Chuck's Story

chuck01Charles Michael 'Chuck' Schuldiner (May 13, 1967 – December 13, 2001) was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist...and The Godfather of Death Metal.

Chuck Schuldiner was born on May 13, 1967 on Long Island, New York to a Jewish-American father of Austrian descent and a mother from the American South, a convert to Judaism. Both of his parents were teachers. In 1968, his family moved to Florida. Schuldiner was the youngest of three children. He had an older brother named Frank and an older sister named Bethann.

Schuldiner started playing guitar at the age of 9. His 16 year old brother had died and his parents bought him a guitar, thinking it would help with his grief. He took classical lessons for less than a year in which his teacher taught him "Mary had a Little Lamb", which he did not like very much, and almost stopped completely, until his parents saw an electric guitar at a yard sale and bought it for him. The young Schuldiner immediately took to the instrument. After getting amps, he never stopped playing, writing and teaching himself. Schuldiner was known to spend the weekend in the garage or his room playing his guitar, but was limited to three hours on weekdays when school was in session. Schuldiner first played in public in his early teens.

chuck02Schuldiner was originally inspired by Iron Maiden, Kiss, and Billy Idol, among others. He was particularly interested in the metal movement known as NWOBHM - New Wave of British Heavy Metal - and cited bands of that genre among his favorites. He frequently cited French band Sortilège as his personal favorite metal group. Slayer, Possessed, Mercyful Fate/King Diamond and Metallica were later influences he would apply more to his own band and music. Later in his career, Schuldiner frequently cited more progressive metal bands such as Watchtower, Psychotic Waltz and Queensrÿche as influences. The official archival DEATH website Empty Words quotes Schuldiner's mother making the claim that he enjoyed all forms of music except country and rap. He also enjoyed contemporary jazz (also known as 'cool jazz' or, later, 'smooth jazz') and classical music, in addition to metal, and British alternative acts such as Lush, My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins.

Schuldiner performed well in school before becoming bored with education, and eventually dropped out. He later regretted this decision. He has stated that if he had not become a musician, he would have liked to have become a veterinarian or a cook.

Mantas_2Musical career

Schuldiner formed Death as Mantas in 1983 when he was 16 years old. Original members were Schuldiner (guitar), Rick 'Rozz' DeLillo (guitar) and Kam Lee (drums and vocals). He changed the name of the band to Death in 1984, continuing to work on demos and sharpen his skills as a metal vocalist, guitarist and songwriter. In January 1986, Schuldiner moved to Toronto and temporarily joined the Canadian band Slaughter. However, he quickly returned to continue the evolution of Death as he strived for a record deal.

Death 1987Death underwent many lineup changes, as Chuck relocated to California temporarily. With Chris Reifert, Schuldiner eventually released the first Death album, titled Scream Bloody Gore, in 1987, on the Combat label (later Relativity, which was absorbed into Sony). After returning to Florida, he obtained full time management with Eric Greif and soldiered ahead with 1988's Leprosy featuring the line-up of former Mantas guitarist Rick 'Rozz' DeLillo and rhythm section Terry Butler on bass and Bill Andrews on drums, and 1990's Spiritual Healing, where guitarist James Murphy had replaced Rozz in 1989.

After Spiritual Healing, and a couple of short legal battles with his manager and former band members respectively, Schuldiner stopped working with full-time band members, preferring to jam with hired studio and live venue musicians. This earned Schuldiner something of a 'perfectionist' reputation in the metal community. Schuldiner settled with his manager Eric Greif and they formed a business partnership, just in time for him to pursue his next, monumental release.

death-human-lineuoDeath's breakthrough album Human found the Death sound evolving to a more technical and progressive style, in which Schuldiner displayed his guitar skills more than ever. He continued in this style (and with the burgeoning success of the band) with 1993's Individual Thought Patterns, 1995's Symbolic (on the Roadrunner label), and finally The Sound of Perseverance (on Nuclear Blast) in 1998. Throughout his career, Schuldiner was not afraid to take on controversial lyrical subjects, seemingly supporting an anti-hard drug stance on "Living Monstrosity" and writing about abortion in "Altering the Future".

He put Death on hold after this to continue the more melodic band Control Denied, which he had been putting together prior to the release of The Sound of Perseverance, and released The Fragile Art of Existence (also on Nuclear Blast) in 1999. Control Denied also had other players from the latest Death album, with the exception of bassist Steve Di Giorgio (who had played on two previous Death albums) re-joining the fold, but featured a melodic metal vocalist named Tim Aymar. Schuldiner also played guitar in the "supergroup" Voodoocult on the album Jesus Killing Machine in 1994 and played a guest solo on Naphobia's 1995 release Of Hell on the track "As Ancients Evolve", as a favor to the band's bassist at the time (who was a friend of Schuldiner). Schuldiner was also asked to be one of the many guest vocalists on Dave Grohl's 2001 Probot project. Eventually Grohl, Napalm Death, Ozzy Osbourne, and Anthrax all exerted efforts to raise funds for Schuldiner's medical bills as it was revealed that Schuldiner was being devastated, both physicially and economically, by an aggressive brain cancer. 

Schuldiner never hesitated speaking his mind about his musical likes and dislikes. In 1998, while touring the world for The Sound of Perseverance album, Schuldiner admitted his disdain for the emerging fusion genre of 'nu metal'. In describing his own music, he referred to it as "...metal - melodic. No hip hop, jumping up and down, baggy trouser crap."


Vocal and Guitar styles

In the early days of Death, Schuldiner used what has become known as 'death growls' when performing vocals. As his career progressed, his vocals went up in pitch until, by final Death album The Sound of Perseverance, he employed high pitched screeching more similar to conventional metal screaming techniques. His overall vocal style is an influence on many death metal bands who cite Schuldiner regularly.

Although Schuldiner was not proficient in music theory, his good ear allowed him to figure out what became comfortable for him musically, forging his own distinct soloing capabilities. He utilized melodic minor and harmonic minor scales with the occasioal chromatic tones thrown in.  Schuldiner's signature was alternate picked runs with what has been characterized by guitarists as Schuldiner's own 'odd phrasing'.  

Battle with cancer

In May 1999, Schuldiner experienced pain in his upper neck, which he initially thought was a pinched nerve. He consulted with a chiropractor followed by a massage therapist/acupuncturist who recommended an MRI Exam. Upon having an MRI, it was discovered that the pinched nerve was being caused by a tumor. On his 32nd birthday, May 13, 1999, Schuldiner was diagnosed with a high-grade pontine glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer that invades the brainstem, and immediately underwent radiation therapy.

In October 1999, Schuldiner’s family announced that the tumor had necrotized and that he was on the way to recovery. In January 2000, Schuldiner underwent surgery to remove what remained of his tumor. The operation was a success. However, the Schuldiner family was struggling financially because of the medical costs and the fact that Schuldiner, as a working musician, lacked medical insurance. The total costs of one operation alone came to $70,000, a price the Schuldiner family could not afford. Many fundraisers, auctions, and benefit concerts took place to help cover the costs. The money began to trickle in as the metal community, in total shock, realized that Schuldiner's life was in danger. The metal community and the Schuldiner family showed deep concern because of the very real fact that Schuldiner could have lost his life due to a lack of funds.

controldeniedSchuldiner continued to work on his music during this period, including with Control Denied. About two years after his original diagnosis, in May 2001, the cancer again became evident and Schuldiner fell very ill again. He was originally denied surgery (which he needed immediately) due to lack of funds. A press release called for support from everyone, including fellow artists. Jane Schuldiner urged all who read the statements about Schuldiner and his illness to go out and get insurance, stating her frustration in the American healthcare system. Schuldiner had taken out medical insurance after his first surgery, but the insurer had refused to pay because the tumor existed before he had gotten the insurance. Many artists, including Kid Rock, Korn and Red Hot Chili Peppers, got together during the Summer of 2001 to auction off personal items with the funds assisting Schuldiner's medical expenses, an effort covered by MTV. Matt Heafy, vocalist and guitarist for Trivium has also stated that the band had played a benefit show for Schuldiner while he was in the hospital in their days as a local band. Schuldiner's sister Bethann has stated that the first person to turn over funds to the Schuldiners for medical expenses was Testament vocalist Chuck Billy. Schuldiner received a chemotherapy drug called vincristine (Oncovin) to help with his therapy. Like most drugs used in the treatment of cancer, the side effects were harsh and could be as devastating as the disease itself. In the case of vincristine, Schuldiner, his family and doctors agreed in using an experimental dose which had a horrific, negative impact on Schuldiner's health as opposed to being of benefit. In late October/early November, Schuldiner became ill with pneumonia as he was in a very weakened state.

Schuldiner was returned home and died the same day, on December 13, 2001, at approximately 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. He was cremated and MTV reported that recording artists, including Mike Patton, Glen Benton, King Diamond, Ville Valo, Trey Azagthoth and Max Cavalera, along with all of the former and active members of Death, attended his memorial service.


chuck-and-ericWith the assistance of Schuldiner's family, former manager Eric Greif, now a lawyer, handles his legacy as President of Perseverance Holdings Ltd. Jane and Bethann Schuldiner frequently interact with Schuldiner's fans and both have stated that they enjoy his music. Greif keeps track of his recordings and handles Schuldiner's intellectual property. Bethann Schuldiner has a son named Christopher Steele, who also plays guitar and has all of Schuldiner's guitars, and assists Greif as a partner in Perseverance Holdings Ltd. BC Rich released a statement in their 2008 catalog stating that Schuldiner's signature model Stealth was available for purchase, and that endorsement is overseen by Steele to this day.

Schuldiner had homes and two dogs in the area surrounding Orlando. Schuldiner built a studio inside the garage where many of his songs such as "Crystal Mountain" were inspired. Schuldiner's home office was also the site of The Metal Crusade newsletter and The Death Fan Club.

A legal battle began from the time of Schuldiner's death on the settlement of the rights to the partially completed second Control Denied album, When Man and Machine Collide. Demos of these unreleased Control Denied songs, as well as early Death demos and live Death recordings from 1990, were released in the Zero Tolerance two-part compilation bootlegs by the Dutch Hammerheart Holdings company, and the Schuldiners and Greif asserted rights on behalf of Schuldiner's Estate. The matter was settled in November 2009, anticipating that the project could be finished and released at a later date.

In December 2009, Greif signed a long-term deal for Perseverance Holdings Ltd. with Relapse Records for the reissue of the majority of Schuldiner's catalog, and a very successful partnership began, opening the flloodgates for renewed interest in Schuldiner's legacy and the longevity of the Death brand. 

Tribute concerts have been coordinated or funded by his mother, family and various Death tribute groups internationally. CKY front man, Deron Miller, who considers Schuldiner an idol of his, got the idea, while working on various projects with former Death guitarist (and pituitary tumor survivor) James Murphy, to do a tribute album. Murphy announced he would release a Chuck Schuldiner tribute album to commemorate his lasting mark on the metal community and Schuldiner's family publicly offered support for Murphy's effort, though it has never materialized. Schuldiner's sister Bethann confirmed via her YouTube channel that Death: Live in Japan, a behind the scenes Death video, as well as a potential boxset containing all of Schuldiner's works, including some exclusive copies of handwritten notes by Schuldiner, were in the works via Relapse Records. Greif held a charity Chuck Schuldiner Birthday Bash in Calgary, Alberta, May 13, 2011 featuring speeches by Greif and former Death guitarist Paul Masvidal, as well as bands performing Schuldiner's music. Greif repeated this May 12, 2012, with special guest band Massacre, featuring former Death members Rick 'Rozz' DeLillo and Terry Butler, offering financial assistance to the California-based musicians' charity Sweet Relief, which Bethann Schuldiner had suggested to Greif as a fitting and appropriate organization to support. Greif also made sure that the Death reissues on Relapse Records have a notice urging fans to donate to that particular charity.

The live concert tribute tours Death To All, subsequently shortened to 'DTA', started in June 2012 and have, at various times, featured former Death musicians Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinert, Gene Hoglan, Shannon Hamm, Scott Clendenin, Bobby Koelble and Steve Di Giorgio.   Dedicated to spreading Schuldiner's legacy and the music of Death, the tours have been fabulously successful as a self-sustaining, flexible roadshow, bringing the live Death experience to a new generation far too young to have seen Schuldiner live.

Chuck Schuldiner continues to be an enduring influence on many metal musicians that consistently cite him, and he is an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide.