Bobby Liebling is more alive than ever. For those who doubted Bobby’s ability to live through 30-plus years of drug addiction, swallow your pride. As the last original member in one of the most pivotal doom outfits, Pentagram, Citizen Bob is still entertaining crowds like it’s 1971.
But a few things have changed. The man is spiritual now, and he rejects the black mass rituals and imagery that gave Pentagram its notoriety. For the first time in his life, Bobby tastes success, and he’ll never let it go. He tells IO about entering his tenth life, experiencing human emotion, and why the hell he isn’t famous yet.
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There are a lot of things happening for you this year. What are you looking forward to the most?
I’m looking forward to doing some of the overseas rock festivals. I hope we can do a few of them in Germany because there was some really, really good festivals in Germany, and that’s where our largest record sales have been predominantly in the last 12 years.
Also, I’m going to have a baby August 15th. I’m looking forward to the new album [Last Rites] and the DVD [The Fall and Rise of Bobby Liebling], which will coincide with the release of the album. The album is probably going to be recorded in September and October, and we have just obtained new management [Barley & Hops Management], who have already had a few very, very, very major labels in with positive interest in signing us.
When will you find out?
Well, the negotiation is taking three to four months, usually. And I just put my new manager on board [Steve Seabury]. He’s taking care of negotiation. In fact, he’s meeting with four or five major record label executives while we’re on tour. Also, he’s about to close a nationwide merchandise deal for me, so the three different t-shirt designs will be in FYE megastores, places like Targets and things like that.
The DVD is supposed to come out also by the end of October. I’m really looking forward to the DVD coming out and hopefully maybe even get a Hollywood contract out of it. That would be nice.
The Fall and Rise of Bobby Liebling documentary focuses on the man who “belongs in the hearts of a lot of people who don’t even know he exists yet”. It looks like an attempt to make you the kind of rockstar that you’ve been waiting to become. What does it mean to you that someone is putting this package together?
It’s very surreal because it’s been in the making for three years, and when they started out, I was totally screwed up on drugs. It shows a very godsending metamorphosis that happened throughout it. Now I’ve been completely sober for three years, and I met my wife and got married, having a baby—all these things are happening—toured 11, no, 12 countries and about 30 states, 25 states already—this was all in 2009 and ‘10.
The beginning of the DVD [shows] me completely all disheveled with a crack pipe hanging out of my mouth. I was still shooting dope like a mad man…I became the poster child for narcotics abuse, I guess. I think you’re going to be kind of surprised, because it seems like everybody’s waiting for the other shoe to drop, which is not going to happen.
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That’s interesting, because I hear a lot of accusations that Bobby Liebling is still disheveled, and people don’t really see this resurrection or jumpstart that you’re getting. How do you react to those accusations?
Well, it kind of puts me out, because there’s a lot of rockers that I’ve really highly admired throughout their careers, who I have come to find out have been listening to me for 25 years. There [are] a lot of bands all over the world who say we were their biggest influence, and I’m kind of like a dinosaur who made it through the ice age. I live in my 10th life, like a cat has nine.
I’m a total, total believer in divine resurrection, because what’s happened in my life has personified a miracle, that I’ve been able to have this place and be there for it. The fans are so warm, and I never knew people knew about the band as massively as they do worldwide.
Last year, so many fans were ecstatic to see Pentagram go on tour again with Nachtmystium. What was it like to get back up on stage at that point? Where did this energy come from?
It’s a godsend. I’m not born again, I’m just very spiritual. I found out that when you do what you think is right, and when you do things to make people happy instead of trying to scare the hell out of them and drive them away, that it comes back tenfold to you.
It warms my heart when I walk off the stages. I’d say 50 percent of the time, I’m in tears, tears of joy. A lot of people say they can hear my voice wiggling at the very end of the night when I’m talking to the audience. It’s because I’m crying. I’m not ashamed. Not at all. My emotions have come back to service, and I feel and see and smell and hear things properly in the right way—the way that makes me get serenity and tranquillity and fulfillment within my inner self.
Do you think without Pentagram, you’d still be able to get that grand sense of accomplishment?
It came when I met my [current] wife. I’m 56 years old. She’s 23. She’s my soulmate. She’s my best friend. She’s the only one I’ve ever been in love with, and she’s precious and dear to me. When I met her, I was still completely doped out of my head, and we struck up a telephone conversation for about six months before we ever met in person. As a matter of fact, [during that] interim of six months, I had another little stint in jail, which there have been many, many many…it’s all basically drug-related and drug-induced. It’s the nature of the beast. It goes along with the disease.
I’m one of the original hippies. I still am and I always will be. That’s kind of why Pentagram albums always stay of the same ilk in style. You know, I was into a lot of dark stuff years and years ago when I started the band, and, yes, it did have something to do with where the band started. But, for instance nowadays, starting with this particular tour, there will be no more upside-down crosses, there will be no more baphomets, no more ram’s goats heads, no more pentagrams on merchandise.
Yeah. I still wear a pentagram around my neck, because that’s the name of the band, and that’s the name that people know me by. I’ve owned the name for…well in nine months, I’ll have had Pentagram together 40 years.
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Yeah, hot damn.
My audience is 16 to 65, and it still trips me when I see people that I haven’t seen, like old friends of mine, from here and there and everywhere. [They] come to Pentagram concerts, and they bring their children with them, who are 19 or 20 years old, and they’re avid Pentagram followers, too…there’s nothing that can fulfill you more than this whole thing.
Pentagram is definitely a wife of another type. I am married to Pentagram. It’s my baby. There’s been time periods like when we were called Death Row from ‘81 to ‘85, that’s [with] my beloved and as close-to-flesh blood brother that I ever had, who now has his band Place of Skulls, Victor Griffin. Victor and I still talk several times a week, and we’re very, very dearly close, as well as Victor’s nephew, who played in Pentagram in ‘95 and ‘96.
I speak to these people on a regular basis, and between my wife and the preciousness of being given a literal second life, I feel that the fan frenzy, which is like a piranha tank in a Hiroshima cloud to have gone off in one year and a little few months—this from nowhere to this stature is just mind-blowing. I keep the name Pentagram because that’s how the band is known by and made the mark with, so it’s going to stay Pentagram. But Pentagram is just a name.
It’s just a name?
Just a name. You know, pentagon, pentacle, pentangle, pentagram. It’s a five-sided object, and that’s all it means to me now.
Why did you eliminate that imagery? And what does that mean to you now regarding your newfound spirituality?
I have to accredit [that] to Victor and his camaraderie through the years that never waned even when Victor left the band in ‘96 and became born again. He’s kind of brought my conscious level to a new height and awareness along with, of course, getting straight.
I’ve had a few relapses still with cocaine on that tour with Nachtmystium, and [those were] few and far between. I haven’t shot heroin in three years, and I’ve been off methadone for two years this month. I quit all those things without any programs or without any pills or anything — just completely cold turkey after 30- or 40-year habits. I don’t smoke any crack, I don’t take any coke, nothing. I’d give a lot of credit to Victor and a lot of credit to my wife, who loves me dearly for who I am underneath the sheepskin of the outer covering.
When did you become consciously aware of your new spirituality?
If you listen lyrically to the words of Pentagram songs, the albums have never advocated anything that’s dark or satanic. They told you to Review Your Choices, because this is your Day of Reckoning, you will Be Forewarned, because some things are Relentless. And that’s four of our album titles. They’re warnings, and they always have been.
I kind of took the left hand path for a while. It’s just no good for anything. It doesn’t do you any good. You’re going to lose. I found that the hard way beating my head on a wall for 40 years and wondering why I have a lump. I came off the drugs.
When I walked out on the stage at Webster Hall debuting in 2009 after not playing with any “pentagram” — I did guest appearances and spots here and there with Hank Williams III and Witchcraft from Sweden, and I helped out my former drummer Joe Hasselvander — but when I went out on the stage at Webster Hall, I hadn’t had a sip of a beer even, and I had never played straight in my life before, ever. I started playing professionally three nights a week when I was 10 years old. I told my then-manager, “Hey, do you always get butterflies?” That happens to every musician, no matter what, or else they’re lying to you. The minute when they walk out on stage, just for that fleeting moment until you get into the groove of the things, and the songs start cranking. But I was actually frightened.
Yeah, I was scared to go out on stage at that debut.
Liebling talks about stage fright
What were you afraid of?
I had stage fright. I didn’t know how I would be accepted or, like I said, the whole thing is very surreal to me. I’m not used to this. I’m used to, “Let’s scare the hell out of ‘em, and drive ‘em all out of the club, and then wonder why there’s 10 people there at the end”, which sucks. It does suck.
I was brought up with no religious background per se, and I don’t shove my personal ideas on anyone. But you should be aware of two sides you can take in life, and I finally decided, “Hey, I got to try to be something, or I’m gonna die”.
When you were younger, what did you find appealing about the occult?
It was probably the hippie thing…Everything was supposed to be just sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. It was told that that was what we were supposed to do, and there’s a lot more to life than that. A whole lot more.
There’s a similar message, I think, in one of my Pentagram favorites, “Be Forewarned”. In it you say, “Some people think I’m an advocate of Lucifer, and some say I’m a child of God, yes they do. Some people think I’ve got the nine lives of a cat, and others say I’m filthy as a dog”. When you wrote those, what did those words mean to you then versus now?
Which is that’s the way some people choose to perceive me. If you are set in your ways on something, you get stereotyped, and some people will learn to make adjustments. And some like myself make them after they are thick as a brick after 40 years. (Laughs) When I wrote “Be Forewarned”, I was so drunk, I couldn’t even see. Those are my real feelings on there. I wasn’t just making rhymes. That’s the way I saw people perceiving me. I wanted to give the warning that when I get to my goal, I’m going to hang onto it, which is, “I’ll never let you go again”. (Laughs)
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That reminds me of something I read when you made a promise to your first wife about one of your goals, which was when you finally released that first album, you would be so content with life that you could quit it all. But obviously you’ve released a lot more than just one. So what kind of promises are you making now?
I’m promising to myself to keep my commitment, whatever it may be and whatever it becomes. Right now, it’s [to] my wife and family, and to play music to make people happy, because I love making people happy.
My favorite album is the most bummer album in the history of music to me, which is Sub-Basement. That’s my baby. I love that album to death, and it’s got some of the most demented, downtrodden, [suicide]-inducing songs lined up one right after another. I can only listen to the album once every two or three months because it’s just bummed out music. But then I have people who heard me from all over the world in absolute seriousness, and they were thinking [about] suicide, and it saved their life. Maybe I’m a vessel to some people.
Was the suicidal interpretation a reality at the time of making this record?
No, because every Pentagram record has always been half the album is generally…songs I wrote in the early ’70s that I wrote the words and music to. That’s usually a little over half the album, and the other 30 – 40 percent of it is collaboration with musicians, usually guitar players that I’ve been with through the years. I just write the the lyrics nowadays.
I ran out of music. I wrote 450 songs in 30 years. I still have piles and piles of them. Pentagram hasn’t had a brand-new studio album since 2005, which was Show ‘Em How. Even that one was songs I had saved. I don’t know why I save [the songs], but I had to save them for just the perfect moment, and it’s got like half of the regular, crusher, heavy, downtrodden Pentagram, which is not suicidal, but it’s what they used to call doom.
You don’t think they call it that anymore?
I wouldn’t say so, because there’s so many sub-categories nowadays…My god, when people ask what kind of music we play, [I say] we play very, very heavy, heavy hard rock. That’s it.
So do you think doom is really nonexistent now?
I think it’s existent, but I’m not a cookie monster singing. We do play music, and it’s not 6,000 miles an hour that sounds like it’s somebody with their hair on fire running around the room with it on fire, or they’re trying to beat it out with their instruments. It’s not the frantic nature of some of the stuff now: hardcore, doom, heavy metal, metal, this metal, that metal.
Liebling talks about doom metal
That’s a good point. I think that’s why a lot of younger people, especially, are reverting back to where it all came from. I don’t know if that’s why you have crowds that are 16 to 65, but it may be.
Right. I think it has a lot to do with it, because they see that I haven’t changed, and now I’m kind of getting my 15 minutes, like they say, that everybody gets of recognition. They’re telling me that I invented a type of music, a style, that I was one of the pioneers of a certain style of music, which is pretty mind-blowing.
Well, it sounds like you’re getting more than your 15 minutes.
I found your Twitter account. You say under your bio that you’ve “been in Pentagram for the past 40 years. Am I famous yet?”
I said, “Am I famous yet?” (Laughs)
Yes. What is fame to you?
I really can’t define it. To be honest, it’s like what John Lennon says in The Beatles movie, “Did we pass the audition?” It’s hard. Of course I want to live comfortably, and I’d love to be able to just become a producer eventually. But I see myself and God wanting for at least another 9 or 10 years [of] recording and touring. The live performances are pretty grueling, especially with the intensity of a group like Pentagram. We’re volume freaks. It’s always been like that. My idols were Blue Cheer, the loudest band in history. [In] every Pentagram album ever recorded, the last thank you always says, “And, of course, Blue Cheer”.
I was really, really badly shattered and destroyed when Dickie Peterson [of Blue Cheer] died last year. I found out I was two hours away playing in Tilburg, Holland when he died in Germany, and I would’ve gone to the hospital. Dickie was a dear, dear friend of mine, and I had finally gotten to be close friends with [Blue Cheer], and they are why I play the loud heaviness that I did. It was all Blue Cheer back then for me. They are one of the first bands to just slam it out and blow it up your ass. They were volume freaks all the way and [with] a lot of bluesy influence, which some of my songs are said to have.
I guess fame is why I always told people I’m the greediest person you can ever find on the earth, because I want every single solitary bit of what I want. But I’m not one percent selfish because if I can’t share it with my loved ones and friends, then there’s no sense to have it at all, because I get no sense of pleasure from it. Sure I want millions and millions. I made millions and millions years ago by running narcotics illegally. But I’d love to make that off the music business. My ultimate goal is to be [inducted] into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame…That’s like you get to go to rock ‘n’ roll heaven. (Laughs)
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Liebling discusses his wardrobe
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I’m really curious about this period around ‘75 when Gordon Fletcher had you guys rehearse in front of major record label executives. Around this time, Pentagram performed in front of KISS’ Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons. How did they perceive you?
They said the bass player has too bad acne, the guitar player looks like a statue, the singer is ugly, and the drummer is fat. But they still love the material. KISS are the summation of rock music, period, to me. They kind of put the cap on the whole thing, finally, where there’s nothing that they didn’t do that you can think of doing. Not in the rock music world. They kind of closed the book on it. I’m just glad I was around before they were because I don’t feel like I’m copying someone. I’ll always love KISS because I consider myself before a recording artist, before a producer, before a writer or any of that, and way before a singer for sure, I’m an entertainer.
When I go to see a rock band, I don’t go to hear a rock band, I go to see the rock band. If I wanted to just hear it, I can buy the records,. That’s why when I get up on stage, I’m going to give the people entertainment. They came here to see a show. So give them a show. I’m still old-school. My clothes are still [like] the stuff [of] Jimi Hendrix or The New York Dolls — the glammy type glitz. I love that. I still love it to this day, and I’ll always be like that on stage. That’s really me. It’s just what I came from.
It’s interesting hearing about the Gene and Paul situation because didn’t they contact Pentagram later about wanting the rights to “Starlady” and “Hurricane”?
Yeah. That’s about putting “written by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons” on the song.
How did you guys react to that?
I wrote “Hurricane” alone, and I wrote “Starlady” with one of the lead guitar players, Randy Palmer, who was from the early Pentagram years. At the time, it was more up to me because I owned the name Pentagram, and I wrote a majority of the songs. Back then, it was selling out, and I wouldn’t sell out then. I was still a hungry young lion.
But nevertheless, having not done that, I’m glad because I get told every day by someone somewhere on email or MySpace that I can sell out, because no matter what I did [back then], it [wasn't] selling out because I was there then doing the same thing. So if I sign to a major label, which I’m planning to do if things go right and I keep everything in order and just be optimistic and keep doing what I’m doing, it looks like we’re heading up the ladder. It’s the ladder I kept taking two steps forward and three steps back on, and now it’s getting kind of agoraphobic up there because the things are getting up there quickly, and it’s flipping me out.
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Which Pentagram era do you feel accomplished the most? Which one are you most proud of?
Well, obviously, the most accomplishment has been in the last couple of years, because we’ve risen in popularity and status. We’re almost crossing the line right now into the major leagues. Nevertheless, I thought that during the Death Row/Pentagram years, like ‘81 to ‘96, that band was remarkably professional, and it was a fine-tuned machine.
What did you get away with in the ’70s and ’80s that you can’t get away with now?
(Laughs) Oh wow. In the ’70s and ’80s, I was so trashed on stage that I’d say at least half of the gigs in early Pentagram years, I didn’t even know what city, county, state, or special event I was playing in. I had no idea. They’d just take me there, physically holding my hand, and position me somewhere, and I’d go, “Uh, we’re playing at, uh, what is it again?” They [would] point the flashlight to the stage, and somehow by the grace of God I [would] get up on the stage, and the magic happens. (Laughs)
Now I get very, very exhausted. Every time the band goes on tour, the day we leave I get 80 percent-plus laryngitis for the whole tour, and my voice works for an hour-and-a-half everyday, and that’s when I’m up on the planks.
And that never happened before?
Never in my entire life. I’ve never had laryngitis before. I never got laryngitis when I was trashed. But when I was trashed, I never got anything because I was just void. You don’t feel at all. No matter what way you smoked it, shot it, stuck it up your ass, or drank it, it was just “just gimme some!” (Laughs) Now everybody’s jaw drops when I come out from the background on a tour bus and blow my stack about somebody bringing some powder on the bus or something. It’s like, “Hey, I’m not taking a bust for you. I’m not taking a beef on a mumble, screw you. Get the hell off my bus”. I don’t need that kind of headache anymore. It’s nice to walk down the street and be able to walk by a police car and not worry about if a piece of glass or a pipe is going to fall out of my pocket.
What do you get away with now that you couldn’t get away with in the earlier Pentagram eras?
Being myself on stage. That really summates it completely. I can be myself on stage and feel the warmth from the crowd and the appreciation of not having to put on a front… Just being myself gives me some self-worth, and it fills my soul to get the feedback from the audience. I never used to say a word to the audience in between songs. I couldn’t give a damn about them. I thought I was above all of that. You know, “You’re down there, I’m up here, ha-ha-ha-ha”. It’s a lot of crap. There is no Pentagram without the audience. I make sure and tell people three or four times every place I play. I let them know that because I mean it.
Liebling talks about being himself
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