Jerry Cantrell Explains Why Alice In Chains’ Opening For Van Halen Was ‘The Worst Gig In His Life’

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Jerry Cantrell Explains Why Alice In Chains' Opening For Van Halen Was 'The Worst Gig In His Life'
(images: Daniel Knighton/Randy Holmes)

In a recent appearance on Guitar World, Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell recalls his band’s opening for Van Halen and explained why he thought it was the worst gig in his life.

Alice in Chains is a Washington-based rock band formed in 1987, by the band’s drummer Sean Kinney and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell. Shortly after, they were joined by vocalist Layne Staley and Mike Starr. Debuted in 1990 with Facelift, Alice in Chains has released 6 studio albums in total.

Jerry Cantrell is the guitarist and main songwriter of his co-founded rock band Alice in Chains. Taking vocals after the death of Layne Staley‘s in 2002, Jerry Cantrell has played in entire Alice in Chains efforts. Releasing 4 studio albums during his ongoing solo career, Cantrell had debuted in 1999 with Boggy Depot while releasing his latest solo album on October 29, 2021, named Brighten.

On the other hand, Van Halen was a California-based rock band formed in 1973. They had disbanded in 2020 after the passing of the band’s guitarist and founder Eddie Van Halen. Releasing twelve studio albums throughout its career, Van Halen has been continuing to be an inspiration for generations.

During the early ’90s, Alice in Chains was the opener for Van Halen during the band’s 1991 tour, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. At the time, Alice in Chains did a great job alongside Van Halen, although they were just a 5-year band. 

Recently, while Jerry Cantrell was talking about his band’s opening for Van Halen, he was asked what he remembers about that tour and Eddie Van Halen. According to Cantrell, Eddie Van Halen is the greatest guitarist and said there will nobody like him.

“In our band, Van Halen was always well-loved and embedded in our psyches; and, of course, as a guitar player, Eddie is the top of the mountain in terms of uniqueness and a commitment to excellence. There was nobody like him, and there never will be.

“That’s just the way it’s supposed to be,” he says. “That tour was really impactful from a career standpoint and also just an achievement level of, like, ‘Wow. OK, I guess we can play with these guys.'”

Jerry Cantrell Explains Why Opening Van Halen Was The Worst Gig For Him

Continuing to his words, Jerry Cantrell explained why he thought opening Van Halen was the worst gig for him. According to Cantrell, Eddie stayed over there and watched him until he dressed for their show, and it made him feel nervous. That was the reason why he said it was the worst gig for him.

“I remember showing up for the first gig and walking up on the deck and getting ready to play the show,” Cantrell continues. “Eddie was sitting there with his guitar on, running scales and he’s smiling and shit. He came over and introduced himself; he was hanging right on the side of the stage in my little pit with my guitars and my guitar tech.

“Valerie was with him; Wolfie was newly born and in her arms. So that’s how the tour started for me, like, ‘Holy shit. OK, I’m standing here and fucking Eddie Van Halen is smiling and playing guitar and fucking meeting me. And I’m going to go on stage in about five minutes.’ [Laughs]

“I go on to play, and he stayed there and watched me. I think it was the worst fucking gig in my life – at least in my mind because I was so nervous that the dude was sitting watching me. Finally, he went back to his dressing room to get ready for his show, and I think I started to relax a little bit more.

“We stayed with Van Halen for a couple of legs and made really good friends with Eddie. There were a lot of late-night hangs, a lot of pool halls and bars. We’d always end up in each other’s rooms with a couple of guitars. When he came to town, he’d give me a call and vice versa. We also became friends with Sammy. He and I have been buds for a long time.”

How Jerry Cantrell Wrote Alice in Chains’ Rooster? He Explains

“I was staying over at Chris Cornell’s place”

Back in July 2020, Jerry Cantrell had remembered how he wrote Alice in Chains classic Rooster, which was taken from the band’s second album, Dirt. According to him, he was staying at Chris Cornell‘s place when he wrote the song.

“I remember writing ‘Rooster,’ I was staying over at Chris Cornell’s place, had a little guest room at the place out in West Seattle – a tiny little room, it just had room for like a little bed, it was kind of like a converted closet, I think,” he said.

“And I remember I stayed up all night – I may even have taken acid or whatever, I’m not sure – I remember staying up all night and writing that song, and I knew I was on to something really cool.

“I wanted something kind of washy and watery sounding, kind of Hendrixey almost.

“I was thinking about my dad; my folks got divorced when I was pretty young, so my dad wasn’t a big part of my teen years, but he was a badass and a hardass; he was an army sergeant, but I didn’t see a whole lot of him.

“So when my mother had passed, he was my only parent left, and as I became a man, I started realizing I can’t be mad at him for, like, kid shit. Every kid’s mad at their dad for something.

“I started to think about putting myself in his shoes and what he’d been through in his life, multiple tours in ‘Nam – just where he came from, things he had to deal with, and I started asking myself, ‘Would I have done any better? Could I have done any better?’…

“And I couldn’t say yes, so that was kind of the first thing in me, kind of putting myself in his shoes, trying to take the blame off of him, and trying to make peace, and have a relationship with my dad again.⁣

“That was kind of a cool song for a lot of reasons. Personally, it was – I just described it, and then it actually happened, we started to become more pals and buddies and shit, and over the years we’ve grown closer and closer.

“We built a ranch together about 20 years ago, and he’s still living on it and running it, in Oklahoma, and that song, in particular, means a lot to service members and their families.

“Because I’m a family member of a service member, so it’s kind of taken on a life of its own. I’m glad that that song had the impact that it has. I didn’t have an intent for it to other than it being kind-of a pathway for my dad and I to have a better relationship, which worked.⁣”

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