Jerry Fulton Cantrell Jr. (born March 18, 1966 in Tacoma, Washington) is an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter best known for his work with the grunge band Alice in Chains, as lead guitarist, backing and co-lead vocalist, and co-lyricist. He performs lead vocals on his solo projects, and was part of Alice in Chains' harmonizing dual-vocal style. He currently resides in Los Angeles and spends time on his family ranch in Oklahoma.
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 wouldn't be until the age of 17, however, that he began seriously playing the instrument. Cantrell would later cite musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Heart, Black Sabbath, and Queensr?che as major influences.
Cantrell attended junior high and high school in Spanaway, Washington and was a member of the high school choir which attended many state competitions. Cantrell was president of the choir in his senior year. The quartet would sing the national anthem at basketball games and win competitions with the highest marks achievable. According to Cantrell, 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.
Cantrell's parents divorced when he was 7, and his mother died in 1990 at the age of 43.
In the mid 1980s, Cantrell began a band called Diamond Lie which included drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr. The singer and roommate of Cantrell, Layne Staley, also agreed to join while having Cantrell join his funk project which ended shortly after. Diamond Lie gained attention in the Seattle area and eventually took the name of Alice in Chains.
Alice in Chains
Jerry Cantrell would serve in Alice in Chains as the lead guitarist, co-lyricist, co-vocalist and main composer, until the group's near-permanent hiatus in the late 1990s, leading up to April 2002, in which lead singer Layne Staley died from a heroin overdose.
Since Staley's death in 2002, the band has reformed with its surviving members. Beginning in 2005, Cantrell has joined Alice in Chains in a number of performances featuring singers such as Maynard James Keenan, Mark Lanegan, James Hetfield, Phil Anselmo, Scott Weiland, and William DuVall. Although he acknowledges the benefits of working as a solo artist, Cantrell has expressed his happiness with being back in the band culture.
Cantrell's career outside Alice in Chains has consisted of three solo albums, as well as many appearances with other musicians and on film soundtracks. His first solo material came in a song entitled "Leave Me Alone." This was released exclusively on the Cable Guy soundtrack in 1996, featuring Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Les Claypool of Primus. It had a music video and reached #14 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks.
As the activity of Alice in Chains slowed and the band's future came into question, Cantrell reluctantly began work on his first full-length solo record. While video footage from Cantrell's official website claimed that he wanted to work solo for some time, his comments in Guitar World stated otherwise:
"It's something I never really wanted to do, but the way things have played out, it's like, why not? To be honest, I'd just be happy being the lead guitarist and singer for Alice In Chains. It's always been my first love, and always will be, but the situation being what it is... we've been together for a long time, and right now it's kinda played out. It's time to let it be. Now I've got to step up to the plate and take a few swings."
Boggy Depot was released in April 1998. It contains Cantrell's trademark odd time signatures and featured 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 sophomore album released by the following year.
The same year of Boggy Depot, Cantrell began writing a follow-up album. He also departed from Columbia Records during this time and had trouble finding a new label. Cantrell said of the writing experience:
"In '98, I locked myself in my house, went out of my mind and wrote 25 songs. I rarely bathed during that period of writing; I sent out for food, I didn't really venture out of my house in three or four months. It was a hell of an experience. The album is an overview of birth to now."
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 soon after Layne Staley's death and was dedicated to him. 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. Touring with the likes of Nickelback and Creed also helped build Cantrell's reputation as a solo artist. Degradation Trip was re-released in November of that year as a double album, featuring eleven additional tracks that 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, as of 2009, this album still hasn't been released. Subsequent work with the revamped Alice in Chains may have stalled this release.
Cantrell has appeared as guest guitarist on several albums and projects, including the Danzig album Blackacidevil and the Metallica album Garage Inc. He also guested on Circus of Power's album Magic & Madness in 1993 for the song "Heaven 'N Hell." He provided guest vocals for the track "Effigy" on Gov't Mule's 2001 album, The Deep End, Volume 1.
In 2002, Cantrell played a series of summer dates with headlining alternative rock band Nickelback. Cantrell can be seen playing "It Ain't Like That" with the band on their first DVD release, Live at Home. He was also asked by Nickelback's frontman, Chad Kroeger, to contribute to the song "Hero" for the 2002 film, Spider-Man. Cantrell was unable to attend the recording session and was replaced by Saliva's Josey Scott.
In early 2004, Cantrell collaborated with The Cult guitarist Billy Duffy to form the rock supergroup Cardboard Vampyres. Under the moniker of the Jerry Cantrell-Billy Duffy Band, they debuted during the three-concert series for Sweet Relief Musicians Fund at The Troubadour in April 2004. "This band is really just about having fun and playing tunes that we were fans of growing up," Cantrell stated. Performing mostly cover songs from bands like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, and Aerosmith, the group was rounded out by vocalist John Corabi, bassist Chris Wyse, and drummer Josh Howser. The band played at various venues in the United States; although, they predominately played along the West Coast. No formal albums were released by the band.
On April 17, 2008, Cantrell joined various musicians including Tom Morello, Perry Farrell, and Slash for the tenth anniversary concert of Road Recovery in New York. He collaborated on songs such as "Kick Out the Jams," "Mountain Song," "Wish You Were Here," and "Brother" while performing vocals on Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak".
Cantrell is featured in the movie Singles along with the rest of Alice in Chains performing the songs "It Ain't Like That" and "Would?." He is also featured as an actor in the movie Jerry Maguire. He also wrote the song "Leave Me Alone" for the 1996 dark comedy The Cable Guy, which can be found on that movie's soundtrack. Cantrell returned to the movie scene in 2004 to write, with the newly-formed metal band Damageplan, the song "Ashes to Ashes" for the movie The Punisher. That song can be found on that movie's soundtrack, and as a bonus track on the Japanese version of the Damageplan album New Found Power. 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.
Onstage in 2006
Cantrell is known to prefer G&L and Dean Guitars, as well as Gibson Les Pauls. He is currently working with Dean to design a signature model that will be based on his Les Pauls. Recently, he has been using two prototype Deans on tour (now dubbed as the Dean Soltero).
He is also said to be working on a signature amp with Bogner, whose amps he has used for a long time. His collection includes the extremely rare Fish Pre-amp responsible for many of the famous Alice in Chains sounds, as well as the Shiva and Ecstasy models.
Cantrell also owns a Peavey 5150 amp head given to him by Eddie Van Halen and a Les Paul Junior he bought from Nancy Wilson of Heart. Both of these were used to record Boggy Depot. Cantrell recorded all of the demo tracks for his album Degradation Trip at his Seattle home using a four-track recorder and his white Les Paul.
Cantrell's early influences made for Alice in Chains' heavy metal tones that stood out amongst the predominately rock-oriented 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."
In July 2006, British hard rock magazine Metal Hammer awarded Cantrell the title of Riff Lord, at its annual 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.
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. His mother Gloria died in 1990, the very same year that his close friend Andrew Wood (of Mother Love Bone) died, leading Jerry to pen the song "Would?" for AIC's second album Dirt in Wood's memory. He also dedicated AIC's debut album Facelift to Wood, as well as his late mother. An ex-girlfriend of Cantrell's has been the main subject of many Alice in Chains songs written by Cantrell.
Cantrell resides in the city of Los Angeles, California.