Rigor Mortis

Welcome to Your Funeral: An Interview with Rigor Mortis Vocalist Bruce Corbitt

Music Interviews

The history of Rigor Mortis may have been left to the comments of fans and friends regarding the band’s achievements and the musical ability of guitarist Mike Scaccia, who passed away from a heart attack after he collapsed onstage while playing a concert for vocalist Bruce Corbitt’s 50th birthday. But, Corbitt had been keeping records of the band’s history with thoughts of writing a book, and the process actually led to the idea to make a film—so, a documentary was born. That documentary, Welcome to Your Funeral, originally shown at the Housecore Horror Film Festival and winner of Best Documentary in 2014, is now available to purchase on DVD. Former Rigor Mortis vocalist Bruce Corbitt directed the documentary, which pays tribute to the early days of Rigor Mortis. The humbly made, underground-style documentary is rich with facts and tells great stories from the perspective of friends and band members in the most sincerest way possible. In the documentary, Corbitt keeps the legend of Rigor Mortis alive, which didn’t die with Scaccia’s passing: Through interviews with Mike and the other band members, the moments now live on in film.

Rigor Mortis
Rigor Mortis vocalist Bruce Corbitt directed Welcome to Your FuneralPhoto: Omar Mena

SLUG: The process for this documentary must have been going on for a bit. What drove you to finally have it released?
Bruce Corbitt:
It’s something that I’ve been working on for several years. Going way back, the original idea was to do a documentary about the entire Dallas/Fort Worth birth of the underground thrash bands from the ’80s. I started realizing that every time I asked someone about Rigor Mortis, everybody had a lot more of a response than some of the other bands. Then when our guitarist Mike Scaccia passed away, I thought that to honor him, I should go ahead and do the full-blown Rigor Mortis documentary—our full story, instead of trying to include a story about so many other bands. Luckily, I had interviewed him the year before he passed away. Weent through his entire life history of his musical career. We started filming a lot of these interviews going way back as far as 2007-08. It was a long process in the making, with detours along the way. It started out to be a Rigor Mortis story. It’s very detailed. It got to be so long that I was like, “You know, we should do this in two parts, because you can release a full box.” If we ever wanted to show it at a film festival or in home theaters or anything, I knew I had to do it in two parts like I did.

SLUG: How did you come to direct it, will you be doing the other parts as well?
BC: We showed an edited part, about an hour-long version, in 2014, and it wasn’t even finished at the time. It still won the best new documentary, so I knew we had something. It was a work in progress at the time. The crowd loved it ,and everybody gave us good reviews, and we won the award. Our next deadline is trying to get Part Two finished by the next Housecore Horror Fest in 2016, which would be probably October or November. It’s not going to take us as long to do Part Two, because now we’re excited about the response. Plus, we got a chemistry working together—me and Michael Huebner—from 12 Pound Productions, the filmmaker and editor of the documentary. We obviously weren’t documentary filmmakers when we started—we learned and taught ourselves along the way. A lot of work, I can tell you that much.

SLUG: Did any of it seem hard to get through, especially with the stories of the early days, given the recent loss of Mike?
It makes me cry, you know, to see my friend, and I’m so grateful that we got that footage of him shortly a year before he passed away. It was hard for all of us to watch it, especially because that was Mike, our friend. You can see he’s quite a character and had a great sense of humor, and he’s a very special friend to all of us. He made us laugh. He made our lives so special and joyful, just being around him—and that’s not even talking about the phenomenal talent he had as a guitarist. We can’t ever get over and replace just hearing his laugh and seeing him talk. It was hard to get through. There were a lot of tears going on as we were editing.

SLUG: What are you up to now?
My other project is actually writing for our next full-length right now, so we’re taking a few months off on doing shows to concentrate on that. We’re getting pretty far along with the progress. Out of respect for Mike, we don’t call it Rigor Mortis. We just went to the name Wizards of Gore. We get out there and play some shows with  probably Mike’s Number One fan, a student that started playing guitar because of Mike. His name is Mike Taylor—he started playing guitar a little over 30 years ago. Because of Mike, he’s got that really unique speed-picking style that Mike Taylor started learning. He’s the only one that can come close to duplicating Mike’s type of Rigor Mortis playing.

I also have recently been helping the new Texas Musicians Museum that opened up in July here in Irving, Texas. It’s a museum where all the great musicians that came out of the State of Texas are honored. I contacted  them and wanted to make sure metal was well represented in the museum. We hit it off, and they made me a board member, and we have our own wall in the Museum that honors several legends, like Dimebag Darrell of Pantera, of  course. Our wall actually became one of the most popular … they always tell me when I go up there. Everybody is always talking and bragging about how cool the metal section is—it’s a very cool thing we got going. In a couple months, we plan on playing there as Wizards of Gore to honor Rigor Mortis and Mike. It’s a cool thing because we try to rotate out the displays every so often to where we can get around to honoring more musicians and bands over time, keeping it fresh.

SLUG: In the documentary especially, Rigor Mortis seemed to be in their own realm and at the center of the D/FW scene many times. What do you think of the music scene now compared to how it was then?
Well, I don’t think it will ever match—it’s so different now. I still think those early days, when the scene was being born, are going to be tough to ever beat. There was such a dead period there, from like the mid-‘90s [to] when metal started coming back in the mid-2000s. I’m proud of our metal scene again, because we do have a lot of great bands thriving around D/FW. Right now, there are so many clubs that are allowing metal bands to play. That’s the difference. Back then, when we were creating the scene, we only had a club or two we could play at, especially when we were playing original stuff. There weren’t a whole lot of bands and places you could play … Joe’s Garage is a legendary club around here for being one of the first to let these kind of bands come in and play original metal and extreme metal. Every weekend, it was packed. It didn’t matter who was playing; it was just always packed. That’s what I miss the most, is that built-in crowd, knowing you’re going to always see everybody. Now, unfortunately, like I mentioned, there are so many bands and so many other clubs that in one night, you’ve got five clubs you could be at to see some cool bands, and it spread us out a little too thin, I think.

There is good and bad about that. It’s great that there are so many people into it and so many great bands. It’s just not like it was. It’s like you’re competing with your own friends sometimes, and that sucks. With the online thing, it’s got its good and bad. It’s a good way to promote. It’s not like the good old days, where you made a flier and would go to shows and stand around and support other bands while you’re promoting your next show. The good thing about the Internet: If a tragedy happens in our metal family—someone has an illness or unfortunately passes away—it’s a quick way for us all to come together to support and get the word out real quickly. It wasn’t quite that way back in those days. I’ve learned that you have to adapt with the times. You can’t be an old dinosaur and be stubborn and refuse to change with the times. While I will always prefer the old days, I’m right up to date with the way you have to do it now.

Now available on DVD, Welcome to Your Funeral Part 1 won Best Documentary at the 2014 Housecore Film Festival.

SLUG: When you look back at the things you did when you were essentially kids, do you ever think, “That was pretty stupid,” or do you and the rest of Rigor Mortis feel that you’ve learned from all that?
All of the above. Sometimes, I just freak out that this is an actually true story that I was part of—that I was part of all this craziness that you saw in the documentary, and Part Two gets even wilder and crazier. We’ve all talked about what went wrong and the mistakes along the way. We had to learn a lot of things the hard way. Unfortunately, I sometimes feel like I’m lucky to still be alive, that we made it through those crazy times. Sometimes, I’m just wondering what my daughter is going to think about this shit. It’s pretty wild, the shit we went through back then. I always knew our story was good enough to be a book or a film, and I thought it should be told.

You see what I mean when it’s part of our history? Looking back, 25–30 years later, it’s hard to believe that we actually did all that stuff, and as you’re going to find out in Part Two, the madness continues. As soon as we got signed it just … I don’t want to spoil it for everyone, but it’s gong to be a bunch more crazy, rollercoaster ups and downs. We actually called it the “Rigor Mortis curse,” because as much success as we were having back then, we were always having crazy shit happen, and sometimes it set us back. We adapted that term. The Rigor Mortis curse continues to haunt us even to this day, you might say.

SLUG: I do have to ask: A record store here in Salt Lake City, called the Heavy Metal Shop, has a long-opened can of Rigor Mortis Chili. How was that idea born? I mean, Texas and chili go together, but whenever I go to the shop and I see the Rigor Mortis Chili, I get a bit of a chuckle.
A lot of that is because of we were so into the horror gore movies, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 1 and 2 were very big inspirations and were a couple of our favorite movies. We went and saw TCM 2 one of the first days I joined the band back in ’86. We just related to the humor and everything. Of course, you know there was …

SLUG: … the chili-cooking competition in the movie.
There you go. About the same time, we were writing some of these songs, and that’s when we got signed to Capitol. They started promoting us as the TCM massacre of metal with our lyrics and their sense of what we were all about. That was their idea for a promo. It was an item that Capitol Records released that was only available to some record stores and at our album-release show. They also put out things like Rigor Mortis toe tags and stuff like that. It was pretty cool.

SLUG: I wonder if there is an unopened can somewhere?
BC: There is, actually. I know some friends that still have theirs. Most of the ones that I got, I ended up having to open, because they were getting all corroded. I remember people telling me that theirs exploded. There are very few that I know that still have the chili in it. I had some friends back then who went back home after the show. They didn’t have enough money and were hungry, and they ate their little can of chili. And I’m like, “You idiots, you’re supposed to save that.” There are some cool promo items we had … For our party, they made Rigor Mortis napkins—that was a little unnecessary, especially when it was coming out of our budget. There are some good memories about that Chainsaw Chili. I found my two unopened cans just a couple months back. I think I might actually put one of them in the Texas Musicians Museum in May.

SLUG: Hopefully, when they put it in there, it doesn’t blow up. Make sure it’s chilly in there … you know, cold. When it gets hot, beans like to explode.

What did you do during the long period of inactivity when Rigor Mortis wasn’t a band? In the end, how good did it feel to get that last album with Mike playing on it out for everyone to hear?BC: I think that was what was hardest for me, was the period after Rigor Mortis had fired me and I didn’t really trust a lot of people at that time—especially because … I was the last one to join. In most cases, you’re not going have any leverage to keep your position, so I was always scared to go try and join another band or move out of state to join a band. Honestly, the ‘90s came in with the change of music, and thrash metal kind of started dying out.

SLUG: For the most part, anything good with thrash metal kind of died in the ‘90s.
BC: I don’t want to cut anybody else down about the change with the times, like people selling out or just adapting with the times. I was limited with what I could do. I also didn’t want to do any of that. I tried a few times to form bands but there was no one wanting to do it. I finally gave up after several years and thought that was just part of my past. In the late ‘90s, I was thinking I would write a book about this time in my life that was just going to be past history. … Luckily, around the mid 2000s, Rigor Mortis, out of nowhere, did a reunion. Since then, that’s lead to me doing Warbeast and having a second chance at doing this all over again, which added more chapters to my book. I kept delaying the book, of course, which is good. The good thing is, like I said, as we get older, our memories go. I was fortunate that I kept a journal.

Corbitt, pictured here with guitarist Scott Shelby, also sings for thrash metal band Warbeast.

It all came full circle four years ago. The original lineup got together in El Paso at Al Jourgensen‘s studio, 13th Planet, and recorded a new Rigor Mortis album after so many years. … What tops all that was we did get to make this album with Mike. We had big plans talking about the next album. After we finished recording this one, we wanted to tour. We were better friends than ever, and Mike was happier than he had ever been in his life. It was so fortunate that we got to make that album before we lost Mike. At the time when it was happening, I was thrilled, overjoyed, whatever—just being part of it. I always was such a big fan of Mike’s. Just to be one of the few people in the studio while he’s recording his guitar tracks, it never got old. He was a special talent. I was fortunate that I got to make the first Rigor Mortis album with him and also the last. Even before he passed away, I said that I think this is Mike’s greatest work of his entire career—his magnum opus, or whatever. I thought it was showing all sides of his talent and versatility as a guitarist. It’s got the speed and classic Rigor Mortis–style songs and solos. If you’ve heard the album, you know he takes it to a whole other universe with some beautiful melodic solos as well. That means a lot to me, that we did finish the Rigor Mortis story with a really good album.

SLUG: The documentary stresses how unique of a band Rigor Mortis was. What do you think makes the band so unique, especially musically?
We always come back to the guy we were just talking about, which is Mike Scaccia. For one, you know that picking style he came up [with] himself? The first time he picked up the guitar, for some freak reason, he was able to do that. I would say that’s the main key of what made us sound so different, was Mike’s unique style. The way he played got [him] the nickname of Hummingbird, Bumblebee, Chainsaw or whatever you want to call it. I’ve heard so many different definitions of his speed-picking style. I point out in the documentary that Casey Orr and Harden Harrison also had their own styles that weren’t like everyone else’s. So the three of them together must have been meant to be. When I came to see Mike, I was like, man, I’ve never heard anything like this, and I had heard all kinds of metal. The way they were speed metal [was] in their own little, different style—lots of fast, heavy bands out there, but Rigor Mortis just has its own sound. That’s the hardest thing to do: to not sound like anyone else. That’s one thing I’m really proud of is—we sound like Rigor Mortis, but you can’t say we sound like anyone else. That’s what makes us unique. I’m very proud of that.

Every band has a story, but not every band is Rigor Mortis. The trademark speed/thrash metal they made not only lives on forever through record and tape, but also in the memories of the people that made the band. Rigor Mortis and the Dallas/Fort Worth early metal scene were an integral part of Bruce Corbitt’s life, and it shows through in his thoughtful documentary. Welcome to Your Funeral is available to purchase on DVD, and the stories that it shares are worth the price of admission. It’s a glimpse into not only the history of Rigor Mortis, but also the history of days long passed in the early days of thrash metal.