OVERKILL - Blitztory: How I Got To Know Bobby Ellsworth

December 27, 2015, 2 years ago

Mark Gromen

feature heavy metal overkill

OVERKILL - Blitztory: How I Got To Know Bobby Ellsworth

In anticipation of attending their April '16 appearance in Oberhausen, Germany, where Feel The Fire and Horrorscope will be performed, in their entirety, for a DVD, decided to reminisce about my history with the band.

August 31, 1984: A few days from returning to college, a high school buddy and I decided on one last summer outing, to catch Grim Reaper at a central Jersey club, about an hour's drive from home. We often traversed the Tri-state area for shows: Metallica opening for Twisted Sister at the Fountain Casino and Tank at the Showplace, in Dover, NJ just two of the highlights. We arrived only to discover the one-off date had apparently been canceled. Not wanting to waste a Friday night, nor the beer we'd brought along for pre-gaming in the parking lot, we scoured the pages of Aquarian Weekly, the Jersey-based Bible for live entertainment, looking for an alternative. Through coverage in national zines, especially Kick Ass Monthly, had heard about the unsigned act Overkill, thus we decided to head for L'Amour.

Along the way, as my friend drove, I cracked into the cans of beer. Anyone whose tried to get to Brooklyn, through Staten Island and over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, on a Friday night (worse yet, in summer), can attest to the traffic. You could walk there faster! Steadily inching forward in the multi-lane crawl, the beers began to add up and then came nature's call. With nowhere to pull over (who would dare attempt such a maneuver, even if fellow drivers would allow it?), I resourcefully recommissioned an empty can, ripping the aluminum vessel in half. Young & living dangerously: precariously dangling ones' manhood over jagged, metallic edges, on a NJ highway, regardless of how slow moving, is not recommended! Like a leaky canoe, bailing as we went: a few ounces in, then dumped it out the window, repeat... by the time we parked up the street from the venerable club, there was a small, but visible, telltale stain. Shaking up one of the few cans left, promptly pulled the tab and "showered" myself with beer, a much more acceptable (and better smelling) disguise.

Those were the days when the club's stage was close to the entrance, making it difficult to even get in door. Suitably impressed with what was witnessed, at the end of the night, I wanted to talk with the band. I'd been on the college radio station for almost two years, done some big interviews and liked turning metal fans on to new bands (not much has changed in 3+ decades). Armed with my business card, as everyone poured onto the street, post-gig, I saw the curly-haired blond singer jump into the back seat of a car (not really a limo, but a giant, older model Cadillac, or similar monstrosity). Gridlock of milling fans prevented a quick get-away. Undeterred, I stuck my head into the vehicle, where he was arm-in-arm with a metal beauty. Giving a quick synopsis of my purpose (long before the concept of an elevator pitch was invented): "I work for a Cleveland college radio station. Love what I heard. Would love to do an interview with you guys...yada, yada, yada."

While not rude, could tell he really had other things on his mind and said something about getting touch, sending a tape, etc. In those tape trading days, to communicate with unsigned bands, it was common practice to submit a set of questions and a blank cassette, via mail, in order to get something to play on air. A week later, went off to school. Eventually sent off a rather extensive list of indepth inquires, complete with FM radio call letters (for station IDs) and a pronunciation key for my last name.

Fast forward a couple of months, I get the tape back in the mail. Excitement turned to sadness, as the results were completely unusable. Not because of failed technology or wrinkled/erased tape, but rather a quartet of inebriated lunatics, at times speaking simultaneously ("Blitz here, vocals!"), snickering throughout, making fun of the line of questioning, my name and more importantly, the city of Cleveland, Ohio (which has often been the butt of jokes). Luck for them, there was no way I was going to air the self-abuse. Ironically, they'd eventually record a pair of live albums in the city and come to love the area's loyal metalheads (witnessed both firsthand, my photo the back cover of the Wrecking Your Neck booklet. Also in attendance for the Asbury Park and Wacken filmed DVDs). I'd later learn the four Overkills recorded my interview tape upon returning from Ithaca, NY, where they'd just finished their debut album.

Despite the verbal drubbing, still promoted the band to anyone who would listen. Was thrilled when it was announced, in the fall of '86 that the band would stop by the Cleveland Agora, supporting Slayer, on their Reign In Blood tour. Before the show, walked backstage (by now a fixture of the local metal scene, with virtual carte blanche at shows) and as Bobby spoke to a couple of other fans, listened as he explained how they were in a dilemma, as to play “Fuck You” or “Sonic Reducer” in their abbreviated set. The later originally done by Cleveland heroes, The Dead Boys, thus the interest in performing it on their first stop in the city. I piped up, saying, "Play 'Fuck You'" Somewhat surprised anyone recognized the choice, the singer asked, "Who are you?" I said, "Mark Gromen" and he replied, "Oh, shit!" evidently recalling the taped "interview" of the past.

Apologizing profusely about the results and circumstances surrounding the recording, we talked for a while more. During the concert, which I bootlegged, hoping for some live tracks for my radio program, they dedicated the aforementioned “Fuck You” to me. Believe it was meant as a tribute! We met up again, after the show, and every successive Northeast Ohio date for years (even took bassist DD Verni golfing, one afternoon, pre-gig), before moving back East, where I ran into the band in Philly, Jersey, NYC and eventually, Europe.

More than just the usual artist/journalist business relationship, in the digital age, I have his cell number and email. Our friendship was endured line-up changes, musical downturns and medical adventures, always filled with verbose stories, brutal truths and plenty of laughs. We've met in studios, hotels, tour buses, other band's shows and even barbecued at his home. Met family members, girlfriends/then wife, neither of us taking ourselves too seriously. Been through a lot - 30+ year recap, in word association form: Motorhead, Slayer, Megadeth, Testament: L'Amour, Agora, Peabodys, Bonnies, Ritz, Trocadero, Birch Hill, Studio 1, BYH, Wacken: cancer. stroke, growing old: Nurse Erin, Melissa, Michelle, Jesse, Annette: drinking, not drinking, drinking; Ojou, Phil, Kyle, Doug Cook: smoke, no smoke, vape: Rat, Sid, Tim, Gustafson, Cannevino, Gant, Comeau, Marino: slice, slit, hammer, shred: wreck, eliminate, 'Kill.

Surely this April, in Over-hausen, will be another rocking chapter, so stay tuned.

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