Posted on by Oran

What happens when you get four heavy musicians in a room to thrash out nothing but ’70s American Rock classics? You get an album that is simply a feel-good, beer-drenched party that is badly needed during these unsettling times. Let us introduce you to BPMD…

BPMD, in case you don’t know, is not just your average group! It happens to be Overkill’s Bobby Blitz, Phil Demmel (Vio-Lence, ex Machine Head), Mark Mehghi of Metal Allegiance and drumming legend, Mike Portnoy.

What you have here is a sonic pat on the back, a smile and a gesture of solidarity, good times and balls-to-the-wall rocking tracks that leave you feeling more than alright.

The world is falling apart around us, tension, death, political unrest and we’re only halfway through 2020! BPMD couldn’t have released this album at a better time. Prepare to soak up 10 tracks reimagined by some of Metal’s most revered artists.

From ZZ Top to Van Halen, Blue Oyster Cult, Mountain and Cactus to name but a few, BPMD have knocked it out of the park with ‘American Made‘.

We spoke to Overkill frontman Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth and Metal Allegiance brainchild, Mark Menghi about the concept behind the album…

OD – Let’s talk BPMD, I know that the first initial idea came about last Summer and of course, the intro being Metal Allegiance. But of all the other contributors to MA how did this particular line up become involved, as I’m sure the schedules were all over the place due to each members commitments to their ‘day jobs’?

BOBBY – The key thing here is free time and Mark [Menghi] is the originator of it all. His son gave him the idea when they were listening to some old ’70’s Lynyrd Skynyrd stuff and he [Mark] felt that it wasn’t right for Metal Allegiance and more like a ’70’s Rock project.

He immediately called me and asked me what I thought and I rattled off a bunch of possible tracks in the first 10 minutes. I was like; “Hey Man, I’m all over this” and he [Mark] said; “I’m pretty sure Mike [Portnoy] and Phil [Demmel] are in too“.

We all have a kind of chemistry, to begin with so it just felt totally natural.

OD – Obviously the debut live performance was due to be on May 30th at Old Bridge Millita Foundation but obviously all gigs have been cancelled. Has there been talk of rescheduling the show and is that even possible due to everybody’s other commitments?

BOBBY – Well, we’re gonna just look and see how things pan out over the next few months but I’m pretty sure we’ll come back to that in the Fall. That specific gig is an outdoor gig so it has to be done in reasonably good weather.

The Old Bridge Militia Foundation are some of the oldest fans of the genre and are linked to way back with Johnny Zazula of Megaforce Records not to mention they housed Metallica back in the very early days as well as Slayer and held gigs in the basement, so they are very cool guys and they now have this foundation where they provide instruments for kids who come from lower-income families etc. It’s a really good charity to be involved in and BPMD are very happy to be involved with it.

OD – When you were laying out the potential set of tracks to cover, how did that all come about? Was it divided into each one of your favourite tracks and you just took it from there?

MARK  – We all went into this to challenge ourselves as musicians first and foremost. We’re expected to do certain songs from certain bands and we really just wanted to do what made us most happy.

We each got to pick two songs, they had to be released in the 1970s so, let’s say one of the tracks was released on December 31st 1969, it wasn’t going to make the cut. It also had to be released by an American band, so it was very specific. I picked ‘Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers‘ by ZZ Top and ‘Saturday Night Special‘ from Lynyrd Skynyrd. I love those two bands.

Now, Phil [Demmel] had a couple of choices that I would have never guessed [Laughing]. It really was a challenge and at the end of the day, broadened our abilities both musically and as music fans. It was really interesting to get into a different mindset for those songs.

OD – With regards to the track running on the album, how did you come to that decision?

MARK – Well, we went with the best ‘flow‘. Portnoy [Mike] was the sequencer of the tracks. And ultimately the overall flow of the tracks kind of determines the tracklisting at the end of the day.

Ironically, Mike’s two choices were ‘Wang Dang Sweet Pootang‘ (Ted Nugent) and Aerosmith’sToys in the Attic‘, which are tracks one and two. Then there’s that Cactus track ‘Evil‘ from Bobby, then tracks four and five are my choices and so on…

So, yeah, we all just agreed to the tracklisting based on the overall flow of the tracks and how they married to each other.

BOBBYPortnoy sequenced the first four tracks because that’s as high as most drummers can count! [Laughing] Seriously, though, just like Mark has said, there had to be perimeters and guidelines for this to work, like being released in the ’70s and had to be an American band. So, when other shit came up I was saying; “Let’s do Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well‘” and someone reminded me that they had formed in England, so that was out the window.

We were trying to look for tracks that were not so obvious. We wanted to go deep with the discography’s and see what we could do. I picked ‘Never In My Life‘ by Mountain and ‘Evil’ from Cactus which I later found was actually a track that was written by old Blues guy Willie Dixon and recorded by ‘Howlin Wolf‘ back in the ’50s, so that’s the only ‘rule-breaker‘ on the album.

But the cool thing about that tune is that it was a very blatant Bridgeway into heavier music. So, you have this song that’s recorded in the ’50s and then re-imagined by Cactus in the ’70s then re-imagined by BPMD in 2020! That’s a history of approximately 70 years with that song.

OD – Have any of the bands that you’ve covered here commented on the tracks?

MARK – Yeah, Cactus loved what we did with ‘Evil‘, ohh…let’s see, Ted Nugent had some great things to say about ‘Wang Dang…‘ and wrote a nice quote for us. Michael Anthony from Van Halen said some cool stuff about ‘D.O.A‘ as did Corky Laing, the drummer from Mountain, and Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult gave us his blessing also for ‘Tattoo Vampire” which was a track picked by Phil [Demmel]. So, yeah people are digging it.

BOBBY – Hey, don’t forget Billy Gibbons [ZZ TOP] said our cover of ‘Beer Drinkers...’ was;”Groovalicious” [Laughing].

OD – I know the one requirement was that the songs were specifically from American bands, can you see yourselves doing a collection of songs from the UK or Europe?

BOBBY – Fuck Yeah! I don’t have to think about it. I grew up in the ’70s and this is all about what I love. I was singing this stuff in the shower with soap in my eyes back then. [Laughing].

There’s not a doubt in my mind that I’d love to do another album. There’a very fine unique balance happening here. We want to keep the integrity of the song but also bring in the collective personality and the personality of each of us individually but bring very careful not to fuck it up. Careful consideration of bringing in the digital aspect of the sound.

The bottom line is, Rock n’ Roll is Rock n’ Roll and when you’re looking at ’70s Rock n’ Roll that just can’t be fucked with. All of us in a room together and jamming it out. Just hit the record button and hashing it out old-school. That’s the way to do it.

OD – Why is it about the stuff from the ’70s that has just aged so well? Even the ’80s and some of the 90’s stuff had heart and soul but nowadays, it’s just a miso-mash of shite?

MARK – I’m really big into keeping the groove, so with this record, I must have said a million times; “We have to keep the groove intact at all times. We can’t deviate from that. Ever!” I mean, look we knew that we could make a thrash version of these songs but at the end of the day, they HAVE to have that groove. That was super important for me.

I think that a lot of that ‘groove’ is gone from music today. Especially in thrash metal. If you listen to most of the stuff that’s coming out today, there’s so much of that down-picking technique and it’s just very sharp and regimental.

I think that’s one of the things that Metallica got right early on in their career. Cliff [Burton] was all about groove and when you hear ‘Ride the Lightning‘ or ‘Master of Puppets‘ is drenched in that low-end groove. You can swing and bop your head to it and that’s the key.

There are loads of bands today who just want to play as fast as possible and play as many chords as possible, and don’t’ get me wrong, that’s cool but for me personally, I have to find that swing. That’s really how I write most of my music.

BOBBY – Yeah, I’ve got to interject here. Bands in the ’70s really knew how to play their instruments. There was no room for fucking up [Laughing]. Technology back then was based on capturing quality. They would tape back then, probably not even 2″ tape, it was most likely 1″ tape. There wasn’t much layering going on like there is today.

They had to get their vibe on the tape under the limitations of what the technology of that era could provide for them. Look, in 2020 you can make a really great sounding album in your bedroom. Back then was an era of rehearsing six-days a week and mastering the overall sound and craft of the instrument to the best of one’s ability. And you know what? You can really hear the musicianship, the soul of those tracks. In some ways, it’s kind of a lost art. Technology has changed so many things and in some cases has made people a little lazier

Sure there was technology there but we didn’t want to lean on that, we wanted to keep the integrity of the songs and do the very best that we could.

MARK – Exactly, like you have to know that Mike’s drums were recorded in one take! What you hear on that album are all Portnoy’s first takes. He’s just jamming to myself and Demmel and he’s just feeding off of us and then the rest just came naturally.

OD – Seeing as we’re talking about the golden era of American Rock music, what was your very first gig and was that the gig that blew your mind?

BOBBY – Well I have to take this one because Mark was just a twinkle in his parent’s eye [Laughing] and I have to say, they did a great job creating an awesome bass player. [Laughing]

I was going through puberty when most of these songs were written. I was about 15 years old and there was this venue in New Jersey called “The Capital” and it continuously had the bands that were just under, what was considered to be ‘Arena Level’ back then, playing there all the time.

My first real concert was Queen on ‘Sheer Heart Attack‘ (1974) and I remember the gig was Queen, Kansas and Rod Argent. It was a triple bill and Queen opened up with ‘Now I”m Here” and before they were done with that song, I just knew that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

MARK – ….[Silence] “hmmmm” The fist gig that blew my mind was…

BOBBY – It was OVERKILL, right Mark? [Laughing]

MARK – I had seen a lot of gigs before this one, but Metallica in Nassau Coliseum Long Island on the ‘Black‘ album tour. Nothing had really grabbed me like that before. The energy, the sound, the attack, the atmosphere was just mind-blowing. I had never seen a band with that energy level before and twinned with the pyro and the production. It was insane.

OD – Of all the songs on the new album, which was the most challenging to do and also which is your favourite?

BOBBY – For me it was both of Demmel’s picks. He chose ‘Tattoo Vampire‘ I never expected to be faced with that track. I liked the rendition of that song but it was a little out of my wheelhouse and the other was D.O.A.

MARK – I would have to agree with Bobby on this one. I had never attempted to try a Van Halen track before and I had actually never heard that Blue Oyster Cult track prior to this.

I had to completely re-think the whole approach to the style of playing and it was a real eye-opener, to say the least.

OD – Finally, in your opinion, what is the most underrated band/album from the ’70s?

BOBBY – I got one… Rock n’ Roll Animal from Lou Reed (1974). I choose that primarily because of the guitar playing from Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter. They were the precursor to the precursor to Metal. They were off the fucking hook! They were what Thin Lizzy became. Those guys just played so fucking well together. They took Lou Reed from that cult status to iconic. Amazing!

MARK – I would have to say, Montrose (1973). That album is just killer and it’s so underrated. I actually have a fun fact about that album. Ted Templeton who did all the Van Halen records actually produced that record. Ted was a huge part of that whole connection between Van Halen and Montrose and of course, Sammy [Hagar] was a huge fan of Van Halen. It’s all linked thanks to Ted Templeton.

BPMD’s new album “American Made” is out today. Please find more information on this link. Order your copy here.

Oran O’Beirne

www.overdrive.ie 2020