Richard Christy of Charred Walls of the Damned

by Greg Prato

Although Richard Christy is best known as a writer for the Howard Stern Show, metalheads have been familiar with his metronomically spot-on drumming for decades - playing on recordings by Death, Iced Earth, and his own band, Charred Walls of the Damned, among others.

While Christy is the leader of CWOTD, the line-up that appears on their 2016 release, Creatures Watching Over the Dead, is full of members who have also left their marks on metal: singer Tim "Ripper" Owens (Judas Priest, Yngwie Malmsteen), guitarist Jason Suecof (best known as a producer for such acts as Trivium), and bassist Steve DiGiogrio (Death, Testament).

Richard agreed to a Q&A with Songfacts about a month before the September 2016 arrival of Creatures, and was up for discussing the Stern Show, working with the late Chuck Schuldiner, and his favorite drummers of all-time.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Is it difficult balancing your music career with your job on the Howard Stern Show?

Richard Christy: No, it's not very difficult because I've always had a day job during my music career. Even when I was touring with Death and Iced Earth I had a day job as an electrician and my boss would let me take time off of work to tour and record. I write music and practice drums at night and on weekends so it's not difficult at all to balance my job and my music career.

Songfacts: How does the songwriting work primarily in Charred Walls of the Damned?

Richard: I write all of the music and then play every instrument on our demos. Although drums are my main instrument, I can play guitar and bass and keyboards and I also sing on the demos as well - although I'm a horrible singer haha.

I'm just an average guitar player but I can play good enough to write music and get my ideas across. Once Jason Suecof, our guitar player, and I do pre-production, the songs change a little bit and usually become more compact and sometimes we'll change some of the riffs because Jason is a way better guitar player than I am, so I tell him to take my riffs and improve on them.

Same with Steve DiGiorgio, our bass player, and Tim "Ripper" Owens, our singer. I tell them to take my basic ideas and then make them their own by improving on them and putting their unique stamp on my ideas when we record the album. The songs are way better on the album than they are on the demos. If you heard me singing the vocal ideas on the demos you'd laugh cause I'm a really bad singer, haha!

Songfacts: Which instruments besides drums do you play and write songs on?

Richard: I play guitar, bass and keyboards, although I'm just average at all of them. I've definitely spent WAYYYY more time practicing drums. I've been playing guitar and keyboards for about 24 years now and I wanted to learn them so that I could write songs. Sometimes I'll write songs in a pretty unconventional way since I'm a drummer because if I come up with a cool drum beat I'll write a guitar riff that matches it.

Normally I'll write songs starting with the guitar but sometimes it's fun to write around the drums because I'll come up with something that I normally wouldn't come up with if I was writing music just on the guitar.

I'm also pretty lucky that I get to write keyboard music for an event in New York State called The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze, because I'm a huge horror fan and a fan of synth music like John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream. It's a walk-through event with 7,000 lit pumpkins and I write the music that plays while you walk through the event. It's a blast to write! You can buy the music on iTunes.

Songfacts: Have you written lyrics for CWOTD's songs? If so, please pick a few songs of the band and discuss the lyrical inspiration behind each.

Richard: Yes, I write all of the lyrics for CWOTD. I think my favorite lyrics for this new album is the song "My Eyes," which is about how I often dream of friends and family members who've passed away and it makes me so happy to dream about them. Even though they're gone I can still talk to them in my dreams. Sometimes the dreams are so vivid that it really does feel like I'm there with them, and when I wake up, I'm sad that the dream has ended.

The song "Lies" is about my love for metal and the fact that heavy metal kept me off of drugs, because I had friends back in Kansas who did acid and started listening to the Grateful Dead and abandoned heavy metal. I was scared to do drugs because I never wanted to stop listening to heavy metal!

Who are Richard's top-5 drummers of all-time?

5. Alex Marquez - "His work on Malevolent Creation's album Retribution is a HUGE influence on my drumming. His tom/kick drum combination fills are incredible and taught me how to do crazy fills between my hands and feet."

4. Pete Sandoval - "When I heard Morbid Angel's album Altars of Madness in the early '90s, I was totally floored. Practicing along to the first four Morbid Angel albums helped me to learn how to play blast beats, and Pete also was incredible on the first Terrorizer album!"

3. Gene Hoglan - "Gene's work on Death's album, Symbolic, especially the song 'Symbolic,' is totally mind-blowing. His double-ride fills on that song are just unreal. It took me a long time and tons of practice to learn how to play that song!"

2. Sean Reinert - "Sean's work with Death and Cynic is a massive influence on my drumming. In 1993, my band Public Assassin and Joey Jordison's band Modifidious got to open a show in Des Moines, Iowa for the Cannibal Corpse, Sinister, and Cynic tour. Joey and I stood behind Sean's drums which were set up sideways on the side of the stage and were just in awe of Sean's drumming. He's simply incredible."

1. Shannon Larkin and Mikkey Dee - "Sorry, I can't just choose one favorite! Shannon Larkin's work with Wrathchild America had such a massive influence on my drumming. The drum intro to 'Forever Alone' is one of the all-time coolest drum intros of all time! I'm so happy for Shannon that he has such a great gig these days playing with Godsmack.

Mikkey Dee's work with King Diamond is so incredible, especially the album Them. The drum intro to 'Welcome Home' is pretty much the most awesome drum intro EVER!"
Songfacts: Does playing drums on the final studio album by Death, The Sound of Perseverance, remain your top career highlight?

Richard: As a drummer, yes definitely. I've been a Death fan since the late '80s, and when the Human album came out it changed my life. I practiced to that album non-stop from the time it came out until I joined the band Death.

Sean Reinert is a HUGE influence on my drumming. Same with Gene Hoglan. I've been a fan of Gene's since he was in Dark Angel and the work he did on Individual Thought Patterns and Symbolic is legendary. To follow in Sean and Gene's footsteps is such an honor, and I wanted to make sure that I could play something on The Sound of Perseverance that would continue that tradition of great drumming.

I was practicing about 3-5 hours a day at the time and even longer on the weekends, so when I listen back to that album I can hear all of the practicing pay off. When people say that they love that album, it is such an honor because the whole band worked very hard to make that album perfect, and it was a dream come true to be able to join my favorite band in the world and to have played on their very last album. Chuck Schuldiner is a genius and I miss him every day.

Songfacts: Do you recall the inspiration behind some of the lyrics that Chuck penned on that album?

Richard: One of my biggest regrets is that when I listened to The Sound of Perseverance, I didn't ask Chuck what the lyrics meant for each song. I did get to ask Chuck about the lyrics for a lot of his past albums, but for The Sound of Perseverance, I think I remember him saying that "Scavenger of Human Sorrow" was about the talk shows like Jerry Springer where they take these sad and vulnerable people and put them on TV for everybody to see, although it's been many years so I'm not 100 percent positive that's what the song is about, but I do recall him saying it was inspired by the crazy TV talk shows of the time.

"Flesh and The Power It Holds" is pretty self-explanatory I think. It's about how something as simple as pleasures of the flesh can bring down very powerful people, and make smart people do crazy things.

Songfacts: How does playing with a variety of bands affect your drumming and songwriting?

Richard: I learned so much about songwriting from Chuck Schuldiner of Death and Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth. They're both amazing metal songwriters and getting to watch them create music was so incredible. I'm so lucky to have been able to witness them make music.

I had also never known much about writing demos and re-writing songs before I played in Death and Iced Earth, so now with Charred Walls I spend a lot of time on demos before we go into the studio to record our actual albums. Playing with Chuck and writing songs with him was so fun and it made me so much of a better drummer, because Chuck always gave me the freedom to write the craziest drum parts I wanted to write. He would just say stuff like "go crazy on that part"!

Also, playing with Iced Earth helped my timing as a drummer. We always played to a click track, so that helped me out a ton, and since Jon Schaffer is such a precise and amazing rhythm guitar player, playing with him helped my timing a lot and I learned how to play on top of, behind, or ahead of a click track.

Songfacts: What do Howard and other members of the Stern Show think of your music?

Richard: They're all very supportive of my music and they've said very nice things about my band and my drumming! Howard recently played the song "The Soulless" off of the new Charred Walls of the Damned album and he really liked it! I was so psyched!!!

Songfacts: Lastly, what was a bigger highlight for you - being interviewed for my book Survival of the Fittest: Heavy Metal in the 1990s, or for my other book Iron Maiden: '80 '81?

Richard: Both were amazing. Thank you for interviewing me Greg! If I had to choose one though it would be Survival of the Fittest, because that book brought back so many memories for me since my musical career began in the early '90s, plus I got to tell some pretty funny stories in that book!

If I remember right, I think I talked about how most of our live shows were sausage parties in the '90s haha. I loved being a part of the Iron Maiden book as well because I grew up on that band and they're a big influence on Charred Walls of the Damned. Clive Burr and Nicko McBrain are two of my all-time favorite drummers. Thank you so much for having me in your books Greg!

September 1, 2016.
For more Richard, visit twitter.com/cwotd, and for more Charred Walls of the Damned, visit facebook.com/charredwallsofthedamned.

More Song Writing

Comments: 2

  • Ken from PhiladelphiaLOL that you dared asked Richard to rank somethings and expected him to come up with a clear favorite. Everybody knows that EVERYTHING is his “fayyyy-vorite”
  • Hit Em With The Hein from GovernalevilleNever ever make the cardinal sin of asking Richard about anything "faaaaaavorite" of his. You will get stuck in a loop. Hew now!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Tony Joe White

Tony Joe WhiteSongwriter Interviews

The writer of "Rainy Night in Georgia" and "Polk Salad Annie" explains how he cooks up his Louisiana swamp rock.

Daryl Hall

Daryl HallSongwriter Interviews

Daryl Hall's TV show is a hit, and he's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - only one of these developments excites him.

Trucking Songs That Were #1 Hits

Trucking Songs That Were #1 HitsSong Writing

The stories behind the biggest hit songs about trucking.

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo Lyric

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo LyricMusic Quiz

In this quiz, spot the artist who put Romeo into a song lyric.

Joe Elliott of Def Leppard

Joe Elliott of Def LeppardSongwriter Interviews

The Def Leppard frontman talks about their "lamentable" hit he never thought of as a single, and why he's juiced by his Mott The Hoople cover band.

Gary Brooker of Procol Harum

Gary Brooker of Procol HarumSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer and pianist for Procol Harum, Gary talks about finding the musical ideas to match the words.