“It’s typically us,” enthuses a tired and weary Jerry Cantrell. “If we were gonna change our bass player then he had to have the same name, the same haircut, dress the same and smoke the same cigarettes.” Cantrell breaks into laughter, which has been short on supply this past week.
Twenty years ago, Alice in Chains had just played their biggest show ever in front of 80,000 screaming Brazilians. Whilst that in itself could be a celebration of how far the Seattle quartet had come since their breakthrough album Facelift, the show would also mark the final one for original bass player Mike Starr. The details of his exit are to this very day shrouded in mystery. Did he walk? Was he sacked? There is even one theory that voodoo was to blame, when Starr and the band visited New Orleans for an MTV special a few months before the Brazilian shows.
Right after that night’s performance, Starr and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (who were also playing on the bill) did drugs together, and according to Starr ended up overdosing. His friend and lead singer, Layne Staley, slapped him around and gave him a cold shower in the hotel room. Starr lived. But his days with the band were numbered.
Cantrell and the band have been in London, England for two days, flying direct from Brazil. Cantrell and Staley are in a west London hotel, a stones throw away from Harrods, and are being interviewed by a British rock magazine about their upcoming European tour- surprisingly the band’s first as headliners.
Throughout Cantrell speaks fluently, only interrupted by Staley’s constant crunching on his cereals (he is eating out of the box). Despite the brilliant reviews for their new album Dirt and their looming tour the interview switches back to Mike Inez- the surprise newcomer to the band.
Inez had met Alice in Chains on the band’s recent tour with Ozzy Osbourne, Inez had been part of Ozzy’s touring band. With Starr already on thin ice, Cantrell and Kinney started talks with Inez, though nothing was finalized until Alice had flown to Brazil. When Inez told Osbourne that Alice in Chains were interested in having him, he said it with trepidation. It was never needed. Osbourne infamously told Inez, ‘do you like hospital food?’, a puzzled Inez stared back. ‘Because’, said Osbourne, ‘I’m gonna ram my foot so hard up your ass, if you don’t take the gig.’ Inez took it and the rest was history.
Inez met up with the band in London, and ‘smoked many joints on my first day,’ according to Inez. From there on in the band holed up in a studio in Finchley, north of London, for rehearsals. Though Inez knew a few tracks, namely Would, he would have to learn over twenty songs for the upcoming tour and had less than a week to do it.
To prepare Alice announced a gig at the 500 capacity Underworld in London’s Camden. The show was an instant sell out and a success. Kicking off with Dam That River, the set included six songs from Dirt and five from Facelift, leaving the lucky patrons more than satisfied.
That very same night legend has it that lead singer Layne Staley visited the Astoria nightclub in central London and after met up with Kurt Cobain across the road, which housed an 80’s nightclub that was a front for drug dealers. That club was called the back beat, and would go unnoticed for almost a decade after. But how real could that story be? Nirvana were not on tour, so in all possibility Cobain could have been in London. He was sick of Seattle at that time, and may have opted to fly to England instead of going home. The story has never been confirmed nor denied.
THE NEXT PART OF AIC’s EUROPEAN TOUR WILL FOLLOW SHORTLY