Everlast: Took a licking, kept on ticking
August 3, 1999
By Donna Freydkin
(CNN) -- Former hip-hopper Everlast is a burly, tattooed, outspoken hulk of a man with a piercing stare and a goatee. To look at him, you'd never guess that about a year ago he was at death's door.
On the day he finished recording his critically acclaimed 1998 album, "Whitey Ford Sings the Blues," Everlast -- real name Erik Schrody -- suffered a massive heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. Born with a heart defect that wasn't supposed to affect his life until middle age, Schrody needed a heart-valve replacement at 29.
After surgery, his future was uncertain, his life in disarray and his just-finished album in limbo.
"The first day I came out of surgery," Schrody says, "I told my producer to mix the record in New York without me. I didn't want anything to lay around because I wasn't sure if I was going to be alive. I remember honestly thinking, 'Make sure you mix the record because if I die, it's gonna be huge.' I know that, because that's the way it works."
If that attitude seems a little grim and calculated, just think about Brad Nowell of California ska band Sublime. He died in May 1996 of a drug overdose, two months before the band's third album, "Sublime," was released. It ended up going platinum.
Schrody knew what his own precarious health could mean to his future. "Just think how well the single ('What It's Like') did," he says. "Imagine if the guy who wrote it died before it was done. Plus I wanted my family taken care of. At that time, I didn't have that much in the bank."
Today, the heart attack seems like something of a bad dream, although the valve remains in Schrody's chest. He played a triumphant set at Woodstock '99. His album, "Whitey Ford Sings the Blues," is perched at No. 64 on the Billboard album charts and has been certified platinum. The single "What It's Like" is all over modern-rock radio.
"I love his new album. I love it," says rapper Ice T of Schrody, who got his start as a member of Ice T's Rhyme Syndicate Cartel. "And the kid's talented. He's an interesting guy -- he has a lot of dimensions."
Schrody hit the big time as part of the hard-core hip-hop trio House of Pain. He formed the band in 1990 in Los Angeles with Daniel "Danny Boy" O'Connor and Latvian émigré Leor "DJ Lethal" DiMant.
Not only was House of Pain a white rap party band in a black world, but the trio was also Irish-American, with shamrocks all over the place. It's best known for the 1992 hit "Jump Around" from its self-titled debut album, which went platinum. But two tepid follow-up albums later, Schrody left the group in 1996.
"I just quit after a show," he says. "Right before we did 'Jump Around,' I said, 'Enjoy it. It's the last time we're doing it.' And I left and quit. I was on stage and I hated it. I just couldn't do it. It was like everything you used to love suddenly being the worst feeling in the world. And I never thought I would do it again."
Former bandmate Lethal went on to join Limp Bizkit, currently on the album charts with "Significant Other." The two are still close, says Schrody. And in retrospect, he says he never felt like the odd man out in the largely black world of hip-hop. He never got the boot. He just got bored.
"What made me love hip-hop was Run-D.M.C.," he says. "They had a song called 'Rock Box' (from 1984) that was all heavy-metal guitars and a beat and it was amazing. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever heard. Now, it's its own industry. I just never chose to go that route.
"People expected me to go that direction when they heard I was playing live music. I could rap better than most of those kids in the heavy-metal bands, but it's been done so many times."
And on his fourth album -- his second as a solo artist -- Schrody eschews the party tunes of his past for thoughtful guitar-driven chronicles of blue-collar America. It's a reflection of his own maturity. After brushes with the law, including a 1993 arrest at New York's Kennedy International Airport on charges of possessing an unregistered weapon, Schrody converted to Islam two years ago and quit the carousing.
Initially, he says, he went to work on a hip-hop album. But midway through recording, he lost interest. For the former rapper, it was nothing more than a House of Pain redux, something he thought he'd left behind. So he left the studio, wrote more songs and finished what became "Whitey Ford" in about four months.
"We took some time off to make sure we weren't crazy," he says. "It was an accident, almost, but one of them good ones. Like when you add too much salt to something, expecting it to taste bad, and suddenly it's really good."
In 18 blues-driven tunes, Schrody spins stark tales of homeless men and unwanted pregnancies ("What It's Like"), faith ("Praise the Lord"), busted relationships ("The Letter") and greed ("Ends"). He played all the guitars on the album, wrote most of the songs and experimented freely.
"I thought people would like it," he says. "I thought I'd be lucky to get a gold record out of it, after everything that I went through.
"Everybody I ever played the album to liked it. The most common response I ever got before the album came out was, 'Oh, you're about to be a millionaire.' And I laughed. That's not why I wrote it. But I guess that's a compliment. It hasn't happened yet, but hopefully soon."
The hit "What It's Like" was one of the first songs written for the album and was inspired by a confrontation between Schrody and a man begging for money in front of a liquor store. "I saw a bum one day and he was real overzealous, obnoxious, in my face," Schrody says. "And I let him have it, just went off.
"So I went home, was eating and watching a big-ass TV and it hit me in the head, like a brick. That was f----d up. That feeling just stuck with me for a long time, so it came out in the song. I might owe the guy some money now."
An avid baseball card collector, Schrody came up with the album's title after perusing his stash. The name of the 1950s and '60s New York Yankees pitcher struck him, he says, because of its backwoods ring.
"In rap," he says, "all these cats were coming up with Italian Mafioso names, all these aliases of Italian mobsters. And it struck me as funny, because if you watch mob movies, they don't hold a very high opinion of black people. And I thought if I was gonna do it, I'd be real. And the name that popped into my head was Whitey Ford."
And when it's time to crank out the next album, Erik "Everlast" Schrody says it's all about creativity, no holds barred.
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