Of all the KEXP Documentaries I’ve made, this one may have been the hardest. When I heard the tragic story of how lead singer Layne Staley died from heroin addiction it was hard to keep going. I have an immediate family member who’s a heroin addict. It’s been almost impossible to watch the progression of seeing someone I love, one of the most beautiful, smart, sensitive people I know, slowly ruin her life. And I have great respect for Layne Staley’s mom, who dealt with losing her son by creating a center to help heroin addicts. So before I tell you the story, I’d like to request that you donate to, or pass on this link to Layne-Staley.com to anyone who needs help.
Singer Layne Staley thought of the name Alice-n-Chains when he was in high school. He said the idea was a band performing in drag. He met vocalist/guitarist Jerry Cantrell at a party years later. Layne says he was so drunk the night he met Jerry that he offered this complete stranger a place to stay, free drugs and instruments. Jerry made the full move into Layne’s place a few days later. Layne worked on the Alice-n-Chains band separately from his home jams with Cantrell, but neither of their band projects were really working out. They made a deal. Layne would sing with Jerry’s band, and Jerry would play guitar in Layne’s. This worked for a while, but Jerry’s band wanted a permanent singer, so they held auditions. Layne said “This really pissed me off, so I quit my band and joined this one.” They changed the name to Alice In Chains and were signed to a big label within a year. And the next year, 1990, they released both their first EP and full length.
Some of the most talented players on the grunge scene, the group had a heavy metal feel at first. Performing in big hair, boas and fishnet shirts. But they eventually changed their image, sporting a short-haired, t-shirt wearing grunge look. Like another Seattle group Screaming Trees, Alice In Chains had their first hit single on soundtrack to the movie “Singles”. And the studio albums this lineup of Alice in Chains put out after that went gold and platinum. Despite the group’s success, Layne would slowly deteriorate because of the drugs. Passing away in 2002. The group replaced Layne with Comes from the Fall singer William Duvall in 2009 and the band is still touring today.
Layne wasn’t the only person in the original group to die from heroin overdose. Bassist Mike Starr died this year, after appearing on the reality TV show Celebrity Rehab. We here at KEXP wish Mike’s family the best, and our hearts go out to them.
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers with assistance from John Felthous, Tiffany Grobelski, Mary Janisch and Executive Producer Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.