Sunday Old School: Alice In Chains
Usually at the end of every month, Sunday Old School examines a band from the glam metal genre, so we’re kicking off a new month of Sundays this week by taking a look at one of the bands that helped to kill off the era of men in lipstick, Alice In Chains. The band was formed in 1987 by guitarist Jerry Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney and bass player Mike Starr, and soon recruited a singer named Layne Staley, who joined in return for Cantrell participating in his funk project. The funk band broke up soon afterwards and the quartet performed under a number of different monikers, before eventually settling on Alice In Chains, which stemmed from Staley’s former band, Alice N’ Chainz. The group caught the attention of local promoter, Randy Hauser, who offered to pay for their demo recording, which was delayed when the studio they were set to record in was shut down a day before the recording was meant to take place, due to the biggest cannabis raid in the history of the state of Washington. The band eventually recorded a demo named, "The Treehouse Tapes," which was passed around the local scene until it reached Don Ienner, the president of Columbia Records, who decided to sign the band and make them a top priority.
In July 1990, Alice in Chains released their first EP, "We Die Young," and its title track became an instant hit on metal radio. Based on this positive response, the label rushed the band to release its full length debut, which surfaced only a month later in the form of, "Facelift." The album sold modestly at first, until the music video for, "Man in the Box" found its way into regular airplay on MTV and became a top twenty single. Six weeks later, "Facelift" had sold over 400,000 copies and was certified Gold before the year was out, peaking on the Billboard Charts number 42. The album was also highly praised by critics and their peers alike, and soon the group were invited to open the Clash of the Titans tour in North America, which apart from themselves, featured a thrash metal lineup of Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. The band found themselves subject to some hostile audiences but Anthrax bassist Frank Bello recalls them earning the respect of others by standing up for themselves. "If there was a guy starting shit, Layne would jump into the audience and beat the FUCK outta that guy!" he recalls in the documentary, Get Thrashed.
They followed the success of, "Facelift" with an EP named, "Sap." The record featured guest appearances from Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Mark Arm of Mudhoney and perhaps most notably, Ann Wilson of Heart, who performed backing vocals on three songs. "Sap" was another success and earned Alice in Chains their second Gold Record, as well as being received warmly by critics. They soon contributed a song named, "Would?" to the soundtrack of the movie, Singles, in which they also made a cameo appearance. The song has since become one of their most famous and won them an MTV Award in 1993 for Best Song from a Film. The song also featured on their second album, "Dirt" which was released in September 1992 and became their biggest hit to date. "Dirt" peaked at number six on the Billboard Charts but has gone on to be certified Quadruple Platinum and hailed as a masterpiece. The record spawned five singles, all of which became top thirty hits, including the classics, "Rooster" and "Them Bones." They followed this success by touring with Ozzy Osbourne, who had announced his plans to retire and was embarking on his farewell tour, appropriately (but ultimately falsely) named, No More Tours. It was on this tour that the group befriended Mike Inez, Ozzy’s bass player, who soon joined Alice in Chains when Mike Starr left the band while on tour.
With their new bass player in tow, the group contributed a song named, "What The Hell Have I" to the soundtrack of the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy, Last Action Hero, before taking part in the 1993 Lollapalooza tour. Exhausted from a massive touring schedule, the band decided to enter the studio just to jam with their acoustic guitars. Also the sessions was something they did as a kind of therapy, the label heard the music and wanted to release it, which resulted in another EP entitled, "Jar of Flies." The record was written and recorded in the space of a week but topped the Billboard Charts and was adored by critics and fans alike. Both singles from the album entered the top ten of the Mainstream Rock Charts, with "No Excuses" topping it. Despite their commercial success, there were some internal struggles within the group, stemming mostly from the heroin addiction of Staley, whose habit forced the band to cancel a tour with Metallica and Suicidal Tendencies.
After a break, the band entered the studio to record their third full length album, which was eventually released eponymously in October 1995. The self-titled effort debuted at the top of the charts, helped along by the release of the single, "Grind," which was a big hit on rock radio. The album was notable for Cantrell taking over the lead vocal position on many songs, including three out of the four singles from the record and for its strange album cover, which comprised solely of a picture of a dog with three legs. An unexpected chart appearance also came in 1995, when their song, "Got Me Wrong," from the "Sap" EP entered the singles chart, thanks to its inclusion in the movie, Clerks. The band performed their first concert in three years in April 1996 for the MTV Unplugged programme, where they performed a new song, "The Killer Is Me," in addition to acoustic renditions of hits such as "Down In a Hole" and "Heaven Beside You." They then supported the reunited, KISS, with the final show taking place on July 3rd 1996 in Kansas City, and would tragically turn out to be the last performance of Layne Staley.
Staley became a recluse after the tour and Cantrell released his first solo record, "Boggy Depot" in 1998, which also featured Inez and Kinney. A reunion of sorts did take place the next year, when Staley joined Cantrell, Kinney and Inez to record two new tracks, "Died" and "Get Born Again," which were released as part of the "Music Box" compilation. Cantrell released a second solo album, "Degradation Trip" in 2002, which lyrically focused on the demise of Alice in Chains, although the band had never officially broken up and Cantrell was open to the possibility that they would record and perform together again in the future. Sadly, on April 19th 2002, Staley was found dead in his condominium from an overdose of heroin and cocaine. "Degradation Trip" was dedicated to the memory of Staley.
Three years after the death of their frontman, Cantrell, Kinney and Inez reunited to perform a benefit concert for the victims of the horrific tsunami that had struck South Asia. They featured Pat Lachman of Damageplan on vocals, and were joined by guests Maynard James Keenan of Tool and Heart singer, Ann Wilson. They performed again a year later at the VH1 Rock Honours, this time with Guns N Roses bassist Duff McKagen and former Pantera frontman, Phil Anselmo, who sang the classic, "Would?" with them, in addition to the band performing "Rooster" with Comes With The Fall singer, William DuVall. DuVall then joined Alice in Chains on their reunion tour, filling the spot left empty by Staley, for which he received the blessing of Staley’s parents.
The shows were a success and in September 2008, the band got to work on their fourth full length album, which surfaced a year later in the form of, "Black Gives Way To Blue." The album was a success, peaking at number two on the Billboard Charts and controversially winning the award for Album of the Year on this very website. The record spawned four singles, including the Mainstream Rock Chart topper, "Check My Brain" and also featured Elton John performing piano on the title track. Although the new incarnation of the group has found success once again, another former member, Mike Starr, tragically passed away in March of last year, after overdosing on prescribed medication. Despite the setbacks, addictions and deaths that have haunted the band, they have carved their name in the history books by releasing four fantastic albums, a slew of stunning EPs and numerous classic songs, which look set to be added to soon, as the group are expected to finish recording their fifth studio album shortly, which will most likely be released early next year.
Alice In Chains - "Man In The Box"
Alice In Chains - "Them Bones"
Alice In Chains - "No Excuses"
Alice In Chains - "Grind"
Alice In Chains - "Got Me Wrong"
Alice In Chains featuring Phil Anselmo - "Would?"
Alice In Chains - "Check My Brain"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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