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