He played drums on Death´s legendary debut album, SCREAM BLOODY GORE... He parted ways with Chuck Schuldiner in 1987 when Chuck decided to move back from San Francisco to Florida... Chris Reifert about the days with Death.
First off, it needs to be asked how did you actually meet “Evil” Chuck Schuldiner back in the ´80s? When Chuck moved from Canada (he moved to Canada for a brief stint as he was supposed to play on the Canadian Slaughter´s debut album which eventually never happened, however) to Florida - and shortly after that to San Francisco, he met you sometime around in 1986, and both Chuck and you recorded Death´s MUTILATION demo. Anyway, you were just 17 when you met him - and Chuck was 19. But back to the original question, how and where did you meet him first?
I was still in high school at the time and had a friend who was a DJ for the school radio station. She told me she was gonna play an ad from Chuck who was looking for band members. I got his phone number from her, called him up and went over to his house. The deal was pretty much sealed right away as I jumped on the chance before anyone else could get a try... ha-ha! Also, I knew about bands like Sodom, Bathory, Possessed and Artillery which impressed Chuck. This was incredible for me because I had been buying Death demos for the past 2 years and was thrilled that not only would I be playing the songs I knew and loved already, but also some new crushers that went perfectly with the old ones.
With the MUTILATION demo you landed a deal with Combat Records and recorded the legendary SCREAM BLOODY GORE album that was released in 1987. That album was one of those few albums that were released back in those days (along with Possessed´s SEVEN CHURCHES) that really set the standards for the whole Death Metal genre, how Death Metal supposed to sound in the first place - and building up the firm cornerstones around the whole genre musically.
Thanks for the kind words! I still love the sound on MUTILATION... It came out so dismal and dirty! As for SCREAM BLOODY GORE, we actually recorded an earlier version in Florida during the summer of '86 that came out so shitty sound-wise, that Combat wrote it off as a mistake and sent us to Los Angeles to do it right. I almost wish I had kept my cassette of the old version to look back on, but I taped over it ages ago.
Death also had this second guitar player named John Hand - and even if he didn´t appear on SCREAM BLOODY GORE, he got his picture on the album. Can you remember why it happened, and how John overall was as a band mate?
Ah yes, the classic question... We had already recorded SCREAM BLOODY GORE and been hanging around with our friend John a lot. He played guitar, so we figured that not only would he work out just fine, but we'd put his photo on the album which was in the process of being put together layout-wise. Combat was supposed to state on the album that Chuck and I played all the music on the album, but they ignored our request, leading to confusion for years. Also, they printed on the inner sleeve: "This album is Don Kaye's folly", meaning that Combat saw us as sort of a joke even though they were putting out the album. Death Metal had yet to prove itself at the time and combat were skeptical about the whole thing, I guess. I have only one copy of the vinyl left and on the inner sleeve where the Don Kaye comment is, I scratched it out and wrote 'fuck you!' over it with a pen. Anyways, back to the John Hand thing, it turned out he didn't work out in the band, but by then the album was already at the printers and it was too late.
After a short while, Chuck decided to move back to Florida once again, teaming up with the former band mate Rick Rozz, and two members from his band Massacre, Terry Butler and Bill Andrews. You decided to stay in San Francisco and form your own band, Autopsy. However, I need to ask you next, didn´t you ever even consider moving to Florida along with Chuck, and continue playing in Death from there? Can you tell what were the most primary reasons for him to make that big decision and move to Florida eventually? How much actually both you and Chuck discussed about this back then, and do you believe that nobody could have turned Chuck´s head about staying in Frisco and about continuing Death from there with you?
Chuck really wanted to go back to Florida to stay. His family, friends and everything else was there, so that's where he wanted to be. He said I could move there and remain in the band, but after living there for the summer I knew that I really didn't want to do that. The heat and humidity was enough reason for me. That shit was brutal for a California guy like me, so I stayed home and started all over again with a new band, Autopsy. As fantastic as the Death experience was, the decision to stay here was easy for me.
Why didn´t you follow Chuck to Florida back in the day and that way getting a chance to stay in Death and make music with him?
As I said, I couldn't deal with the heat there, plus my family and friends were here, so this is where I wanted to stay. I've never been afraid to start over and this was no exception.
Chuck continued doing music with a new line-up, and Death´s second album LEPROSY, was the first fruit of the new Death line-up. When the album came out, I assume you also were curious to check it out how it sounded like, correct? Did you like the album, by the way?
Yeah of course I was curious. I bought it and thought the songs were quite good. The only thing I thought lacking was some excitement on the drums. They were very good, but not a drum roll to be found anywhere. Still, a good heavy album to be sure.
After Chuck was located to Florida, did you still keep in touch with him from time to time? Or vice versa?
Yeah, we kept in touch here and there. We bumped into each other at shows a few times and I stayed at his house for a visit in '88 (I think it was). Also, I talked to him right before he died and told him how great the latest VoiVod album was!
Chuck recorded 5 other albums after LEPROSY, and I guess it´s not any overstatement to say, but each of his albums was hugely praised by both the media and the fans of Death. How did you like his later era albums, like SYMBOLIC and THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE that were Chuck´s two last studio albums with Death?
To be honest, they got a bit technical for my taste. I much prefer the more primitive and savage stuff.
What was for you the best thing for being a part of one of the most legendary Death Metal bands? I´m sure you have some good memories about those days, so would you mind sharing some of those experiences with the readers of Metal-Rules.com?
There are too many great stories to single any out. But we had lots of fun and partied a lot and had a killer time making brutal music. Plus learning about new Death Metal bands, recording the demo and album... The whole thing was a fuckin´ blast.
The tragic news hit us on the 13th of December 2001 when Chuck has lost his fight against a brain tumor he had for years. How did you personally take this sad news when you heard about it for the first time? I mean, the guy who used to be your band mate in 1987, wasn´t there anymore, so assumable lots of different feelings crossed your mind when this news hit you, am I right?
Of course it sucked really bad to lose a former band mate and good friend. I was really bummed out that he and his family had to go through all that shit. What else can you say? Rest in metal, man!
Edited for Empty©Words 12-13-07