Friday, January 23, 2009

Queen "Sheetkeeckers" The Return Of Rock 'n'Roll's Holy Grail!

As I sat in front of my computer freezing, snowed in and huddled in the upstairs of my 90 year old New England farm house, I sat virtually alone as my son and our dog were fast asleep in the adjoining upstairs lounge. We were doing our best to escape the bitter sub zero cold that seemed to seep in through the old weather worn walls of the downstairs part of the house. I was writing the story about my first drum kit as seen in this blog as a holiday interest piece. My girlfriend Rys was away in Brooklyn, N.Y. spending much needed time with her mother and friends and like anyone out there I was developing a case of the holiday blues especially when I didn't have all my loved ones present. Everything tends to slow down up in the north country where I live. The winter months help add to the gloom even though the countryside at that time of year is beautiful.

I took a break from writing and it was still early so I decided to call my old friend Jeff Lee and wish him and his family a Merry Christmas. I caught him at home as there is a 2 hour time difference in Texas where he lives and the east coast. I told him that things were going to be tight this holiday season and that my son would likely be the only one receiving gifts in our household. He said, "Correction! I'm sending you some CD's I've burned off of some amazing albums that I bet you've forgotten about!"

Jeff's collection of records is as big as mine but he branches off in directions that I don't and usually comes up with some noteworthy items to listen to from time to time. I said, "What heavy rock album could you possibly have that I don't?" The first album he mentioned was, "Sheetkeeckers"! This was an ultra rare bootleg live album from 1975 featuring Queen in concert at London's Rainbow Theater in 1974 .

I had completely forgotten about this record as my copy was stolen along with 200 of my other albums in 1978 from a friend's house! I managed to find these albums again in various cut-out bins and junk shops in my travels but never could I find another copy of "Sheetkeeckers". I remember it being really good but in later years I had purchased other live albums by Queen hoping to gain the same thrill. Some of these albums were bootleg and some were official releases from concerts after 1977 that were okay but still a few classics like "Stone Cold Crazy"or "Now I'm Here" were thrown in for a nostalgic look back at their early career. Even so, Queen still had it and were exploring other possibilities in their music.

Queen in their later career appealed to a much wider audience worldwide and became more diverse in their musical direction but they stiil managed hanging on to a few of their heavier rockers and played them just like in days of old!

A few days later on December 22 I received the CD in the mail from my friend Jeff. I was tearing into it before I could even get the front door open! I immediately ran upstairs and slapped the disc in my player and suddenly I hear a taped intro of "Procession" being pumped through a very huge P.A sytem in a very big echoing hall! First the bass drum, "Boom, Boom, Boom...Boom...Boom,Boom! Then the majestic harmony guitars with all their regal pomp! Then the lilty cascading high register guitar pattern with a building feedback sustain and then, WHAM! with a resounding GERRRAWNNNG! and a fantastic Freddy Mercury belting out "A Word In Your Ear, From Father To Son" and then the band roaring into the most powerful sounding set I've ever heard by anyone including Black Sabbath! Brian May's guitar tone is over the top and excruciatingly loud all the while kicking in his "Echo-plex" for optimum dual effect! Each power chord being heard loud and clear! Meanwhile, Roger Taylor's drum work is among the heaviest found anywhere and as brutal as anything John Bonham or Bill Ward could ever dish out! His extra large Ludwig tom-toms beating out the more savage parts of the songs for extra girth! John Deacon's bass playing is the anchor to this instrumental madness as he plunks down some of the tightest and most percussive bass lines available along with brilliant melodic embellishments! Then we come to England's finest vocalist, The Late Great Freddie Mercury as he cuts through the mighty assault with his perfect virtuoso voice that is beyond special! All of this together is equal to a melodic atom bomb detonation that must be heard to be believed! I can't remember when I 've heard anything heavier! It is by far their best performance, best sound and most inspired record ever made! It is almost unnecessary to listen to the studio versions of these songs after hearing this monolith of an album!

It all came back to me after hearing it again almost 34 years later. In 1975 I had played a gig with my band The Boyz at Dixon's Pizza King on Rt. 1 in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. It was a club owned by the father of Hollywood actress Donna Dixon who is now married to Dan Ackroyd. The in- house drummer at the time was Robbie Leebrick. Robbie played anything from country to rock as it was demanded of him by different musicians every night. He really liked my band and to our surprise, we both realized that we were mutual fans of Blue Cheer. He had 30 albums in the back room of the Pizza King that he would listen to on break by bands like Budgie, Status Quo and many others! He had also sabotaged the clubs juke box by replacing the George Jones and Dolly Parton hits with Sweet and Black Sabbath singles. It's no wonder I knew that day that Robbie and I would be friends for life. He invited me to come over to his house the next day and check out the real collection of albums

Robbie Leebrick with Buddy Rich in 1975. Robbie was and still is, my partner in crime when it comes to heavy music! I trust his opinion like gold and he has remained one of my greatest musical consultants through out the years! Not bad for a guy that once played on an album with Johnny Cash!

I arrived at his house the next day to find his extensive record collection lining a whole wall of his room. We listened to a lot of things and talked a lot about our heroes, Budgie and Blue Cheer. Then he pulled out the heavy artillery! The first was "Gr'ndle Poll", an unbelievably heavy Black Sabbath bootleg that was later released as "Heaven and Earth" on CD in 2002 with a board mixed quality version as "Gr'ndl Pol" was recorded from a reel to reel by a fan or possibly a local crew member the same night at the Asbury Park Convention Center in 1975. Then he played the now much sought after Sweet live album "Strung Up" with the classic track "Burning/Someone Else Will" from The Rainbow Theater in London 1973. Then he played Queen's "Sheetkeeckers"! Man, I thought the walls were going to cave in! I knew I just had to get that album! Robbie told me it would be no problem as he had the bootlegger's address and phone number to order from!

The next day I called the Korneyphone Records label in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and talked to the bootlegger himself! He sounded like an old hippie with a strong southern accent. I asked him about the awesome Queen bootleg and he told me that it had only been out for 2 weeks. He also wanted to sell me Deep Purple "Perks and Tits" and Led Zeppelin "Live On Blueberry Hill"! He had only one copy of Black Sabbath's "Gr'ndl Poll" left in stock. I told him I wanted one of each! They cost a reasonable $12.00 per album. He had also been the man who had released the notorious MC5 bootleg, "Motor City Is Burning"which later became a legitimate release complete with a pony bottle condensation stain on the color xeroxed paper cover art!

I must have waited a month for those records to arrive. The Queen and Black Sabbath bootlegs were finally delivered but the others had gone out of stock so he sent me his catalog to pick 3 different ones which I did later! The most important thing was that my 2 favorite picks had made it into my hands safe and sound! Queen's "Sheetkeeckers" made me decide once and for all to keep playing drums for heavy rock bands rather than the jazz fusion bands I had been experimenting with at that time. That really turned out to be to my benefit as jazz fusion died out quickly and heavy rock became king! So from then on I stayed focused on the heaviness of Sabbath and the musical prowess of Queen when writing music or performing it!

The "SheetKeeckers" album was rumored to be a BBC (live) recording as the quality is excellent but it turns out that it was recorded March 31, 1974 at The Rainbow Theater in London, England by EMI for a promotional (live) EP but was later shelved by the company with no reason given never to be released until it was stolen or copied and fortunately for us, dumped into the hands of a criminal bootlegger! It was eventually put out by the Kornyphone label with 6 different color xerox paper covers scotch taped to white cardboard sleeves (what class)! "Sheetkeeckers" also was re-issued on different labels several times over the years even finding it's way on to CD which is equally rare! The track listing for the original bootleg was as follows:

Intro; "Procession" (Tape)
"Father To Son"
"Ogre Battle"
"Son And Daughter"
"Keep Yourself Alive"
"Seven Seas Of Rhye"
"Modern Times Rock'n Roll"

extra bonus track : Sweet playing "Ballroom Blitz" which makes no sense at all!!!

"Sheetkeeckers" came in 5 variations on the Kornyphone Record label featuring 5 different colored xerox covers with photos and liner notes.

The CD version of "Sheetkeeckers" Top-Front cover, bottom-back cover

Now on Christmas 2007, this "Holy Grail" of heavy rock once again falls into my lap as if by providence and manages to cheer up my attitude and by Christmas morning bring me to my most joyous Christmas ever! No doubt Queen's "Sheetkeeckers will serve to further guide my way through the hallowed halls of heavy metal and once again keep my focus on what is important in my own career in the music business!

Freddy Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor knocked Led Zepplin and Elton John right off their over- hyped pedistles and raised the bar ever higher for future bands to come like Judas Priest and even recently "The Darkness" and "Muse". Queen in 1974 were a hungry heavy rock animal that pulled out all the stops and their album "Sheetkeeckers" is the proof!

Queen in their heyday were head and shoulders above the rest!

This is an album meant for all fans of hard rock and heavy metal and I hope EMI or someone decides to put it out proper with liner notes and photos from the gig as it so deserves!
One of rock's true desert island classics!

Dooom On!
Joe Hasselvander

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"The Gruesome Twosome Take On The World" The Rebirth And Demise Of Pentagram PT.2 "Sub-Basement"

After the initial release and public support of "Review Your Choices" died down in 1999, I was asked to record a new Raven Album "One For All" at Michael Wagner's studio in Nashville. Tenn.! Mike's production style had always impressed me and this was the first time in my career that I would be working with such a great producer! He had produced all the Dokken records along with groups such as Accept, Malice, Skid Row, Ozzy Osbourne and Janet Jackson! The session went great and I learned a lot from watching him. He taught me the importance of microphones and microphone placement! I also realized that he and I both had giant collections of sound effect records on file for use on albums! He was very easy to work with and truly loves what he does which ignited a whole new passion in me for my work as an independent producer! Mike's work on "One For All" made Raven's new release very successful and got us a tour with U.D.O. in Germany and in America in 2000!

Raven's "One For All" produced by metal master, Michael Wagner.

Later that year Pentagram was asked to record a new album for Black Widow Records. This was perfect timing as I had just gotten off the road with Raven and had learned so much about production from Michael Wagner! We were also asked to record 3 songs for 2 different tribute albums! One was to be for "Thousand Days Of Yesterdays" A Tribute To Captain Beyond and 2 for "Blue Explosion" A Tribute To Blue Cheer.

Pentagram's old friend and sound man Chris Koslowski invited us to record at his home studio in the beautiful Catoctin Mountains of Western Maryland. The studio was an old farm house complex built in 1812. Chris ran a cable out of his top floor studio into an an old schoolhouse on the property that was the drum room and sometimes guitar & vocal booth! The well house was also used for guitars as were other parts of the farm house. The old wood in these structures made it highly conducive for great ambient sounds!

Chris Kozlowski's studio in Western Maryland was a perfect highland retreat to record "Sub-Basement" without outside distractions! The old wood and stone of the structure was ideal for getting a natural ambient sound!

We cut the tribute record tracks in an afternoon which proved to us that Chris's studio would cut the mustard for our upcoming album "Sub-Basement".

3 months later we were back in to record "Sub-Basement". We laid down "Buzzsaw", "Bloodlust", "Sub-Basement" and "Sub-Basement Intro" in March of 2001 and then took a small break as the Easter holiday was approaching and a special surprise phone call was coming my way!

The next week I received a phone call from an old flame from my New York days. "Gloria" and I had been inseparable in the early 1980's and were the most flamboyant poser couple in the New York metal scene in those times. She had become a millionaire seemingly overnight and was now living in Westchester, N.Y. next door to brain surgeons, stock brokers and other well payed citizens. I ended up moving there with my son to be nearer to her and to try carving out a better life. Gloria's house was in an exclusive part of New York so I was able to have enough privacy to continue writing the other songs that would be needed for "Sub-Basement".

Gloria had me sell my old car and bought me a used Buick Park Avenue to travel around in. She also gave me several cell phones so that she could always keep tabs on me! This later became a problem as I was now a kept man. My trips down to Maryland to record were now becoming little escapes from her domineering big bucks attitude. I still had to check in by phone every ten minutes or catch hell from her! Can anyone say "High Maintenance?"

Soon "Tidal Wave", "Going In Circles" and "Target" were in the bag as well as others. The album was becoming a masterpiece of metal setting the bar higher for all aficionados of doom!

On my third and final trip down to Chris's studio before the mix, I got a strange phone call as I was laying down the final lead track for the album. It was my new love, Gloria freaking out about something but I couldn't understand what until I got her calmed down! She told me that my son was in a closet crying and scared to death about something! Anyone who has ever known my son knows that he is very rational, polite and not given to panic. Something was wrong and I had a feeling it had to do with "Gloria" and not my son!

I promptly unplugged everything and dropped the session like a hot potato and rocketed my car the whole 250 miles back to Westchester to help my son! When I arrived Gloria was running out the front door with her arms outstretched for me like in a romantic comedy which was the total opposite of her high maintenance man hating behavior. She had done something to my son and I knew it! After speaking with Joe Jr. my worst fears were confirmed! She had chased my son into the closet hitting him and abusing him all the way for something incredibly petty and insignificant! I didn't let on that I knew what had happened as Joe had relayed the whole story to me several times and it didn't change. I agreed with Joe to keep our little secret and act like nothing had happened. We both agreed that we would bide our time until we found the perfect window of opportunity to get out of there! I had realized after a month with her that it might be difficult breaking things off with her as she revealed herself to be more of a hostage taker than a lover!

The next day Gloria and her 4 year old daughter went to a local diner with some friends and Joe and I packed the Park Avenue full of our belongings and bolted out of there before she returned! She had never intended to give me the title to the car which I later had to load on a transport truck back to her! What a nightmare! I later found out that Bobby was going through a similar situation with his girlfriend except he had the added pleasure of his becoming a personal drug parasite!

With my debacle out of the way, I was able to finish the record. Bobby slept through most of the recording and production of that album and can hardly be credited for producing! He twiddled one knob on one part of a song. He also nodded out repeatedly between his vocal lines all the while hanging on to the microphone stand. That's the way it was done for years. I ended up actually producing those records not Bobby although he takes much if not all of the credit. I felt sorry for him back then and covered up the truth to make him and ultimately myself, look better. In short, it was a miracle that we were able to finish the album. If it weren't for my work ethic and Chris Kozlowski's consistency in the studio the album's release would have been delayed by months!

In times past Bobby had been a fireball in the studio and was involved in every aspect of recording! By the time the late 1990's rolled around he was a shell of his former self and very difficult to work with!

Soon after finishing Sub-Basement and sending it off to Italy for pressing, I was talked in to headlining a doom festival by Bobby and a promoter named Doug Romer. Bobby assured me that he would work his ass off to make up for things and seriously wanted me to be his guitarist and main man out there!

I had 2 weeks to put together a band for this show which was hardly enough time. I hired Dale Russell who had been my drummer in Electric Warrior and had also played with Paul Chapman of U.F.O.. I also recruited Walter White from "Black Manta" on the bass. We only managed to get 3 rehearsals in and primadonna Bobby Liebling only made it to one of those! It ws hillarious as he showed up in old man corderoy slippers and his white socks were glowing in the black light that was lit in the rehearsal space. He looked much like E.G. Marshall in his role as a man with "roach phobia" in the movie, "Creepshow"!

Photos taken of the only rehearsal with the full band before the doom festival in Towsen, Md. 2001

Time came for the show in Towson Maryland at the Recher Theater. There was a good sized crowd waiting for us as we rolled our gear in. Our showing was much anticipated. As more and more bands finished their sets the later Bobby became. We kept calling him and managed to get a garbled message that he was on his way. 5 hours later it was time for us to get ready to go on! Bobby was still nowhere in sight. I figured that he would make it just in the nick of time but that wasn't to be! This time Bobby had truly blown it in the name of drugs! I had to make a quick decision whether to play the gig instrumental or cancel! I opted for canceling as this would be my debut as the guitarist for Pentagram and the debut of a band that just a week before had no inkling that they would be in Pentagram until this moment. The whole thing had been a gamble at best and I thought it would be better to cut and run and to return another day in a better situation! That wasn't to be either! The club owner and the promoter came backstage and told me that I had to play the gig no matter what the problem was as the fans started getting rowdy and throwing things! The owner said to me, "Their going to tear this place apart if you guys don't play!" "You have to do it, please!"

The Recher Theater in Towson, Maryland - This was the site of Bobby's fall from grace with a classic no-show that has set the tone for all of his live shows to this day!

Against my better judgment, I went out there on stage in front of a slightly drunk and annoyed audience screaming for Bobby! I told them that Bobby didn't think it important enough to show up for them. The place went bonkers! I thought fast and threw a microphone out into the audience! I said, "You guys know the words, you sing it!" "This is Pentagram Karaoke!" That proved to be the smartest move of my career as it calmed their doom metal souls!

Then, at the stroke of midnight Bobby showed up and slithered onto the stage like a snake in the middle of the last song of the set! I immediately kicked him in the leg as hard as possible! I thought to my self "How dare he try to share the stage with me now!" I kept ducking in to the dressing room and behind the P.A. stack or any where I could go to avoid having to share the stage with his sorry ass, all the while playing my SG at full volume! This was straight out of an episode of The Jerry Springer Show and the audiences loved it as they also felt ripped off by Bobby! Fortunately this was all caught on camera by a very intelligent fan named Mike Pritchard! That was truly the end of Bobby and I as a working partnership! We have shared the stage since in friendly guest appearances but never again under the name Pentagram and my life has been better for it!

Joe Hasselvander sweats it out but doesn't back down from the difficult position that Bobby left the band in! The show must go on!

Dale Russell pounds the drums in his debut show as Pentagram's drummer! Dale saved the day as Bobby's no-show made it a very difficult performance for us without vocal cues!

Walter White of Black Manta hammers out the bass lines for Pentagram despite Bobby's no-show!

The band as a three piece still laid down the doom and I am very proud of Walter and Dale for being troopers and taking on an impossible situation against all odds! This event ultimately showed me that I can play my doom metal without Mr. Liebling's help which I have continued to this day!

After all the emotional avalanches and seismic disturbances associated with the recording and fiasco of the no-show gig, we got an album release date! The much anticipated Pentagram album, "Sub-Basement" would be coming out 9-11-01 !!! Little did we know that the World Trade Center in New York City and The Pentagon outside of Washington , D.C. would take direct hits from three hijacked commercial jet airliners!

One of the blackest days in American history, 9-11 was slated to be the release date for '"Sub-Basement"!

Notice what appears to be the devil's face in the smoke and debris cloud coming from the burning WTC!

Thank God Black Widow Records had the decency, wisdom and respect for the fallen to postpone the release for a few days later. 2001 for me was the worst year on record as nothing seemed to go right for anyone! It was almost as if God himself was trying to tell us not to be too confident in our daily routines and to be vigilant of an upcoming crisis!

Sub-Basement was released on September 17, 2001 and emerged as Pentagram's heaviest album to date! When a lot of the shock of 9-11 subsided , reviews started coming in hailing this album as the classiest and most definitive work of the band ever! In this , I was proud. I even forgave Bobby's weaknesses for a short time and decided to at least be his friend although working with him in the future would never again be an option.

Sub-Basement was originally slated for release on 9-11 but was thankfully held back a few days. The cover art was drawn on a napkin by Joe Hasselvander and later airbrushed !

In October of the same year, Bobby Liebling acted out his most self destructive act by releasing his 1970's demos with the original Pentagram of long ago called "First Days Here" on Relapse Records which is a much more visible label than Black Widow in the States and had bigger world wide distribution. By doing this in tandem with our new album, he effectively eclipsed the great success "Sub-Basement" was starting to enjoy and it suddenly dropped off the radar at the starting gate as the new and current release! Bobby's old inferior recordings were now overshadowing the most important Pentagram album ever recorded, "Sub-Basement". He did this out of desperation for quick cash and suddenly didn't care about all the time and talent invested in our follow up for Black Widow Records! His timing was so bad that "Sub-Basement" went underground for years! Except for the die hard serious fans, "Sub-Basement" was virtually unknown and has just now started to receive it's proper accolades! This also resulted in me not receiving any profits from the album until years later when it was re-issued on another label.

Bobby went on to a new set of musicians who were willing to babysit. I actually recommended them to him. It was the band Internal Void with Kelly Carmichael on guitar. They had everything that Bobby would need to get a record and a show together and maybe he would try harder in a band that had all the bugs worked out as it had now become a "make or break" situation!

They were successful in rehearsing and recording the "Show 'em How" album which wasn't half bad for their first go around. I was actually happy for them and even showed up for their debut gig at the Black Cat in Washington D.C..

I was amazed at how much advertising and promotion was put into the show in very intelligent yet simple ways. This made it all glorious and effective hype! There were posters of Bobby everywhere in the venue making it "Pentagram Night"! Kelly is clever with things like that!
It was really very cool! I even got sucked into it and was now anticipating the show!

I was suddenly approached by the band members girlfriends telling me that they were having a problem with Bobby and could I somehow go backstage and help? I went back their and found a wiped out narcoleptic Bobby Liebling who could barely stand up and he was talking gibberish! I had never seen him this bad out in public! I told Kelly that Bobby shouldn't be out of his house.
He finally sat down and past into a sort of coma! Bobby was now out for the count. I finally convinced them to call the rescue squad as he was breathing in shallow breaths and had stopped perspiring and was not responding to anyone's voice or to being shaken!

The paramedics suddenly came running down the stairs to the dressing room and gave him something that was basically charcoal that absorbed any substance that might be in his system. Bobby suddenly jumped up and and said let's do the gig and ran up the stairs like nothing had happened.

The band hit the stage and the lights went down and so did Bobby with a resounding thud ! He tested the mike and then fell backwards into Kelly's amps! They got him off the stage and strapped him into a straight jacket as he was going into full blown heroin withdrawal and was lashing about in a sort of beach chair with straps on it as well!

My last vision of Bobby that night was the six paramedics standing at attention in the amber lit freight elevator with expressionless faces very much like crew members on Star Trek awaiting the transporter beam to send them down to a strange planet! Only, here was Bobby seated in front of them thrashing about like he was possessed by the devil! Then suddenly to my surprise the elevator doors started closing! Not side to side but top to bottom like some sort of diabolical set of metal jaws belonging to a giant robot! I heard a big clang and down they went as the amber light showed through the cracks of the safety door descending to the awaiting ambulance in the street below.

After witnessing that, I was in shock and I will never forget it as long as I live! Pentagram's bassist , Adam asked me if I would get up and sing a Pentagram song with a few others in the hall who knew specific songs to save the packed out show? I was hesitant at first as I hadn't sang in 3 years! I also didn't know but a few words to" Twenty Buck Spin"! Sherman from Earth Ride told me he would be on the side of the stage with a mike filling in any parts that I might have problems remembering. So with that in mind, I got up and did the song with a good alcohol buzz on for extra courage as I was not prepared for this. I managed to wreck the microphone stand and just let it all hang out! My much less than perfect performance ended up on YouTube a month later and is still up and running today!

Bobby never seemed to get it back as even years later he still only makes cameo appearances with other bands including The Hounds Of Hasselvander.

Bobby Liebling guest appearances on 3 shows with The Hounds OF Hasselvander! Top - Krug's Frederick, Md. New Year's Eve 2007, Middle - The Kyber Philadelphia, Pa. 2-8-08 , Bottom - Velvet Lounge 4-31-08

In no way do I regret the brilliant music that Pentagram has created over the years in any of it's incarnations. I could have however, done without all the rip offs and empty promises from Bobby that showed no basic respect for me or others whatsoever! He has used all of us in connection to this band as doormats! What is important to him is that the work should be done by others so that he can fool the public into thinking that he deserves all the credit as he owns the name Pentagram which in my book is a curse not a blessing!

Update: I have just re-released "Review Your Choices" and "Sub-Basement" through French label Season Of Mist! Both albums include alternate rough takes worthy of a listen and jewels to a collector of Pentagram music! Finally the two albums are seeing the light of day and hopefully will be enjoyed by a whole new generation of fans! Both of these albums can be purchased on this website via the Paypal button on the top right corner or they can be purchased directly from Season Of Mist Records!

Doom On!

Joe Hasselvander