If you’re a fan of “The Walking Dead,” you may have seen the newest member of Mad Margritt, an Atlanta-based heavy metal band, and not even realized it.
Drummer Rick Shoemaker joined the popular band in 2018, but when he’s not providing the beat for Mad Margritt, he can be seen as a regularly appearing zombie on “The Walking Dead.”
But he’s not the only band member who appears on TV. Mad Margritt recently finished shooting a couple of episodes of a reality show that will show off the entire band’s musical talents on HGTV this spring.
We recently caught up with the last of the band’s original members, founder and lead vocalist Eddie Smith, who says Mad Margritt formed way back in 1990 and now includes drummer Shoemaker, guitarist Mark Cook and bass player Brian Kirtland.
Last year’s pandemic forced the band to briefly shut down its performances in clubs around the area, but even that didn’t stop Eddie from sharing his love of music with his fans. In fact, back in late April, just before clubs reopened for shows in Georgia, he decided to air a live one-man show from his basement, helping keep his pipes and guitar-picking in good form at the same time. You can still watch his performance on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/madmargrittfans/videos/684799225630651, along with other videos of some of the band’s most popular original songs.
Mad Margritt will be appearing at Rocco’s in Jasper on Jan. 23, and we highly recommend taking in one of their high-energy shows. In the meantime, let’s take a ride with Eddie and find out more about Mad Margritt.
M – I’ve been listening to several of your songs on the way back from Atlanta today. You’ve got a new fan at The Best of the North Georgia Mountains.
E – Okay, well, cool. Thank you. Appreciate it.
M – Let’s talk a little bit about how the band originally formed.
E – It was actually a long time ago, back in the early ‘90s that we got together. I’m the only original member left from when we first started. I was playing guitar in a band called Sanction down in Miami. I was getting kind of frustrated with the direction that the band was going in. After that band broke up, I started Mad Margritt and decided to try my hand at singing. That way, I could have a little more control over the songs and how I wanted them sung. The bass player from Sanction, Steve Dietrich, formed Mad Margritt with me, and we added a drummer and a guitar player. And that was kind of the beginning of how we got together in 1990. So, yeah, we go way, way back. M – When did the current lineup get together? E – Well, there’s been a few lineup changes through the years. My guitar player, Mark Cook, joined up with us in 2013. My bass player, Brian Kirtland, joined us in ’97, and he used to play with an Atlanta-based band back in the ‘80s called Bite the Bullet. They relocated to Los Angeles and got signed to MCA and changed their name to Southgang and had a couple of MTV hits. And our current drummer, Rick Shoemaker, joined in 2018. Actually there’s a sidenote on Rick. He also is in “The Walking Dead” on AMC. He plays a zombie, but they call him a feature zombie because he’s in a lot of episodes, even though he gets killed all the time. They just make him look different each show, and he’s done quite a few episodes with them. M – I was gonna ask how our readers could tell which one Rick was, but they made him look different each time? E – Yeah, they do. But he’s always one of the main zombies, like they always give him a big close-up and he’s always interacting with the main cast and everything. M – How did he get into that? E – He’s always doing stuff like extras, but the zombie thing really clicked with him because he’s tall and skinny, and that’s like the perfect body frame as far as for the zombies. So apparently he did a really good job, and he is probably in like half the episodes every season. And since we’re talking about TV, I wanted to mention this to you, too. We’re going to be featured on a reality show on HGTV, and we shot a couple episodes where the band actually performed on the show. It’s gonna air late March or early April. (We can’t tell you the show’s name, per the producers, but check back on our Facebook page when it’s OK to let everyone know.) M – Are y’all competing in the show or just providing music? E – We just perform in it. It’s a reality show, and they had a couple episodes where they wanted a live band. We’re only on it for maybe two minutes or so, the two episodes we shot. So it’s a real quick thing that we’re in. But we were on stage and we’re singing and playing.
M – Y’all are just doing all kinds of things… E – Yeah, trying to keep busy during this COVID thing. It’s not easy, but we’re doing the best we can.
M – Yeah, I was just gonna ask you about the live show from your basement. I watched that. That was really good. How did you think about doing that?
E –All our shows just came to an abrupt halt so I wasn’t making any money. We’re all full-time musicians. Until COVID hit, I was performing anywhere from four to six days a week, but everything just came to a halt. I needed to do something to generate some income. So I had been rehearsing down in my garage, just to keep my vocals and my playing in shape, and my wife suggested why don’t we just do a live stream. I actually wasn’t planning initially to put a virtual tip jar, but about an hour before I started, a friend of mine called me up and suggested I do that because I wasn’t working. So I put it up and surprisingly, I ended up making a good deal of money that night doing it so it worked out real good and helped out financially.
M – Have you done any more shows like that? Or was that the only one?
E – I didn’t because shortly after that, we were able to start performing live again. I’d say we’re about halfway back. We’re playing pretty steady on the weekends right now. We don’t get any work during the week yet, but hopefully that’ll come back in 2021. At least we’re staying somewhat busy on the weekends.
M – I see you’ve released several albums over the years. How many?
E – I should know this off the top of my head, but I always forget. One, two, three, four, five, six. Six, plus we also did a “Best of” CD at one point with songs off the other six CDs.
M – Anything new in the works?
E – We’re actually gonna be doing a new single that we’ll release right around the same time as the airing of the TV show. Unfortunately, CDs are looking like they’re going to be a thing of the past, so we’re thinking of maybe doing more digital singles and seeing how that goes. I hate that CDs are going to the wayside, but we’re trying to roll with the changes and adapt, you know.
M – How did you get into music originally?
E – I just started playing guitar. Originally, I was a big fan of a lot of the ‘70s stuff like Zeppelin and Aerosmith and AC/DC. And then I started getting into a lot of the ‘80s hard rock stuff after that, and it just made me want to be a musician. Initially, for the first 10 years, I played guitar in bands. I always wanted to sing, but I’d never really pursued it until this band. It was the first time I actually tried doing the vocal thing, and it ended up working out. Now, I get the best of both worlds. I still play guitar and sing and play bass too, sometimes.
M – So were you musically talented as a teenager…?
E – I would say I had to work pretty hard at it. I wasn’t like, gifted, like some guys I knew, who excelled really quick. I was a little bit slower, but I just worked real hard at it. Seemed like after a couple years, things started clicking with me and getting easier. But it definitely was a struggle in the early, early days.
M – How did you come up with the name for this band?
E – It was actually the singer from the band Sanction that I was in. When that band broke up, he got bitter about things and was kind of mocking me, you know, that I was going to start to be a singer in the new band and he had never heard me sing. So he was kind of making fun of the project, saying that I wasn’t going to be good. Mad Margritt was something that we had kind of nicknamed him jokingly because he was always in a bad mood. He was mad all the time. So we kind of called him Mad Margritt, not in a mean way, just joking around. We’d say, ‘Looks like Mad Margritt’s gonna be singing for us tonight.’ So when we started this band and he got kinda bitter and was making fun of us, we thought it would be kind of funny to name the band, Mad Margritt, and kind of give him a little slap back for making fun of us. (Laughs)
M – What was his reaction?
E – He wasn’t happy, but we have actually made up and became friends again. But I told him, we’re not changing the band name at this point. He’s fine with it.
M – That’s good. How would you characterize the band’s sound or philosophy?
E – I would say it’s kind of high energy, hard rock. We have a lot of old school influences, you know from classic rock, ‘80s rock era, but we also try to put a little modern spin on it. So you can definitely still hear all the influences in our music from the old days, but we try to keep it fresh sounding and put our own little spin on it.
M – Do you write the songs?
E – I do all the lyrics and arrangements and sometimes the music. On the last CD my guitar player Mark wrote all the music, and so we collaborated on all the songs on the last album.M – What kind of things inspire you when you start writing?
E – I used to write in a different way back when I first started. I used to put myself in different scenarios, almost like someone would be writing a book or a movie. It wasn’t necessarily things that I had experienced. I would just imagine what this would be like, if I was in this situation or this scenario. But as I got older, I started writing more personal songs about things that affected me and if something happened to me, I would write a song about it. That’s something I’ve done more recently, especially on the last album.
M – What would you say your favorite song is that you’ve written?
E – There’s a song on the new album called “The One You Love to Hate.” I’m really happy with how that one came out. But it’s hard to pick one because they all have different meanings and you know, your songs are like a snapshot of where you were at that particular time in your life. Different songs have different meanings, and I get different reactions from them. So it’s hard to pick one, but out of the current group of songs, that one’s definitely my favorite.
M – I really like “Animal.”
E – Oh, yeah. That’s a really good one.
M – “Loaded Gun” too.
E – Yeah, besides the new album, that album is actually neck and neck with me on my favorite albums we’ve done. Both of those CDs are my two favorites by a long shot.M – Your music has been distributed all over the world. Have y’all played overseas in the past?
E – We’ve toured all over the U.S. for the past 20 years. We’ve had several offers to go overseas, but it just hasn’t worked out financially to where it was something that we could pull off. It was never enough money to get us and our gear over there or rent gear over there. We do have a good fan base overseas. But as far as the U.S. it’s just real easy to get in a van and drive to places so we’ve been doing that since 1999. We’ve been all over the place.
M – Is there good money for an artist on iTunes in the digital era?
E – Unfortunately, artists have taken a big hit since the digital thing started. iTunes and Spotify don’t really work in our favor. Hopefully that changes at some point. But it’s gotten to the point where if you want to make money, it’s through your live shows and T-shirt sales and merchandise, which doesn’t discourage us from doing new music. I mean, we do it because we love to create music. It’s an art form, you know. So even though artists aren’t really making a lot of money anymore, with their music, it’s still something that we’re never gonna stop doing.
M – Have you worked at anything else besides music?
E – In the early days, I had jobs to help pay bills and stuff – like changing tires and pumping gas and washing dishes, whatever I could do when I was younger to keep a roof over my head. We got to the point, I guess, about 20 years ago, where we started making enough money, where we could afford to do music full time, and somehow, knock on wood, we’ve been able to keep it going for a long time. It really got to the point when we started touring a lot, it was difficult to even keep a day job, because we would go out on the road and then come back for a month or so. And then we’d have to tell our bosses that we’re leaving again, and it got to be really hard. So becoming a full-time musician just gave us the freedom to take whatever shows we wanted at any time no matter where it was, or we didn’t have to answer to anybody anymore at that point. And it worked out for us.
M – I love the sound that you’ve got. I think there’ll always be a market for that, at least for our lifetimes anyway.
E – Yeah. Even though I’ve noticed this generation of kids is into different things like hip hop, and dance music, and all that stuff, there are, surprisingly, a lot of kids that still like a lot of the older music and they get excited about the old rock songs. So that’s encouraging to see. Hopefully, they’ll keep things going … probably won’t ever be the same as it was when we were growing up. But at least it is encouraging to see some of the kids out there still like this stuff.
M – Looks like you’ve had some interesting tours over the years with some, I guess you’d call them, legendary bands.
E – That’s one of the coolest things is when we started doing that, when we signed with this label called Perris Records back in 1999, and we’re still with them. After the big names got dropped from the major labels when the whole grunge alternative scene took over, Perris was working with a lot of those bands. So when we got on that label, it opened up the door for us to open for them, and it was really exciting to meet those bands that we grew up listening to and were influenced by, and be able to perform with those bands. Even though they weren’t on the charts anymore, they still had big followings. So we went from playing clubs here in Atlanta in front of like 40 people to be opening up for these bands playing in front of thousands of people. It was a really exciting thing for us.
M – What was it like working with guys like that?
E – Surprisingly, all the bands, just about every one of them were really nice. You expect some of the bigger bands, guys like Bret Michaels from Poison, to maybe not be so friendly, but he in particular turned out to be one of the nicest people we met. I’d say out of all the bands, I could probably name like two bands that had bad attitudes and weren’t real nice. Everybody else was super nice to us.
M – Yeah, Poison was always one of my favorites.
E – Oh yeah, great band.
M – You also played with Winger…
E – Yeah, we only did one show with them. But Poison we got to play with and Bret Michaels a few times, his solo band. They were always really nice. I only got to meet Bret and CC. I didn’t get to meet the other two guys.
M – I saw where you went to South Texas Rock Festival and played for 30,000 people.
E – Oh, yeah, that was a real big one. Our record label set that one up for us. We got to play on a huge outdoor festival stage. They had a side stage, too, but we got to play on the big stage with Queensryche, Dokken, and Skid Row and all those bands. That was a lot of fun.
M – Y’all have already been around for 30 years, so what’s in the future for you?
E – We’re just gonna keep doing what we do. We enjoy it, and every show’s fun and creating new music is fun. So as long as it’s fun and we’re enjoying it, we’re gonna keep going. Really, this is all we’ve ever done, so I don’t even know what we’d do if we stopped doing this. I know the next thing on our agenda is we’ve got a new song we’re recording … we’re gonna shoot a video for it. And I think that’s gonna be the plan for a little while is just start doing songs every few months and releasing them instead of the full album. We’ll see how that goes. Maybe at one point, we’ll do a new album or take all the singles that we’ve released and maybe put ‘em all on an album. We’ll see, but we’re just trying to feel everything out like everyone else. The music business is changing, so we’re just trying to get a feel for where a new direction is to go with it.
M – How long were you shut down for COVID?
E – From beginning of March till probably July. Our first show back was actually at Rocco’s in June, but that was like the only thing we did until the end of July. Ever since the end of July, we’ve been pretty steady as far as the weekends. So that’s been good. Hopefully, we get those weekday shows back and we can start getting up to where we were, back to four to six shows a week again because I definitely miss that.
M – I thought it was interesting that during your basement show, you talked about how you had to work to keep your voice in shape. I’m not a singer or musician, so can you talk a little bit about how it is when you just can’t sing for months.
E – Yeah, especially like with the hard rock stuff. It’s very demanding on the voice to do this kind of music, especially the real aggressive singing. A lot of the singers from my era that I grew up with, as they got older, they started having voice problems and having to get surgeries and there’s a few of them that just can’t sing anymore. That’s always been in the back of my mind, to take care of my voice. So I’ve always been very conscious to keep my voice strong and stay hydrated and get rest and don’t drink things and eat things that are bad for my vocals. I just knew that if I sat around for months and didn’t do things, it’s almost like working out or any kind of athlete like a football player, whatever, if you don’t use it, you’re gonna start losing it, you’re gonna start going backwards as far as your abilities. So I just wanted to keep my voice strong and keep using it and make sure, especially at my age getting older, that I didn’t start losing the ability to hit notes and have the endurance to be singing night after night. So yeah, I’d just stand up there a couple times a week in the basement and just kept running through a good hour or two of songs to keep everything going and keep my voice strong. So, so far, so good on that.
M – You sounded really good in the basement.
E – Thank you.
M – I like the way you used the drum track to accompany you. Was there something else you used?
E – No, I basically used a drum track. The reason I did that is because when you’re sitting around your house playing a guitar by yourself, it’s not as loud as a full band. And you don’t project your voice as much as when you’re playing with a full band behind you. So I wanted to try and create the elements that it would be like to have the band here in the garage with me even though because of COVID the guys couldn’t come over. But by having the drum track and playing electric guitar myself and some of the tracks have bass on them, it felt more like a band was playing behind me.
M – Yeah. You could almost be a one-man band with the electronics.
E – There’s guys that do stuff like that. But I just like the whole thing of having your band there and the chemistry between the bandmates – there’s nothing can beat that. I mean, the drum loops and all that stuff is cool, but nothing beats having three other guys there with you jamming and being in sync with them.
M – Right. Yeah. I’m sure that’s a great feeling to be able to work together with other people and create.
E – Yeah, it is, especially since we all get along real good and we all have the same goals. It’s just a good situation.
M – Can you take me through the creative process of how you create a song?
E – What we did on the last album, “Love, Hate, and Deception,” is Mark, my guitar player, has a studio in his house. I forgot to mention when he’s not working with us, he writes for TV shows, does background music for commercials and TV shows, so he does that at his home studio. On our last album, he would write some music for me and since he had the studio, he would record it and add drums and bass. Then he’d give me the recording so the song was basically musically already written for me. I just had to listen to it and write lyrics over top of it. That was the first time I ever wrote like that, and it was really fun and free, you know, not to have to create something from scratch. Just to have an idea already given to me, and then I could just write music over it. And that’s how we did this album.
In the past, the band would get together in a rehearsal room and just kind of jam on music and kind of improvise and record ideas and then make songs out of that. Another way is I would just sit in a room with a guitar and create things by myself and then show the band. So there’s all different ways to do a song. Each song probably has its own little story about how it was written, you know, so it’s all different ways. Sometimes I write music first. Sometimes I’ll write lyrics first, and then write music to the lyrics.
M – What’s the story behind “Animal”?
E – That song was actually written really quick. The night before our first day in the studio for the Animal CD, we were rehearsing the songs and felt like we needed one more song, like we didn’t have enough songs. So my guitar player started playing that riff to “Animal,” and we kind of wrote the music for that song that night. There was no lyrics yet. We went in the studio the next day and started laying down the tracks. Still no lyrics to it. That was the only song that the lyrics weren’t written. That night, I went home and wrote lyrics to it and we recorded it the next day after that. So that song was like super quick. Probably like the quickest we ever wrote and recorded a song.
M – So at the time you did the music for that song, you didn’t know the title to it?
E – No, because we didn’t have time because we had just written the music and then recorded the tracks the next day. I still had my vocal stuff to do. I’m like, oh, I better get cracking on the lyrics. I have heard other people have done that, too. I heard Steven Tyler from Aerosmith does that a lot; he won’t even write the lyrics till right before he records them. That was something I had never done. I think there’s something really cool about it, because it’s very fresh and spontaneous. “Animal” is actually my favorite song off of the album, maybe because it was such a spontaneous thing.
M – What about “Loaded Gun”?
E – That was actually the very first song we wrote for the album. My bass player at the time actually wrote that riff. He had been playing that opening riff for “Loaded Gun” for a while. I kept hearing him play it. I had a little tape recorder, and I recorded it and asked him to play a few other things. He played a few other ideas, and there was one part that I really liked that became the middle section. And then I took his main riff, and I kind of alternate from the chorus. So the chorus is kind of the same riff but I added some other things to it and pieced that song together. We rehearsed it. Actually the way I sing it in the beginning, the low part, I sing it low and then I kick into a higher voice halfway through it. That came by accident, because when we were rehearsing it, I didn’t want to blow my voice out singing real high, aggressive stuff during the whole rehearsal. I was just singing that low to save my voice, and someone had commented they liked how it sounded in the lower register. So I ended up keeping that and just singing the whole first verse like that and then I kicked it up in the second verse, so that was kind of an accident the way that happened. But it turned out cool and I ended up really liking it.
M – What was it like singing with Derek St. Holmes of Ted Nugent’s band?
E – The very first rock album I ever got was “Double Live Gonzo” by Ted Nugent. I didn’t even know back then that Ted didn’t sing all the songs. Once I became a fan, I found out that Derek sang a lot of the songs and he was always one of my favorite singers. I ran into him at a Kiss Expo here in Atlanta, and we got to talking and became friends. He doesn’t live here now, but he ended up moving to the same town as me here in Villa Rica for a little while. We were in the middle of recording the “New Sensation” album, so I asked him if he would mind coming down and doing some backing vocals with me on the album. It was really cool because he was one of my heroes and he’s in the studio singing a song I wrote. Here’s the guy that sang “Stranglehold” and he’s sitting there singing one of my songs, so it was really, really cool. We kind of lost touch. He’s in Nashville, I think now, but I haven’t talked to him in several years.
M – Well, I learned something now. I always assumed Ted Nugent sang all his songs.
E – Yeah, a lot of people did. But all the early stuff on the first four albums, a lot of it was Derek. Ted sang “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Wang Dang” and “Free for All.” But a lot of the other stuff, most of the other stuff is all Derek.
M – Yeah, one good thing about SiriusXM and iTunes is that I’ve discovered songs from bands that I had grown up with, that I didn’t know. Like believe it or not, I had never even heard “Stranglehold” till about a year ago, and now I love that song. It’s still fresh to me all these years later.
E – Oh wow, great song.
M – So Derek was the one that sang that?
E – He did. When he was living here in Villa Rica, his daughter actually came out to one of our shows and saw me sing and play “Stranglehold.” She texted Derek and told him that she had just heard the best version of “Stranglehold” she had ever heard besides his version. I thought that was really awesome. That’s something I’ll definitely never forget.
M – Have y’all got a recorded version of “Stranglehold” on a CD?
E – We have some live versions on YouTube. I think people have recorded us doing it live, but we’ve never gone in studio and recorded it.
M – What do you think about playing at Rocco’s?
E – I love Rocco’s. It’s a great place. The stage is nice, the PA is nice, the crowd is really energetic, and they really respond well. Like some places you play and you just kind of get this lukewarm vibe from the crowd, but other places are like a lot of energy. Rocco’s is one of those places where the crowd is really enthusiastic and loud, and that makes us play better. You know, it gets us excited, too and gets our adrenaline pumping and we put on a better show, so it’s a real fun place.
M – Yeah, for sure.
E – And Rocco’s a great guy, a great guy to work with.
M – Hopefully we’ll get you some new fans with this interview. What songs would you suggest to kind of get those newcomers in the mood for Mad Margritt?
E – I guess the two videos that we have up are “Loaded Gun” and “Liar.” Those are two of my favorites. But they’re a little like real hard edge music, but not all our songs are that heavy sounding. There might be some people, particularly girls, who may not like some of the harder stuff, but we have songs that are more straightforward too, ballads and stuff. So it’s hard to say one song that represents us, but those are definitely two of my favorites.
M – Do you have one song that might be the most popular?
E – Probably our most popular song is “Loaded Gun.” You were talking about Sirius Radio. Like 10 years ago, The Boneyard had a little segment on Sundays where they were playing newer bands. They play mostly the old songs, like if a band like Motley Crue puts out a new album, they don’t play the new stuff. But back then, every Sunday night, they were playing new bands, and they were playing new cuts by some of the bigger bands. They were playing “Loaded Gun” on there for a while, so we started getting a lot of people from around the country who were writing us and telling us how much they like that song. The video was also named Video of the Year on a TV show called Rocknation TV where they played music videos. So that song definitely was our most successful.
M – Anything else you’d like to say to your fans?
E – We’re just looking forward to the Rocco’s show (on Jan. 23). It’s one of our favorite places to play and we can’t wait to get back. It’s always a good time there.