In this edition of HEAVY ROOTS, we profile a band that once seemed finished but continues spreading its roots to this day. Branching off with countless solo records and side projects, the legacy and genius of Alice In Chains continues to spring evergreen.
From humble beginnings clad in spandex during the mid-eighties, Layne Staley fronted a glam rock band that went by the aptly named Sleze.
Sleze even featured in eighties film Father Rock, with the band’s acting career being somewhat short-lived.
Eventually, Sleze became Alice ‘N Chains and featured Nick Pollock, Johnny Bacolas and James Bergstrom alongside Staley. Soon, Staley met fellow guitarist Jerry Cantrell at Music Bank Studios and they soon became roommates.
After Alice N’ Chains broke up Staley joined a funk band that needed a guitarist, so he asked Cantrell. The humble man agreed on the terms that Staley would join his band Diamond Lie, with drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr. The funk band Staley was in soon broke up and he became a full-time member of Diamond Lie. That name would later change to Alice in Chains, the name Staley initially had his heart set on and the rest would become history.
In 1990, Alice In Chains put out a promotional EP titled We Die Young. Due to its success, the debut album Facelift followed which featured greats such as We Die Young, Sea of Sorrow, Man In the Box and my personal favourite, Bleed The Freak.
With videos that were played heavily on MTV, Man in The Box enjoyed a good share of air time. The video to this day is a memorable one that stands the test of time, with Staley‘s signature snarl influencing many bands to this day.
After touring the debut album, in 1992 the band recorded a 5 track EP titled Sap, inspired by a dream drummer Sean Kinney had. Guests on the EP include female vocalist Ann Wilson of Heart on the haunting track Brother, Am I Inside and hidden track Love Song.
Grunge greats Mark Arm of Mudhoney and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden also contributed on the song Right Turn. For their efforts, they were given the pseudonym Alice Mudgarden in the liner notes on the record.
The second full length was also released in 1992, that being the groundbreaking Dirt. This album featured an unlikely guest appearance in the form of Tom Araya of Slayer on Iron Gland. When it came to hits, this album had them all; from the very personal Rooster, based on Cantrell‘s father, to the moving Down in a Hole and the song Would? which was made famous thanks to the Singles soundtrack. AIC also featured in Cameron Crowe’s film as a bar band.
Mike Starr left after the infamous Rock in Rio Tour of ’93 and was replaced by Mike Ibanez of Ozzy Osbourne‘s band, who AIC supported for The No More Tears tour.
Two songs for The Last Action Hero soundtrack were also recorded with Ibanez in 1993, What the Hell Have I? and A Little Bitter.
1994 saw the release of the Jar of Flies EP which was remarkable for being written in a week. Three songs reached the mainstream charts, with No Excuses reaching number one and I Stay Away featuring a claymation video.
AIC enjoyed tours with big name bands such as Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica, Danzig and Fight, and replaced Candlebox for their Woodstock ’94 slot. However, Staley was put into rehab due to his heroin addiction, forcing the band into hiatus.
Staley went on to form supergroup Mad Season with the likes of Barrett Martin and Mark Lanegan from grunge legends the Screaming Trees, and Mike McCready, lead guitarist of Pearl Jam. Above was released in 1995 as well as a live album Live at the Moore. In 2012, the remaining members reunited and a box set was released on vinyl in 2013 with some new songs featuring Mark Lanegan on vocals.
Late 1995 saw the return of AIC with their self-titled album that has continued to influence many bands today. Take Godsmack for example, who took their name from the Dirt record. Grind was the first single off the album with lyrics that today still send chills.
In the darkest hole
You’d be well advised
Not to plan my funeral
Before the body dies
In 1996 Alice in Chains, performed their first live appearance in 2 years that being for MTV’s Unplugged. This sadly would be one of Staley‘s last live performances with the band. After a drug overdose, Staley was hospitalised and though he later recovered, the band went on to hiatus. Due to the success of the Independent film, Clerks by Kevin Smith, Got Me Wrong from their 1992 EP became a single
In 1998 guitarist Jerry Cantrell brought out his debut solo record, Boggy Depot, which featured fellow AIC members, Mike Ibanez and Sean Kinney, amongst the likes of Rex Brown of Pantera and Les Claypool of Primus.
In 1998, Staley reunited with Alice In Chains to record two songs, Get Born Again and the unreleased Died. Planned to be released for Cantrell’s follow up solo release, Degradation Trip, the songs were instead released on anthology Music Box in 1999.
In that same year, the supergroup Class of 99′ released a cover of the Pink Floyd classic Another Brick in The Wall, for the Robert Rodriquez film The Faculty. The supergroup included none other then Staley on vocals, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine on guitar, Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction on drums and bassist Martyn LeNoble of Porno for Pyros. This was the last song ever recorded by Staley.
In 2002 Cantrell released Degradation Trip, with most of the songs having been written in 1998. Both drummer Mike Bordin and bassist Robert Trujillo who played in Ozzy Osbourne‘s band at the time played on the record. Sadly, that same year Staley passed away due to his drug addiction getting the best of him. A number of reunions took place between 2005 and 2008, with AIC joined by musicians such as Damageplan frontman Pat Lachman, Maynard James Keenan of Tool, old friend Ann Wilson of Heart, Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses and even Phil Anselmo of Pantera, who himself once battled demons of his own with heroin.
In 2006 the band performed Rooster with vocalist William DuVall and Ann Wilson, with the former soon becoming frontman for AIC and keeping that role to this day.
The debut album with DuVall on vocals, Black Gives Way To Blue, was released in 2009 and the first single Check My Brain aired on the cult series Californication.
Sadly in 2011, another drug death hit the AIC family with a mix of methadone and prescription drugs taking the life of former bassist Mike Starr. 2014 saw the release of DuVall‘s second record with AIC, the impressive The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. The title track is notable for it’s surreal music video well worth checking out.
DuVall is currently front-man for another supergroup going by the name of Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, who will be releasing their debut, Broken Lines later this month. Other members include former Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen, Brent Hinds of Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan guitarist Ben Weinman and former Jane’s Addiction bassist Eric Avery.
May the legacy of both Layne Staley and Mike Starr live on and the music of Alice In Chains stay with us forever. Raise a glass to these legends!!!
RIP Layne Thomas Staley and Michael Christopher Starr