A couple years ago I received a call from Jerry Cantrell to see if I would be interested in playing rhythm guitar for the revamping Alice in Chains. I had become very good friends with all the guys in the band since they came to Hollywood in 1989 for their first gig in L.A. I knew first-hand of the utter heartbreak these men had gone through (and continue to feel) at the tragic loss of their singer and brother, Layne Staley. If I can do anything, I thought to myself, I can at least show my support for these guys who had become close friends not only to me but to my family. I jumped at the chance to play with them.
I don’t believe these guys ever thought of actually replacing Layne. How could they, really? Their thought process ran more to adding a member who could play second-guitar parts and/or sing some songs, either in tandem with Jerry or on his own. They found the guy in William Duvall. William struck me as a guy who was trying to be no one other than himself, and he oozed an air of “cool” that, frankly, one either has or doesn’t have. The band was in a stage of self-doubt regarding the perception that their longtime fans would have of them going forward after the passing of Layne. For me, the choice was clear: These guys had to move on and they had way too much to offer the rock-and-roll world. Yes, in this day and age of paint-by-numbers formula corporate rock…we fuckin’ NEED Alice in Chains!My opinion may not be a popular one, especially here in Seattle. There seems to be an attitude of “Who the hell do you guys think you are? You can’t go on without Layne!” While his death was heartbreakingly sad and needless, does this mean we all must shut the door on this band that changed the landscape of modern rock? Does this mean we all must suffer the elephant-sized monkey that rode Layne straight to his tragic end? Shit, did anybody think that Layne himself could very well have wanted his brothers to carry on? I for one believe that he in fact did. Alas, in the end, this is a can of worms that I should shut at this point because speculation on what he may or may not have wanted to happen after his death is pointless.
So now back to me playing guitar with these guys. I dove headfirst into a crash course of the whole AIC catalogue. My critical peek inside these songs, riff by riff, opened my eyes to what truly amazing song craftsmanship went into all of them. I began to feel truly honored to be included and connected in any way to this lush musical history. Playing the songs live with them are some of the most treasured moments that I have experienced as an artist, PERIOD!
In the summer and fall of 2007, my band Velvet Revolver did a co/headlining tour with AIC. At the risk of sounding too dramatic, seeing the crowd’s reaction to these guys night after night was analogous to seeing a loving mother’s face welcoming home her beloved son from war. As the band’s confidence grew with William as a new member and Mike Inez laying down his all-too-familiar low-end growl, you could almost see new life being breathed into the music. Jerry, as a guitar player, was finally being recognized for the true maverick he is. Sean Kinney’s unique, inventive, and powerful drum stylings set him apart from the pack, and this tour settled any questions of why and how. It was a truly moving sight to see, gig after gig.
I am indeed a fan of all sorts and genres of music and I find myself on a high when I see an inspirational live show. This feeling can sometimes carry through for a week or more. In saying that—and maybe it is just me—finding an awe-inspiring rock show these days gets harder and harder. Somewhere in the mid- to late ’90s, there was seemingly a sea change in the music industry that started to create an assembly line for bland commercial musical fodder. How did this happen? What happened that made honest rock ’n’ roll go back underground? Things just got straight-up gimmicky and processed. When Alice started the process of putting the pieces back together in 2005, it gave me hope. Hope because a whole generation of young rockers would be able to watch and learn and see how this shit is done!
I have had the good fortune to hear a lot of the new music that the guys have put together for their upcoming recording: fucking AWESOME! I believe we need a band like Alice in Chains now more than ever. A band who always has worn their heart on their collective sleeve. A band who couldn’t give two shits about what is “hip” or current. These guys have always set trends. With what I have heard of the new music, they will continue to do so.
Layne, may you rest in peace. Alice in Chains, will you please, again, show us the