In 1990 Alice in Chains burst onto the music scene with their dark, grunge sound and the unique harmonizing style of guitarist Jerry Cantrell and lead vocalist Layne Staley.
By 1996 the Seattle band had released three top-selling studio albums, a trio of EPs, and corralled legions of fans with songs such as “Man in a Box,” “Rooster,” and “Down in a Hole.” The future looked as bright as the stage lights until Staley added his name to the long, sad list of musicians with lives cut short when he died of a drug overdose in 2002.
At that point, as far as Cantrell and his bandmates were concerned, the last chapter of Alice in Chains had been written.
As the years passed the surviving members of the band began jamming, and eventually began kicking around the idea of recording again. In 2009 Alice in Chains released a new CD–their first in 14 years—as a tribute to their fallen friend. Touring in support of the now-certified gold record, the band recently released their fourth single from the album.
Cantrell handles much of the lead vocal work on “Black Turns Into Blue” along with newcomer William DuVall. But before the album’s release there were many skeptical fans of the opinion that no one could match Staley’s stage presence, personality, and especially his amazing vocal range. Cantrell himself knew this to be true. He also knew he couldn’t let that stop him.
In interviews Cantrell explained how he found the confidence to reunite the band and tackle the microphone despite the long shadow cast by his friend. He remembered how Staley had believed in him and regularly encouraged him as a singer—an unusual trait in a business often dominated by paranoid, ego-laden frontmen. Cantrell recalled one particular poignant exchange:
Layne Staley: “Well then learn to sing better.”
After several years of mourning, Cantrell took that advice to heart and got to work writing and recording; the ghost of his friend as his muse and inspiration. But it was also about a new beginning and letting go of the past.
The band recorded the title track in the studio with none other than Elton John on piano. (In a full-circle twist of fate, the first concert Staley had ever attended was an Elton John show.)
In an interview with Spin, Cantrell said, “(Stuff) happens and things are not going to work out the way you want them to all the time in life. You get knocked (down), like you inevitably will, and it’s really about how you go about picking yourself back up. This is our process, this is what we’re doing.”
It’s a great story of a band that found its way back from the brink. There will always be others better than you. But that shouldn’t discourage you from improving your abilities and honing your strengths and talents. You have a right to do your thing. There will always be reasons to quit–and people encouraging it–but that doesn’t mean you have to listen.
Somewhere there’s an audience that needs what you’ve got, and a stage waiting for you to step up and give it your all.