Mike Scaccia of Rigor Mortis Died With His Boots On: Echoes and Reverberations
Safe to say that I was doing bong hits on the couch one afternoon back in 1987 when Michael Alago, the A&R rep from Elektra Records who discovered and signed Metallica, called me up out of the blue and asked what was happening with the music scene here in Dallas. Alago was based in New York City, and he had heard a lil' something through the grapevine about the tiny yet potent music community that was emerging in Deep Ellum.
Heavy metal was obviously Alago's area of expertise, so I suggested that he should come down here and check out Rigor Mortis - the one speed metal band in town that had managed to find a sympathetic audience in a neighborhood that was - at the time, anyway- being driven predominately by independent alternative rock music.
By Jeff Liles
I had first met the guys in Rigor Mortis the year before, when I was also booking shows at the old Longhorn Ballroom. Lead vocalist Bruce Corbitt and guitarist Mike Scaccia walked into my office one afternoon, saw right away that I was also a kid who was pretty much their age. And they knew that they didn't have to pull any punches with me.
"Dude, why the fuck are you putting Scratch Acid on with Megadeth?"
I didn't really have a good answer for that, other than I've always really liked to pair acts together that might create the sort of odd aesthetic juxtaposition that really forces people to experience and confront something they wouldn't otherwise ever be exposed to. Bruce and Mike immediately helped me understand that kind of thing doesn't really work in the metal community.
"Will you at least listen to our tape?" asked Bruce. The cassette cover featured artwork that had been sketched or drawn by hand, possibly by a child. I half-promised to give it a listen sometime during the week.
Scaccia: "No, man. Like right now. We came all the way down here."
For a second or so there, I was so sort taken aback by this abrupt and unsolicited effort. Then thought, "fuck it" and put the tape in the jam box. Twenty seconds into "Reanimator", my eyeballs nearly exploded.
"HOLY SHIT! Is that really you?"
I had never heard anyone play an electric guitar that fast; and that was just the intro and rhythm guitar part. When the arrangement arrived at the solo, the notes became an even more furious flurry of seemingly impossible harmonics; static sheets of glistening distortion, not unlike the sound of broken glass spinning wildly in the disposal of a kitchen sink.
It was fucking perfect and beautiful.
That afternoon, I shifted Scratch Acid to a different show (an opening slot for Motorhead), and promptly added Rigor Mortis on as the opener for Megadeth.
I freaked-out the first time I watched Mike Scaccia play a guitar. I thought, "Damn he's as good if not better than all of my guitar heroes." He was only 15 years old at the time. Even that young, Mike was so humble about his ability; because at that time he was obviously way ahead of the other musicians around him, as far as his skill level. But he never acted like he was better or above anyone else. For his entire life, he just simply let his music and his guitar do the talking for him.--Bruce Corbitt (Lead vocalist of Rigor Mortis)
Rigor Mortis had four members at the time; along with Scaccia and Corbitt, there was bassist/backing vocalist Casey Orr and drummer Harden Harrison. The band had initially emerged from the highly territorial mid-cities metal scene, where they had stiff competition from dozens of other young thrash garage bands who were all scratching and clawing for the few gigs that were available. When the handmade cassette copies of the first RM demo tape began floating around East Dallas, the group found an unlikely audience -- oddly enough -- with the kids (bands like the Buck Pets and New Bohemians) who often played at Theatre Gallery and The Twilight Room downtown.
A couple of weeks after his initial unsolicited phone call, Mike Alago booked a flight to Dallas. On the way back from my picking him up at the airport (in a borrowed car -- I had no driver's license at the time), we were listening to the first Rigor Mortis demo dangerously loud when I rear-ended another car idling at a stoplight. Mike could tell right away that I wasn't your typical (meaning experienced) band manager.
Over the three next three days, Michael Alago gave all of us a crash course in Music Business 101. He loved the band, but his hands were already full with Metallica and there simply wasn't a spot for them on Elektra's roster. We didn't come away feeling at all rejected or disappointed. None of us were really sure how this business really worked up until that point. Meeting him was kind of like someone turning on a light switch in a dark room.
Less than six months after that, Los Angeles-based A&R exec Rachel Matthews made a similar pilgrimage to Dallas, and after having had a similar mind-blowing experience upon hearing the Rigor Mortis demo tape for the first time, formally offered the band a contract with Capitol Records.
Things were suddenly moving very fast, and we were all still flying by the seat of our pants. The New Bohemians (who had just signed with Geffen Records) and Rigor Mortis shared the same entertainment lawyer, Los Angeles-based Ken Kraus. It wasn't unusual to see the members of both bands attending each other's gigs. For a relatively unknown speed metal band from little Red Oak, Texas to sign an agreement with the same record label that had once included The Beatles on its roster - and especially when so many other Dallas musicians over the years had tried and failed up until that point - well, this was all a very big deal at the time.