer said that he could easily finish mixing as Victor and I had set the tones and the drum sounds that would carry the rest of the record and that he could duplicate the overall sounds we were after. I have never left an album hanging like that in my entire career as a recording artist but in this case it was the best thing and the album came out fine in the end thanks to our engineer friend Chris and our wonderful studio Cue Recording!

The management and staff at Cue Recording managed to complete the album in Victor and my absence when we were off playing on tour with Black Sabbath!

The day came for Victor and I to depart from Dulles Airport in Virginia to Newark Airport and then on to Gatwick Airport near London but the lines were too long and we missed the flight to our connector during check-in. So we departed the next day for Newark and Scott Carlson, Cathedral's bassist just happened to be on the same flight. Victor had brought these little plug-in speakers to his Sony "Walkman" and stuffed them up in the headrest in front of him. This served to annoy the flight attendants all the way to England as he blasted Kiss, Pentagram and the Dead Boys all the way! Scott Carlson was a real cool guy and figured out our routine in seconds! Drink, drink, and drink! We were laughing hysterically about absolutely nothing for hours all the while blasting that little tape player. No one stopped us though as they were scared to death of us!

Around 3:am the plane went through a bad storm over the Atlantic and we dropped 1,500 ft. in elevation in seconds! The passengers were flipping out but we were singing "I Want To Rock And Roll All Night And Party Every Day" in our best champagne fueled karaoke! We were so obnoxious that the other passengers didn't have time to have a nervous breakdown and after the plane stabilized the whole crew and passengers bought us several more rounds of drinks for keeping everybody relatively calm during what could have been the end!

We arrived at Gatwick Airport at 7:00 am and stood in line at customs what seemed for ever. There was some kind of delay beyond their control and the customs agents and airport personnel begged us each for our patience when one of the younger girls asked us if we were in a band and we informed them that we were and that we were arriving to join the Black Sabbath tour that started in the next few days! All of a sudden out of nowhere came tables and chairs for us right in the queue and they asked us if we would like to sit down and they would go fetch some tea for us! The rest of the passengers looked at us like they were ready to club us! I had been to this very entrance to Britain a year earlier with Raven and was harassed terribly by customs! This was a complete turn around! Then the tea came! I felt like asking for a foot massage at that point.

Paul Lowsby showed up and helped us with our gear but Victor's guitar didn't make it and would be coming on the next flight in. So Paul drove us to Birmingham to Rich Bitch rehearsal studio and returned to the airport! That's when I dropped out from exhaustion on the floor of the drum riser while White Zombie was being blasted through the whole studio complex.

Paul later returned with the guitar and Lee and Gaz for rehearsal. Lee had grown a beard since the last time we had seen him in the states making him look like what the press called a "hillbilly starchild". When we finally got down to rehearsing we found out to our amazement we had been told to rehearse all the wrong songs off the 3 albums! We had to get this together rather quick as we would be playing some big venues and would be expected to sound very tight and polished for the Black Sabbath fan base that would be packing the houses across England. I remember that we sounded good though, just a little under rehearsed the first day which by my standards was very promising for our upcoming shows. I told Gaz that we would have it together better the next day as we were jet lagged. He replied, "You better" with this punk ass look on his face. I knew then that these guys were going to be a little funny to work with. That didn't bother me as I was playing heavy metal since they were shittng yellow in their diapers!

We were slated to play a warm up gig at a small pub in Coventry called "The Sir Collin Campbell". Like all the rumors of "George Washington once slept here" The Campbell was known for the Beatles' John Lennon having been a regular patron of the place in his time.

Early on before the gig, the place started filling up with the usual pub crawl crowd and I noticed Lee Dorian putting away a few more pints than he should have. He was cocked and loaded by the time we went on and "Blam" down he went on the monitors! I guess it was all the pressure of playing in a band with Victor and I and going on a tour with Sabbath the next day that got him!
We ran out of songs after 59 minutes and reverted to the Kiss catalog with, "Parasite" and "She" and then ZZ Top's "Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers". Finally the inevitable "Paranoid", War Pigs" and countless others. Not a bad gig considering that we had only been playing together for a total of 12 hours.

This photo was taken seconds before Lee Dorian fell over the monitors and laid there like a crumpled wax paper bonnet!

Later we went back to our bed and breakfast to party down and suddenly a loud knock came at the door. It was the owner's husband who was sent upstairs to stop the noise as other customers were trying to sleep. It wasn't long before we had him partying with us and now pounding drinks down at rapid speed! Then the door flew open and the man's wife was standing there giving him a right bollocking which of course he deserved. This was our last night in Coventry and the next day was the beginning of the rest of our lives! All this and more next time in Part II.


Woody said...

Ha! Great story, can't wait to read part 2.

Suree said...

I'm not sure which was more amusing to me...Bobby's orange outfit or Lee doing a header onto the monitors after a few too many pints?? :-}