How Seattle’s Sound, Became World Renowned,
Pt. 2 – Alice in Chains.
As an Australian, I had a late introduction to Alice in Chains in concert, but after discovering Soundgarden and Nirvana I was hunting at local record importers and magazines for all the information about Seattle I could find. I was instantly in love with Alice in Chains the moment I heard Love Hate Love.
Mz. Manners has seen Alice in Chains several times over the past 35 years. As an avid collector of all things Alice, she has become quite knowledgable on the band.
Aussie missed his first trip to Australia in Jan of 1992 with Suicidal Tendencies but was well and truly lined up early for their Oct. 31 1993 show at the Thebarton Theatre in his home city, Adelaide, South Australia.
He was fortunate to have last seen them at Pain in the Grass in 2018. To date, AiC have sold more than 30 million records worldwide,including more than 19 million records and landed 18 top 10 single in the US alone.
Dirt ranks as the bands top selling album and their international breakthrough. Released on Sept. 29th, 1992, and jumped to #6 on the Billboard and reaching quadruple platinum, let us go back to 1984 and see how Alice in Chains got from Sleze to Dirt.
In October of 1985, Layne and bandmate Johnny Bacolas appeared on Seattle station KOMO TV-4’s afternoon show “Town Meeting”. Layne and Johnny attended to speak out against the show’s guest, Tipper Gore (former president Al Gore’s wife). Gore, along with several parents who started the PMRC. Parents Music Resource Center, which was to censor lyrics and album covers. Layne was adamantely against this. He felt he was the only one who had the right to censor his music.
In 1987, 16 year-old Layne Staley started his first band, Sleze. Scoring a cameo on public access TV movie, Father Rock (the guys were 20). Dressed in drag and covering metal tracks from the likes of Armored Saints. Sleze became Alice N’ Chains and performed around the Seattle Music Scene. .
Jerry Cantrell saw Alice N Chains perform at the Tacoma Little Theatre in early 87. He knew he wanted to play in a band with him. It was Nick Pollock (N’ Chains bandmate) who introduced Jerry to Layne at a party. Jerry found himself homeless after his mom Gloria, had passed away. Layne, who worked (& lived) at Music Bank, invited Jerry a place to live.
It was during this time that saw both Layne’s band “Alice N’ Chains” and Jerry’s band “Diamond Lie” dissolve, it did not take long for the friends to start jamming together and writing songs. This led to auditions that saw the introduction of drummer, Sean Kinney and bassist, Mike Starr brought into the fold, agreeing on the name, Alice in Chains.
Not long after gigging around Seattle with Mother Love Bone, AiC got the attention of Soundgarden who passed on their demo tape, The Treehouse Tapes, to music managers Kelly Curtis and Susan Silver.
In turn, this demo was handed on to Nick Terzo, A&R Rep, who signed Alice in Chains to Columbia. They recorded another demo that remained untitled until a bootleg surfaced titled Sweet Alice.
Although widely associated with grunge music, the band’s sound incorporates heavy metal elements, much more so than other local contemporaries, and in July 1990 they turned out their first official release, We Die Young with the single of the same name gaining heavy rotation on local heavy metal radio. This pushed Columbia to hurry out an album, and in August of 1990 we saw Facelift. Although not an instant hit, MTV’s rotation of Man in a Box help drive sales towards 400,000 copies in just 6 weeks, against the 40,000 copies in the previous 6 months, reaching gold status a year later while the band toured with Van Halen.
While filming cameos for Cameron Crowes film Singles, the band were working in the background on what would become SAP, possible the first fully acoustic release by a rock band. Delayed several times, the Single movie and soundtrack was released in the middle of 1992 and right into the international explosion of ‘Grunge”, exposing all things Seattle to the world. The track Would? Featured on both the Singles soundtrack and their new LP, Dirt.
Peaking at #6 on the Billboard, producing five singles, including Would?, Them Bones, Angry Chair, Down in a Hole and the acclaimed Rooster, garnishing quadruple platinum status making Dirt the most acclaimed album in Alice in Chains discography.
Layne Staley (Layne Rutherford Staley; August 22, 1967 – April 5, 2002)
I mentioned earlier, Layne was a member of the glam metal bands Sleze and Alice N’ Chains, but he was also a founding member of the supergroups Mad Season and Class of ’99.
Mad Season – Initially formed as a side project and included Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees) and John Baker Saunders (Chicago based blues musician). Although having no set list and no band name Mike scheduled three shows at the Crocodile Café. Following the success of the first show (Oct. 1994) they returned a month later (Nov 1994) now named The Gacy Bunch, named after the Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Releasing just the one album, Above, with the lead single, River of Deceit, receiving international radio play reaching certified gold status. Class of ’99 – This was not really a band, contrary to stories, the 5 members merely assembled to cover Pink Floyds, Another Brick in the Wall (pt. 1 & 2) and did not release or create and new music.
The band consisted of Layne Staley (AiC), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Martyn LeNoble (Porno for Pyros) and Matt Serletic (Matchbox 20). The soundtrack for Robert Rodriguez’s 1998 film, The Faculty is the only place to find official music from (the) Class of ’99.
Jerry Cantrell Born in Tacoma, WA, in 1966 where he lived before Jerry and his mother moved to Spanaway where he attended junior high where he became the choir president, often recalling some of the darker Gregorian chants as inspiration for his passion for dark rock. Whilst in the 6th grade, his Mother started dating a guitar player who taught Jerry a few chords, after showing a passion and natural talent his Mother bought him and acoustic guitar.
After moving to Dallas, in 1984, and playing in bands, Sinister and Raze. It was during this time that Jerry formed a long friendship with brothers, Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul of Pantera.
In late 1985 Jerry moved back to Tacoma, leaving Raze behind and soon formed Diamond Lee. Along with singer Scott Damon, drummer Bobby Nesbitt with Matt Muasau on bass. Playing regular shows in Tacoma and Seattle, they scored a four-song demo at London Bridge Studio. Shortly after mother’s death on April 11, 1987, Jerry attended a show at the Tacoma Little Theatre featuring Alice N’ Chains.
And the rest as they say is history.
Jerry was also briefly in a band named Gypsy Rose with Mike Starr; however, this is the only information I can find about Gypsy Rose.
Michael Christopher Starr (April 4, 1966 – March 8, 2011)
Early 1983 saw the release of Leather Warrior, the first recording from Mikes band Sato, appearing on Northwest Metalfests compilation album.
After bouncing from band to band, project to project Mike was contacted by Jerry Cantrell who was starting a new band, currently nameless, along with Sean Kinney.
They were soon joined by Layne Staley as vocalist, bringing the name Alice in Chains with him. Mike left AiC just as they really gained momentum, 1993 citing the constant touring as the issue, although later he stated he was kicked out due to heavy drug use.
Sadly, Starr passed away from an accidental drug overdose March 8, 2011.
Born in Renton, WA, in 1966, Sean had an interest in music from an incredibly early age, getting his first drum kit at age 5 and drumming in his grandfather’s band, The Cross Cats, from age 9.
Like Cantrell, Sean also was a fan of Layne’s band Sleze and was more than happy to form Alice in Chains in 1987. Jerry mentioned they needed a bass player and Sean knowing that his girlfriend, Melinda Starr had a brother who was a bassist. Jerry had played with Mike in Gypsy Rose and was happy to welcome Mike Starr to AiC family.
During the writing of Alice in Chains debut album Sean broke his hand, this saw rehearsal taken by Mother Love Bones drummer, Greg Gilmore, seeing Sean almost miss playing on the recording. Explaining in the 2009 book Grunge is Dead, Sean said:
“I almost didn’t play on the record – they started rehearsing with the drummer from Mother Love Bone, Greg Gilmore. I was sitting there playing with one hand, guiding him through it. Dave Jerden came in and they started to try to do it. He was like, ‘Screw it – pull the plug. This is not going to be the same.’ Luckily, we took a tiny bit of time off. I had that cast on for a while, and was like, ‘I can’t miss this.’ I cut my cast off in the studio and kept a bucket of ice by the drum set. Kept my hand iced down and played with a broken hand. I tried not to do that again – your first big break, and you fuck it up.”
Before joining Alice in Chains as bassist in 1993 to present, Mike was best known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne, playing along side the legend from 1989 to 1993.
Mike’s side projects include:
Slash’s Snakepit – Whilst never touring with Slash, Mike did play on the It’s Five O’clock Somewhere album.
Black Label Society – Replacing Steve Gibb for a short period in 2001, Mike returned in 2003 spending much of 2003 & 2004 touring with the band.
Spys4Darwin – Formed in 2001 along with AiC band mate Sean Kinney, Queensryche’s Chris DeGarmo and Vinnie Dombroski from Sponge. This was a short-term project that saw the release of a solitary EP, microfish.
Heart – in 2002, after the passing of Layne Staley, Mike toured with Heart from 2002 through 2006.
During this time he played on the live recording, Alive in Seattle. Recorded at the Paramount in 2002.
Guest appearances – Mike has featured on Jerry Cantrell’s solo release, Boggy. Motorheads 2006 release, Kiss of Death. And Mark Morton’s 2016 album, Anaesthetic.
Alice in Chains – 2006 to present
Following the hiatus after the passing of Layne in 2002, the surviving members came together in 2005 to support and benefit the victims of the Southeast Asian tsunami in 2004.
This got the band talking, reminiscing, and searching for a lead singer.
Narrowly avoiding a possible reality TV embarrassment, they came across William DuVall, taking on co-vocal duties with Jerry Cantrell. Initially being the touring vocalist for the bands 2006 reunion tour, William remains as vocalist to this day.
I hope you made it through and maybe learned something or maybe I forgot something or got something wrong.
Either way, let me know in the comments.
This has been Aussie Wardy and as always,