Overkill's Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth: My life in 10 songs

Overkill vocalist Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth
(Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

As any thrash metal fan will tell you, the US West Coast thrash scene of the 1980s might have been legendary - it was, after all home to the likes of Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth - but it certainly didn't hold a monopoly on the emerging genre. Over on the East Coast, the likes of Anthrax, Nuclear Assault and Overkill were whipping up a storm of their own, helping take the genre global as the 80s wore on.

Over four decades later, thrash veterans Overkill are still going strong, releasing their 20th(!) studio album Scorched on the same day their contemporaries Metallica unveil their eleventh. Hammer caught up with Overkill frontman Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth to find out which songs mean most to him after over 40 years of making thrash history. 

But, as he tells us, even before he was a thrasher, his mother had given him a lifelong love for music. "I can remember my mother’s singing voice before her speaking voice, because she sang to all of her children," he explains. "She’d sing me [traditional Irish ballad] Danny Boy and that song has basically been with me my whole life – she sang it when I was nursing as a baby, when I was growing up and going to school, and she still sang it up until a year before she passed aged 89.

The cool thing is that it wasn’t just some family singing situation, she actually recorded and she was more of an influence and inspiration to me than just about anyone else. She sang with the Mitch Miller Orchestra in the 1950s. She was a Judy Garland type – great figure and voice, who married a sailor and eventually started a family.”

Metal Hammer line break

1. Overkill – Overkill (Feel The Fire, 1985)

“That first record, Feel The Fire, was a great experience. I was a young man when I got my first record deal and was in college at the time taking liberal arts courses, which basically meant I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but knew I didn’t want to work! 

I was taking literature courses and we got into some Shakespeare. The song Overkill was the last song on the record, so I was throwing all this King Lear shit into the lyrical content of the song, even using a Latin phrase. Doing that made me feel like I was smarter, but I soon found out I actually wasn’t – I was the same douchebag ha ha."

2. Overkill - Sonic Reducer (Feel The Fire, 1985)

"I was taking these classes in Manhattan, specifically going there because the punk thing was happening at that time. It was a cool scene, there was a lot more than just The Ramones and early Blondie; there was Television, Heartbreakers – which had Johnny Thunders who’d also been in the New York Dolls – some really avant-garde shit. It was like being in freakville – I think that was a huge motivation for me. I didn’t really live the punk lifestyle, but I loved being around it because it just felt so fuckin’ free and dangerous. You were either gonna get laid or mugged – and you didn’t know which one it was on a given night. 

We covered Sonic Reducer by the Dead Boys on that first record because we were those kinda guys. Hell, I remember seeing them play this tiny club, then next time they came round it was The Ritz, which was 1500 people. I remember they came on and were like ‘we don’t have a bass player tonight, but fuck him – we need the money!’ Someone once asked me what the difference is between east coast and west coast thrash – and I think its just the different kinds of punk. They had Dead Kennedys, we had Dead Boys and Ramones.”


3. Overkill – End Of The Line (Under The Influence, 1988)

End Of The Line to me, was the epitome of Overkill at that time because it had all this thrashy stuff, but also likened itself to what we considered greatness at that point – bands like Iron Maiden and how Bruce [Dickinson] could turn an Iron Maiden song into an epic. That’s what I aspired to – I don’t know if I always got there, but that’s what I wanted, to be better than the guy that’d sung on those first two records. 

I was just aware of the fact that with thrash, there were no rules and I thought that was fuckin’ cool. Later on, when you go back on it, of course there were rules, and if you broke ‘em you weren’t considered a thrash band, but to me the exciting thing was feeling like there was nothing to lose.”

4. Overkill – Nice Day… For A Funeral (Horrorscope, 1991)

“With Horrorscope, there was a lot of uncertainty. We’d lost Bobby [Gustafson, guitars] and that meant we’d lost a third of the writing team. But I wasn’t sitting there scribbling out ‘fuck you’ and ‘death!’ in the lyrics, I was writing melodies that could play against the guitar lines and now I was having to do that with these two new guitarists (Merrit Gant and Rob Cannavino). There was something in us at that time, that made Horrorscope feel like a hungry lion coming out the cage to claw everything down.

The most unique song to me was Nice Day… For A Funeral. The lyrics were all about young suicides, but from the perspective of neglect. I never had anything important to say – I talk to you about throwing King Lear into Overkill, for fuck’s sake – but suddenly I found I was one of those people with something to say and the groove of that song was one of the first times we found a good, solid groove.”

5. Overkill – God-Like (The Killing Kind, 1996)

“Oh god, the 90s – here comes grunge. Basically, go sit in your mother’s basement until somebody appreciates your genius again! Overkill survived through tenacity – we were brought up to basically manage ourselves, and it really stuck with D.D. and myself. When bands started dropping away from our label, we decided we needed to start looking somewhere else and the first people we contacted was a label called CMC records. It was run out of North Carolina and they immediately came  in with ‘we’re interested’, blah blah, so I got in a car to drive 15 hours and drop him a demo. We’d barely got back and their label head came to New York to tell us he was going to sign us, purely for the balls we had in coming direct to their offices with a demo.

CMC really supported us though, and they supported other metal bands at that time too – I’m pretty sure they signed Accept. We knew we weren’t going away – this was The Killing Kind, and that groove showed itself again. God-Like was a combination of groove and thrash, and up to that point in my history I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever done. I was a better writer, and better arranger on how I wanted the vocals presented.”

6. Overkill – Long Time Dyin’ (From The Underground And Below, 1997)

From The Underground And Below is still one of my favourite records because it felt like a fully realised experience. When I was a kid, I had a paper round and my dad helped me so I could earn 11 bucks a week or something. But I joined the record club around that time, and if you sent in a penny you’d get 12 releases just for that one penny. I’d just pick things that were heavy – I didn’t know what these things were, but at 12 I’d got things like the first Sabbath record. I could never just listen to the first track or Wicked World either, I’d have to listen to the whole thing.

That’s what From The Underground And Below was to me – not just a collection of songs, but something you needed to listen to from start to finish. I think a lot of that had to do with Colin Richardson, who came in to mix the record for us and really made it stand out. The most important song on that record to me though, was Long Time Dyin’. When we started managing ourselves, which was a couple of years prior to the record, I realised that if I was to be in any position of respect, I needed to be clean. So I started getting clean and wrote Long Time Dyin’ about that process. I was writing about youth suicide in Nice Day… For A Funeral, but now I was writing about self-preservation and expansion.”


7. Overkill – Damned (Killbox 13, 2003)

“Punk has always been there for me and D.D. [Verni, bass], so Damned was us coming back to that in a big way. Unholy was the opening track of Killlbox 13 and I just remember thinking ‘man, this is a heavy piece of real estate’. When I think of it, I always pair it with this other really punky song on that record – and my pick – Damned. It had this big sing-along chorus that really took me back to when I was down in the city, back to the early days of our band. They say you can’t go home again, but that’s not true in music – everything you collect just becomes part of your present-day personality.

 Around that time, the festivals really started picking up thrash bands again, although I gotta say I think places like Germany never really stopped. We were still touring – we had smaller reach in certain places, sure, but we were doing South America, Europe, the States… But we had to be pretty fiscally responsible, which sometimes meant turning down shows in places like California because after the Mississippi Delta is a lot of dead space, where cities are over a day’s ride from each other.”

8. Overkill – The Goal Is Your Soul (Ironbound, 2010)

“The stars aligned for us in 2010, when we did the Ironbound record. The songwriting culminated in one of those things where you just knew you had to listen to this record from start to finish. There was Bring Me The Night and Ironbound, which I think is one of the best songs we ever wrote as a team because it contained so many different things, but my favourite was The Goal Is Your Soul.

There’s just something about that song – we never got to play it live, but when it was being written it just flowed out of me like I was listening to someone else sing it. It felt like I’d been connected to that song forever – I finished the whole thing in seven minutes!”

9. Overkill – Good Night (The Electric Age, 2012)

The Electric Age was a bit thrashier than Ironbound, but it had these incredible fuckin’ moments. The biggest one for me was on the last song, Good Night. Believe it or not, that song came from a Beatles tune to me – I can’t say which one from memory, but it was the way they ended one of their records with a real ‘good night’ sentiment. It really leaves you guessing, like ‘is that it then?’”

10. Overkill - Fever (Scorched, 2023)

“Back in 2012, something happened to me and I went down like a tonne of bricks. I was playing a festival in Germany at the time and one second I was on-stage, the next I was in a hospital. This doctor comes over and he’s like ‘you’ve gotta quit the cigarettes, or this shit is gonna keep happening’. I got through it and stopped smoking, which also meant I really re-found my voice. Since that, it’s been expanding itself.

On this new record, Scorched, there’s a song called Fever and it’s a unique song for us. For one, it’s tuned to A, so it sounds bombastic, like it can fill a room without us even doing anything. But then we added this mellow part and I took my voice and put it to the back of my throat, channelling my inner Ozzy, like ‘am I channelling Changes here?’ It doesn’t sound anything like Changes, but it has that same kind of energy that Ozzy brings sometimes and we’ve got these bluesy parts that just had me thinking ‘this is all an idiot like me ever needs’.”

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.