Layne Thomas Staley (August 22, 1967 – April 5, 2002) was an American musician who served as the lead vocalist, occasional rhythm guitarist and co-songwriter of the rock band Alice in Chains, which he founded with guitarist Jerry Cantrell in Seattle, Washington in 1987. Alice in Chains rose to international fame as part of the grunge movement of the early 1990s. The band became known for Staley's distinct vocal style, as well as the harmonized vocals between him and Cantrell.
By mid-1996, Staley was out of the public spotlight, never to perform live again. Staley struggled for much of his adult life with depression and a drug addiction, culminating with his death on April 5, 2002.
Staley was born Layne Rutherford Staley to Phillip Blair "Phil" Staley and Nancy Elizabeth Staley (née Layne) in Kirkland, Washington on August 22, 1967. In a 2017 interview with Northwest Music Scene, Staley's mother revealed that he changed his middle name to "Thomas" during his teens because he was a fan of Tommy Lee from Motley Crue. Staley didn't like the name "Rutherford", and he would get angry everytime someone called him by this name. Staley was seven years old when his parents divorced, after which he was raised by his mother and stepfather, Jim Elmer. A court document from his parents' divorce identified him as "Layne R. Staley." He took his stepfather's name while enrolled in Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood, and was known for some time as Layne Elmer.
Staley was raised Christian Scientist, but was critical of religion in his adult life, stating in a 1991 interview: "I have a fascination with how brainwashed people get with religion and how they'll give up their money, their time and their whole life for a cause that they're sure is right, but I'm sure is wrong. I think there's a lot of people who are scared of life and living and they want to make sure they get to Heaven or whatever. I try to stay away from it as much as I can. I was raised in the church until I was 16 and I've disagreed with their beliefs as long as I can remember, so when I had the choice I chose not to believe in anything apart from myself."
He approached music through his parents' collection, listening to Black Sabbath (regarded by him as his first influence) and Deep Purple. Other favorite bands include hard rock and metal bands like Anthrax, Judas Priest, Saxon, Rainbow, Mercyful Fate, Twisted Sister, Van Halen, and industrial/new wave acts such as Ministry, the Lords of the New Church and Skinny Puppy.
Staley began playing drums at age 12; he played in several glam bands in his early teens, but by this point, Staley had aspirations of becoming a singer. In 1984, Staley joined a group of Shorewood High students in a band called Sleze, which also featured future members of The Dehumanizers and Second Coming.
In 1985, Staley and his band Sleze were featured in a low-budget movie from Seattle's Public Access Channel, called "Father Rock".
In 1986, Sleze morphed into Alice N' Chains, a band which Staley said "dressed in drag and played speed metal." The new band performed around the Seattle area playing Slayer and Armored Saint covers.
Staley met guitarist Jerry Cantrell at a party in Seattle while working at Music Bank rehearsal studios in 1987. A few months before that, Cantrell had watched Staley performing with his then-band, Alice N' Chains, in his hometown at the Tacoma Little Theatre, and was impressed by his voice. Cantrell was homeless after being kicked out of his family's house, so Staley invited Cantrell to live with him at the Music Bank. The two fast friends lived as roommates for over a year in the dilapidated rehearsal space they shared.
Alice N' Chains soon disbanded and Staley joined a funk band, which at the time also required a guitarist. He asked Cantrell to join as a sideman. Cantrell agreed on condition that Staley join his band, which at the time didn't have a name and included drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr. They started auditioning terrible lead singers in front of Staley to send a hint. The final straw for Staley was when they auditioned a male stripper in front of him – he decided to join the band after that. Cantrell said about Staley's voice: "I knew that voice was the guy I wanted to be playing with. It sounded like it came out of a 350-pound biker rather than skinny little Layne. I considered his voice to be my voice." Eventually the funk project broke up, and in 1987 Staley joined Cantrell's band on a full-time basis. The band had names like "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. Staley explained the name Alice in Chains saying, "The name came from a side project of my old group. We were going to have this band that dressed in drag and played heavy metal as a joke." Two weeks after the band's formation, they were playing a gig at the University of Washington, trying to fill out a 40-minute set with a couple of original material along with Hanoi Rocks and David Bowie covers.
Local promoter Randy Hauser became aware of the band at a concert and offered to pay for demo recordings. However, one day before the band was due to record at the Music Bank studio in Washington, police shut down the studio during the biggest cannabis raid in the history of the state. The final demo, completed in 1988, was named The Treehouse Tapes and found its way to the music managers Kelly Curtis and Susan Silver, who also managed the Seattle-based band Soundgarden. Curtis and Silver passed the demo on to Columbia Records' A&R representative Nick Terzo, who set up an appointment with label president Don Ienner. Based on The Treehouse Tapes, Terzo signed Alice in Chains to Columbia in 1989. The band also recorded another untitled demo over a three-month period in 1989. This recording can be found on the bootleg release Sweet Alice.
Alice in Chains released their debut album Facelift on August 21, 1990, shaping the band's signature style. The second single, "Man in the Box", with lyrics written by Staley, became a huge hit. "Man in the Box" is widely recognized for its distinctive "wordless opening melody, where Layne Staley's peculiar, tensed-throat vocals are matched in unison with an effects-laden guitar" followed by "portentous lines like: 'Jesus Christ/Deny your maker' and 'He who tries/Will be wasted' with Cantrell's drier, and less-urgent voice."
Facelift has since been certified double platinum by the RIAA for sales of two million copies in the United States. The band toured in support of the album for two years before releasing the acoustic EP Sap in early 1992.
In September 1992, Alice in Chains released Dirt. The critically acclaimed album, also the band's most successful, debuted at number six on the Billboard 200, and was certified quadruple platinum. During the Dirt tour in Brazil in 1993, Layne saved Starr's life after he had overdosed. The band did not tour in support of Dirt for very long, because of Staley's drug addiction. Starr left the band for personal reasons after the Hollywood Rock concert in Rio de Janeiro in January 1993, and was replaced by Mike Inez.
Cantrell wrote almost all of the music and lyrics for Alice in Chains but as time went on Staley contributed more lyrics. Eventually Staley would receive credit for about half the lyrics from the entire Alice in Chains catalog prior to the release of Black Gives Way to Blue in 2009. He also wrote the music, as well as the lyrics, to "Hate to Feel", "Angry Chair" and "Head Creeps", and melodies to other songs. Staley's lyrics are largely viewed as having often dealt with his personal troubles, such as drug use and depression. Staley also played guitar on "Angry Chair" and "Hate to Feel". Jerry Cantrell said of "Angry Chair" on the liner notes of the 1999 Music Bank box set:
"Such a brilliant song. I'm very proud of Layne for writing it. When I've stepped up vocally in the past he's been so supportive, and here was a fine example of him stepping up with the guitar and writing a masterpiece."
1994 saw the release of Alice in Chains' second EP, Jar of Flies. It debuted at number one, making it the first Alice in Chains release—and the first-ever EP—to do so. The other members of Alice in Chains, seeing Staley's deteriorating condition, opted not to tour in support of Jar of Flies. Following its release, Staley entered a rehabilitation clinic and began to work on a side project with several Seattle musicians, including Mike McCready of Pearl Jam and Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees. The band worked on material for several months and eventually scheduled a show at the Crocodile Cafe under the name the Gacy Bunch. Within a few weeks, the band changed its name to Mad Season. In January 1995, Mad Season performed two songs on Pearl Jam's Self-Pollution satellite radio broadcast, "Lifeless Dead" and "I Don't Know Anything". The band completed an album, titled Above, which was released in March 1995. The first single, "River of Deceit", became a modest success on alternative radio, and "I Don't Know Anything" still receives occasional airplay. A live performance filmed at the Moore Theatre in Seattle was released in August 1995 as a home video, Live at the Moore.
During Alice in Chains' hiatus, reports of Staley's addiction began to gain widespread circulation in fan and media communities, in part from changes to his physical condition brought on by prolonged heroin abuse. He struggled tremendously. Referencing Staley's guest-singing appearance with Tool on the song "Opiate", the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, "At KISW-FM's 'Rockstock' concert at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Bremerton in May 1994—just a month after the death of Kurt Cobain—Staley made a surprise appearance. He looked sickly and wore a wool ski mask to hide his face." Some of the more persistent and unsubstantiated rumors, ranging from gangrene to missing fingers, surfaced during this period. Mark Arm of Mudhoney is quoted as saying: "I remember seeing him in '95… he turned up and was totally green, and my stomach turned at that point—watching somebody on a track that they couldn't get off."
Alice in Chains regrouped to record Alice in Chains, sometimes referred to as "Tripod", which was released late in 1995. The self–titled album debuted at the top of the U.S. charts, and has since been awarded—along with Facelift and Jar of Flies—double platinum status. With the exceptions of "Grind", "Heaven Beside You", and "Over Now", the lyrics are all written by Staley, making this album his greatest lyrical contribution to the band's catalogue. To accompany the album, the band released a home video, The Nona Tapes, in which they poked fun at the rumors of Staley's addiction, but the band lapsed again, failing to complete tours planned in support of the album. When asked about the frustration of not touring to support the record, Cantrell provided some insight into how Staley's addictions led to repercussive tensions within the band: "Very frustrating, but we stuck it out. We rode the good times together, and we stuck together through the hard times. We never stabbed each other in the back and spilled our guts and do that kind of bullshit that you see happen a lot."
In a 1996 interview conducted by journalist Don Kaye, Staley stated that he wanted to write a book that he had been working on for five years. As of 2017, there is no news about this book or if Staley ever wrote it.
Jon Wiederhorn from Rolling Stone wrote after interviewing Staley in early 1996: "When he returned from a trip to the bathroom, his sleeves were unbuttoned, exposing what appear to be red, round puncture marks from the wrist to the knuckles of his left hand. And as anyone who knows anything about IV drugs can tell you, the veins in the hands are used only after all the other veins have been tapped out." The evidence of Staley's ongoing addiction was apparent, but he would deny using drugs when asked directly about it. "If I'm staying busy, and if I'm getting my job done, and I'm doing things I think are great, then I don't have a problem with anything, you know?" he asks. "If I live on just a strictly sugar diet, hey, I like it. Nobody ever asks Meat Loaf, "What do you eat? Why do you eat so much? Shouldn't you lose some weight?' No, he shouldn't. He's fucking Meat Loaf. He writes songs, and he has a great time, and none of your fuckin' business. Maybe he eats meatloaf every fucking night, you know?"
"Drugs worked for me for years," Staley told Rolling Stone in February 1996, "and now they're turning against me, now I'm walking through hell and this sucks. I didn't want my fans to think that heroin was cool. But then I've had fans come up to me and give me the thumbs up, telling me they're high. That's exactly what I didn't want to happen."
One of Staley's last shows with the band was their 1996 MTV Unplugged performance on April 10, 1996. The recording of the Unplugged came after a long period of inactivity for the band — it was their first concert in two and a half years. He made his last performance on July 3, 1996, in Kansas City, Missouri, while Alice in Chains were touring with Kiss after their Unplugged appearance.
In October 1996, Staley's former fiancée, Demri Lara Parrott, died of a drug overdose. Parrott’s death certificate lists her cause of death as “acute intoxication” and “combined effects of opiate, meptobamate and butalbital”. Staley was reported to have been placed on a 24-hour suicide watch according to NME, which quoted, "a friend saying Layne was taking Demri Parrott's death 'extremely badly' and had fallen into a deep depression". Mark Lanegan told Rolling Stone in 2002, "He never recovered from Demri's death. After that, I don't think he wanted to go on."
Shortly after the Grammy Awards, in April of that same year, Staley purchased a 1,500 square foot (140 m²), three bedroom condominium in Seattle's University District via "The Larusta Trust". Larusta was a reference to 'John Larusta', which, according to Layne's step-brother Ken Elmer, was an alias that Layne was using during this period. Elmer also stated that this moniker was used so that Staley's name was kept off of official public records on the transaction of the condo. Toby Wright, the producer of Alice in Chains' third self-titled album, had set up a home recording system for him at his new home. Wright recalled that, "I think he had some [Alesis Digital Audio Tapes] up there, a small console. I set up guitar paths, I set up a couple of vocal paths, and I think I had a keyboard path as well, and some multiple things where he could just go in, hit a button and record… He had a little drum machine and that kind of thing, he used to do demos."
On June 22, 1998, Staley made a phone call to radio program Rockline and gave a rare interview while Jerry Cantrell was promoting his first solo album, Boggy Depot. Staley called the show to talk to his friend and stated that he had loved Cantrell's album: "I love it. I mean, you know, it’s Jerry. I’m used to the sound and it sounds like Jerry and I’ve always loved Jerry’s songs, you know, so…I like it."
In September 1998, Staley re-emerged to help record two tracks ("Get Born Again" and "Died") with Alice in Chains, which were released on the Music Bank box set in 1999. Additional reports of Staley's deteriorating condition persisted in the midst of the sessions. Dirt producer Dave Jerden—who was originally chosen by the band for the production—said, "Staley weighed 80 pounds…and was white as a ghost." Cantrell refused to comment on the singer's appearance, simply replying "I'd rather not comment on that…", and band manager Susan Silver said she hadn't seen the singer since "last year".
Staley made his final public appearance on October 31, 1998, when he attended a Jerry Cantrell solo show. However, he declined Cantrell's request to sing with him on stage. A photo taken of Staley backstage at this show is the most recent photo of him that has been publicly released.
Thereafter, Staley was thought to have left behind his "self-imposed rock & roll exile" when in November 1998 he laid down additional vocal tracks as part of a supergroup called Class of '99, featuring members of Rage Against the Machine, Jane's Addiction, and Porno for Pyros. The group recorded parts one and two of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" for the soundtrack to Robert Rodriguez's 1998 horror/sci-fi film, The Faculty, with a music video filmed for part two. While the other members of the band were filmed specifically for the video, Staley's appearance consisted of footage pulled from Mad Season's 1995 Live at the Moore video.
On July 19, 1999, syndicated radio program Rockline was hosting Cantrell, Inez, and (via telephone) Kinney for a discussion on the release of Nothing Safe: Best of the Box, when, unexpectedly, Staley called in to participate in the discussion. This is considered Staley's final interview.
Charles R. Cross would later say that they had Staley's obituary on stand-by at The Rocket in the late 1990s. Upon the retirement of Alice in Chains' manager, Susan Silver, in 1998, The Rocket published an article asking the question "But who's to wipe and change Alice in Chains now?", supposedly a jab at the rumors of Staley's addiction. Joe Ehrbar, the editor of The Rocket at that time, said, "A few days later, we received a package containing a jar of piss and a bag of shit, with a note attached saying, 'Wipe and change this, motherfuckers!' It had to be from Layne. What a classic response.'"
From 1999 to 2002, Staley became more reclusive, rarely leaving his Seattle condo; little is known about the details of his life during this period. It was rumored that Staley would spend most of his days creating art, playing video games, or nodding off on drugs. In an interview with blog Alternative Nation in 2015, Staley's one time roommate and friend Morgen Gallagher revealed that Staley had nearly joined Audioslave around 2001. The audition with Staley ultimately never materialized and the job went to Chris Cornell instead. Gallagher recalled, "He said he had gotten a call from the old Rage Against the Machine members and they were putting together a new project, and they wanted him to audition. He said he was going back to treatment and then going to LA to do the audition in a couple of months." However, guitarist Tom Morello denied these allegations, stating that Staley had neither auditioned for Audioslave nor was asked to join the band.
Staley's mother told Seattle Times in 2007 that despite his isolation, Staley was never far from the love of his family and friends, who filled his answering machine and mailbox with messages and letters. "Just because he was isolated doesn't mean we didn't have sweet moments with him." McCallum told that she saw Staley on Thanksgiving of 2001, and again just around Valentine's Day of 2002, when he visited his sister's baby. That was the last time that his mother saw Staley. Staley's mother also owns his last known photo, taken on February 14, 2002, which features him holding his newborn nephew, Oscar, although the photo has never been published. Other than this rare incident, Staley was not seen often by family or friends. Sean Kinney has commented on Staley's final years and isolation period:
It got to a point where he'd kept himself so locked up, both physically and emotionally. I kept trying to make contact...Three times a week, like clockwork, I'd call him, but he'd never answer. Every time I was in the area, I was up in front of his place yelling for him...Even if you could get in his building, he wasn't going to open the door. You'd phone and he wouldn't answer. You couldn't just kick the door in and grab him, though there were so many times I thought about doing that. But if someone won't help themselves, what, really, can anyone else do?
Staley's physical appearance had become even worse than before: he had lost several teeth, his skin was sickly pale, and he was severely emaciated. As far as published reports are concerned, such as Blender's "We Left Him Alone", close friends such as Matt Fox have said, "If no one heard from him for weeks, it wasn't unusual." Staley grew increasingly disconnected from his friends and bandmates — drummer Sean Kinney, bassist Mike Inez and guitarist Jerry Cantrell — who repeatedly tried to get him into rehab, entreaties Staley refused. Further in the article, reporter Pat Kearney provides a glimpse into Staley's daily life and public routine:
It appears that Staley's last few weeks were typically empty. According to an employee of the Rainbow, a neighborhood bar close to Staley's condo, the singer was a frequent patron, stopping by at least once a week. 'He minded his own business,' said the employee, who wished to remain anonymous. Staley would never buy anything to drink, the employee said, but would simply sit at a small table in the back corner of the bar and 'nod off. We just left him alone'.
Staley's close friend Mark Lanegan had much of the same to say with respect to Staley's isolation: "He didn't speak to anybody as of late… It's been a few months since I talked to him. But for us to not talk for a few months is par for the course."
On April 19, 2002, Staley's accountants contacted Staley's former manager, Susan Silver, and informed her that no money had been withdrawn from the singer's bank account in two weeks. Silver then contacted Staley's mother, Nancy McCallum, who placed a call with 911 to say she hadn't heard from him "in about two weeks." The police went with McCallum and her ex-husband, Jim Elmer, to Staley's home; "When police kicked in the door to Layne Staley's University District apartment on April 19, there, laying on a couch, lit by a flickering TV, next to several spray-paint cans on the floor, not far from a small stash of cocaine, near two crack pipes on the coffee table reposed the remains of the rock musician." It was reported that the 6-foot (1.8 m) Staley weighed only 86 pounds (39 kg) when his body was discovered. Staley's body was partially decomposed when he was found. Medical examiners had to identify the body by comparing dental records.
The autopsy and toxicology report on Staley's body was released on May 6, 2002, and revealed that he died from a mixture of heroin and cocaine, known as "speedball". The death certificate reads Staley's death resulted from "an acute intoxication due to the combined effects of opiate (heroin) and cocaine." The autopsy concluded that Staley died on April 5, two weeks before his body was found, and the same day that fellow grunge pioneer Kurt Cobain died by suicide in 1994. Staley's death was classified as "accidental".
Years later, McCallum revealed that two days before Staley's body was found, she went to his apartment to let him know about the death of Demri Parrot's brother, but there was no answer. When she got the phone call to check on her son two days later, she wasn't surprised that there wasn't an answer. There was a little bit of mail by Staley's door, but his kitty meowed and according to McCallum, she had never done that before and that alerted her. When Staley didn't answer, McCallum decided to call 911. McCallum recalled the moment she encountered Staley's body, after she was advised not to do so by the police. "The police first went in and then they said − I said, well, I need to go in and be with him. And they said, “Oh I wouldn’t do that.” And I said, “I can do this.” I’ve always promised myself that if anything happened to my children I would be there for them. And I went in, and he was tiny and I thought at first that he had made like a life-sized mannequin of himself because he had lots and lots of art projects always. And I thought, you know, somebody could have thrown that little guy over their shoulder and walked down the street and nobody would have even know that it was a real person...so, and I sat with him for a few minutes. And I told him that I was really sorry how things had turned out...."
Pearl Jam issued a collective statement on their official website after Staley's death saying, "We are heartbroken over the loss of our friend. He will be missed immensely. We feel blessed to have shared life, love and music with him." Ann Wilson stated: "Layne wore his soul on the outside. He was luminous ... too tender for this world. We are all very sad to lose him, but happy that he's not sick anymore. He's free on his own journey."
Staley's Alice in Chains' bandmates issued the following statement to express their loss:
"It's good to be with friends and family as we struggle to deal with this immense loss... and try to celebrate this immense life. We are looking for all the usual things: comfort, purpose, answers, something to hold on to, a way to let him go in peace. Mostly, we are feeling heartbroken over the death of our beautiful friend. He was a sweet man with a keen sense of humor and a deep sense of humanity. He was an amazing musician, an inspiration, and a comfort to so many. He made great music and gifted it to the world. We are proud to have known him, to be his friend, and to create music with him. For the past decade, Layne struggled greatly — we can only hope that he has at last found some peace. We love you, Layne. Dearly. And we will miss you... endlessly."
Mark Lanegan revealed that he spoke with Staley a few months before his death at Staley's home. "I couldn't have been more sad," he said of his initial reaction to Staley's death. "I hoped this day would never come. He was such a lovely guy, like a brother to me. He was just a very smart, very funny, very mischievous guy. So anytime hangin' out with him, there was always a lot of laughter, regardless of what was going on. He was on a different plane, man. His concerns weren't so much about this world. [He was] one of a kind."
Asked about Staley's death in an interview with MTV in July 2002, his friend and Alice in Chains guitarist, Jerry Cantrell said: "It's something I'm still dealing with, and I still think like he's here. I miss him tremendously. I love him and have to move on. I'll remember him and respect the memories of what we did together and just enjoy life... and that's all I'll say about it." Following his death, Cantrell adopted Staley's cat, a female siamese named Sadie. The cat appeared on Cantrell's episode of MTV Cribs, which was shot at his ranch in Oklahoma in September 2002. Sadie died on October 8, 2010, aged 18.
In 2010, in an interview on VH1's Celebrity Rehab with Staley's mother, Nancy McCallum, former Alice in Chains bass player Mike Starr said that he spent time with Staley the day before he died, as Starr's birthday was April 4. Starr claimed that Staley was very sick but would not call 911. The two ex-bandmates briefly argued, which ended with Starr storming out. Starr stated that Staley called after him as he left: "Not like this, don't leave like this". Since Staley is believed to have died a day later, on April 5, Starr expressed regret that he did not call 911 to save his friend's life; Starr reported that Staley had threatened to sever their friendship if he did. Starr was the last known person to see Staley alive. The interview ended with Starr apologizing to McCallum for not calling 911, but McCallum was insistent that neither she nor anyone in her family blamed Starr for Staley's death. She also told Starr: "Layne would forgive you. He'd say, 'Hey, I did this. Not you.'" With that said, Starr still blamed himself for the death of Staley. Starr kept this story a secret until his appearance on Celebrity Rehab in February 2010. During this same interview, McCallum also claimed that Staley had attempted rehab 13 times, although it is not clear whether any of these attempts were during his reclusive years. Starr was found dead on March 8, 2011 as a result of prescription drug overdose.
An informal memorial was held for Staley on the night of April 20 at the Seattle Center, which was attended by at least 100 fans and friends, including Cantrell, Starr, Inez, Kinney and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. Staley's body was cremated and a private memorial service was held for him on April 28, 2002 on Bainbridge Island in Washington's Puget Sound. It was attended by Staley's family and friends, along with his Alice in Chains bandmates, the band's manager Susan Silver and her husband Chris Cornell, as well as other music personalities. Chris Cornell, joined by Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson, sang a rendition of The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" at the funeral. They also performed The Lovemongers' song "Sand". His ashes were scattered on the San Juan Islands where Staley's family used to take vacations when he was a child. During her appearance on Celebrity Rehab in 2010, Staley's mother told that she has her son's ashes in a box.
During his solo concert at the Key Arena in Seattle on May 18, 2002, Cantrell said to the audience: "I'd like to do something for a good friend of ours who's no longer with us", and played Alice in Chains' song "Down in a Hole". Cantrell later introduced Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart, who joined him on guitar and vocals to perform "Brother", another song that Cantrell dedicated to Staley at the concert saying "one more for Mr. Layne".
Following Staley's death, Alice in Chains officially disbanded. For the next several years, the band refused to perform together out of respect for Staley. In 2005, the remaining members reunited for a benefit concert for victims of the December 26, 2004 tsunami, with several vocalists filling in for Staley, including Patrick Lachman from Damageplan, Phil Anselmo of Pantera and Down fame, Wes Scantlin from Puddle of Mudd, Maynard James Keenan from Tool (a friend of Staley's), and Ann Wilson from Heart, who had previously worked with Alice in Chains when she sang on the Sap EP (performing backing vocals on the songs "Brother" and "Am I Inside"). Following positive response, the band decided to reunite formally in 2006.
In an interview with MTV News, Kinney noted that the band would use the reunion concerts to pay tribute to the songs and to Staley. William DuVall, a member of Cantrell's solo touring band (who often sang Staley's parts on the Alice in Chains songs that Cantrell performed), was announced to sing Staley's part for the reunion shows. In the same interview, Kinney noted the reunion didn't necessarily foretell a future for Alice in Chains:
If we found some other dude, I'd love to move on, write some cool tunes and change the name and go on like that. I don't see continuing as Alice and replacing somebody… We're not trying to replace Layne. We want to play these songs one more time, and if it seems like the right thing to do, it'll happen. I don't know how long it will go or where it will take us. It's kind of a tribute to Layne and our fans, the people who love these songs.
The reformed Alice in Chains (with DuVall), which are known to have an intermission to include a five-minute filmed tribute in between sets to Staley, generated enough enthusiasm from fans, including Staley's mother according to DuVall, to convince the band to keep the name. In 2009, Alice in Chains released their first studio album in 14 years, Black Gives Way to Blue. The title track from the album was written as a tribute to Staley.
Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins stated that Staley "had an amazing voice that had such a beautiful, sad, haunting quality about it. He was different because his heaviness was in that voice."
Cold's song "The Day Seattle Died" (from the 2003 album, Year of the Spider) was an ode to Staley, as well as Kurt Cobain, who were both figureheads of the grunge movement. In addition, Staind featured a song called "Layne" in memory to the singer on the 2003 album, 14 Shades of Grey.
Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, also recorded a song eulogizing Staley, titled "4/20/02" (the day Vedder heard the news and subsequently wrote the song). The song featured only Vedder singing and playing the guitar in a ukulele-inspired tuning, and was released as a hidden track on Pearl Jam's 2003 B-sides and rarities album, Lost Dogs, roughly four minutes and twenty seconds after the conclusion of the final listed song, "Bee Girl".
Jerry Cantrell told it was Staley who gave him the self-assurance to sing. "Layne was really responsible for giving me the confidence to become more of a singer. He’d say, ‘You wrote this song, this means something to you, sing it.’ He kicked my ass out of the nest. Over the years I continued to grow, and Layne started to play guitar, and we inspired each other." Cantrell had also written the song "Bargain Basement Howard Hughes", which was released a couple of months after Staley's death on the album Degradation Trip, but was actually written in 1998. It was never openly confirmed that this song was an open apology or even aimed towards Layne, but the song consists of lines such as: “Your life I belittle/Dignity I'd steal/Now I know how it feels/Stubborn bastard, hard head knocking/We had our good years too/Though apart, you're still in my heart.” The song "Pig Charmer" from the same album has the lines "It turns out he's a big pussy, Satan hoof had its way". "Satan hoof" was the nickname that Staley gave to Cantrell – he mentioned this during his interview to radio program Rockline in 1998, while Staley was on the phone.
Adema opted to pay tribute to Staley with their rendition of Alice in Chain's "Nutshell" on the Insomniac's Dream EP, released late 2002. Zakk Wylde also wrote a song about Staley called "Layne" on Black Label Society's 2004 album, Hangover Music Vol. VI. A further tribute entitled "Layne to Rest" was recorded by former Babes in Toyland frontwoman Kat Bjelland with her band Katastrophy Wife for the 2004 album All Kneel. Tyler Connolly of Theory of a Deadman stated that their song "Shadow" (an outtake from the 2008 album, Scars & Souvenirs) was written about Staley.
Staley was an inspiration for the title of Metallica's 2008 album, Death Magnetic. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett brought a photograph of Staley to the studio where Metallica was recording. "That picture was there for a long time," said Hammett, "I think it pervaded James' psyche." Metallica recorded a song in tribute to Layne, titled "Rebel of Babylon".
In 2009, Jerry Cantrell invited Elton John to join Alice in Chains and pay tribute to Staley playing the piano in "Black Gives Way To Blue", the title track and closing song in the band's first album in 14 years. The song was written by Cantrell, who described it as the band's goodbye to Staley: “That song really set it in stone, because we had to properly address Layne’s death and say goodbye to our friend. We had done it privately, but if we were going to do this, we had to do it publicly. It’s a beautiful song and it’s still really tough for me to listen to”, Cantrell told in 2016. The first concert that Staley attended was Elton John's, and his mother revealed that he was blown away by it. Staley's former bandmates also thanked him in the album's liner notes.
I always thought that us being, like, almost being sequestered in the Pacific Northwest, there was time for bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and Nirvana to marinate as a band and kind of discover their sound before they were put on a world stage. I think that was cool, just being isolated away from Los Angeles and New York was really good for all those bands. And every one of those singers, too, sounds different from the other guy. Truth be told, out of all of them, Layne was my favorite. He was just such an original, just an original American voice.
On the tenth anniversary of Staley's death in 2012, The Atlantic published an article written by David de Sola, who began:
The Seattle grunge scene that transformed rock in the '90s produced four great voices, but the most distinct among them belonged to Alice in Chains' Layne Staley. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain deeply understood musical dynamics and could simultaneously scream and sing a melody in a way that few others could—think of John Lennon's searing lead vocal performance on "Twist and Shout." Soundgarden's Chris Cornell wailed and hit high notes, putting him at times in Robert Plant or Freddie Mercury territory. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder combined a Jim Morrison-style natural baritone range with other punk and rock influences.
But Staley sounded like no one else. His ability to project power and vulnerability in his vocals, as well as the unique and complementary harmonies he created when singing with Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell, made for a style that would get copied for years after Alice in Chains became a household name.
Staley's Alice in Chains bandmates have stated that one of the saddest aspects of his legacy is to hear him remembered primarily for his drug use rather than the other aspects of his personality. Sean Kinney said in 2013: “It was insulting the way people talked about him. People think he chose that fate, those drugs, but it’s not a chosen thing. Layne was the sweetest guy, the nicest guy, and the most talented guy you would ever want to meet. He was funny. He was one of the most least-judgmental people I ever met.” Kinney and Jerry Cantrell have also expressed their frustration over the Grammys ignoring Staley during their annual tribute to the musicians who have died in the past year.
In 2013, Alice in Chains drummer, Sean Kinney, added the initials "LSMS" on his drum kit, a tribute to Staley and the band's former bassist Mike Starr, who died in 2011. Kinney explained: "There’s been six people in this band and that’s it", and Cantrell added, "And we’re all up there".
Jerry Cantrell always pays tribute to Staley before performing the song "Nutshell" with Alice in Chains. Since 2011, Cantrell pays tribute to both Staley and Mike Starr before performing Nutshell at concerts. On September 19, 2013, Cantrell paid tribute to his late bandmates before performing the song at the Rock in Rio concert in Brazil. For the show in São Paulo on September 26, the band had t-shirts of Brazil national football team with the names "Staley" and "Starr" on display at the stage.
Eddie Vedder paid tribute to Staley during a Pearl Jam concert in Chicago on August 22, 2016, which would be Staley's 49th birthday; “It’s the birthday of a guy called Layne Staley tonight, and we’re thinking of him tonight too. 49 years old”, Vedder told the crowd before dedicating the song Man of the Hour to his late friend.
In April 2017, Nancy Wilson revealed that she started writing the song "The Dragon" for Staley in the ’90s. The song was recorded in 2016 and is part of the EP of Wilson's new band Roadcase Royale, scheduled to be released in 2017. Wilson said of the song, "I started writing that in the ’90s for Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, who at the time had not yet departed the world. But everybody saw it coming, and it was inevitable that he was gonna overdose. And so it was sort of a song like, “Don’t go there.” And I had the verse and the chorus, I just never had the B part, the other part. It just wasn’t meant to be a Heart song, I guess. Finally, with Dan Rothchild, my bass player, he came up with the little bridge section that sort of completed the song. And it was supposed to be a Roadcase Royale song, I suppose. It was too square for the round hole for Heart." Wilson told Rolling Stone, "I saw such a beautiful band of brothers [Alice in Chains] suffering and limping like walking wounded. They couldn't even do their music hardly anymore and it was such a sad thing that I wanted to write that."
Staley's influence has likewise been felt in other media. Two books have been written about him, both authored by Adriana Rubio—Layne Staley: Angry Chair released in 2003, which contains an alleged final interview of Staley that Rubio claimed that she conducted less than three months before he died, and Layne Staley: Get Born Again in 2009, which was described as "a 'brand new book' that has been revised and updated with the inclusion of two new chapters: 'Hate to Feel' and 'Get Born Again' as a revival of the acclaimed Angry Chair book."
Staley's family have disputed Rubio's work, saying they don't believe she actually interviewed him in 2002. Staley's last known interview was for the radio Rockline on July 19, 1999, promoting the release of the album “Nothing Safe: Best of the Box” with the other members of Alice in Chains. The content of Rubio's book, including what she described as Layne's final interview was called into question in David De Sola's 2015 book Alice in Chains: The Untold Story. In the book, he questions not only the content of the interview, which portrays Staley as using his lyrics in casual conversation, it dispels the claim that she held the interview at all. While Rubio's book received massive coverage during the time of its release, De Sola's counter claims were not quoted by any of the websites that cited Rubio's content as gospel truth. Staley's sister, Liz (née Elmer) Coats, released the following statement about Rubio's book:
"I personally have never read Adriana’s book. I did meet with her and speak with her at length. I also talked with Layne when I was contacted by her, and let him know of her intentions to write a book about him. He let me know that he wanted no part of it. He said that he did not trust journalists, and that they had never been honest in his experience. He also said for me to tell her, and I quote, “Tell her if she wants to write a book about someone, she should write it about herself.” Anyone who knew Layne would know that would be something he would say. When I heard that Adriana claimed to have spoken to Layne, I knew the book would be full of lies, and I chose not to read it. The fact that she came out with that after his death made me sick. I regret that I ever spoke with her. In all of his wisdom, he was right again, and I unfortunately had to learn the hard way. She was not to be trusted.
You might wonder why I ever spoke with her in the first place. Imagine watching your big brother, this incredible man, trapped in his addiction, a personal hell on earth, for years and years. When I was first contacted by Adriana, I was so grateful that this woman from another country was so impressed by him, and wanted to tell his story, and honor him this way. I wanted Layne to know, or hear again, how much he was admired and loved, as he was such an extraordinary person. I even had the hope that a book written honoring him, might be one of the things that might change his course. You grasp at straws after you’ve watched someone you love go through such strife for so long.I’m glad so many people realize what a joke this book was. I hate the thought of people believing her lies, but I know the truth, and that’s why I will never read the book. No point."
On September 28, 2006, Blabbermouth.net reported on a movie project related to Rubio's most recent book on Staley: "According to a press release from ARTS Publications, Argentinean journalist/author Adriana Rubio has been contacted by writer/director Eric Moyer from Philadelphia about turning her biography of Staley, titled Layne Staley: Get Born Again, into a movie."
Music Historian Maxim W. Furek released the comprehensive The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin, i-Universe. ISBN 978-0-595-46319-0, that revisited the deaths of numerous grunge artists.
|1993||Desire Walks On
||Heart||Guest vocals on the song "Ring Them Bells".|
||Mad Season||U.S. #24, Gold|
|Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon
||Vocals on "I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier".|
||Second Coming||Guest vocals on the song "It's Coming After".|
|1998||The Faculty: Music from the Dimension Motion Picture
||Class of '99||Vocals on "Another Brick in the Wall Part 1, Part 2"|
Staley died on April 5 – the same day Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain took his own life in 1994.
Since the body had been in the apartment for two weeks and had begun to decompose, it was hard to determine at first the exact date of Staley's passing. Eventually, a date was determined, which proved to be eerie – April 5, 2002 – exactly eight years to the day that another leading figure of the early '90s Seattle rock scene also took his life, Kurt Cobain.
I actually talked to Layne... when he was alive. They toured and supported Ozzy Osbourne once. I saw the show. [Layne] had broken his leg at that time so he was actually doing the show in a wheelchair and on crutches. But I talked to him and we went out to a couple of bars and he told me something that really blew me away. He said: 'Do you remember back in 1984? Those two crazy fans that called you from Seattle?' I went, how the hell would he know that? 'Well, I was one of them. It was me and my friend.' The phone number, my private phone number, was on the old Mercy albums, and the address was the old haunted apartment that was put up as the management address and the management phone number. So they just took a chance and called. I remember I said 'Who is this?' And they went, 'Is this King Diamond?' I said 'Er, this is Diamond Management.' Okay, these are some fans calling. And we talked for like half an hour. We got in such deep trouble when his parents got the phone bill.
In the summer of 1987, guitarist Jerry Cantrell walked in a raucous Seattle party and saw a man at the center of it all, with bright pink hair pilled atop his head by means of fire poker. "he had a big smile on his face, and he was sitting with two gorgeous woman," Cantrell recalls of the moment he met Layne Staley. Cantrell didn't have a place to live, so Staley took him back to what passed for his residence – a dumpy, piss-smelling rehearsal studio where both would live for the next year. And when Cantrell heard Staley sing, he was convinced their friendship would be a lasting one: "I knew that voice was the guy I wanted to be playing with. It sounded like it came out of a 350- pound biker rather than skinny little Layne. I considered his voice to be my voice." Sometime in the first week of April, that oversize voice – which fueled a half-dozen radio hits and helped sell millions of albums – died along with Staley.
Layne Staley's death may have been as dark as the lyrics he sang for grunge rock supergroup Alice in Chains. Staley, 34, lay dead in his North Seattle apartment for two weeks, his body surrounded by heroin-injection paraphernalia, before a relative discovered him, authorities said yesterday.
Grunge may be lying dormant, awaiting its nostalgia-driven revival sometime after the millennium clock ticks over, but genre table-setters Alice in Chains aren't about to let the lapse in interest stop their riffing. The group was in the studio recently, laying down tracks for possible inclusion in a box set. The session broke the group's three-year studio hiatus, but band members aren't exactly shooting crazy string over the version of events producer Dave Jerden alleges occurred during the group's one-day collaboration two weeks ago.
Layne Staley's self-imposed rock & roll exile is apparently over. Earlier this fall, the singer regrouped with his Alice in Chains bandmates to record two new songs for an upcoming box set (tentatively due out next spring), and now he has joined an ad hoc all-star group of musicians to record a cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" for the soundtrack to the teen sci-fi horror film The Faculty, out on Columbia Records on Dec. 22.
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