REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY PART 1: ALICE IN CHAINS’ EARLY YEARS

REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY PART 1: ALICE IN CHAINS’ EARLY YEARS
WRITTEN BY GRUNGEREPORT.NET WRITER DAVID BRONSTEIN

September 10th, 1989, the weather heading into San Jose, California is mild for the time. Members of the Seattle band Alice in Chains are on there way to play the small Cactus Club, in support of another Seattle band Mother Love Bone. The show will mark only their second ever directly outside of the Washington area, their first last night in San Francisco went as well as they could ever wish. Jerry, Sean, Mike and Layne are discussing the setlist for tonight’s show. With an allocated slot of just under 30 minutes it has to be short and sweet. Most of the material will appear on the as yet unamed Facelift album, and the band make the easy choice to open up with Real Thing. Easy choice, because Real Thing has become a staple opener on their recent tours.

Singer Layne Staley looks a tad tired. Perhaps he is thinking of earlier in the tour when he asked the singer of Mother Love Bone, Andrew Wood to join him on stage for a duet. Wood standing by the side of the stage, pretended he could not understand what Layne was saying, and departed back stage. The truth emerged in later years that Wood did not care for the song that Layne was ready to sing and could not think of a better excuse.

Ken Deans, Alice in Chains first manager recalls the boredom that could envelope the band and Layne Staley during long trips to each venue. “On the early short tours I would act as the tour manager and promoter. We all agreed on a name for the tour which we called ‘The Shitty Cities Tour’. Driving from town to town endlessly it seemed and there was Layne always ready to chime in with a joke or retort.”

Deans was attracted to the young band who were quickly labelled KinderGarden by locals in reference to SoundGarden. “Sometime in August 1987, a guy called Randy Hauser approached me about this band. Now back then they were called Diamond Lie. And Randy was working with them. At the time he wanted a co-manager who could help him get the band a deal. I went to see them play, and right off the bat I knew that Alice in Chains was going to be an important factor in music, it was exactly the same way I knew that Mother Love Bone was the real thing. It’s a simple test for me, and that is that it has to be ‘real’. There were no pretentions with Alice, they are what they are. That is the true measure of a great artist and what sets them apart from the pack. After, we sat down we didn’t even have a formal contract nothing like that. It was a handshake and friendship commitment. I took 15% and we all promised ourselves that we would work our asses off to make it happen.”

When Alice in Chains took to the stage of the Cactus Club just after 8PM they did indeed open with Real Thing, nine songs later and killing the set with a mind blowing version of Love Hate Love it was all over and the band could party in Los Angeles for a few days after with Mother Love Bone, before heading back home. By now Alice in Chains were managed by Kelly Curtis and Susan Silver. Deans explains. “I left in the summer of 1989. Me and Kelly Curtis were partners when I started working for Alice. A few months before we gave Susan Silver some office space, at first for free so she could manage her band at the time, Soundgarden. I liked Susan a lot and thought she had such a great passion not only for the business but for the music as well. Kelly Curtis is a great promoter, but you know never had the ear for music, lets say that I don’t think he would disagree. So I asked Susan to take over my role and help protect them in their future. Kelly Curtis told me at the time that he didn’t think they would make it, but he wanted to keep his hands on Jerry Cantrell as he thought of him as the bands main asset.”

Two years later and Alice in Chains were one of the most talked about ‘new’ bands in America, when the video for Man in the Box swarmed all over MTV. And whilst Jerry Cantrell was and still remains a huge asset to the band, Alice’s soul belonged to the voice and charisma of their frontman, Layne Staley.

“I remember the Roller Rink showcase show in Lynnwood,” recalls Deans. The label guys were all there in attendence and Layne came out on stage sporting a foot high mohawk. It freaked them out, but it was true Staley humor and bravado at the same time. Layne was starting to discover how special he was, as were the band. Like most great artists, Layne was a pretty shy and humble guy. His sense of humor along with Sean Kinney was sharp and dry. I have often thought that Layne’s intelligence and insight were as much a curse as an asset. Layne thought deeply about social issues and sometimes that can be an unbearable burden. As the fame grew he became more reclusive. But those early days were amazing to be around this band and everything that was happening in Seattle. I can honestly say that when we were making those first Alice in Chains demos at London Bridge Studios that it was one of the greatest musical moments of my life. They were four rock musicians that had the dream and were following and living it every moment of their lives. Every moment. They were dedicated to the studio.”

REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY RETROSPECTIVE

PART 1: Alice In Chains’ Early Years

PART 2: Clash of the Titans Tour

PART 3: The Sap Sessions

PART 4: Lollapalooza 1993

PART 5: Mad Season

PART 6: The Final Years

  • Allianorah

    Great article, looking forward for friday!!! I need a real AIC book!!

  • steph

    Fabulous!! Great job David. That was a great birthday present!! :)

  • John

    Amazing article ! Made my day ..

  • yumm

    Great article. Layne Staley we miss you man. 2002 doesnt seem that long ago but then when i really think about it, thats a pretty long fucking time. A lot has happened since then. I mean i was in 5th grade now im in college. It makes you wonder.

  • maria rosaria

    Thank you for this!

  • Kris

    Terrific article! It’s so nice to think of the happy times that Layne, Jerry, Mike and Sean all shared. Its quite often that I think of Alice in Chains with sadness since two of their original members are gone. But articles like this put a smile on my face! Thanks for posting.

  • Robert

    Great Review

  • Cathy

    Great first segment. I didn’t want to stop reading. Looking forward to Friday’s piece.

  • brinks667

    Two thumbs up here!

  • Jenn Fons

    It’s so amazing to know details about his life and the band. hear from people that knew him. It’s great to know that he hasnt been forgotten. Love Staley Forever!!! the best singer of our generation!

  • just mike

    I almost felt like I was there after reading this.

  • Kay

    Simply excellent!

  • Mellysa

    wow! can’t wait to read the rest! how awesome to be around that scene :)

  • Eddy

    its nice to hear this stuff … alot of grunge artists pasts are kinda hard to find info on

  • GrungeAttack

    I’m impressed. This is a great article. Keep the LEGEND alive.

  • lstaley25

    Excellent Article. Can’t wait for Friday. Mr. Bronestein should begin writing the Movie. You got my $$

  • Baki

    Thank you!

  • dakotablue

    thanks for this David and Brett.
    And you are so right about Layne’s voice being the soul of the band.
    Nothing against Jerry, because I do think the same magic wouldn’t have happened without him, but Layne is a legend for a reason.
    And the Best Singer In Rock.
    Always missed, never forgotten.

  • Lindsey

    Great read, looking forward to the next segment! Cool to think about the band and about Layne as he was/they were in the early days. I never knew him of course, but damn, I feel like I do and I miss him like he was my close friend.

  • the keeper

    Very well written! Thanks you for writing it, can’t wait to see more!

  • Javier

    Great article, I think someone must do the Alice movie, like PJ20, the footage must be somewhere.

  • GrungeAttack

    Outstanding info on the best front man in grunge land heaven.

  • Robert

    How about best frontman in the whole 90’s generation.

  • Moomin Smith

    Excellent article David very well written, great reviews too and I agree with lstaley25 who has said it all!!….can’t wait to read Friday’s atricle, well done!

  • Mike

    Great effin article!! Cant wait to read the rest of it!! Why on earth wasn’t there anything like this printed when he passed?? This is what I was longing for in the days that followed Laynes death!! Everything (almost) I sought out was so negative even here in Seattle! The man was so much more than he was perceived. Long live Layne!!! Long gone day!!

  • Claire E

    Great review, I can’t wait to read the next article!

  • nanette

    My town should have been a stop on the Shitty Cities tour but was missed.

    It would be interesting to find out what song it was that Andrew Wood did not want to sing with Layne.

  • Ben Vaxx

    Wow! what a great story!!! really made my day (:

  • cosmicatomic

    I’ve still never read a bad thing about Layne….

  • GrungeAttack

    Robert said:

    How about best frontman in the whole 90?s generation.
    # 27 March 2012 at 10:47 pm

    Sure we can say that too. He had more soul than any other singer during that time.

  • howsoonisnoir

    Wow, such a great piece already. Can’t wait to read more.

  • anna

    Great DAvid , you are the man! I on my countdown to friday !!!

  • Mike

    @cosmicatomic – To my disbelief on April 25, 2002 Kathleen Wilson wrote an article about Layne that was garbage. It was called Living Hell and published in The Stranger which is a Seattle scene paper. I still have the article and I remember just wantin to choke this b&*^h out as I read it. The only good thing that came out of it was the following week the paper published unedited comments from readers and the backlash was insane…To this day I wonder if she left Seattle..people who knew of her and her substance abuse probs called her out and much more(threats). It was a shame that just after his death the articles were far and few and when I saw this paper with layne on the cover I couldn’t wait to read but when I read it I was shocked!! Look it up

  • Cathy

    @Mike, OMG I remember that article and that ignorant B*TCH! She had no freakin’ clue on anything about Layne or AiC for that matter. She clearly wasn’t a fan of Alice and she stated as much in her article. It was the most infuriating piece of crap I’ve ever read. I felt the same you as you did when I read that garbage. I’m so happy to hear that the backlash from it there in Seattle was huge. I hope y’all ran her ass out of town. Here’s a link to the article: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/living-hell/Content?oid=10557

  • dakotablue

    I saw that crappy article too–just written to be “edgy” and all that bullshit. A really snide tone about Layne’s drug problems; hey even if you hated the guy he doesn’t deserve that type of treatment. I almost registered for that paper’s site so I could tell her off–glad lots of other people did!

  • Cassis

    Thanks so much for the article – can’t wait for the follow-ups this coming week.

    Kathleen Wilson is a d-bag. An embarrassement to us Seattleites. She doesn’t write for the Stranger any more – good riddance.

    A much more moving coverage (local Seattle) from KEXP, the local UW independent radio station – if you haven’t seen it yet. I loved this special:

    http://blog.kexp.org/2011/05/19/kexp-documentaries-grunge-alice-in-chains/

    The audio documentary within the article is really thoughtfully done.

    Enjoy!
    RIP Layne
    Cassis

  • adrien paris

    cool article! can’t wait to read the ones to come…