Welcome to the terror zone: Cold As Life lives on Jeff Gunnells was having a hard time remembering certain details for a story he was recalling. After trying to conjure up the exact location where the incident had occurred, he gave up and moved on to the next story.
“I don’t know. I can’t even tell you if that was the right address. A lot of the sh-t was a blur; I’m an old man right now,” he said with a chuckle.
At age 34, Gunnells is hardly old. A father of three, he has lived a lifetime through his work as founding member, lead guitarist and later vocalist of Detroit hardcore legends, Cold As Life, before they broke up in 2001. Currently, he’s involved with three music projects, H8, Inc., The Blood And The Beer and Ramallah, formed by Boston, Mass. based Blood For Blood vocalist and guitarist, “White Trash” Rob Lind.
He also runs his own record label, CTYC Productions, through which he released the band’s two full-length albums: 1997’s “Born To Land Hard” and “Declination Of Independence” in 2001; and earlier this year, the first demos, “Cold As Life: 1988-1993.”
It was those demos that featured the band’s charismatic, if troubled, front man, Rawn Beauty, who personified both the band and the scene at the time. And it was a song on the demo’s, “One Night,” that told the tale, the location of which escaped Gunnells but not the man behind it: Richard Worstein, who was to murder the vocalist in his sleep.
“We got our asses kicked by a whole bunch of motherf–rs over sh-t he started, and he left us there, stranded, and we ended pretty much carrying each other home,” Gunnells noted with bitterness.
The band that Worstein – who’s still on the run for the murder – almost destroyed started out as a project between two childhood friends, Gunnells and drummer Roy Bates. Their first project together was The Apathetic Degenerates. They later formed The Mattress Rats, which would eventually evolve into Cold As Life. It was also where Gunnells and Bates would meet Beauty.
“I met him in Roy Bates’s basement out in Canton,” Gunnells recalled. “Jimmy Doom’s (Almighty Lumberjacks of Death) little brother was looking to get into a band, so Robbie Doom came out to try out for bass and he brought Ron Beauty, because Ron Beauty wanted to sing in a band.
“Robbie Doom didn’t dig it; it was too fast, too hardcore for him. He was more into the traditional 4/4 sh-t, but Ron really liked it, so Ron stuck around and Robbie Doom didn’t.”
In the first 10 years of the band, which began in 1988, Cold As Life could only play once or twice a year. According to Gunnells, the reason had to do with the band members’ legal troubles and the overall violence that plagued the scene back then, which seem to be especially heightened whenever Cold As Life played. Gunnells described those shows simply as a “bloodbath.”
“It’s just we were so dysfunctional; it was surviving more than it was anything,” he said.
According to the band’s manager, Dougie Toms, aka “Sir Douglas,” it was personal issues that kept the band from gigging. Toms, who lived with Beauty and was a particularly close friend, remembers it beginning with him moving out, leading Beauty to move in with Worstein.
“So right around that time, the band didn’t practice as much as they should have,” he said, adding, “That’s why there was only a couple of shows a year, because there really wasn’t nothing going on at that time.”
But no serious discussion of the band is complete without talking about Rawn Beauty, and specifically, his murder at the hands of one-time friend, Richard Worstein.
Understandably, emotions surrounding his murder by Worstein – he pumped Beauty three times in the head while asleep – run high, especially given his character and the fact that he jumped bail after his arrest.
In the middle of relating a specific incident involving Beauty and Worstein, Thomas Joseph, the lead singer of H8, Inc. – and known to many as “Beast” – leaned forward into the tape recorder and left a crystal-clear message: “YOU’RE A DEAD MOTHERF–R WHEREVER YOU ARE.”
“He’d be the type of dude that would pistol whip an old man,” Gunnells recalled about Worstein. He added, “His grandparents mortgaged the house to give him bail, 50 grand; and then he skipped bail on his grandparents, so he’s still out there somewhere.”
The reasons for the murder remain unclear to this day. Possible reasons include Worstein’s drug deals and gang affiliations, for which he was all too willing to have his friend pay the price. Speculations abound, but a clear answer has yet to emerge.
What is clear is what happened in the immediate aftermath of his murder, and how his friends continue to cope with the tragedy. They prefer to remember how he lived.
“Rawn was my brother and he was a great friend, man,” said Joseph. “If you got to know him, and you ended up friends with the dude, he would have your back like you wouldn’t believe and always be there for you, man; he was a good friend.”
After a pause, he also had this to say: “But he had a short temper. He was full of piss and vinegar, man.”
“He was so angry, dude; just burning inside, just so full of hate,” Gunnells said. “There were many, many people on the receiving end from his dysfunctional upbringing.”
Dougie Toms had this to add: “There was this one time Mucky Pup was playing. There was this big guy in the pit smashing f–ers at Blondie’s,” he said. “So he walked outside, took the bass player’s bass from Mucky Pup, stood behind the van, and when the big dude came outside ranting and raving, he smacked him right upside his face with the dude’s bass.”
Few disagree that what made as big of an impact on the Detroit scene as Mucky Pup’s bass, was the band and its music.
“Cold As Life made an incredible impact, just as the rest of the bands did,” said Joseph. “I mean it was the unity, there was a scene, there were a couple hundred kids that all knew each other that were tight; everybody was friends.”
“When Cold As Life played, it wasn’t just like a hardcore scene back then. You had the hardcore kids, the punk rockers, the skinheads; even the straight-edge kids came out a lot back then,” he said.
“Ron had politicked it that way, where anyone could come to a Cold As Life show and there wouldn’t be no fights. That was really cool, because no one wanted to f-k with Ron, so it was like Ron’s band, Ron’s show; it was like Ron’s night to shine, basically,” Toms added.
In the end, the band eventually reformed and released two albums. They also toured the United States and Europe extensively, all the while turning down offers from record labels. The reason, according to Jeff Gunnells, was a matter of self-respect.
“I ain’t about to just give somebody my life. The things that we wrote about on those records were our life and our experiences. There was just no way we were going to be industry whores, you know? So we just decided to release our own records, and we stuck by that for a lot of years,” he said.
After the band broke up in 2001, Gunnells has been pursuing other projects, but hopes – as does other original member Roy Bates – for an eventual reunion sometime over the horizon.
“Me and Roy [the original drummer] are on speaking terms again,” he said. “Hopefully, maybe one day he and I can get Jay Wade [another original member] and maybe possibly do something. I don’t want to just throw in anybody and call it ‘Cold As Life.'”