“We’ve practiced twice,” says Green River guitarist Bruce Fairweather. “The last time was about six weeks ago. Then 25 years ago before that—no, 21 years!”
When two members of the band you’re reuniting are in Pearl Jam, two others are in Mudhoney, and two more are in lesser-known bands but nonetheless busy, getting together in one room can be difficult. Eight months ago Mark Arm, current Mudhoney front man and Sub Pop warehouse manager, e-mailed his old friends Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Alex Vincent, Steve Turner, and Fairweather. He explained that Sub Pop’s 20th anniversary was coming up, and wanted to see if they’d be interested in bringing their now-legendary band Green River together for a one-off show. As Fairweather says, the collective response was “Sure, why the hell not!”
By the time grunge went mainstream, Green River had already attained a somewhat mythic status. Having broken up on Halloween 1987, the members splintered into different groups: Gossard, Ament, and Fairweather went on to form Mother Love Bone, while Arm and Turner (who’d actually left Green River in 1985) would later form Mudhoney. That mythic status was further compounded when Mother Love Bone broke up and Ament and Gossard formed Pearl Jam.
If not for the success of Pearl Jam and Mudhoney, it’s hard to say whether Green River would even be remembered now. But in hindsight, the band’s head-on collision of punk rock and heavy metal can now be seen as the blueprint for grunge—not to mention that SP founder Bruce Pavitt had described their sound as “ultra-loose GRUNGE that destroyed the morals of a generation” in a catalog blurb, widely considered the first time the term was applied to a Seattle band.
Green River weren’t the first band to combine metal and punk in Seattle; the U-Men, for one, did it earlier in the ’80s. But Green River also included glam, ’70s stadium rock, stoner fuzz like Blue Cheer, and, perhaps most important, an appreciation for all-things-Iggy, especially the Stooges. Their sound was both razor-sharp and grimy.
Green River formed in 1985 following the breakup of Arm’s obscure band Mr. Epp & the Calculators (which Turner joined for the last six months of its existence). Seeking a bassist, they decided they wanted the jock-y Montana transplant Jeff Ament.
“Steve went and got a job at the restaurant Jeff worked at just so he’d play bass with us,” says Arm. “It was a place on First Avenue, a coffee shop. Like one of the first in Seattle to have an espresso machine.”
They called themselves Green River for a variety of reasons, according to Arm, the two most notable being references to the then-active Green River Killer and the CCR song of that name. Arm then recruited his friend Alex Vincent to play drums, and Turner brought in his high-school friend Stone Gossard on guitar. Together with Ament, they recorded the six-song Come On Down EP, released on Homestead in 1985. But Turner split shortly after that recording, disillusioned by his bandmates’ increasing fondness for glam. Fairweather was subsequently brought in to replace him.
With that lineup, Green River recorded the EP Dry As a Bone with Jack Endino in 1986, the first single-band release on Pavitt’s burgeoning Sub Pop label (Pavitt’s business partner would not invest his $20,000 in the company until 1987, when they agreed to work with Soundgarden). They also forged a friendship with Sonic Youth, and opened for an ill-fated Public Image Ltd show at the Paramount. They broke up in 1987, when the punk/metal divide became a point of contention. According to legend, Ament and Gossard wanted Arm to take singing lessons, but Arm says the split had more to do with each member’sfuture goals in the music business.
Their lone LP, Rehab Doll, was released almost six months after they’d split. Says Pavitt: “It was like, ‘Hey, here’s our record. Oh, and by the way, we broke up!'”
Fairweather still plays in bands around town; he was also in Love Battery following Mother Love Bone’s breakup. But prior to Arm’s mass e-mail, it had been years since he’d communicated with some of his old bandmates, especially Ament and Gossard. He says they all began serious rehearsals last week, and that two-thirds of the set will be songs from Dry As a Bone and Rehab Doll, while the rest will come from Turner’s days in the band, including some songs that were never released. But what’s most exciting about this gig is that Turner and Fairweather will share the stage for the first time.
“We’re gonna be like .38 Special,” says Fairweather, laughing, “or Molly Hatchet—just a guitar onslaught!”
Green River plays SP20, 7:20 p.m. Sun., July 13.