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 was named "Riff Lord" by British hard rock/metal magazine Metal Hammer in 2006. Cantrell has also performed with Heart, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Deftones, Danzig, Metal Church, Damageplan and Gov't Mule.
Cantrell was born in Tacoma, Washington on 18 March 1966 to Gloria Jean Krumpos and Jerry Fulton Cantrell. He is the oldest of three children. Cantrell's parents divorced when he was seven. His maternal grandmother, Dorothy Krumpos, died of cancer in October 1986, and his mother died of pancreatic cancer at age 43 in April 1987, when he was 21 years old. Friends recalled that Cantrell fell into depression and changed into a complete different person after losing both his mother and grandmother within a short span of time.
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 Jimi Hendrix, Ace Frehley, Tony Iommi, Angus Young, Jimmy Page, Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, David Gilmour, Nancy Wilson, and Eddie Van Halen as major influences, as well as Elton John and bands Fleetwood Mac, Heart and Rush as his early songwriting idols.
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.
In 1985, Cantrell moved to Dallas to join a band with a couple of friends and worked at the music store Arnold and Morgan Music Company. During that time, he had a band with Vinnie Chas (from Pretty Boy Floyd), called Sinister. Later they formed another band called Raze.
In 1986, Cantrell began a band called Diamond Lie, which included singer Scott Damon, drummer Bobby Nesbitt and bassist Matt Muasau. The band started playing concerts in Tacoma and Seattle with the goal of getting a record deal and also recorded a four-song demo at London Bridge Studio. Three weeks after his mother's death on April 11, 1987, Cantrell went to see the band Alice N' Chains perform at the Tacoma Little Theatre. Diamond Lie played their last concert in July 1987.
Cantrell met Layne Staley, then Alice N' Chains's lead singer, at a party in Seattle around August 1987. He was homeless after being kicked out of his family's house, so Staley invited Cantrell to live with him at the 24 hour rehearsal studio “The Music Bank”. Shortly after Cantrell moved in with Staley at the Music Bank, Alice ‘N Chains broke up.
Cantrell wanted to form a new band and Staley gave him the phone number of Melinda Starr, the girlfriend of drummer Sean Kinney. Cantrell called the number and set up a meeting with Kinney. Kinney and his girlfriend went to the Music Bank and listened to Cantrell's demos. Cantrell mentioned that they needed a bass player to jam with them and he had someone in mind: Mike Starr, with whom Cantrell had played in a band called Gypsy Rose in Burien. Kinney pointed out at his girlfriend and said: "that's weird cause that's his sister". Kinney called Starr and a few days later he jammed with him and Cantrell at the Music Bank. But they didn't have a singer. Staley was already starting up another band, but Cantrell, Starr and Kinney wanted him to be their lead singer. They started auditioning terrible lead singers in front of Staley to send a hint. Staley, who was Cantrell's roommate at the time, agreed to join on the condition that Cantrell join his funk project (which ended shortly after), and Staley joined Cantrell on a full-time basis. The band had names like "Mothra", "Fuck" and "Diamond Lie", the latter being the name of Cantrell's previous band. Diamond Lie gained attention in the Seattle area and eventually took the name of Staley's previous band, Alice N' Chains, 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 unique grunge style. Cantrell also played bass on the track "Love Song", from the 1992 Sap EP.
The band reformed in 2005 with its surviving members to perform a benefit concert in Seattle for victims of the tsunami disaster that struck South Asia in 2004. Cantrell played in a number of concerts with Alice in Chains featuring lead singers such as Nancy Wilson, 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 album includes songs which Cantrell described as "the heaviest he's ever written". The title track is a tribute to Layne Staley written and sang by Cantrell, accompanied by Elton John playing piano. Cantrell, Mike Inez and Sean Kinney also thanked Staley in the album's liner notes. The album was certified Gold by the RIAA in May 2010, selling over 500,000 copies in the U.S.
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.
In 1998, Layne Staley almost performed live again since Alice in Chains' last concert in July 1996, when Cantrell went to Seattle on his solo tour for Boggy Depot. It was Halloween night and Staley was backstage as a guest. Cantrell reportedly asked Staley to join him onstage, but Staley declined.
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 two months 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 in 2010:
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.
In November 2014, during an interview on radio 95.5 KLOS, Cantrell was asked if he had any plans on doing more solo work, to which he replied: "I don't know. Maybe somewhere down the road. The only reason I ever did anything by my own was because my band wasn't really doing anything. My band has been doing things lately, so I don't really have time to do anything. I kinda focus my energy there [in the band]. Of course, you know, possibilities..."
In February 2017, Cantrell released his first solo song in 15 years, "A Job To Do", featured during the end credits of the movie John Wick: Chapter 2.
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. 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.
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.
On October 6 2009, Cantrell joined Pearl Jam during their concert at the Gibson Amphitheater in Los Angeles. Cantrell hopped on stage to close out the night with the guitar solo on “Alive”. The following night, Cantrell joined the band to perform "Kick Out The Jams".
On April 18, 2013, the Seattle band Heart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Cantrell alongside Pearl Jam's Mike McCready and Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, played guitar for Heart's hit song "Barracuda" with Ann and Nancy Wilson at the ceremony.
Cantrell 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.
In February 2017, Cantrell released the song "A Job To Do", the end-title song to John Wick: Chapter 2. Cantrell wrote the lyrics from the perspective of Keanu Reeves’ title character. Cantrell said in a statement: "I really dug John Wick and have always admired Keanu's work. When the opportunity arose to create a song for the second film, Tyler Bates and I wrote and recorded 'A Job To Do', a theme song for the character. Can't wait to see it!".
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 the general public for purchase. The first is a Rampage model which is very similar to the instrument most closely identified with Cantrell, known as the "Blue Dress Rampage" for having an image of a vintage pin-up girl wearing a blue dress, which Cantrell taped to the top of his first guitar. The second is a guitar called the 'Superhawk'. This guitar features a fixed bridge and the addition of a neck pickup.
Cantrell used the original "Blue Dress" guitar on the music videos for "Man in the Box", "We Die Young", "Sea of Sorrow", Grind, and "Again". The guitar can also be seen in the movie Singles. In 2011, Cantrell told that he had to retire the guitar due to a hairline crack from the neck all the way through the back of the body. Before that, he had never went on tour without it.
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.
Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell expressed his admiration for Cantrell's guitar work in an interview for Guitar International, saying that "the layering and the honest feel that Jerry Cantrell gets on [Alice in Chains' Dirt] record is worth a lot more than someone who plays five million notes".
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.
In 1995, Cantrell played journalist Nona Weisbaum on the mockumentary The Nona Tapes. In 1996, he had a cameo in Jerry Maguire playing Jesus of CopyMat, the CopyMat worker who helped Tom Cruise's character make copies of his manifesto. Cantrell said about the film; "I get more people coming up to me telling me my line. It was such a big movie and it was really fun to do." He also had a cameo as a musician in the 2009 film noir comedy Rock Slyde.
In 2013, Cantrell played country singer Donnie "Skeeter" Dollarhide Jr. on the Alice in Chains mockumentary AIC 23.
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. His father also played the sheriff in the music video for Cantrell's 1998 solo single "Cut You In".
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. Speaking with Spin magazine in 1991, Cantrell confirmed that the song "Sunshine" from Facelift was written about his mother's death. “When I was a little kid, I'd always tell her, “I'll be famous and buy you a house and you'll never have to work again. I'll take care of you like you took care of me.’ When she passed away, it was a really sh–ty time for me. I didn't know how to deal with it then, and I still don't. But it gave me the impetus to do what I'm doing.”
Cantrell was a close friend of former Alice in Chains' lead singer Layne Staley, who he described as his best friend. Staley died in April 2002 at the same time of Cantrell's Degradation Trip tour, but Cantrell opted not to cancel any shows, stating, "It's difficult to do interviews - it's hard to talk about it [Staley's death]. I'm just thankful to have a tour and work - something I can focus on.". "The shows I played between the time I got the word about Layne and Layne's funeral were very important to me in terms of being able to continue on. It's one of those things where if you take a break and allow things to settle in, it might be harder to get up again." Cantrell's manager at the time, Bill Siddons, said: "Jerry really loved Layne. They had a bond I haven't seen before." William DuVall, who performed Staley's vocals during Cantrell's solo concerts, elaborated on this emotional period saying: "I lost my grandfather in the same week, so Cantrell and I both hit the road with immense personal losses dogging us. There were times on stage—there was one show in Charlotte where it was just so heavy. I'm holding back tears onstage, and Jerry would start crying onstage too a lot at that point, and a lot of times we would just look at each other when we were singing the stuff because it was the only way... it was heavy. I can't quantify it really in words." Cantrell canceled the show that he was scheduled to perform at Zephyrhills's Livestock Festival on April 28 in order to attend Staley's funeral in Seattle in the same day. Cantrell dedicated his solo album, Degradation Trip, released two months after Staley's death, to his memory. He also adopted Staley's cat, a female siamese named Sadie, after his death. The cat appeared on Cantrell's episode of MTV Cribs, which was shot at his ranch in Oklahoma in September 2002. Sadie died on the same night of Alice in Chains' concert in Seattle on October 8, 2010, aged 18.
Cantrell is critical of religion and Young Earth Creationism, satirizing them both in Alice In Chains' 2013 Album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. Cantrell stated, "There are two things you never want to get into a conversation or argument about: politics and religion. But fuck, I guess we're going to be talking about this for awhile". "No one in the band claims to be an expert on religion, but the title of the song [The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here] comes from something that a lot of people actually believe in". Cantrell also stated that he’s sick of the hypocrisy that’s taken over many facets of organized religion. "I think there’s overwhelming evidence that things aren’t working right now. We need to start growing up as a people. When you’re teaching people that being gay is a mortal sin, yet a good portion of the people teaching this are fucking kids, there’s a huge problem".
Cantrell underwent shoulder surgery twice. In December 2005, a surgery in his left shoulder removed bone fragments and repaired cartilage. In May 2012, Cantrell revealed that, prior to the recording sessions of The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, he had another surgery in 2011, this time in his right shoulder. He explained, "The thing that set me back is I had some bone spurs [and] cartilage issues in my shoulders. I had the same issue in the other shoulder about six years ago so I've had them both done now. It's a repetitive motion injury from playing." While recuperating at home in a sling, Cantrell heard a riff in his head and sang it into his phone. The riff later became the song "Stone", the first single from "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here".
Cantrell is a recovering addict and alcoholic and has been sober since 2003. He was awarded the 2012 Stevie Ray Vaughan Award from MusiCares, for his work helping recovering addicts. Cantrell said in his acceptance speech, "I crash landed here almost 9 years ago, in Los Angeles. Sean [Kinney] was at the door with my brother, so my choices were open the door and go to rehab or jump out the back window down a cliff into some black berry bushes. That’s the choice I took. Luckily they caught me because I couldn’t go anywhere, I was kind of stuck in a bush at the bottom of a cliff bleeding, and I ended up here. I didn’t intend to get here but I’m very grateful I am here, and it took a lot of people to help me get here. It's been an amazing day. It's overwhelming. I'm as imperfect as they come. I just don't get high today and wake up the next morning and try and do the same thing. A lot of people stand and get the fuck back up after falling. Some people don't get that chance. My band's been a harsh example of that – what happens when you don't deal with it.". Cantrell and his Alice in Chains bandmates played a five-song set at the awards event and Cantrell stated, "We really miss Layne [Staley] and Mike [Starr], and we carry them with us in our hearts".
|1995||The Nona Tapes||Nona Weisbaum||Short film|
|1996||Jerry Maguire||Jesus of CopyMat|
|2013||AIC 23||Donnie "Skeeter" Dollarhide Jr.||Short film|
|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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