Jerry Cantrell in 2009
March 18, 1966 |
Tacoma, Washington, United States
Jerry Fulton Cantrell Jr. (born March 18, 1966) is an American musician, singer-songwriter and guitarist best known as the founder, lead guitarist, co-lead vocalist and main songwriter for the rock band Alice in Chains. The band rose to international fame in the early 1990s during Seattle's grunge movement, and is known for its distinctive vocal style, and the harmonized vocals between Cantrell and Layne Staley (and later Cantrell and William DuVall). Cantrell started to sing lead vocals on Alice in Chains' 1992 EP Sap. After Staley's death in 2002, Cantrell took the role of Alice in Chains' lead singer on most of the songs from the band's two albums without Staley, Black Gives Way to Blue (2009) and The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013), with DuVall harmonizing with him in the new songs and singing Staley's vocals in the old songs in live concerts.
He also has a solo career and released the albums Boggy Depot in 1998 and Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2 in 2002. Cantrell has also collaborated and performed with Heart, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Circus of Power, Metal Church, Gov't Mule, Damageplan, Pearl Jam, The Cult, Stone Temple Pilots, Danzig, Glenn Hughes, Duff McKagan and Deftones.
He also contributed to the soundtrack of The Cable Guy (1996) and John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), and had small roles in the films Jerry Maguire (1996) and Rock Slyde (2009). Cantrell also acted in the Alice in Chains mockumentaries The Nona Tapes (1995) and AIC 23 (2013).
Cantrell was born in Tacoma, Washington, on March 18, 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 became a completely 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 learned to play guitar by ear emulating his idols. He 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 also cited Soundgarden as a big influence on him.
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, and he was impressed by the voice of the lead singer, Layne Staley. 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, so that Cantrell could talk to him. 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. The last straw for Staley was when they auditioned a male stripper - he decided to join the band after that. 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's band 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. After three months of negotiations, the band signed to Columbia Records on September 11, 1989.
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.
Cantrell started to sing lead vocals on the 1992 acoustic EP Sap, and his role continued to grow in the following albums, making Alice in Chains a two-vocal band. Cantrell stated that it was Staley who encouraged him to sing.
Although Alice in Chains has been labeled grunge by the mainstream media, Cantrell identifies the band as primarily heavy metal. He told Guitar World in 1996, "We're a lot of different things ... I don't quite know what the mixture is, but there's definitely metal, blues, rock and roll, maybe a touch of punk. The metal part will never leave, and I never want it to".
Alice in Chains was one of the most successful bands of the 1990s, selling over 20 million records worldwide, and over 14 million records in the US alone. Their debut album, Facelift, was released in 1990 and has been certified double-platinum by the RIAA, selling over two million copies.
In February 1992, the band released the EP Sap. The EP has been certified gold and it features guest vocals by Ann Wilson from the band Heart, who joined Staley and Cantrell for the choruses of "Brother", "Am I Inside", and "Love Song". The EP also features Mark Arm of Mudhoney and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, who appeared together on the song "Right Turn", credited as "Alice Mudgarden" in the liner notes.
Their second full-length album, Dirt, was released in September 1992 to critical acclaim and was certified quadruple platinum. Their second acoustic EP, Jar of Flies, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1994, becoming the first ever EP and first Alice in Chains release to top the charts. It has been certified triple platinum by the RIAA.
Alice in Chains broke up for six months following the cancellation of Metallica tour in July 1994, citing "health problems within the band". The band's third full-length album, Alice in Chains, was released in November 1995, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and has been certified double platinum. The singles "Grind", "Over Now", and "Heaven Beside You" feature Cantrell on lead vocals.
The band did not tour in support of their self-titled album. On April 10, 1996, Alice in Chains made their first concert in two and a half years for MTV Unplugged, a program featuring all-acoustic set lists. The show featured some of the band's highest charting singles, including "Rooster", "Down in a Hole", "Heaven Beside You", "No Excuses" and "Would?", and introduced a new song, "Killer Is Me", with Cantrell on lead vocals. Cantrell stated that he was ill during the performance as a result of food poisoning from a hot dog consumed before the gig.
Alice in Chains performed four shows supporting Kiss on their Alive/Worldwide Tour in 1996, including the final live appearance of Layne Staley on July 3, 1996 in Kansas City, Missouri. Shortly after the show, Staley was found unresponsive after he overdosed on heroin and was hospitalized. Staley rarely left his condo in Seattle, but in 1998 the band reunited to record two new songs, "Get Born Again" and "Died", originally intended for Cantrell's second solo album, the songs were released on the 1999 box set Music Bank. Still in 1999, the band released a 15-track compilation titled Nothing Safe: Best of the Box. Their first compilation, titled "Live", was released on December 5, 2000. In 2001, a second compilation titled Greatest Hits was released.
Although never officially disbanding, Alice in Chains was plagued by extended inactivity from 1996 onwards due to Staley's substance abuse, which resulted in his death in 2002. The band reformed in 2005 when drummer Sean Kinney had the idea to reunite the surviving members to perform a benefit concert for the victims of the tsunami disaster that struck South Asia in 2004. On February 18, 2005, Cantrell, Mike Inez and Sean Kinney reunited to perform for the first time in 10 years as Alice in Chains at the K-Rock Tsunami Continued Care Relief Concert in Seattle. The band featured Damageplan vocalist Pat Lachman, as well as other special guests including Maynard James Keenan of Tool, Wes Scantlin from Puddle of Mudd and Ann Wilson of Heart. A few months after that concert, the band called their former manager Susan Silver and Cantrell's manager Bill Siddons and said they wanted to tour as Alice in Chains again.
On March 10, 2006, Cantrell, Inez and Kinney performed at VH1's Decades Rock Live concert, honoring fellow Seattle musicians Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. They played "Would?" with vocalist Phil Anselmo of Pantera and Down and bass player Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver, then they played "Rooster" with Ann Wilson and Comes with the Fall vocalist William DuVall. The band followed the concert with a short United States club tour, several festival dates in Europe, and a brief tour in Japan. To coincide with the band's reunion, Sony Music released the long-delayed third Alice in Chains compilation, The Essential Alice in Chains, a double album that includes 28 songs.
Between 2006 and 2007, Cantrell played in a number of concerts with Alice in Chains featuring guest lead singers such as Ann Wilson,Mark Lanegan,James Hetfield, Phil Anselmo,Billy Corgan,Scott WeilandSebastian Bach, 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.
Cantrell explained the band's reunion saying, "We want to celebrate what we did and the memory of our friend. We have played with some [singers] who can actually bring it and add their own thing to it without being a Layne clone. We're not interested in stepping on [Staley's] rich legacy. It's a tough thing to go through. Do you take the Led Zeppelin approach and never play again, because the guy was that important? That's the approach we've taken for a lot of years. Or, do you give it a shot, try something? We're willing to take a chance on it. It's completely a reunion because the three of us who're left are back together. But it's not about separating and forgetting -- it's about remembering and moving on."
Cantrell met singer William DuVall in Los Angeles in 2000, through a mutual acquaintance who introduced him to the first album of DuVall's band, Comes with the Fall. Cantrell started hanging out with the band and occasionally joining them onstage. Comes with the Fall was both the opening act on Cantrell's tour for his second solo album, Degradation Trip, and also the singer's backing band, with DuVall singing Staley's parts at the concerts in 2001 and 2002. DuVall joined Alice in Chains as full-time lead singer during the band's reunion tour in 2006, after making his first public appearance with the band at the VH1 concert.
By April 2007, Alice in Chains had been writing and demoing songs for a new album with DuVall, but the band did not show further signs of progress until October 2008, when they announced that they had begun recording with producer Nick Raskulinecz in the studio. The band didn't have a record label at the time and the album was funded by Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney. The writing and recording process was completed on March 18, 2009, Cantrell's 43rd birthday and also the same day that DuVall's son was born.
About the pressure being put on DuVall for replacing Staley as lead vocalist, Cantrell said, "To put all that weight on Will's shoulders is unfair. We're just figuring out how we work as a team. Although the band has changed, we've lost Layne, we've added Will, and there was no master plan. Playing again in 2005 felt right, so we did the next thing and toured. We did it step by step. It's more than just making music, and it always has been. We've been friends a long time. We've been more of a family than most, and it had to be okay from here", Cantrell said pointing to his heart.
On September 29, 2009, Alice in Chains, with Cantrell singing lead vocals on most of the songs and William DuVall as co-lead 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 sung by Cantrell, accompanied by Elton John playing piano. In the months before writing the song, Cantrell had been suffering from an unexplained illness. Cantrell believes the mystery illness was the pain of saying goodbye to Staley. He told Guitar World, "I got deathly ill. I had these mystery migraines, intense physical pain, and I'd even gotten a spinal tap to test for certain things. They never could find anything wrong with me. I felt I was puking up all this undigested grief in losing Layne." Once Cantrell started writing the song and the rest of the album, his mystery illness disappeared. 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.
The band released their fifth studio album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, on May 28, 2013, and Cantrell continued his role of main singer in the album. The album debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 (the band's highest chart position since 1995's Alice in Chains, which debuted at #1), selling 61,000 copies in its first week of release.
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 was the song "Leave Me Alone", released exclusively on The Cable Guy soundtrack in 1996, featuring Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney on drums and Cantrell on lead vocals, guitar and bass. It had a music video, which was included as a bonus feature on the 15th anniversary edition Blu-Ray of The Cable Guy, and the song reached Number 14 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks. In the same year, Cantrell covered Willie Nelson's "I've Seen All This World I Care to See" for the album Twisted Willie: A Tribute to Willie Nelson.
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. Cantrell opened for Metallica and Van Halen on their 1998 summer tour.
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.
Degradation Trip has sold 100,000 copies in the U.S. as of December 2002. 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 2002 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..." Cantrell expressed the same sentiment when asked about a new solo album during an interview with Trunk Nation in August 2017, stating that Alice in Chains has always been his number one concern, but that he would not rule out a new solo album in the future.
Cantrell has appeared as guest guitarist on several albums and projects, including the Danzig album Blackacidevil (1996), in which he played on three tracks ("See All You Were", "Come to Silver" and "Hand of Doom"), and the Metallica album Garage Inc. (1998) on the band's rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone". He also guested on Circus of Power's 1993 album Magic & Madness for the song "Heaven 'N Hell", played lead guitar on Metal Church's "Gods of a Second Chance" from their 1993 album Hanging in the Balance, and played on the track "Marry Me" from Pigeonhed's 1997 album, The Full Sentence.
Cantrell provided background 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 a May 2001 interview with Metal-is.com, Cantrell revealed that he had written four songs for Ozzy Osbourne. Cantrell, Osbourne, guitarist Zakk Wylde, bassist Robert Trujillo and drummer Mike Bordin went to the studio and made some rough demos of those songs.
Cantrell was the lead guitarist in all of the tracks from Ozzy Osbourne's 2005 album of cover songs, Under Cover. The songs performed by Cantrell were also included on the disc four of Osbourne's box set Prince of Darkness (2005).
In 2007, Cantrell played guitar on Glenn Hughes's rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop", featured on Hughes' solo album Music for the Divine, and played on the track "Soul Ecstacy" off the Stevie Salas's album The Sun and the Earth: The Essential Stevie Salas, Vol. 1. He also played guitar on Smith & Pyle's debut album, It's OK To Be Happy, released in 2008.
In 2010, Cantrell played guitar on the song "Anything" from Pearl Aday's debut album, Little Immaculate White Fox. Aday stated that she thought Cantrell would be a good person to put in some "heartbroken, haunting, crying guitar" on the track.
He played guitar on Duff McKagan's 2015 EP How To Be A Man, and has also collaborated with Alternative Metal band Deftones, contributing guitar parts to the track "Phantom Bride" off their 2016 album Gore.
In 2002, Cantrell played a series of summer dates with headlining hard rock/post-grunge band Nickelback. Cantrell can be seen playing Alice in Chains' "It Ain't Like That" with the band on their first DVD release, Live at Home (2002). 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.
Cantrell made several guest appearances with the supergroup Camp Freddy, (a cover band featuring Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, former Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and Billy Idol guitarist Billy Morrison), performing with them for the first time at The Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2004.
The experience with Camp Freddy inspired Cantrell and The Cult guitarist Billy Duffy to form their own cover band, the rock supergroup Cardboard Vampyres (named after Cantrell's cats). 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 December 9, 2011, Cantrell joined Metallica for their 30th anniversary concert at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Cantrell performed the songs "For Whom the bell Tolls", "Nothing Else Matters", "Seek and Destroy" and a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone".
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.
On December 16, 2015, Cantrell joined the supergroup Royal Machines at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood and performed Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak" and Alice in Chains' "Would?" and "Man In The Box".
On March 13, 2017, Cantrell made a guest appearance at Steel Panther's concert at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood and performed "Man In The Box" with the band joined by Godsmack singer Sully Erna on lead vocals. On March 25, 2017, Cantrell performed with Nancy Wilson and Mike Inez at the 5th annual Rock Against MS benefit concert.
Cantrell was one of the musicians who participated on the Founders Award Celebration honoring The Doors at Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture on December 7, 2017. Cantrell sang "Love Her Madly" accompanied by The Doors' original guitarist Robby Krieger, keyboardist George Laks, bassist Zander Schloss, and drummer Brian Young. He came back at the end of the concert to sing "Roadhouse Blues" together with all the artists who performed at the tribute.
On December 8, 2017, Cantrell joined The Hellcat Saints (a supergroup featuring members of The Cult, Velvet Revolver, Weezer and Apocalyptica), to open for Jane's Addiction at the third annual Rhonda's Kiss benefit concert at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. Proceeds from the concert benefited the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute and further the mission of Rhonda's Kiss, an organization that helps cancer patients in need. Cantrell performed Alice in Chains' hits "Would?" and "Man In The Box", and sang Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak".
Cantrell wrote the song "Leave Me Alone" for the 1996 dark comedy The Cable Guy, which can be found on that movie's soundtrack. "She Was My Girl" from Degradation Trip, was included on the Spider-Man (2002) 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. The song features Cantrell on vocals alongside Damageplan singer Patrick Lachman, and 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 1980s. 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 1980s and 90s. The guitars feature a single-bridge humbucker wired to a volume control.
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 gone on tour without it.
Apart from his signature G&L Guitars, Cantrell has also been seen playing a Telecaster, a Fender Standard Stratocaster Brown Sunburst, a Gibson Les Paul most notably an Ivory White Les Paul with torch burn marks that Cantrell made all over the guitar, which is the guitar that Cantrell has used on all of the Alice in Chains albums along with the original Blue Dress G&L. Also a Gibson Custom Shop Jerry Cantrell SG, a 1952 Goldtop Les Paul, a Ernie Ball Music Man EVH that was a gift from Eddie Van Halen in the 90's, but has been stolen from Cantrell, a dark blue Mosrite Venture, a Dean Micheal Schenker USA V, and Dean Soltero guitars.
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 2010, Jim Dunlop introduced the "JC95 Cantrell Signature Cry Baby", Cantrell's signature Cry Baby wah pedal. The lyrics to "Black Gives Way to Blue" are printed on the base plate of the pedal.
Cantrell is widely considered to be one of the greatest rock guitarists of his generation. Pantera and Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell expressed his admiration for Cantrell's guitar work in an interview for Guitar International in 1995, 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.
He was ranked 38th out of 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists of all time by Guitar World in 2004, and ranked at at No. 37 out of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" also by Guitar World in 2012.
Cantrell was ranked at No. 98 on the list of the "Top 100 Most Complete Guitar Players of All Time" by Envision Radio Networks' "Chop Shop" guitar show in 2008.
In October 2008, Guitar World ranked Cantrell's solo in "Man In The Box" at No. 77 on their list of "100 Greatest Guitar Solos".
Elton John stated in a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone that he's been an admirer of Cantrell for quite some time, and couldn't resist the offer to play on Alice in Chains' song "Black Gives Way to Blue" at Cantrell's request.
|"||Cantrell did the harmonies with Layne, and they were haunting, especially on Dirt. Those two guys really had their thing figured out. Guitar-wise, Jerry's playing was always exciting and interesting. 'Them Bones' is a heavy f---ing song. Jerry's tone on that one is insane. The title track has a really ominous intro that sets the mood for the rest of the song. So many great guitar riffs and solo performances on this record. Jerry's a really solid blues-rock guitarist, very tasteful and emotive.||"|
In 1996, he had a cameo in Cameron Crowe's 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." Cantrell was also Crowe's first choice for the role of Stillwater bass player Larry Fellows in Almost Famous (2000). Cantrell was busy writing the songs for his solo album Degradation Trip and had to turn the role down. Mark Kozelek was cast instead.
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 when he was 3 years old. Due to the strain of war, his parents divorced and Jerry lived with his mother, Gloria, and his grandmother. 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." Gloria is also mentioned by name in the song "Rooster".
Cantrell was homeless in the early '90s and lived for some time at the house of Pearl Jam's manager Kelly Curtis. While living in the basement of Curtis' house, Cantrell was roommates with Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder. At the start of 1991, Cantrell moved in with Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell and his wife Susan Silver at their house in Seattle. Silver was also Alice in Chains' manager. Cantrell wrote the song "Rooster" at the Cornells' house and stayed there for a few weeks. Cantrell would later pay tribute to Cornell during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony on April 14, 2018, joining singer Ann Wilson for a rendition of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun".
Cantrell was a close friend of former Alice in Chains' lead singer Layne Staley, who was described by Cantrell 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." Asked about Staley's death in an interview with MTV in July 2002, 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."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".
During his independent tour for Degradation Trip before the album was released, Cantrell broke his left hand while playing football after a concert at the Kentucky Derby on May 3, 2001. While Cantrell was running full speed, his guitar player at the time, Bryan Kehoe, was also running full speed towards him and Cantrell got his pinky finger caught in Kehoe's t-shirt sleeve. Cantrell went to the E.R but they could not do anything for him there, since the bone had slipped back in his hand and he would need a reconstructive surgery, but he had to wait for a couple of weeks for that to happen. Cantrell wanted to continue the tour, and although he was in a lot of pain, he played his first concert as a frontman without a guitar opening for Cheap Trick in Atlanta. Cantrell needed a Titanium plate and four screws to put the bones back together. Cantrell told that breaking his hand was the worst physical pain he ever had. The injury caused the remainder of Cantrell's solo tour to be postponed. His first concert after the surgery was at the Key Club in West Hollywood and July 1, 2001.
Cantrell underwent shoulder surgery twice. In December 2005, a surgery in his left shoulder removed bone fragments and repaired cartilage. During a chat at ESPN.com on November 29, 2011, Cantrell revealed that he had another surgery earlier that year, this time in his right shoulder and that he was in the tail end of the rehabilitation process. The surgery postponed the recording sessions of The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here as Cantrell could not play guitar for eight months while he was recovering. Cantrell explained the surgery saying, "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 other addicts with the recovery process. 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".
Cantrell is a longtime supporter of MusiCares MAP Fund, which helps musicians who are struggling with addiction, financial and health issues. He also supports Road Recovery, an organization dedicated to helping young people battling addiction.
On April 12, 2004, Cantrell and his then-band Cardboard Vampyres performed at a benefit concert for Sweet Relief, a nonprofit organization that helps needy musicians cover medical expenses. On November 10, 2004, Cantrell was among the musicians who performed a short acoustic set to benefit Help The Homeless in Hollywood, California.
In 2007, Cantrell auctioned off some of his favorite clothes from key moments in his career to benefit MusiCares and the Layne Staley Fund, which provides support and treatment for heroin recovery in the Seattle music community.
Since 2009, Cantrell hosts the Alice in Chains & Friends Charity Fantasy Football League. Each participant puts up an item for an online auction and all of the proceeds goes to the charity chosen by the champion of the league. Cantrell founded the league to combine his love of fantasy football with the goal of helping a worthy cause. Cantrell won the league for the first time in 2016, and in 2017 he decided to donate the proceeds to MusiCares in Chris Cornell's memory, and to Music for Relief in memory of Chester Bennington. Both musicians died in 2017.
On May 15, 2015, Cantrell performed at the second annual Acoustic-4-A-Cure concert in benefit of the Pediatric Cancer Program at the University of California, San Francisco.
Cantrell is a supporter of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and has performed at benefit concerts and charity golf tournaments to raise funds for the hospital that treats children with cancer.
Cantrell and his Alice in Chains bandmates offer special seating at their concerts for veterans from Operation Ward 57, a fund for wounded soldiers.
In 2015, Alice in Chains donated two dollars from every pre-sold ticket of their summer tour to help the family of a fan named Stefan Dayne-Ankle, who passed away after a battle with leukemia.
|Year||Album details||Chart positions|
|Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2
|"--" denotes a release that did not chart.|