BPMD - Backyard BBQing, Having a Drink and Listening to Tunes
by Dave Schwartz

Being in a band can be a bit of a grind.  Playing the same songs night after night can lose its appeal over time.  Musicians often find themselves just wanting to hangout, have a few beers and jam with friends on some classic tunes.  In a sense, that hang out and jam mentality was the origin of “American Made!” – a new project from heavy metal icons Bobby Blitz (Overkill), Mike Portnoy (The Winery Dogs, Sons of Apollo), Mark Menghi (Metal Allegiance) and Phil Demmel (Vio-lence, ex-Machine Head) – BPMD. 

“American Made!” is a collection of classic tunes that have been re-imagined and recorded by this quartet of friends.  A few days ago I got a call from Bobby and Mark. 

Hi, this is Bobby Blitz and Mark Menghi of BPMD.

DB:  It’s good to hear your voices.  I’m happy that you have a moment to talk.

MM:  Yeah man, absolutely.

DB:  Alright then let’s kick this off.  Congratulations on the release of “American Made!”  A new record filled with '70s cover songs.  Tell me a little how this concept came together. 

MM:  Last summer, a couple days after the 4th of July, I was just hanging out in my backyard, BBQing, having a drink and listening to tunes when “Saturday Night Special” by Lynyrd Skynyrd came on the radio.  As the song starts playing my son looks at me and says, "Hey dad, you guys should play this."  And I started think, if I were to play that song, how would I approach it, how would I interpret it, etc.?  And I started hearing these drum parts, guitar parts, riffing…  Just more stylistic things, not arrangements.  I text Blitz that I was going to call him.  So, I called and I asked what he thought about covering songs like this?  He started spitting out songs from Mountain and Cactus, etc.  The idea was born that night.

DB:  The list of songs that made it to this record are amazing.  You settled on 10 songs and I can imagine that there was a wrestling match between the four of you when deciding which songs would make the record.  I mean, you had an entire decade to choose from.  There was so much good music.  You could’ve narrowed the scope down to one year and still had a bunch of great songs available.  So how were the songs selected?

BB:  It was actually really simple.  You know, when Mark and I got on that phone conversation, it must be going on 11 months ago right now, we laid some ground rules.  Let’s get Mike (Portnoy) and Phil (Demmel) involved.  Let’s make it 1970s.  They must all be American bands.  Everybody gets to choose two.  And the rule is, whatever someone else chooses, you’ve got to play.  So, there was a little bit of a game, a little bit of a competition or challenge in there.  We voted on the last two songs – democratic choices.  Those two songs were “Walk Away” by The James Gang and “We’re An American Band” by Grand Funk which was a no brainer.  But everybody else choose two and that’s the way it had to be.

DB:  You have such a unique voice Bobby, what were the vocal adjustments that you had to make on these songs?

BB:  What I do for my other band – for the last 75 years in Overkill – I play Mickey Mouse on meth!  (laughs)  So ah, I had to take a different approach to this and learn the presentations.  Some of the stuff I was really comfortable with.  My two choices were “Never in My Life” by Mountain and Cactus’ version of “Evil.”  So, I thought that, for songs like that, all I could do is drop my voice.  But stuff like “D.O.A.” and “Tattoo Vampire” which were Phil’s choices, I had to really dig into and learn those presentations.

DB:  One of things that I admire about the albums song list is that – some are no brainers like your comment regarding “We’re An American Band” – but there are other songs on the list that are unexpected.  For me, that would be “Tattoo Vampire” and “Evil.”  I like that you went a little deeper on the track selections.

MM:  I know that in my case, I knew what I was going to do in 30 seconds.  But I look back on it now and I wish I would’ve picked this; I wish I would’ve picked that.  But for me, I love Skynyrd and I love ZZ Top so it was pretty easy to pick those bands.  “Saturday Night Special” was the title that started all this so, I had to choose it.  And for me, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers,” the song is just so wide open.  It’s not a very hard song but it has a serious groove to it.  I wanted to see if we could just jam on record.  Not do to much traditional trash metal part by part.  What would happen if we just hung out and just jammed?  What would happen?  So, that’s what we did.

DB:  They are just such excellent songs.  You have two videos out already.  One is “Toys In The Attic” and the other is “Evil. " “Toys In The Attic” is such an iconic song.  Did you feel that you had to pay homage to it or did you just go – be yourselves?

BB:  The idea of making this record, and we may have lucked into it, but it had to be done with spontaneity.  The idea was spontaneous.  Choosing the songs was spontaneous.  And then the recording became spontaneous.  I’m talking specifically about the drum tracks.  Mike picked “Toys In The Attic.”  I don’t remember if it was the first song we recorded but I remember it as being early in the day.  But there was a spontaneous energy to it.  So, there’s not like there was a lot of thought that went into this.  I know from my perspective, I wanted to be as spontaneous as everything that I just mentioned.  I just wanted to go in there and do it.  I wanted to reimagine it rather than just copying it.  I also wanted to make it my own so let’s say that the legacy of the song would remain intact but the presentation would be personal.  So that was a real fun element to this entire project.

DB:  You absolutely pulled the song off.  “Toys In The Attic” sounds great.  I really like your version of it.  You’ve hinted a bit about how you recorded this music.  Did you all get together? Or did the pandemic step on that idea?

MM:  After the idea was conceptualized, the four of us met at Mike’s house a few weeks later, in Pennsylvania.  We were in his room hammering out the songs and arrangement ideas.  From that, Mike recorded his 10 drum tracks all in one day.  That’s why this record has this feel to it – he was recording to us live, which is awesome and what we wanted.  I went in with my bass recordings with the same concept.  If I can’t do it in one take, I’m scraping everything and starting over.  There’s no cut and paste, copy and paste or undo’s.  I had that mindset with this material.  Again, I wanted to have that soul, that swing, that groove to it.  You don’t get that by copying and pasting your parts in.  When you do that, everything becomes mechanical, technical.  In order to have that feel, you have to be able to play live.  At least that was my mentality going into it.  And that all stemmed from the day that the four of us were in the room together.

DB:  All of these songs are songs that should be played live.  The soul of these songs is in the live feel.  And as you know better than I, you can spend months in a studio working on one song, sterilizing it and removing all of the subtleties in a quest trying to make it sound perfect.  But in the end, killing it.  Sometimes just recording the song live is the best thing you could ever do.

BB:  That’s how these songs were originally recorded.  If we got 10 tracks done in 10 hours, with regards to the drums, we had that spontaneous foundation.  So, we gave credence to the legacy of these songs by recoding them very much like the originals were.

DB:  Was there any thoughts about taking these songs on the road and playing a little bit?  I mean, I know that right now touring is shutdown due to the pandemic.  But eventually we will find our way back to the venues.

MM:  The goal was to do festivals, select appearances, specialty shows, etc.  We had one booked for about four days from now which would’ve been our debut gig as BPMD for a benefit charity here on the East Coast, in New Jersey.  But obviously that had to be canceled.  We selected a June release date so that we could hit those early festivals and support the record this summer.  We’re all eager to play it.  It’s just a question of when.  We’re never going to be a traditional touring band, if you will.  We all have our things outside of this.  So that won’t work but to do the festivals and some specialty shows, we’re ready for that.

I want to thank Bobby Blitz and Mark Menghi for calling into DaBelly.  Hopefully these friends and these songs will find their way to a stage.  Until then, be sure to check out all the socials! 

No. Title Length
1. "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" 3:30
2. "Toys in the Attic" 2:38
3. "Evil " 3:40
4. "Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers" 3:10
5. "Saturday Night Special" 3:47
6. "Tattoo Vampire" 3:14
7. " D.O.A." 3:32
8. "Walk Away" 3:04
9. "Never in My Life" 3:46
10. "We're an American Band" 3:55

  • Release:  June 12, 2020
    Napalm Records
BPMD - American Made 

BPMD is:

Bobby Blitz Ellsworth (Overkill)  Vocals
Mike Portnoy (The Winery Dogs, Sons of Apollo)  Drums
Mark Menghi (Metal Allegiance)  Bass
Phil Demmel (Vio-lence, ex-Machine Head) Guitars

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