Iron Fist Magazine

BEDEMON INTERVIEW: RANDY WAS FIGHTING VERY HARD TO STAY CLEAN AND DIDN’T TRUST HIMSELF AROUND BOBBY LIEBLING”

It may be a common thing in jazz or blues circles but there’s no precedent for it in heavy metal. We’re talking about a 56 year old musician putting out his debut LP, more than four decades after he first picked up an instrument. Bedemon, which initially started as a Pentagram offshoot in 1973, finally release their first proper album ‘Symphony Of Shadows’ this year and it means much, much more to drummer Geof O’Keefe than simply making his childhood dreams come true. It’s the culmination of ten years of hard work and grief, his way of staying true to a promise he made to a dear friend whose only passions in life were horror movies and playing guitar. Alas, Bedemon’s founder and one-time Pentagram guitarist Randy Palmer died in tragic car accident on August 8, 2002, four months after he, Geof and bass player Mike Matthews recorded the basic tracks of what would become, a decade later, ‘Symphony of Shadows’. Iron Fist talked to Geof about the sadness and the story behind one of metal’s forgotten bands.

Last time we spoke, it was in 2002, to promote Pentagram’s ‘First Daze Here’ compilation. Back then, you revealed that Pentagram’s alter-ego Bedemon would also do a “real” album, but in the end, it took you ten years to fulfil that promise…
“It’s true that while I was working on putting together the material for ‘Daze’, I was also getting ready to record the basic tracks to what, eventually, ended up being Bedemon’s debut album. We had realised that stirred up by some bootlegs, but also by a genuine renewed interest in Pentagram, people were also curious to check us out, although most had never heard us before due to the lack of official releases. So we spent most of 2001 working on demos in our individual homes as we were all spread out: Randy was living between the East Coast and North Carolina while our bass player Mike Matthews was in Arizona and I was in California. Once we had a good bulk of the record ready, we all met up in April 2002 to start recording, definitively fuelled by the good buzz of energy coming out of ‘Daze’. Sadly, four months later, tragedy struck and Randy died in a car accident, leaving both me and Mike wondering what to do. In our minds, there wasn’t even the shadow of a doubt that we now, more than ever, had to put this out, even if it was only to honour Randy’s memory but all we could work with were ideas for lyrics scattered in various notebooks and six days worth of basic tracks recordings.
“So first I focused on the ‘Child Of Darkness’ collection we initially had planned to release ahead of the album: it included 15 demo tracks recorded over six sessions with the same reel-to-reel equipment that was used for most of the ‘First Daze Here’ material, first in 1973/74, then in 1979. When this was finally released in 2004 it helped us keeping the buzz going. In 2006, we finally jumped back in the studio in finish what we started and for the following three years, we underwent a lengthy and painful process of piecing together this Frankenstein’s monster. It took us another three years to agree on a mix and find the right label for it: a true labour of love.”

Still, it means that after ‘Child Of Darkness’, you once again had to ‘fix’ unfinished and rough material to make this album a reality…
“Yes, there’s a certain parallel here, especially since we used the same formula for both recordings, with Randy teaching us songs he had written on the spot and us recording in two or three takes. But the ‘Child Of Darkness’ songs were never meant to be released as such in the first place. We only did so in order so fans wouldn’t have to spend stupid amounts of money on eBay anymore to purchase cheap sounding bootlegs. It just took us ten years to release ‘…Shadows’. But hey, it took us over 30 to put out ‘Child of Darkness’ so I guess we’re getting better at this.”

Those who’ve only heard Bedemon through those early recordings might get surprised to hear how ‘metal’ you guys sound on the new album…
“To me, it’s just a natural progression. When we decided to put Bedemon back together, Randy didn’t even own a guitar anymore, he had to go to the nearest pawnshop to get one just so he could get started working on demos. It’s a different beast, even if production wise, I knew what I wanted with this album: it had to sound like a ’70s recording, like the missing link in between Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath or early Scorpions, and not like a modern metal album. And besides, Bobby Liebling [who was their original vocalist!] isn’t singing for us anymore so that does help ‘Symphony Of Shadows’ being less Pentagram-ish if you will.”

We’re touching upon a delicate subject here, your love/hate relationship with Bobby. On one hand, without Pentagram, there’d have never been any form of interest in Bedemon in the first place, but on the other, you’ve always fought hard to convince people that you were a band on your own and not ‘just’ Pentagram’s side-project…
“I don’t hold any grudge against Pentagram as an entity. I mean, I co-founded the band with Bobby in 1971 and I’m very proud of everything we’ve achieved with it. And at one point Bedemon was made up of mostly Pentagram members, so they’ve always been inevitably linked and I’d be lying if I’d say this hasn’t benefit keeping the name alive.”

Yet, you stipulate in the liner notes on ‘…Shadows’ that Randy vetoed working with Bobby ever again…
“Well, going back to that possible love/hate thing, if there’s ever been one, the hate part was definitively addressed to Bobby’s dark side. To be fair, we agonised over if we should ask Bobby to do vocals on the album or not but ultimately, it was Randy’s decision not to do so. The worst part is that both used to be best friends, actually they knew each other way before I got to meet Randy. But he had been battling addiction all his life and had a long history of heroin abuse so he was afraid that if he’d meet with Bobby to work on Bedemon he’d be lured into doing hard drugs again. Randy was fighting very hard to stay clean and he didn’t trust himself around his old pal. Besides, Bobby’s vocal style had changed over the years and as you can hear on later Pentagram albums, the way he was singing then was more funky, for lack of a better term. Randy missed his early, more savage Iggy Pop type of vocal, so in between the risk of drug use and not being thrilled about Bobby’s new style we picked up [Rise singer] Craig Junghandel instead, whom we met through our engineer.”

You could’ve changed your mind after Randy passed away…
“Actually, after Randy’s passing, somebody reached out to me and said that Bobby wanted to be involved, in a way to pay tribute to his old friend. But I just couldn’t betray Randy’s decision so we declined.”

Is it just us or does the sinister figure we can barely see on the cover of ‘…Shadows’ look like Bobby?
“It’s bizarre, you’re not the first one to tell me that! I’m sorry but that couldn’t be further from the truth since the artist, Eric Engelmann, who painted the original said it was based on a picture of his sister. The craziest thing is that this artwork was something we picked up from a series of paintings Eric had put on his website. When we saw it we realised it looked uncannily like the rough sketch Randy had drawn as a potential cover for the album, despite the two never meeting.”

You probably juggling with mixed emotions: on one side, you finally made this album a reality, but on the other side, only one question hangs in the balance: now what?
“The album has been ready for close to two years now, it just took us this long to find the right record label to release it as the business has changed drastically and a lot of people we talked to weren’t sure what to do with a band that doesn’t tour. So there’s definitively a great sense of relief. But as for the potential future for Bedemon, well, after our recording session in 2002 Randy went back home but kept on working. And thanks to his fiancée, I managed to get my hands on a tape full of riffs and song ideas. I actually emailed Craig and Mike about it, discussing the possibility of using them to flesh them out into actual songs. We could, in theory, do another Bedemon album but it’s too early to say and it depends on what the response to will be. We’ll see.”

 

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