Thursday, April 4, 2013

Interview with Geof O’Keefe of Bedemon

With a history that stretches over four decades, Bedemon was born out of the same cauldron of creative force that birthed the legendary Pentagram. Founded by guitarist Randy Palmer, Bedemon explored Palmer’s loves of heavy riffing and horror movies. The band recorded several tracks in the 70s and 80s, and after a lengthy hiatus, returned to the studio in 2002 to record fresh material. Tragically, Palmer was killed in a car crash in 2003, putting an indefinite hold on the band as surviving members decided how best to preserve and continue with their friend’s legacy. In late 2005, the band released their 2002 master recordings under the title “Child of Darkness.” The record received enthusiastic reviews and prompted the group to create their official debut album, an LP that has been thirty years in the making: 2012’s “Symphony of Shadows.” Founding member Geof O’Keefe took the time to discuss Bedemon’s role in the early years of the American Doom scene and what it’s like to be back in the spotlight.

How is the Bedemon crew? What is the current state of the band?

This has been an intense and gratifying year with the album finally coming out. Bedemon is on hold during this time as we consider the possibilities and logistics of both recording another album and putting a live version of the band together to perform some gigs in 2013.

I’ve read the band’s biography and it seems a miracle that you’re going strong today! You started Bedemon in 70s and then disbanded in 1986 leaving only one tape and then bang! Bedemon is reborn 15 years later under really mysterious circumstances. Why was Bedemon disbanded? Where have you been all this time?

The single most misunderstood fact about Bedemon is that it was never a band in the conventional sense; it was strictly a recording project. Randy Palmer was a big fan of Pentagram and also good friends of both vocalist Bobby Liebling and myself. Randy would sit home with his guitar and write these Black Sabbath-influenced, doomy, original songs, and in 1973, he asked if Bobby and I would play on them (along with his friend bassist Mike Matthews) and if I could record them.

We would meet at the warehouse where Pentagram rehearsed, and in a few hours, we’d record two or three new songs. This would only happen maybe once or twice a year, and between 1973 and 1979, we'd recorded a total of fifteen songs. So, we really only got together as "Bedemon" maybe five or six times over a six-year period. There was never any talk of playing gigs or rehearsing, as it was never considered a band in the way Pentagram was (and it should be mentioned that Randy himself joined Pentagram for two brief periods in 1974 playing rhythm guitar and appears on some of the Pentagram studio recordings of that time). After years of being bootlegged and passed around by fans, all fifteen of the Bedemon tracks were released in December 2005 as Child of Darkness: From the Original Master Tapes.

There were no more recordings until 1986. Mike had moved away, and so former Pentagram bassist Greg Mayne and guitarist Norman Lawson (who was also briefly in Pentagram) got together with Randy and myself at Greg's house where he had a basement studio. We recorded five songs, including two takes of a new track of Randy's called "Night of the Demon." We never added vocals to any of these recordings — I don't remember why — and that was the last Bedemon recording session until 2002.

So, the band didn't "disband" in 1986 because, well, we weren't a band to begin with! There is also an incorrect belief that we officially released these 1986 songs, which as I mentioned, didn't even have vocals. We never, repeat, never released them or anything else until the 2005 Child of Darkness collection; anything else that was around on CD or vinyl before that was a bootleg that we had nothing to do with and saw no money from.

In 1988, I moved to California, Randy eventually moved to his mother's in North Carolina and Mike wound up in Arizona.

What motivated you to regroup under this title and what was your line-up after the reunion?

In 2001, a writer named Perry Grayson (also a guitarist in the band Falcon) was writing an article on Pentagram but wanted to focus largely on Bedemon. He interviewed Randy, Mike and myself and the article appeared in Metal Maniacs. Randy was surprised to find out online that there was such interest in Bedemon, and this inspired us to decide to record a "proper" real album. We spent 2001 working on demos and shared them with each other to decide what songs to record, and in April 2002, Randy and Mike travelled to my place where we recorded the basic tracks and most of the guitar solos over a six-day period.

What we didn't have was a singer. Randy considered working with Pentagram vocalist Bobby Liebling again but he was reluctant for two reasons: first, he thought his vocal style had changed over the years based on recent Pentagram releases, and Randy also knew if he was working closely with Bobby, he would be tempted to fall back into using the hard drugs he was trying to stay away from.

Shawn Hafley, the engineer who recorded the vocals on the new album and mixed this project was working at a local indie record shop called Boo Boo's Records in San Luis Obispo. He mentioned that the manager of their other location was a great singer and that I should check him out, so I met Craig Junghandel for the first time on June 14, 2002. He played me tapes of him with cover bands singing Sabbath, Priest and so on, and he was great. I sent the samples off to Randy and Mike; we agreed Craig was the perfect vocalist for this project. Sadly, Randy died before Craig ever got to even speak with him on the phone, much less meet him in person.

You recorded a solid full-length version of “Symphony of Shadows” in 2002 and yet waited ten years for it to be published! What slowed down the process of making this album?

Three months after we recorded the basic tracks, Randy was involved in a bad auto accident on July 31, 2002. He died one week later on August 8. Mike and I decided the very next day that we would finish the recordings, both as a tribute to him and also because we knew how strong the material was. It took a few years to begin to re-focus, both emotionally and musically, and there were numerous things going on in our own lives that delayed getting back to work on the sessions. Recording the vocals, adding some guitar parts, mixing, mastering, getting the artwork, writing the lengthy liner notes together—all of this took time in between things going on in our regular lives, and Shawn had other projects booked into his studio so we had to work around those as well.

Yet you released “Child of Darkness: From the Original Master Tapes” in 2005, and it was the first official release from Bedemon. Did you really keep all these tracks somewhere in a cellar, waiting to see the light of day?

Yes, the original recordings are on a 7" tape reel. Randy gave it to me after I transferred it to cassette for him back in the 80s.

You were at the very roots of the American Doom scene in 70s. Did you keep track of the scene over time? Do you like modern styles of Doom and do you feel that your music is still relevant after all these years?

With Bedemon not really being a band, I'd have to answer this from my five-year experience with Pentagram. Yes, we felt quite relevant in the music we were writing and recording as

demos, and the frustration was in not being able to land a major-label recording contract so that the world could hear the amazing material we had and then tour to perform it live. Everyone that heard us loved us, but there was always some issue that prevented our getting to that level. I don't hear much new Doom to be perfectly honest, and what little I have heard doesn't do much for me. Possibly I haven't heard the right bands, but I just don't hear great songs. The 60s and 70s bands that we loved and that inspired us—Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Cactus, Sir Lord Baltimore, Dust, The Groundhogs, Stray, Mountain, Uriah Heep, Captain Beyond—had great songs that still hold up today. I don't hear groups in the 90s and 2000s that can stand alongside them, even if they have the basic sound duplicated. It's all about the great riff and strong melody. I still love playing hard rock, both on drums and guitar, and it’s also great to listen to, especially in the car when the weather's nice! It usually winds up being something from the 70s that I play, like Captain Beyond, Montrose, Mountain, Deep Purple and so on.

What are your best memories of your early years in Bedemon?

Well, as mentioned, since there wasn't a lot of actual time spent recording the Bedemon material in the 70s—a few hours on a few days once or twice a year or so—I don't really HAVE any memories about it!

Are you going to continue with Bedemon and record new stuff, play it and tour all over the States?

After we recorded the basic tracks in April 2002, Randy went home to North Carolina and began putting new songs or even just short riffs down on cassette, all for potential Bedemon songs. I have these cassettes. There are more than twenty things on them, and some of the riffs are as good as or better than the Symphony of Shadows songs. We would have to take these rough ideas and finish writing them into fully-realized songs but we have discussed it.

Touring has also been discussed, but there is the reality of logistics making it somewhat difficult: we don't have a guitarist. Mike lives in Montana. We have never played a note together as a live band, ever, in any version of the band going back thirty-nine years! We would like to play the new and old material live, but we’re just not sure how to make it happen.

Of course everything changes and you’re not same guy you were thirty years ago. Does the whole concept of “Old School Doom Rock” suit you nowadays? Would you like to be in a functioning band?

As I said above, the 70s was THE decade for me. I love the original "old school" bands that are still playing, including Bobby and whatever the latest line-up of Pentagram is. Yes, if not Bedemon, I would like to be in a functioning band. I have so much material from the Pentagram days of the 70s to recent material I've written that few have heard, but those that have heard it, love it.

Did anything change with your possible participation in some Pentagram shows? It would be a good reason to gather on stage once again.

Back in 2005, Vincent, Greg and myself had talked about the possibility of doing a 35th anniversary gig or even an album with Bobby in 2006, but when we heard about incidents like the gig at the Black Cat where he collapsed on stage before the band started the first song, it just seemed like the same old Bobby fucking up every chance he's given. Then, with [Pentagram bassist] Vincent McAllister's tragic and unexpected death from cancer in 2006, that definitely ended any chance of the "classic 70s line-up" ever getting together again. There was talk in 2007 of getting me and Greg to play on a new album, but as shown in the 2011 documentary movie about Bobby (Last Days Here), concern over his stability made us understandably wary. Musically, I'd love to work with him again, whether it's writing some new songs even by long distance, recording in the studio or even playing some gigs, but as with the Bedemon situation, there are logistical problems like me living in California and him living in Philadelphia. Of course, there is the risk of a disaster, and that causes the wariness of committing to a project. While the overall Pentagram experience was amazing, I also have many not-so-great memories, and heard many more bad situations of what later band members had to deal with.

What are your favorite Pentagram songs? Which ones would you like to play if there’s a chance to do such show?

There are a whole bunch I'd love to play, starting with one I co-wrote, "Wheel of Fortune." Others that come to mind are "Forever My Queen," "Ask No More," "Review Your Choices" and "You're Lost I'm Free."

I hope that we’ll hear some good news from you and Bedemon in 2013! Do you have few words of wisdom to share with our readers?

I'm not sure I have any wisdom to share but Mike, Craig and myself would like to thank you for your interest in the band, and we hope every fan tells another about it, who tells another and so on! A lot of work went into “Symphony of Shadows” and we are very proud of it. Hopefully it serves as both a memorial to the late founder of Bedemon, Randy Palmer, and as an example that you can make a great 70s Doom Metal album in the 2000s. Play it loud and play it often . . . and play it through headphones; we put a lot of 60s/70s stereo panning and other surprises you'll hear on repeated listens!

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