Jerry Fulton Cantrell Jr. (born March 18, 1966) is an American musician who is best known as the founder, lead guitarist, co-lead vocalist and main songwriter for the rock band Alice in Chains. He also has a solo career and released the albums Boggy Depot in 1998 and Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2 in 2002.
Cantrell noted in an interview that he was "raised on country music" as a youth and that he admires the emotion conveyed in the genre. He also considers himself "half Yankee and half redneck." However, hard rock music caught Cantrell's interest predominantly, and he bought his first guitar in his mid teens. It would not be until the age of 17 that he began seriously playing the instrument. Cantrell would later cite guitarists such as Ace Frehley, Tony Iommi, Angus Young, Jimmy Page, Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, David Gilmour and Eddie Van Halen as major influences.
Cantrell attended junior high and high school in Spanaway, Washington and, before owning his first guitar, was a member of the high school choir which attended many state competitions. In his senior year Cantrell became choir president, and the quartet sang the national anthem at basketball games and won competitions with the highest marks achievable. Cantrell has cited his interest in dark musical tones as dating back to this period: "In choir we performed a cappella Gregorian chants from the 14th and 15th centuries. It was scary church music." His choir teacher and drama teacher were, early on, his two greatest motivators toward a career in music. When Alice in Chains' first album went gold, Cantrell sent both teachers a gold record.
Cantrell's parents divorced when he was seven, and his mother died in 1987 when he was 21 years old.
In the mid-1980s, Cantrell began a band called Diamond Lie which included drummer Bobby Nesbitt and bassist Mike Starr. Layne Staley, a vocalist and Cantrell's roommate, also agreed to join on the condition that Cantrell join his funk project (which ended shortly after). Diamond Lie gained attention in the Seattle area and eventually took the name of Alice 'N Chainz, then renamed Alice in Chains.
Jerry Cantrell served as the lead guitarist, co-lyricist, co-vocalist and main composer of Alice in Chains until the group's near-permanent hiatus beginning in the late 1990s and leading through the death of lead singer Layne Staley in April 2002. Cantrell's guitar contribution gave a heavy metal edge to the band's basic grunge style. The band reformed in 2005 with its surviving members. Cantrell played in a number of concerts with Alice in Chains featuring lead singers such as Maynard James Keenan, Mark Lanegan, James Hetfield, Phil Anselmo, Billy Corgan, Patrick Lachman, Scott Weiland, and William DuVall. Although Cantrell acknowledges the benefits of working as a solo artist, he expressed his happiness with being back in the band culture. On September 29, 2009, Alice in Chains, with William DuVall as co-vocalist, released their first record since the death of Layne Staley, Black Gives Way to Blue, and toured in support of the album. The band released their fifth studio album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, on May 28, 2013.
Cantrell's career outside Alice in Chains has consisted of two solo albums, as well as many appearances with other musicians and on film soundtracks. His first solo material came in a song entitled "Leave Me Alone." This was released exclusively on The Cable Guy soundtrack in 1996, featuring Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney. It had a music video and reached Number 14 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks.
As the activity of Alice in Chains slowed and the band's future came into question, Cantrell reluctantly began work on his first full-length solo record. While video footage from Cantrell's official website claimed that he wanted to work solo for some time, his comments in Guitar World stated otherwise:
It's something I never really wanted to do, but the way things have played out, it's like, why not? To be honest, I'd just be happy being the lead guitarist and singer for Alice In Chains. It's always been my first love, and always will be, but the situation being what it is... we've been together for a long time, and right now it's kinda played out. It's time to let it be. Now I've got to step up to the plate and take a few swings.
Boggy Depot was released in April 1998. It contains three singles including the popular "Cut You In" and "My Song." His touring band for the album included Alice in Chains bandmates Inez and Kinney, and Cantrell expressed hope to have a second album released by the following year.
The same year of Boggy Depot, Cantrell began writing a follow-up album. He also departed from Columbia Records during this time and had trouble finding a new label. Cantrell said of the writing experience:
In '98, I locked myself in my house, went out of my mind and wrote 25 songs. I rarely bathed during that period of writing; I sent out for food, I didn't really venture out of my house in three or four months. It was a hell of an experience. The album is an overview of birth to now.
Finally in June 2002, Cantrell issued his second album, Degradation Trip, with Ozzy Osbourne's then live rhythm section, Mike Bordin (drums) and Robert Trujillo (bass). Released on Roadrunner Records, Degradation Trip hit shelves soon after Layne Staley's death and was dedicated to him. The songs on the album ranged from doom metal to pop-based hard rock. The album, which received better critical reception than its predecessor, featured two singles, "Anger Rising" and "Angel Eyes," and the track "She Was My Girl" was included on the Spider-Man soundtrack. The live show was well received by audiences on a national tour that helped build upon the solo album's success. Degradation Trip was re-released in November of that year as a double album, featuring eleven additional tracks that were made for the album as Cantrell originally intended.
Cantrell has been rumored to be working on his third full-length solo album for several years, for a supposedly planned release in 2006. However, this album still has not been released. Subsequent work with the revamped Alice in Chains may have stalled this release. When asked about releasing another solo album, he issued this statement:
Not for a while. My first and foremost love has been this band and always has been. The only reason I did those two records is because we weren’t working as a band. But being a part of this band is a full time job. Some guys can do multiple things and maybe when I was younger I could do that, but not now.
Cantrell has appeared as guest guitarist on several albums and projects, including the Danzig album Blackacidevil and the Metallica album Garage Inc. He also guested on Circus of Power's album Magic & Madness in 1993 for the song "Heaven 'N Hell." He provided guest vocals for the track "Effigy" on Gov't Mule's 2001 album, The Deep End, Volume 1.
In 2002, Cantrell played a series of summer dates with headlining hard rock/post-grunge band Nickelback. Cantrell can be seen playing "It Ain't Like That" with the band on their first DVD release, Live at Home. He was also asked by Nickelback's frontman, Chad Kroeger, to contribute to the song "Hero" for the 2002 film, Spider-Man. Cantrell was unable to attend the recording session and was replaced by Saliva's Josey Scott.
In early 2004, Cantrell collaborated with The Cult guitarist Billy Duffy to form the rock supergroup Cardboard Vampyres. Under the moniker of the Jerry Cantrell-Billy Duffy Band, they debuted during the three-concert series for Sweet Relief Musicians Fund at The Troubadour in April 2004. "This band is really just about having fun and playing tunes that we were fans of growing up," Cantrell stated. Performing mostly cover songs from bands like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, and Aerosmith, the group was rounded out by vocalist John Corabi, bassist Chris Wyse, and drummer Josh Howser. The band played at various venues in the United States; although, they predominately played along the West Coast. No formal albums were released by the band.
Cantrell is featured in the movie Singles along with the rest of Alice in Chains performing the songs "It Ain't Like That" and "Would?". He is also featured as an actor in the movie Jerry Maguire. He also wrote the song "Leave Me Alone" for the 1996 dark comedy The Cable Guy, which can be found on that movie's soundtrack. Cantrell returned to the movie scene in 2004 to write, with the newly formed metal band Damageplan, the song "Ashes to Ashes" for the movie The Punisher. That song can be found on that movie's soundtrack, and as a bonus track on the Japanese version of the Damageplan album New Found Power. He also appears briefly with Warren Haynes in the documentary Rising Low which documents the work of the band Gov't Mule following the death of bassist Allen Woody. Recently he was featured in the independent comedy Rock Slyde.
Cantrell's early influences made Alice in Chains' heavy metal tones stand out among their fellow grunge/alternative rock-oriented bands of the Seattle music scene. However, his musical range also extends into elements of blues and country as heard on his solo debut album. Cantrell's guitar playing is known for its unique use of wah pedal as well as odd time signatures. In a 1998 interview with Guitar World, he was asked about the latter quality:
I really don't know where that comes from; it just comes naturally to me. I could sit down and figure it out, but what's the use? Off-time stuff is just more exciting – it takes people by surprise when you shift gears like that before they even know what the hell hit 'em. It's also effective when you slow something down and then slam 'em into the dash. A lot of Alice stuff is written that way – "Them Bones" is a great off-time song.
Cantrell has been most famously seen playing a G&L Guitars' Rampage model. The two models most closely identified with Cantrell are instruments manufactured in the 1980's. They feature a maple body, maple neck and ebony fingerboard. The bridge is a Kahler Tremolo as opposed to a Floyd Rose tremolo which was commonly seen on instruments made throughout the 1980's and 90's. The guitars feature a single bridge humbucker wired to a volume pickup. G&L Guitars makes two Jerry Cantrell Signature guitars available to te general public for purchase. The first is a Rampage model which is very similar to the instrument most closely identified with Cantrell. The second is a guitar called the 'Superhawk.' This guitar features a fixed bridge and the addition of a neck pickup. Apart from his signature G&L Guitars, Cantrell has also been seen playing a Les Paul and a Telecaster
For his amps, Cantrell used a variety of amplifiers such as those made by Bogner, Mesa Boogie and Marshall throughout his career. He has most recently been using a signature amp called the, 'JJ100' made for him by Friedman Amplification.
In July 2006, British hard rock/metal magazine Metal Hammer awarded Cantrell the title of Riff Lord, at its annual Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards show, held at the London Astoria. He was apparently thrilled at winning the title over several famous artists such as Slash, James Hetfield, and Jimmy Page.
He is ranked #38 out of 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists of all time by Guitar World and recently ranked #37 out of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time also by Guitar World.
Cantrell's father, Jerry Sr., is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. He was the main subject in the song "Rooster" which Cantrell wrote as a tribute to his father. Jerry's first childhood memory is meeting his father for the first time after he had returned from war. Due to the strain of war, his parents divorced and Jerry lived with his mother, Gloria.
Cantrell's mother, Gloria Jean Cantrell, died in 1987. His close friend Andrew Wood (of Mother Love Bone) died in 1990, leading Jerry to pen the song "Would?" for Alice In Chains' second album Dirt in Wood's memory. He also dedicated Alice In Chains' debut album Facelift to Wood, as well as his late mother.
|Year||Album details||Chart positions|
|Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2
|"—" denotes a release that did not chart.|
|1996||"Leave Me Alone"||—||14|
|1998||"Cut You In"||15||5|
|"—" denotes a release that did not chart.|
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