It’s hard to believe that today (April 5th) marks 17 years since the fateful day that original Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley died from a drug overdose. During his legendary career, Staley left his mark on the world of heavy music, as his instantly recognizable vocal style has been imitated but never replicated by countless singers.
Since his death, Staley has been vaulted to “rock icon” status, especially when taking into account how much he accomplished in a relatively short amount of time.
In the following excerpt from the 2009 book Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, Alice in Chains guitarist-singer Jerry Cantrell recounts a story of when Staley stood up to some rowdy Slayer fans, while opening the “Clash of the Titans” tour in 1991… and how it turned things around:
Jerry Cantrell: “Man in the Box” hit in the middle of the “Clash of the Titans” tour — you talk about a tough f*cking tour, opening up for Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. They had a revolving headlining set, but still, Slayer’s fans would out-chant any of the other fans in the arena. “Slayer, Slayer, Slayer!” I remember playing Red Rocks, and the place is built ‘up’ — you could hit the stage with pretty much anything you throw from a certain distance. That was one of those landmark moments for the band. We got f*cking massacred, dude. They started throwing stuff from the moment we came onstage. It was un-f*cking-believable. We were playing just looking up — watching shit come down, trying to avoid it, without running off the stage. After a while of getting pelted with all this shit — I don’t know how someone did this, but they snuck a gallon jug of some liquid, and they hocked this thing. It came down and crashed on Sean [Kinney]’s set.
Layne got f*cking pissed. He started grabbing shit and throwing it back at the audience. He jumped the barricades and started spitting back — throwing shit and flipping people off, just like they had been doing to us. So, we all did the same thing — we all followed Layne’s lead. We got right in their face, started kicking the shit they were throwing at us right back in their faces. And we finished our set. We’re like, “F*ck man, we better get out of here — we’re going to get killed.” After that show, there were a bunch of Slayer fans out by the bus. We’re like, “Oh shit, here we go.” We walk up to the bus — they were blocking us from getting to the bus — and they’re like, “You guys are alright. You guys didn’t puss out.”
Layne Staley died of a lethal mixture of heroin and cocaine. His body was found April 19th, 2002, but his death was traced back to April 5th (eight years to the day that Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain died).
During Staley’s career with Alice in Chains, the band released three studio albums — Facelift (1990), Dirt (1992), and Alice in Chains (1995), along with the EPs We Die Young (1990), Sap (1992), and Jar of Flies (1994). You can catch up with the band’s full discography on vinyl and other formats at Reverb LP.