December 2010. On one of the many bleak winter evenings, I was listening to the DEATH-album "Spiritual Healing" once more. Twenty years after its release, I’m sometimes still truly amazed about the incredible intensity, energy and brutality of that specific album. I also suddenly realized that it was already more than nine years ago that Chuck Schuldiner passed away. I got to know DEATH with the album "Scream Bloody Gore" – a true classic in the genre – which made an even more impression. The artwork was outstanding and both the songs as well as the production of the record is still great. Chuck Schuldiner is widely regarded as the musician who put the Death Metal-genre on the map. The brutal music and especially Chuck’s deep grunts were simply unheard in the mid-eighties and encouraged thousands of bands to try it also and pick up an instrument. Chuck had a talent that you simply can not deny. A master guitarist, inventive and unique, constantly raising the bar higher for himself and others. In the Death Metal scene, there is also probably no-one who has caused so much controversy as Chuck did. According to one source, he was an impossible person, totally unreliable and unpredictable. Others tell a totally different story and put him sort of on a platform. Chuck was definitely very stubborn and just maybe not always the easiest person to work together with. His stubbornness has however created a couple of records which have passed the test of time easily. Chuck’s music has evolved greatly over the years. He was not afraid to experiment and loved to challenge himself. But you can always hear that he put his heart and soul into his music. 2011 seems to be an important year for the Schuldiner family. Not only because in December, it’s ten years ago that Chuck died, but also because there’s a lot of interesting releases planned which will keep Chuck’s memory alive. After ten years, the second CONTROL DENIED album – "When Machine And Man Collide" – will finally be released. All the DEATH-albums will be re-issued this year, each with a lot of bonus material. The official DEATH fanclub – The Metal Crusade – will be revived. And there’s an official biography about Chuck Schuldiner in the pipeline, currently being written by Ian Christe. In a nostalgic mood and after watching some old recordings of DEATH on youtube, I got the idea to write a big ‘In Memoriam’ article and add some testimonies of people who knew Chuck. I contacted a few bands who all responded quickly and were willing to write a piece about Chuck. Without much hope, I also contacted Chuck’s family and to my amazement, Chuck’s mother – Jane Schuldiner – agreed on an interview. A few days after Christmas 2010, I had a incredibly nice conversation with this very charming, nice, warm and very strong woman who very clearly totally loves her son and her family. This interview is quite unique and probably one of the last you well ever read with Jane Schuldiner. A few days after our conversation, Jane wrote to me to let me know that in the future, she won’t give any more interviews. So this is probably the last one…
Chuck Schuldiner was born on May 13, 1967 in New York. In 1968, you moved to Florida. Can you remember why you moved to another city?
"I had visited the Orlando area years ago and never forgot how beautiful it was. The year round warm climate was another thing we took into account in making our decision. Mal, Chuck’s father, loved to play tennis and sail his boat, so it was easy to persuade him to move here. So we moved to Florida because of the weather, more affordable housing to buy, and it seemed to have better opportunities. In hindsight, I really loved New York much more."
How would you say Chuck was as a child? Did he get along very well with his brother and his sister? Did he do many things together with his sister and his brother? Would you that Chuck was a person who enjoyed family-life?
"Chuck really was a cheerful and good natured child, and the delight of his older brother and sister. They read to him, played games with him watched cartoons on television and as time passed they included him in building a fort in the woods down the street. We had always hiked and camped out as a family in New York and in Florida. We had a very good family life, and Chuck told me he had a wonderful childhood."
Chuck started playing guitar at the age of 9 and took classical guitar lessons in the beginning. Do you remember if his teacher already recognized quickly that he had much talent?
"No, Chuck was impatient with the acoustic guitar lessons and we never forced him to go. When he wanted to stop them, he did. I’m sure there was no time for her to realize any latent talent, but it sure made a difference to Chuck."
When Chuck’s 16 year old brother died in an accident, you bought him a guitar, thinking it would help with his grief. Was this an acoustic guitar? Did he learn to play the instrument easily? Do you think the departure of his brother Frank at such a young age made an everlasting mark on him? Did he look up very much to his brother?
"No, it was an electric guitar, bought at a yard sale when he was nine years old, We had to buy speakers, as neither of us had been familiar enough with that type of guitar to know he even needed them (laughs). After the speakers were bought, Chuck would rather play on that guitar to the exclusion of all else. We set down rules for putting it aside and playing outside with friends and homework. He was very willingly and followed those rules. Chuck and Frank were very close and the loss of his brother made a deep and lasting impact on Chuck’s life right up to the end, as it did our family as a whole."
Would you say that music was Chuck’s main interest? Did he also have certain other hobbies like sports for example?
"Chuck played soccer in school and had other activities with his friends. He was also interested in art and sculpture, I have work he created in both of them. But music was 100% his main interest from the time I bought the electric guitar for him. As everyone knows by now, I still have that guitar. Chuck never put it away in a closet, he would refinish it and still pick it up and play a bit throughout his career. He also collected very old beautiful musical instruments."
At the age of 10, he began playing the electric guitar, the instrument to which he took immediately as he never stopped playing, writing and teaching himself. What do you think was it that made Chuck like that instrument so much? Was it actually hard for you to make him limit his playing on weekdays when he had to attend school? Did you work as a teacher at the same school Chuck went to?
"I am positive, as he and I talked about it, that when I bought that guitar for him it was an outlet for the grief he felt over his brother’s death and I have always been grateful I did so. He wrote some of the lyrics for his first album early on after that and kept on writing and playing. The impact of the loss of Frank, his brother, was clearly translated when you read the lyrics to ‘Open Casket’. When Chuck was ill, he and I talked about all that and he said it was therapy for him, to be able to express his feelings that way."
Chuck formed DEATH / MANTAS in 1983 when he was 16 years old together with Rick Rozz (guitar) and Kam Lee (drums and vocals). Did you personally like Rick and Kam? Do you think they were good friends of Chuck?
"Yes, I liked them very much, at that time they were all teenagers and had their differences, disagreements, etc. But they were polite young men to me and a pleasure to have around when they were young and practicing in my garage. As for being friends, I observed a lot with all the former members / friends of Chuck’s bands and the hurtful things some said to the media. Friends do not do that to one another, no matter the circumstances. So I would just call those people bandmates. Some were really friends as well as bandmembers, some were not. But at the end, Chuck said all that didn’t really matter."
Would you say that Chuck was an easy person to get along with? Did he like to socialize with other people?
"The only volatility I ever saw in Chuck was in relation to music, bands, labels and tours. He was a perfectionist, he wanted things to be the best he knew how to make them and that caused rifts with some of them. The decisions Chuck made for the band from the start to finish were just that, for the band. Chuck never raised his voice to me or his father, he was never rude and he got along well with his siblings. He was never temperamental at home or with friends growing up. Throughout his life and up to the end, his friends were the same as he had all his life. And their parents were there for me after 2001 and told me of the kindness Chuck showed to them at times in their lives when it was needed. Chuck was very polite to his parents, his friends and their families. His doctors and the medical community that cared for him said that they would have liked Chuck for a friend. During one of his surgeries, Chuck’s music was played in the operating room. A poster of Chuck hung on the wall of his main surgeon’s office."
Chuck’s relationship with the press and journalists in general was not always the best. What were the biggest reasons for this do you think? Do you think that journalists didn’t always understand him?
"Some of them did not. The reasons for that are as they always are to most everyone who has contact with the press and media, he did not suffer fools lightly. For the ones with complaints, you will find many who had none and write me that they remember him as amiable and friendly. As do a lot of people all over the world. Chuck was honest and forthright and he expected no less of everyone else. And it was rare to find that. I found it impossible to understand the ones who demanded interviews when Chuck was critically ill, that was a bad time indeed. I will never forget that. Chuck’s problems with them were mild compared to his mom who was trying to protect his privacy while fending off the offenders at that time."
Do you remember when Chuck played his first gig and was on stage for the first time? Would you say that he already had a lot of impact at this young age as a guitarist?
"Chuck played onstage for the first time with a life long friend at a park not far from the our house. They were all very young, about 15 years old, I think, and very excited to be playing that day. Before that his only ‘public’ contact was exchanging demos through the mail and the guys who crammed the garage while the band was practicing. Our mailman was working overtime, I just wasn’t aware of that at the time. I was looking through the mail from those days just yesterday, Chuck saved all correspondence from then and through the years. I have gone through dozens of boxes of materials Chuck saved. This is the last box I have to catalog. Very interesting to read it all, going back in the past."
During the years 1984-1985 when Chuck was just 16-17 years old, he recorded tons of rehearsal-, live- and demotapes which found their way in the underground-scene. Do you remember if Chuck actually was very busy at this young age with trading demos and recordings and writing to other people all over the world to exchange rare recordings? Did he like to do that?
"I thought Chuck was a bit younger than that at the time, actually. He was very busy during those years exchanging and corresponding with people all over the world, quite amazing as I think about it today. The scope of it all, valuable contacts here and abroad that he made through the fanzines he bought. He loved it and it kept him busy, along with his guitar. Chuck saved all that correspondence through the years and I just finished the last box. With that and his music, I never had the worries of many parents of teenagers. We were very fortunate that way."
Kam Lee originally was the vocalist in DEATH, later Chuck took over. His way of singing in the first years of DEATH had a lot of impact on many bands. What did you personally think of his way of singing?
"His music and his style of singing were intertwined, I didn’t think of it as good or bad, it just was what it was. I did know it was hard on his throat at first and I knew the fans liked it very much. They noticed when Chuck’s voice changed a bit over the years."
When you listen to these first recordings nowadays, they’re really very impressive if you consider the fact how extreme his music must have been in those days. Chuck was apparently originally inspired by IRON MAIDEN, KISS and BILLY IDOL among others as far as I know. Do you know how he got this vision to make such extreme music which just wasn’t heard before?
"There was no vision. It all goes back to 1976, the year of the loss of Chuck’s brother. When he picked up that guitar the first time and music poured out, his grief and anger at that loss is what came out. Extreme sounds. He was fortunate that he had that outlet, that therapy, most important it helped with the grief and eventually it led to his career in music. It sure did resonate with a lot of people."
Not every parent is enthusiastic when their child turns out to be an extreme Metal fan. Did you never have problems with that? Would you say that you were always supportive? Do you think parents make a mistake when they’re upset by this?
"His father and I were always supportive. I knew most of Chuck’s friends, I knew the reasons for his interests and as he kept close to home in the early years with all his friends in the garage with their music. They were all the nicest guys, I didn’t have a problem at all with it. During those years I kept them supplied with food and non-alcoholic drinks and they all behaved very well. I loved having them over and the parents were satisfied as well as they knew where their children were. I have had parents write to me and ask me how to deal with their children and I tell them I do feel it is a mistake to be upset with the music, unless there are other negative signs involved. With parents keeping a close eye on their children today, as we always did back then, there’s no need to be alarmed. Our parents didn’t like Elvis, all through history that happens, it’s normal."
Apparently Chuck did well in school, however he never finished his education and dropped out to focus on playing music. I can imagine that this must have been a difficult situation for you as a parent, especially since you and your husband were teachers yourself? Wouldn’t you have preferred to see him graduate and get a degree?
"Of course we would have preferred to have Chuck finish school. Before we gave permission for Chuck to drop out of school we spoke with his counselor and his advice was the one we followed. And it was tough. But we had Chuck promise to finish school and go to college if he did not succeed within a year. And he did succeed. I will add that Chuck expressed regret in later years that he did not finish his education."
In 1986, Chuck went to Canada to join SLAUGHTER. After a few months, he returned home to continue the formation of DEATH. He was just 18 years old – I think – at that time. What do you still remember about this period? Did you stand behind the idea of him moving to Canada to join SLAUGHTER?
"That period was a tough one. We knew Chuck was very young to be travelling around and all the way to Canada! He had never even been in snow and there was a lot of snow when he was there. We were very concerned but Chuck was a man on a mission and if he ran into problems, he called us. And we knew how deeply he felt that staying in Florida at that time was a dead end for his music. It was a learning experience for him. When he came back to Florida he was more determined than ever. He matured a lot from that trip. If you learn and grow from experiences, it’s not a waste."
Was it easy to make Chuck angry? Would you say anger ever was a ‘fuel’ to create the music for DEATH?
"No, it wasn’t easy to make Chuck angry. His normal personality was ‘laid back’ but Chuck had no patience with ignorance. Chuck’s music was an extension of him, the lyrics were from personal experiences, things he read, wrongs he perceived from people to people, and as those things saddened and angered him, he wrote about them. That was his fuel. And many people wrote to him, and now to me, saying how they related to them and how those lyrics helped them in their lives."
In 1987, Chuck recorded the legendary DEATH-album "Scream Bloody Gore" together with Chris Reifert. Do you remember how he got to know Chris and how the vibe was back then when they recorded that album? Were you proud of your son once the album came out?
"I don’t remember exactly. I know he met Chris around the time he went to San Francisco. When he returned to Florida I know he wanted Chris to join him here and Chris wanted to stay there, so Chuck went ahead with his plans with other musicians. They stayed friends and kept in touch. We were very proud parents. Somewhere on the internet, I think it’s on emptywords.org, there is a picture of Chuck holding a cake his besotted parents had made for him with a picture of his album on it. He was very patient with us."
The lyrics on "Scream Bloody Gore" are the typical ‘tongue-in-cheek’ horror-lyrics. As a parent, did you never have problems with such lyrics?
"No, I knew where the lyrics came from. Chuck and his friends would go to horror movies to get motivation for lyrics for those songs."
In 1988, after the recording of "Leprosy", DEATH came over to Europe for their first European tour. Do you remember if Chuck was excited by this? Was this the first time he came over to Europe? Do you remember what maybe made the biggest impression on him on that tour? Did Chuck like to be on the road? Have you ever been in Europe yourself?
"Yes, it was the first time, and Chuck’s first trip to Europe was one of the most exciting experiences of his life. The biggest impression was the fans, their excitement to meet DEATH band members, signing autographs and the fact that a lot of them spoke English and so could communicate with them. The fans were respectful but very excited. Just think of it, from a sheltered life here in the US to all that! Chuck took pictures of the sights everywhere he went, sometimes videos. I was watching one of the tours to Germany just the other day. It is amazing to watch and hear Chuck as he talked about what he was viewing. Such a treat to see him like that, enjoying himself. I have never been to Europe but Chuck had asked me where I would like to go. He would treat me to a trip. I have always wanted to go to England but I suffer from claustrophobia and cannot get on a plane. He was more disappointed because of that than I was, I think."
I know from an interview that Chuck loved being a musician but that he hated the business-side of things. I already experienced this feeling in interviews many times. Musicians are creative people and the business-side somehow dares to ruin this sometimes. Any comment? Do you think that Chuck often got betrayed by the music-business?
"You have it correct, Chuck once said that he would be a happy man if he could just play for the fans and skip the label and all it involved. Just play for them. The business side did ruin a lot, and as I said before, the business side ruined a lot of the pleasure for Chuck. It was the biggest angst of his professional life. Later, Kim – his girlfriend – helped with a lot of that, freeing Chuck to do what he loved best. And I know for a fact that Chuck was often betrayed by the music business. We are still unravelling the chaos of all that. Too late for Chuck but a necessary vindication for his legacy."
"Spiritual Healing" was the first DEATH album I would say where Chuck put a lot more effort in writing lyrics which stood for something and meant something if you consider for example tracks like ‘Living Monstrosity’ (an anti-drugs statement), ‘Altering The Future’ (abortion) or the cover artwork and the title-track ‘Spiritual Healing’ itself (a critical stand towards religion). Since – as far as I know – you and your husband were of Jewish origin, was this ‘attack’ at religion a problem for you? Would you say that religion ever had an impact on Chuck’s life?
"It was not an attack, it was what he felt, what he believed. We never had a problem with Chuck expressing his feelings about religion. Chuck was very anti-anything that used and abused people’s rights but especially when it was done in the name of any religion. He always described himself as spiritual whenever he was asked, as I would describe myself. Chuck was very proud of his Jewish heritage from his father’s side as well as his Christian heritage from his mother’s side. My children all were exposed to both and turned out to be very well informed, good people with good values. No parent could ask for more."
After "Spiritual Healing", Chuck started to work with session-members due to bad relationships with DEATH’s previous rhythm section and guitarists. This earned Chuck something of a ‘perfectionist’ reputation in the Metal community. Would you say that Chuck indeed was a perfectionist?
"I would indeed say Chuck was a perfectionist, and that was never more present than in his music. It’s certainly not a bad way to be. But it caused a lot of his problems with disgruntled bandmembers, labels, managers and anything that touched his music in a negative way. If he thought it was best for the band, they were banished. And that was his right, to make everything as close to 100% as possible. I’ll give you another perfect example and I do not disclose this lightly. Chuck was working on the last album in his studio at his house in the country. He was very ill at that time, very compromised. I had worried so about his determination, telling him the work was okay and he said okay was not good enough, his fans deserved better. And he wanted so badly to finish that work, so he kept on going. One day I could not reach him and became very concerned, finally making the approximately one hour drive to his house. I found Chuck on the floor, he was not able to get up. I sat on the floor beside him and eventually helped him up and out to the car, taking him home. That was the last day he was ever able to go there. He was just devastated but hopeful further treatment would enable him to continue. But that was not to be."
Would you say that Chuck had a strong will? If he wanted to reach something, would you say that he was very determined and that he would do everything to get where he wanted to be?
"Yes, I would say that, everything within reason and as long as it wasn’t detrimental to those he loved and cared for. That strong will carried him through the 3 most difficult years of his life. And ours. Chuck was our strength at that time, when we weakened."
With "Human" (1991), DEATH became a more and more technical band who nevertheless still managed to release very impressive albums like "Individual Thought Patterns" (1993), "Symbolic" (1995) and "The Sound Of Perseverance" (1998). Somehow, his musical evolution always really made sense to me. I mean, the core of aggressive and extreme music was still there, but it was obvious that his interest in more technical and maybe progressive music was surfacing more and more. You could already easily see this when the CONTROL DENIED-debut album "The Fragile Art Of Existence" (1999) was released. Any comment?
"I have heard that same observation from many people through the years, his many loyal friends / fans and the young ones who are just getting involved with Chuck’s music. Chuck was always reaching for more, better, there were no limits with his progression. And isn’t that the way of a dedicated person to his art? It should be."
Would you say that Chuck thought that progression in music is essential? Was he keen on trying new things?
"Funny, I had just used that word, progression, in the answer above. He absolutely did think – or a better word – felt that he HAD to progress. It was an elemental urge that he just could not ignore. Nor did he want to. He loved his music and always wanted to extend himself."
Chuck loved animals and cooking. Chuck also had a fiancee, called Kim. Do you think that Chuck somehow regret that he never had a family with children of his own? Are you still in contact with Kim?
"Yes, Chuck was known for his cooking, and he loved cooking for friends and family and bandmembers. Some would stay with Chuck when they came into town. He made up his own recipes, some are on the internet if anyone is interested. Every ingredient was fresh. He made a great apple pie, everything from scratch. The men in my family were always great cooks. His father, his nephew, himself. We really miss those days. He loved his three dogs and his cat, they were a family to him. He was concerned about what their future would be and made plans for their care. Chuck did regret not having a family and children. We talked about it. And I very often think back to that conservation, and wish so much myself that he had that, for himself and us who are left behind. I have kept in touch with Kim, she was very much as a daughter to me and I will always love her and feel that way about her."
When I heard in 1999 that Chuck was diagnosed with cancer, I must say that this really came as a shock. It was in this period that Chuck Billy of TESTAMENT also was diagnosed with cancer which he managed to beat as he got well later on. In January 2000, Chuck underwent surgery to remove what remained of his tumor. The operation was a success but apparently your family was struggling financially as you couldn’t afford the total cost of 70.000 $. Many fundraisers, auctions, and benefit concerts took place to help cover the costs. About two years after his original diagnosis – in May 2001 – the cancer returned and Chuck fell ill again. When I heard the news that Chuck passed away, I remember very well that this really came as an incredible shock to me as I was convinced that he would beat the disease. I don’t know perfectly how the healthcare-system in America works but I just can’t understand how someone can die because healthcare doesn’t want to pay his medical bills. Can you clear this up a little bit?
"We never accepted that Chuck would not beat this thing, I remember Chuck was worried about Chuck Billy, and James Murphy. Never did it enter my mind that Chuck would not get well. I didn’t let it. And no, I cannot clear it up, there will always be the ‘what ifs’ as far as Chuck’s treatments were concerned. It is such a burden to carry, those ’what ifs’. I saw too much. There were the ones in the medical field who were not caring people, who treat patients in negative or careless ways and those who we were truly blessed with. I have to say I will always be bitter, unbearably sorry, the tragic way the system let Chuck down. I stayed in the hospital with Chuck, in a chair beside his bed, 24 hours a day, making sure of his care. He was never left alone. His sister, Beth, was busy with the business, making sure Chuck was not turned down for treatment, fighting with all her might. Once she and Chuck were on MTV, telling how the hospital not wanted to operate on Chuck. Thanks to MTV, the operation was performed. In an interview, Chuck once called his sister a warrior and she truly was, for him."
Was it in that period not very hard for you not to become bitter? You already lost a son and now your other son also passed away… Were there never moments that you maybe wondered like ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve this?’?
"Yes, I still feel very bitter and saddened. And yes, I do ask myself, more than ‘why me?’, ‘why them?’. As I sit here, I’m asking myself that once again. Everyone says what wonderful young men they both were and they surely were. They had everything to offer. Frank wanted to be a doctor and had written a book at the age of sixteen, he was a straight A student. Chuck also had a lot to offer this world, he left quite an impact on quite a lot of people. Chuck made a difference and isn’t that a wonderful legacy to leave?"
How difficult is the 13th of December for you? I can imagine you get a lot of emails from fans on that day who also remember him that day?
"I do get a lot of emails and cards those days and also on Chuck’s birthday. The fans hold tributes and candle light vigils, sometimes have a beer together in Chuck’s memory. If it were not for those fans, it would be an even more difficult day for me. They have been so loyal in their memory of Chuck and they write frequenty and tell me what a difference Chuck has made in their lives and still does. They tell me about meeting him on tours and how he made them welcome, taking time to speak with them and offer encouragement in their own music. They invite me to their weddings and for a visit. I have had at least one baby named after me! And Chuck has a few Charles Michaels out there. I have some wonderful portraits painted of Chuck, one came by mail from Australia. Another one was brought from Cuba by a fan who rang my doorbell at 11PM at night. I invited him in and we had a wonderful evening. They are both hanging on my walls now, I love looking at them."
Chuck was buried in Tampa, Florida on the 18th of December 2001. Is there actually a certain place where fans can visit him and pay their respects to him?
"Fans write frequently and ask where they can come to pay their respects to Chuck. Chuck is actually not buried in Tampa. He was cremated, as he wanted, and his ashes were spread in the woods in Altamonte Springs, Florida where he lived and played as a child. That was his wish. I go there frequently and take flowers and always say that he is remembered."
Were there many people in the Metal scene that Chuck would really consider as ‘friends’?
"He had many friends in music, but his closest friends were Steve DiGiorgio and Richard Christy."
Are you still in contact with many people / bands who worked together with Chuck throughout the years?
"Richard we are close to, he is like a member of our family and I exchange cards at Christmas with some of them. And I also check on them and what they’re doing on the internet. A few have found me on the internet and have made contact with me. I am always delighted to hear from them. I will always be very fond of them and wish them well and have many good memories to think about."
From the moment Chuck passed away, you were very much in the spotlights and taking care of his legacy. You seem to interact a lot with fans of Chuck’s music. This couldn’t be totally new to you as you lead the DEATH fanclub by yourself for many years?
"Yes, I did. And the contact with the fans is a great comfort to me, they make life easier, as they have from the beginning. I have heard it said that it has been a long time since 2001, but to his family, it has been a blip in time. His sister and I were talking about that just a week ago, at Christmas. One of the fans wrote something wonderful and very profound to me a month or so after Chuck’s passing. He said that I was not alone, that I have children all over the world and that is exactly how I feel. I am so thankful to have them."
Did you learn a lot from these interactions with people who wrote to you (for example through certain touching stories from fans)? Was there a side of Chuck that you maybe didn’t know that you got to know this way? And isn’t it somehow a sort of comfort that his music will live on forever and that it has meant so much for so many people?
"There are many stories. I did learn so much from them, I could write a book from that alone! One story, a fan went to find Chuck after a concert and he found him getting on the tourbus. He asked the fan to wait, that he would be right back and the fan thought he would not return but Chuck did. And the fan said that as Chuck got off the bus, he realized Chuck was wearing sandals. It just did not fit the fan’s idea of the big Death Metal guy. But Chuck sure loved his sandals and he was just a regular guy who happened to play the guitar. I am a fortunate person. My son made a difference in this world, he is loved and remembered, his music still lives on through the people who are touched by it. They write to me often and that makes my life so much more than it would ever be without them."
2011 seems like a busy year as for example many of the DEATH albums are going to be re-released and the second CONTROL DENIED album will be released after all these years. Do you like to keep busy with these projects?
"Chuck’s sister, Beth, is involved with that. Sometimes I offer my views but we are very fortunate that Chuck’s former manager from years ago, Eric Greif, is back in our lives. He has been the best thing to happen to us and Chuck’s legacy. Beth interacts with Eric a lot, she is the executor of Chuck’s estate."
Do you think that in the end Chuck was happy with the life he has lead? Do you think that he also was proud on what he had achieved?
"Yes, he was proud of all he had achieved and mostly satisfied with the life he had led. He said the only negative was the time away from family. His long term plans were to open a studio of his own for musicians, and making sure they never had the problems and disappointments he had throughout his career. Early on we had many talks about that while I sat with him."
To close this interview, I want to thank you for your time and your effort to answer my questions. If there’s still anything you’d like to add, please feel free to do so.
"Thank you for the insightful questions you chose, Steven. I had a few laughs and a few tears, but I am ending this interview feeling good. It’s as if I were having a good talk with a friend. I send you very warm regards. Jane Schuldiner."
Another person in this Chuck Schuldiner special who could not be missed in our opinion is Eric Grief. Eric was formerly assistant manager of MÖTLEY CRÜE, worked as a supervisor for various festivals (including the Milwaukee Metalfest), produced several albums and recordings – CYCLONE, DR. SHRINKER, MORBID SAINT, INVOCATOR just to name a few – and was in the early nineties the manager of DEATH and therefore much ‘on the road’ with Chuck. Eric is currently working as a lawyer for CYNIC, Hank Shermann and DEMONICA and is now – as already discussed in the interview with Jane Schuldiner – also responsible for Chuck’s legacy…
"There is of course quite a lot of activity in the Chuck Schuldiner camp these days. This is due to a couple of factors that I’m sure are obvious to any casual Metal observer. First, the way Chuck’s legacy is run has changed somewhat and is now a far more organized endeavour. At some point, my old friend and adopted sister Beth Schuldiner asked me if I’d change my life a little and come in to take over the pilot’s job of plotting the course for everything related to DEATH and CONTROL DENIED. This wasn’t a difficult task to imagine myself doing, but at the same time was a very big change for me in my personal life. The second thing is that now, almost ten years from the time Chucky died, an entire new generation of young fans of Chuck’s music has blossomed. Now, after spending more than a year putting Chuck’s posthumous career in order – with a new label (Relapse Records), the sorting out of issues with former labels, ending illegal merchandising operations, and organizing the possibility of completing CONTROL DENIED’s final work – I find myself doing a lot of interviews and giving my perspective on not only what is happening now, but my own personal thoughts on the man behind it all, Charles Michael Schuldiner. I always try and bring the DEATH story back to a narrative on Chuck the man. I guess I do this because of so much adulation about Chuck the myth, or maybe even the small but vocal horde who have reacted negatively to the false (but good natured) portrayal of Chuck the deity. I think if my friend Chuck Schuldiner was alive today, he would scratch his head and wonder how he could be perceived in so many ways. He would have been extremely flattered by all of the attention, but on the other hand it would mystify him as to how his death would seem to have turned him into a God-like figure or, as someone has written, a Metal Messiah. The bottom line for me is that Chuck was a human being, just like any of us, albeit with an enormous, far-reaching musical & lyrical gift. I first met Chucky in Milwaukee at Metalfest, in the summer of 1987. It was the first gig of the "Leprosy" line-up. "Scream Bloody Gore" had been out a couple of months by then and there was already a buzz around the band and the record. But more than that: there was a buzz about the charismatic dude behind it all. I did feel that buzz surrounding him when we first shook hands and spoke. Six months later and he was back in Milwaukee, this time me promoting a much smaller DEATH show, allowing for us to speak longer and in greater depth. Immediately we saw eye to eye and I knew I wanted to work with him and, after a drive in my Dodge Daytona, I was the new manager of DEATH. We were young and self-confident. We were human beings with a shared vision, musically and mentally. I liked this guy a lot. Over the course of Chuck’s career, there was a lot of press surrounding his own personal life, much of it based on rumour or innuendo. This is what has prompted me to say these few words about Chuck’s humanity. In numerous ways he was a fragile soul who worried about the same things as many of us. He had bouts of anger, jealousy, or downright meanness. But these were tempered with great kindness, generosity and, of course, genius. The guy I knew could indeed fly off the handle and go berserk. But the next minute he could be buying me a gift or standing in the freezing cold in a t-shirt signing autographs, with that devilish smile never faltering. Our own up & down relationship was covered in the press and I think that Blabbermouth.net’s Borivoj Krgin referred to it as a ‘gruesome collaboration’. I guess it was gruesome because Chuck & I were an unbeatable team that liked to be brutal with record companies, shitty promoters, and assholes. But on the other hand it was gruesome because we fought like some brothers do, even taking each other to court twice. Beth Schuldiner has said to me that in order to hate you have to also love, and this is why Chuck & I were like brothers. We were brothers, actually. When I see that Chuck is portrayed in deity terms, I have to stop and smile and remind people that this was a guy who would spit when he got mad and would laugh hysterically at pranks. He loved challenging people to eating spicy chicken wings and would jump up & down on a bed like a little kid when we’d be confined to a hotel room or make up silly parody rhymes to songs. He liked beer. He described the shapes of his ‘toilet logs’ and we analyzed such things like others check their horoscopes. He was also a dedicated musician who helped create a genre of Metal music, whose talent made me shake my head in awe. Even people that didn’t know who he was would stop to stare at him when he walked down the street. Ultimately his humanity was confirmed in the fact that he got sick and eventually died from that malady. It was cruel and it was unfair, not only to his family but to the music fans of the world. I miss Chuck the songwriter because of all the songs that were never written. But mostly I miss Chuck my friend, the guy who would phone me up in the middle of the night to tell me about a horror movie he had just enjoyed or scream at me on the phone if he was mad. One thing that Beth and I agreed upon recently was trying to present Chuck to the world as a human. Former DEATH guitarist Paul Masvidal said it best that it is because of Chuck’s humanity – his vulnerability – that his genius best shines; we’re able to see that such extraordinary creativity came not from the top of a Mount Olympus but out of the garage of an average American teenager who one day picked up a guitar and made it do great things that has an impact on many, many people all around the world, even almost ten years after his tragic death."
Mike Browning (ex-MORBID ANGEL):
"I remember first meeting Chuck in the MANTAS days when I was in MORBID ANGEL. Everyone was just discovering a new style of Metal and it wasn’t uncommon for bands to put together shows with several bands. Back then everyone tapetraded and real fanzines that you can hold were all over the place and done by the fans that loved the music and dedicated lots of time to promoting these bands for free. It was a true brotherhood no matter how far away someone lived or what style of music that you did. The old days will always be missed as well as Chuck himself from the scene! Chuck was always a very cool person any and every time I had ever met him or hung out with him. He always had respect for what I was doing as I did for him too. He made a huge mark in the Metal world with his unique style of playing and vocals and progressed in his music without ever having to resort to having blast beats to compete with everyone else! I always liked DEATH and as he became more and more technical with his writing I liked it even more. One of my all time favorite Metal albums is "Human", that album still to this day just blows me away! I knew Chuck since around 1985 when he was in MANTAS and although we never played any shows together we were friends. It would have been a great thing if we could have done some music together, we talked about it a few times but unfortunately we never got to jam together. I guess it was that every time I saw Chuck he was a real personable person to me, even in the later days! I was very shocked when I heard he passed away. I think Chuck still had a long way to go with his music and if he were still alive today I think that he would still be putting out albums that would be totally amazing. I will always remember him being up front with his guitar and mike, singing ‘Pull The Plug’!’
Jeff Becerra (POSSESSED):
"I literally think Chuck was a riff-monster with a million riffs just floating around in his head. He was a good friend and a wonderful man all around. Unfortunately I haver had the chance or the opportunity to play a live show with Chuck. DEATH will always be a mainstay in the Death Metal scene forever. He is our Death Metal hero! I had never heard of DEATH until after I met Chuck for the first time. From the first minute, he turned me on to his music and I just loved it. Chuck was a very honest and humble man. He always gave me credit personally for my influences and he was always very respectful towards me and POSESSESSED. He actually used to stay at the POSSESSED’s president’s house – Krystal Mahoney – in both San Francisco and Florida. We were both big fans of each others’ work. I remember very well one night where we just sitting around, partying and showing off our riffs to each other. He was always very funny and honest to me. I was just floored when I heard Chuck had passed away. I remember trying to hold back the tears. Chuck was an honest, great and real musician and will forever be in the annals of Metal and Metal history. He will be missed in my heart forever.’
Kenn Nardi (ANACRUSIS):
"First off, I have to admit that in 1993 I was not a big fan of the band DEATH. It wasn’t that I disliked Chuck’s music, but as more of a fan of melodic Power Metal like METAL CHURCH and SAVATAGE, I simply wasn’t that familiar with the band. By then Chuck had already established himself as a pioneer of "Death Metal" and “Progressive Metal” and I knew of the band of course, but when I was told that we had been offered a month’s worth of shows in Europe opening for them I didn’t know what to expect. Anyone involved in the Metal scene in the 1990s had heard the stories of band in-fighting and canceled tours and all the rest and frankly I expected to meet a sinister sort of flaky Metal guy who might fly off the handle at the slightest agitation or up and call off the whole tour without warning. Knowing that not only would we be sharing a stage with DEATH, but also a tour bus (our 1st one ever) I was more than a bit apprehensive. However, knowing that the band’s line-up included Craig Locicero of FORBIDDEN did ease my mind since we had met him and the guys a couple times in the past through Debbie Abono, who had worked with ANACRUSIS as well. Well, anyone who ever met or knew Chuck well probably knows how this story ends, but I have to say that I have never been so pleasantly surprised by meeting any other musician ever. When I finally met Chuck, he was very laid-back and soft-spoken and not at all what I had expected. I remember many times while speaking with him that I would think “what’s the deal here? This guy seems very rational and reasonable and easy to get along with”, or “Ok, he seems cool, but when is he going to ‘snap’”?, haha. I know Chuck took his music very seriously and was an incredible writer and guitarist, so maybe being in his band was more demanding than simply holding a casual conversation, but either way, Chuck was a total gentleman to me and ANACRUSIS the entire time and seemed to treat his band with the same respect. I’d love to say I spent endless hours talking to Chuck about all sorts of deep philosophical or musical topics, but honestly we only ever spoke one-on-one a few times. Bassist Steve DiGiorgio and I hit it off right away due to our common dry sense of humour and I hung out with him more than anyone during those few weeks in Europe. I also shared many musical likes with drummer Gene Hoglan and enjoyed some good times discussing everyone from ANGEL to Kate Bush to Neil Diamond. Chuck usually kept to himself, but not in a stand-off-ish way. He would sit in the lounge area of the bus with all of us, but was usually pretty quiet, listening to everyone talk and goof around. He just seemed to go with the flow and came across as a good-natured, thoughtful guy usually focused on meeting his fans or playing the next show. Even when there were major problems with some of the venues which (justifiably) led to a couple shows being canceled, there was never a tantrum or anything of this nature and Chuck honestly only seemed concerned with his safety and ours (and that of the fans). Though ANACRUSIS was nearing its end and this would be the last tour we ever played before breaking up shortly after returning to the States, the trip itself was a great one for us and we have Chuck to thank for that. Though we had many fans overseas, it would be our only trip to Europe until our appearance at the "Keep It True Festival" 17 years later, where we met several people who had seen us on this tour with DEATH. I only learned later that Chuck had considered himself a fan of ANACRUSIS, especially of our "Screams And Whispers" album, which we were touring in support of in ’93. He never mentioned anything to me at the time, but others have told me that he was even influenced in some ways by our music and my vocals, which if it is true is an honor to say the least. I did come to respect Chuck as an amazing musician and though the more progressive DEATH albums are a little hard for me to get my head around, there is no denying his impact and influence on Metal music. He always came across as a true professional and seemed deeply committed to giving 100% at each and every show we played with him. There was none of the ego-maniacally unpredictable behaviour that I had expected. In fact, Chuck even allowed us to go back on stage for an encore at a few particularly great shows, which I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any opening band do. It takes a very secure musician to do a thing like that. Probably the most personal moment I shared with Chuck was an interesting conversation about music one night while travelling across the countryside somewhere in Europe. The bus we shared was a double-decker with a seating area above the driver. Sometimes in the evening, a couple of us would sit up there and just watch the road speed by beneath us. On this one occasion, it was only Chuck and me and one of my band-mates. I remember talking about JUDAS PRIEST and some of the older Metal bands we all liked and Chuck expressed how he really wanted to try to do something heavy, but with more melodic vocals. Perhaps this was something he liked about ANACRUSIS? I know later on he did stretch his wings a bit and try some new things, but I could hear the frustration in his voice at the time, not knowing what fans of DEATH would think of this type of thing. I remember saying to him that the fans who really appreciated his music would accept whatever he did as long as it was from the heart. I never had any contact with him after the tour and after ANACRUSIS broke up I walked away from the music business altogether for many years. Since I hadn’t kept up with the Metal scene much after that, I was shocked and saddened when I heard that he had just passed away. He certainly made his musical mark on many people and influenced countless bands then and now, and I am grateful to him for inviting us to share that trip to Europe with him at the end of our run. I had the opportunity to meet many musicians and other people involved in the music business during my years playing and touring and I can honestly say that Chuck was one of the nicest of all. He left only good memories in my mind and I offer my thoughts and prayers to his close friends and family, who I am sure miss him more each year.’
Alex Krull (ATROCITY):
"My first thoughts when DEATH / Chuck Schuldiner comes to mind is the "Infernal Death" demo tape from 1985. Some friends and me ordered it directly at Chucks private address – but we never got the demo back although we payed it hahaha, so we had to copy it from somebody else. Anyway, it’s a real classic. I like the music of DEATH. Especially the early days and the "Human" album, which was interesting for me to see that also DEATH got a much more technical approach to their music like we had before with "Hallucinations". I met guitarist Shannon who played together with Chuck in DEATH and CONTROL DENIED in September at his home when we toured with LEAVES’ EYES in the USA, and Shannon came also over to our show at Atlanta / Progpower USA fest. So there’s still a ‘connection’. Chuck was an extraordinary and influential musician within the Metal scene. Without any doubt Chuck wrote some all time classics in Death Metal! The typically DEATH guitar riffs and melodies are an huge trademark as well. Chuck managed to keep the spirit of POSSESSED and developed his own kind of extreme music. We met a couple of times and there’s an interesting story as well. When we decided with ATROCITY to record ‘Arch Angel’ from DEATH we spoke with Chuck about the arrangement of the song and lyrics etc. So we met in Ludwigsburg when they came on tour and we jammed the song together. It was quite funny that Chuck almost forgot about the own riffs and we had a lot of fun showing each other what was once recorded on the “Infernal Death” demo tape. Regarding the lyrics we decided that I write new lyrics for the song and so it turned out to a wonderful co-operation, it’s a pity that we couldn’t even record together or played it live at a show or something – we should have done it! I was shocked when he passed away, also what I have heard in which way things were going on and I think it’s ridiculous regarding the health system in the US as well. It’s a real problem for musicians in the US when they get seriously ill and they were living before on the minimum because of the music and they get no financial support etc. It’s a shame. I will always remember Chuck and his music and keep the ‘golden’ times in mind. The DEATH song ‘Archangel’ was always one of my favorites on the "Infernal Death" demo tape, which was recorded originally only with two guitars and no bass by the way. Chuck never used the song for a DEATH album. When we talked he said to me he will never use it… until we jammed together. I think he started to love it again (laughs) and as I said, it was really cool to work on it together."
Timmy Aymar (CONTROL DENIED):
"It would be an honour to share with you my thoughts and memories of my friend and bandleader, my brother, Chuck. The memories resound to this day because of the impact he had on me on several levels. Personally, Chuck was a kind and caring person who loved his friends and his family wholeheartedly. He loved sharing good times with us whether it was in the back yard barbequeing, or listening to his record collection, or goofing off at the grocery store. Whatever we did, we had a lot of fun doing it together. Spiritually, it couldn’t have been any more harmonistic between us. Professionally, Chuck was the real deal; he was a true leader. When it came to getting down to business in the rehearsal studio, there was sort of a ritualistic approach to it. We’d wake up rested, have coffee and bagels, and call in our requests to the local radio station. He’d get on the phone and make whatever calls needed to be made, while I’d review the material we would be working on that day, and I’d go through my warm-ups. Then into the studio we went, and we’d work out the parts for the new material he was writing for the record. When we were done for the day, we’d have dinner, rehearse with the band, then he’d invite friends over to chill for the evening. One memory that stands out in my mind is when one night while we were hanging out in the backyard by the fire, he pulled me aside and asked me how I would feel about making CONTROL DENIED a permanent band. He wanted to leave DEATH behind him, and continue on with CONTROL DENIED and I couldn’t have been happier. I let him know that if that’s what he wanted, then I wanted it too. We both wanted to make CONTROL DENIED the greatest band ever and work at it until we retired. Unfortunately, it was shortly after the recording sessions were complete that Chuck had to cancel all plans for touring because of the diagnosis of cancer. That was more of a shock than his passing. I had just lost my mother to cancer the year before, several other family members passed away as well, including my youngest brother during the preparation stages of the record. The next 2 years were like a roller coaster. There was hope and there was fear. Amazingly, it was Chuck himself who kept the rest of us optimistic about his recovery. Even more amazingly, he gathered up enough strength to write and record all his parts for a new record. Since his passing, it’s been 9 years, and for most of those years there was a batlle for the rights and a proper release of it. Now, those issues are settled and we are about to begin the completion stages of "When Machine And Man Collide". Richard’s drums, Chuck’s guitars, and most of Shannon’s guitars are recorded. Soon Steve and I will be heading to Tampa to do our parts and from there, it will be a few months of waiting while Jim Morris mixes and masters and Relapse has it pressed and packaged, and it’s safe to say that it will be in the hands of the fans by mid summer, if not earlier. As with all of Chuck’s records this one is unique and has all the unusual twists and turns a composer of his calibre incorporates. Lyrically, I would say it’s a bit deeper and darker than "The Fragile Art Of Existence". I’m very excited about working with Jim on it and finally getting it out to all of you."
Jörgen Sandström (ex-GRAVE, ex-ENTOMBED):
"Chuck was one of my favorite Death Metal vocalists of all time. "Scream Bloody Gore" and "Leprosy" have been a big influence over the years!! When we first got hold of "Scream Bloody Gore" we played it all the time, same with "Leprosy". And yes, I still listen to DEATH every now and then. For me personally it was the intensity in the playing and the vocals. His vocals was just amazing. And Chris Reifert’s drumming on the first album together with Chuck was just the perfect match!! I would not say that I knew him on a personal level, we did a festival tour together back in 1993 or something around Germany mostly. It was great to meet him and see him play live although around that time I was not so much into their new material. I remember one night we (GRAVE) were sitting backstage and drinking beer and then we started to whistle through the bottleneck. So we tuned them and then we walked in to DEATH´s dressing room and Chuck was sitting there and we said ‘Listen, we wanna play something for you.’ and we ripped out ‘Infernal Death’ on the bottles (laughs). He was impressed to say the least (laughs). It is always sad when your idols pass away. I am glad I got to meet him and tell him thanks for all the great times I had listening to his music and I will never forget him or his great work!"
Lee Harrison (MONSTROSITY):
"It’s a shame Chuck had to go so early. Really didn’t expect that. I first read about Chuck in a magazine talking about "Scream Bloody Gore" so I didn’t know him personally really before "Leprosy". I was friends with CYNIC who were friends with Chuck. We had gotten hold of a pre-release of "Leprosy" that still had the four counts at the beginning of the songs. The songs were mixed but just not mastered. I still have this tape too. One time the South Florida guys all got together and drove up to Tampa as MORBID ANGEL and DEATH were playing together, this was in 1988. Pat from HELLWITCH, Paul and Sean from CYNIC, Phil from MALEVOLENT CREATION, we all drove up in my van. DEATH came down to play in Miami at the Cameo Theater and that’s another time I remember because they really killed it that night. I would see Chuck before shows and I would give him a ride to the store and stuff. We would hang out before the shows. So yeah we never hung out too much but at the shows we would always catch up. Chuck was really cool."
Maurice Swinkels (LEGION OF THE DAMNED, ex-BESTIAL SUMMONING, ex-OCCULT):
"What has always intrigued me about Chuck and DEATH is his way of singing. I’ve never been a guitarist, but DEATH was definitely one of the first Death Metal bands I listened to and appreciated. "Scream Bloody Gore" is still a great album, Chuck’s vocals on that album are extremely brutal. I remember when I first saw DEATH live, that was in 1989 in the club Zopo in Horst (Netherlands) together with DESPAIR. I’ll never forget that show, I still have a recording of it on tape. I used to listen a lot to the demos of DEATH, that old stuff still remains as impressive as it was in the beginning. Records such as "Scream Bloody Gore" and "Leprosy" are absolute milestones. I do not really like what Chuck has done later, the more melodic stuff with CONTROL DENIED and many solos, that was not really my thing. But as a singer in the early years ,Chuck had a really great voice. When Chuck was already ill for a while, we played a show with OCCULT at a benefit-concert for Chuck in Hardenberg, along with some other Dutch bands. We also played the old DEATH tune ‘Mutilation’ that evening, together with Wannes Gubbels. A nice evening."
Frank Harthoorn (ex-GOREFEST):
"Jan-Chris and I got to know Chuck when he was touring in Europe with the album "Leprosy", that was in February 1989. We were both very big fans of DEATH and it was a great experience for us to meet our hero in our own little provincial town. Around that time, we started with GOREFEST – then called LEPROSY – which says enough about the impact that DEATH had on us. We had obviously no idea that we would go often on the road with the same man later on. My memories of DEATH are without any exception very good. We had heard all the stories about how impossible Chuck would be and that he would cancel shows easily. As everyone, the man had his own character but ‘Evil’ Chuck was definitely just an amusing nickname. A highlight for GOREFEST was playing as a support-act during the U.S. tour for "Individual Thought Patterns" in the summer of 1993. We had never been in the U.S. before and to get an invitation from Chuck was a big honor for us and a little surreal, initially anyway. On a tourbus, you learn quickly who you are dealing with. During this tour and other tours, I got to know Chuck as a very normal person, very laid back, obsessed with Metal, loving animals, fond of bagels and nice food in general and afraid of sharks (laughs). As a fan of the band, I stood just about every night on the side of the stage to watch DEATH play. I think I have seen DEATH all together about fifty times. I found it especially cool to let Chuck know when he had a less flexible evening than usual. We both had to laugh about it because we both knew – myself to say the least – that I didn’t exactly belong to the better guitarists in the scene. Chuck would go like ‘Oh man, Frank’s ragging on me again, I gotta practice more’. (laughs). I still listen quite often to DEATH. "Scream Bloody Gore" because it is so brutal and authentic, "Leprosy" for the catchy songs, "Human’" ‘"ndividual Thought Patterns" and "Symbolic’" for the memories. Chuck and DEATH were part of a period in my life which is very dear to me. He was a man who showed the way, a very special musician, a Metalhead but above all a very nice guy and great to tour with. My words will probably not sound much different than what for example CARCASS, LOUDBLAST, SACRIFICE or BENEDICTION would say. We all miss Chuck."
Jim Durkin (ex-DARK ANGEL):
"I see Chuck as the godfather of American Death Metal. I have followed Chuck from the very beginning. I had the DEATH demos and I remember I was very impressed by the DEATH debut "Scream Bloody Gore", a very strong record. I believe what made Chuck rise above the rest was his way of singing. He really had a tremendous and unique way of singing. Although DEATH often played together with DARK ANGEL and we have even toured together, I never really had much personal contact with Chuck. Of course I bumped into him while touring, he was always kind to me and we always had a chat with each other but I would not dare to say that I had a really deep contact with him. I sometimes had a beer with Rick Rozz who was also playing in DEATH but both DARK ANGEL and DEATH pretty much kept to themselves. I was very sorry to hear that he died, especially because his music seemed to develop all the time. I really loved the way he played guitar. He was very talented and he would have done many more interesting things if he had not been ill."
Rick Rozz (ex-DEATH, ex-MASSACRE):
"I first met Chuck at a party in late 1982. We both had a soft spot for music and we discovered quickly that we had a lot of common ground. Chuck and I were friends before we made music together. When we started with MANTAS / DEATH , we practiced almost seven days to seven in Chuck’s garage. Apart from a few covers – including SAVATAGE and SLAYER – we started really soon to write own material. We often went to see NASTY SAVATEGE play in those days and we were very honored when we had the chance to open for them in December 1984. The recording of that show was later the first official live-tape of DEATH. In the spring of 1985, I got sacked and got the offer from Bill Andrews to play in MASSACRE. I then moved to Tampa and played for a couple of years in MASSACRE and recorded the demo "Chamber Of Ages" with them. In 1987, Chuck came back to Florida and I visited him one evening. There was not much going on in MASSACRE so I suggested to Chuck that Bill Andrews and Terry Butler would join DEATH so we could tour to support "Scream Bloody Gore". Many riffs of the songs on "Scream Bloody Gore" were written by me, therefore it was not difficult for me to master the songs. In April 1988, we recorded "Leprosy" in the Morrissound studio with this line-up, together with Dan Johnson. Dan had produced the first two SAVATAGE records and it was very easy to work with him. Then we were off to Europe for a European tour, a tour of which we unfortunately had to return early on because we had a lot more shows scheduled. DEATH then began to work on "Spiritual Healing" and I got the sack again and I was replaced by James Murphy. Still a lot of riffs on that album are written by me. I returned to MASSACRE and recorded the demo "The Second Coming" with them. I was playing with Joe Cangolosi and bassist Butch Gonzalez at that time, both great musicians. Bill Andrews and Terry Butler were touring as DEATH in Europe at that time without Chuck. They called me one day, asking me to return to MASSACRE. Earache showed considerable interest in the band and so I had to let Joe and Butch go which made the line-up of MASSACRE complete again. I recorded the album "From Beyond", the single "Provoked Accurser", the EP "Inhuman Condition" and the infamous and rightly maligned album "Promise", an album which really should never have been released. Chuck was a musician with a vision and I have much respect for that. I once bumped into Chuck at a local pub just after his first surgery and we talked about two hours about all sorts of things. We cleared up and settled a lot of things during that last talk. RIP Chuck."
Eric Daniels (ex-ASPHYX):
"When I think of Chuck Schuldiner and DEATH, my spontaneous reaction is "Scream Bloody Gore" and "Leprosy", two absolute cult albums and the precursors of the early nineties Death Metal scene. Chuck was really the man behind these masterpieces. A great guitarist and an amazing throat! I can still remember that Bob Bagchus and I really listened to that album on and on in the early years of ASPHYX. For us, "Scream Bloody Gore" pretty much sums up how Death Metal should sound. Unfortunately I never had personal contact with Chuck, I would have loved to have a talk with the man but unfortunately I never did. DEATH is also special to me because of the way the songs are written, especially the way one riff goes into another. As a guitarist I pay attention to this and I can only conclude that it is really wonderfully done. But all the bandmembers of DEATH are really impressive, in the end it’s a band that makes music together. Chuck always knew how to gather good musicians around him. I was very shocked when I heard the news of his death, I was very surprised too. That’s because you do not really think that something like that can happen to a musician like him. His music will always live on through numerous albums. I will always remember Chuck as a class-guitarist and – perhaps most importantly – the forerunner of Death Metal."
Michael Borders (ex-MASSACRE):
"I’ve never met or spoken to Chuck myself. And I will not talk bad about Chuck here, but the memory I have regarding Chuck are the phonecalls his girlfriend used to make to Bill Andrews and me, complaining that MASSACRE were stealing Chuck’s songs (laughs). Chuck never called us himself. DEATH was in my eyes back then just another unsigned demo band without a record deal when Kam Lee and Rick Rozz came to join MASSACRE. The demos of DEATH were going around in the scene at that time but DEATH did not even have a full line-up, nor did they play live. I was stunned when Rick Rozz and Bill Andrews left MASSACRE in 1988 and joined DEATH. I had the impression back then that there was quite a bit of bad blood between Chuck and Rick. But when Chuck proposed them the certainty of a record deal, they didn’t hesitate a second. Everyone would have done the same in their place. Do not get me wrong, I have great respect for Chuck and for everything that he did. He has always done his own thing and most certainly has left his mark on the Metal genre. I don’t wish the disease he has had to anyone."
Wannes Gubbels (PENTACLEe, ex-ASPHYX):
"I still get the chills from it… a live tape, recorded on an old TDK D90 cassette which I got ahold of back then in the eighties through tapetrading. I got these to hear those recordings for the first time at the place of some friends of mine. Somewhere during the night, I was confronted with DEATH for the first time at a time when the band had a huge impact on the underground scene. "Listen to this!" was said. Unsuspecting, the tape-recorder was put on a table in the kitchen and ‘play’ was pressed. The intro made it very clear that we were not talking about a cheesy Hardrock band. The music started and I was just blown away by the power and darkness of it. The aggression… I could hardly believe it! Of course I knew bands like VENOM, SLAYER, EXCITER and HELLHAMMER, but this? For forty-five minutes I was confronted with one extremity after the other. What an incredibly intense band! I’m talking of course about the infamous DEATH live-tape, recorded on December 30, 1984 in Ruby’s Pub, Tampa, Florida when they played as support for NASTY SAVAGE. DEATH was clearly one of the most intense bands in the underground and I liked this kind of noise very much. I started looking through the tape trader circuit for a better version of this recording and soon after, I had my own copy. I do not know how many times I’ve listened to this tape but the term ‘playing something to shreds’ is certainly applicable here. Although DEATH grew into a highly professional and technically superior band – which I respect a lot – I always preferred the first two albums – "Scream Bloody Gore" and "Leprosy" – and especially the demos, rehearsals and of course ‘my’ live-tape. When I started my own band a few years later – PENTACLE – and when I was looking for a few songs to cover, I did not need to think. We had always had a weak spot for the more obscure stuff such as ‘The Reaper’ (HELLHAMMER) or PENTAGRAM’s ‘Spell Of The Pentagram’. So, it was only a matter of time until I would reach out to my trusty and old DEATH live-tape. Two songs I had already in mind for a long time, ‘Legion Of Doom’ and ‘Witch Of Hell’. And we eventually recorded those two as we have recorded these two songs for our "Ancient Death" record. I’m still very proud of our versions. They will never be able to replace the originals but they are a sincere homage to DEATH in the purest form."
Travis Smith (cover-designer of "The Sound Of Perseverance", "The Fragile Art Of Existence" and "When Machine And Man Collide"):
"When I think of Chuck, I am immediately reminded on how good he was and how much pleasure I have had working with. I’m proud that I could call Chuck a good friend. We had only seen each other a few times and we had only spoken briefly with each other before we decided to work together. Afterwards, we developed a very close friendship. DEATH is still one of my favorite bands and I still regularly listen to them. Nowadays I’m not one hundred percent satisfied anymore with the cover I made for "The Sound Of Perseverance". I have therefore created a new one which is used for the re-issue which was recently published. I like the new design much better, I think it reflects Chuck’s vision much better. I can not exactly describe what makes DEATH special for me. But there is something, that’s for sure. I guess the way the songs are put together, the sound, the structure, the musicians on the album and how everything just seems to flow nicely together. A very good example is the album "Individual Thought Patterns". I still remember when I heard that album for the first time. A friend was visiting me and he made a comment about a riff in ‘Overactive Imagination’ and said something like "Now that’s not something you hear every day." That might be a good way to summarize DEATH. I heard the sad news of his passing from Jane, his mother. She called me to tell me in person, she really had to comfort me. The last time Chuck and I had spoken with each other, he sounded much better, also had the impression that he was getting better. So I was genuinely shocked when I heard it. I remember his incredibly positive attitude about everything in life. Even in his last weeks, he was incredibly strong and positive, something that has helped me to put certain things in my own life later in perspective."
Glen Benton (DEICIDE):
"Chuck was a nice guy. Every time DEICIDE and DEATH met each other, Chuck was always very kind to everyone. I have known Chuck for a long time, I even saw DEATH play at the Sunset Club – a tiny concert club – where DEICIDE also made their first steps. That was the first time I’ve ever seen DEATH. I would not say that DEATH really influenced DEICIDE. We knew very well where we wanted to go and there was a healthy kind of competition between the two bands. DEICIDE has never toured with DEATH, but we have often played together on the same festivals. We all knew Chuck was very ill and I thought it was truly terrible when I heard that he died."
Chris Reifert (AUTOPSY, ex-DEATH):
"Well, everything comes to mind very easily. When I was with Chuck in DEATH, it was very pleasant, very relaxed too. Later on, things got much more stressful for Chuck because of many problems with musicians and labels. But when we were just the two of us, making music, that was really nice. There simply was no pressure from the outside, we also got along very well together. I’ve never played live with Chuck in front of an audience, we’ve only played together in the rehearsal room and the studio. The joy of making music together always came first, even though we were serious about it. I was seventeen, Chuck was nineteen. We never had problems with each other. We also did a lot together: discovering new bands, listening to records together and just hang out. I haven’t actually played that long in DEATH, at most one year. But afterwards I always stayed in touch with Chuck, one year later after I left I even stayed at his place for a couple of days. AUTOPSY and DEATH were once together on the bill of a festival in 1990, that was kind of funny (laughs). And when DEATH came to play in the Bay Area, I always went to the show. I was very surprised when I heard of his death. I knew Chuck was very ill, still it hit me like a hammer. When I was still a part of DEATH, I stayed for two months at his home with him and his parents who all lived in Florida. Chuck’s parents treated me really well, something that was not always obvious, especially if you keep in mind the mischief a seventeen year old is up to (laughs)."
King Fowley (DECEASED):
"I first made contact with Chuck in a multiple phone conversation a good friend of mine started up in 1984, it was called ‘the phone pirates’. He had a conversation hook up that let him bring tons of folks on the phone together at one time. He had on Bobby Blitz of OVERKILL, Les Evans of CRYPTIC SLAUGHTER, Katon from HIRAX and many more. Chuck was one of many of us, talking Metal and shooting the shit. He and I talked some and that was my introduction to him and his upcoming band. DEATH as a band, I heard soon after! The MANTAS tapes were fun and messy and I liked ‘em. DEATH became the name and it got even better. Early cuts like ‘Baptized In Blood’, ‘Evil Dead’ and ‘Beyond The Unholy Grave’ were probably my favorite. I bought the record when it came out and thought it was a bit too ‘clean’ but I was happy to see the band move forward! My first live experience of DEATH was a crappy one. Chuck seemed really moody that night when they were opening for ANVIL at a local club called the 9:30 club. I was drinking a bunch and was really ticked off at how crappy their performance was. Chuck giving out smirks and kind of acting a jerk, it threw me for a loop! I spit his way and walked away from their set awaiting ANVIL. A year or so later, I mentioned this spitting incident to a friend of his. The word got back to Chuck that I had spit his way and the next time I saw Chuck, he and I confronted each other. He had a bottle of beer in his hand and I first thought it might come to blows, thankfully it never did. We left unsolved and both pissed off, we had a quirk for sure between us now. A few years later again I saw Chuck again. I was on a guestlist for a show DEATH was a part of. He changed my name from King Fowley to Queen Fowley on the list. I found it was childish. I went to tell him so and he acted like a fool! I planned to boycott the band forever more on the live front and to do my own thing musically. DEATH got less fun and more intricate to me. The talent was there but they didn’t seem to manage to write memorable songs. I wasn’t impressed with much from the band now. "Symbolic" was the first record to impress me in quite some time. I decided to go and bury the hatchet with Chuck and see if he wanted to do the same. I went to the club Jaxx in Virginia and hoped for a talk together. Unfortunately, it never happened! We just never could caught up that night. I told a mutual friend of ours that our acts in the past were childish and life was too short for such nonsense. The friend told me Chuck felt the same and appreciated the effort I made to squash past differences. Sadly I never saw Chuck again to sit down and shake hands and end the stupidity between us. Chuck was obviously a keyplayer in Death Metal. His guitarplaying was loved by many in the genre and he always put as much musicianship into the band as possible. With his other projects, you could see he was slowly pulling away from Death Metal in general and more to traditional Metal sounds, his main love anyway. His life was sadly cut short. RIP Chuck! We had our differences, but getting over them was on the horizon between us. With respect. King Fowley."
Alan Averill (PRIMORDIAL):
"My first spontaneous thoughts when DEATH and Chuck Schuldiner comes to mind is just some great music, especially getting the first album back when it came out. We had never really heard anything like that. "Scream Bloody Gore" was a very big influence. I still listen to DEATH nowadays. I did lose my way with the more technical stuff he recorded in the middle of the nineties but I appreciate those alums more now than at the time they came out. The first two albums will always remain my favorite, but I also really like the final album as well. Chuck had a very clear vision of what he wanted the band to sound like and what to achieve. It’s rare someone has something so fully formed so young. I only met him very briefly in 1992 after a show in Dublin, unfortunately he was very rude that evening … talking down to most of us who were chatting with him because we were into Death Metal. I was kind of shocked when I heard he passed away because he was so young. It’s always sad when someone that talented clocks off so early. For the rest, I don’t have anything special to tell to remember him. There are other Metal musicians who had a greater impact on me, Quorthon of BATHORY for example. But I still listen to DEATH quite often."
"The song ‘Pull The Plug’! That was the first song I ever heard from DEATH. I will never forget those days, when little Tormentor was around fourteen years old and went to a local youthclub to join the ‘Metal Disco’ and banged my head to hell! ‘Pull The Plug’ was a song which made every Metalhead headbang! Ahhh, good old times! At this place – it was called ‘Haus Der Offenen Tür’ – I met Infernal – the guitarplayer of DESASTER – for the first time around 1990. Six years later I joined DESASTER, our rehearsal room is in the same venue! Unfortunately we never played with Chuck. Of course I still listen to DEATH nowadays. Chuck has written history with records like "Scream Bloody Gore" – hail drum master Reifert!, "Leprosy", "Spiritual Healing"… CONTROL DENIED also has its good moments! I am not that much into the rest of the albums like "Symbolic". I like it rough and wild (laughs), but they are all high quality recordings and all of them were shaping a whole scene! I think what made him stand out is his special unique style of playing guitar and his voice. He wrote some real headsmashing and neckbreaking Death Metal classics. A while ago, we recorded ‘Zombie Ritual’ for a shape-disc. The reason why we choose that one is I because that was the only song we could play (laughs)! No, I don’t know, Infernal started once with the riff in our rehearsal room just for fun. At the end we decided to cover that song as a ‘tribute’ to a great band! I can’t really remember how the first contact to Chris Reifert happened. I think I wrote to him just to say ‘thank you’ for all the great work he had done with DEATH, AUTOPSY (hail the godz!) and ABSCESS. After some emails, I asked him to sing ‘Zombie Ritual’ for us. We have sent the recordings over to the US and were blown away from his great vokills! We met him and the rest of the AUTOPSY guys at Party San Open Air last year and what can I say?! They are fuckin’ killer… total possessed maniacs without any kind of rockstar image! AUTOPSY is back… I have no more words to say. Of course I was shocked when I heard about his passing. In a scene like ours, it’s really sad when you hear that someone passed away. I felt the same last year when Dio and Pete Steele died. A small part of a big scene died but they made themselves unforgettable with their great releases. Also Chuck will never be forgotten, a small piece of him is living in every record he made! Existence fading – Into ashes, Burn those bodies – To Infernal death!"
Article and all interviews: Steven Willems