On the path to the classics

By Sergio Ariza

Out of the great bands that surfaced in the early 90s in Seattle, Pearl Jam were the ones who had their roots firmly in classic rock. It may be that Vedder, Gossard, McCready and Ament liked the Pixies but you didn’t see it as much as their love for Hendrix, Kiss, Neil Young, or The Who. Not surprisingly, out of all of those bands, they would wind up becoming the one that  sold the most, and their connection to the greats of rock allowed them, in a certain way, continuity in the great rock tradition. Little wonder, despite their debut album having 2 main composers, guitarist Stone Gossard, and bassman Jeff Ament, the sound itself is owed to the singer Eddie Vedder and the lead guitarist Mike McCready, who did not pick up his first guitar after hearing Sonic Youth, but after seeing a Stevie Ray Vaughan gig.    

The origin of the record goes back to that terrible day in March 1990, a day in which the singer of Mother Love Bone (one of the main alternative live bands in Seattle), Andrew Wood, died of an overdose. Devastated by the tragedy, Stone Gossard started to write some songs on his own and he started to hang out with another Seattle guitarist whose band had also just broken up. It was Mike McCready, and he convinced Gossard to enroll the prolific drummer from Mother Love Bone, Jeff Ament. The trio recorded a demo with 5 songs arranged by Gossard, Dollar Short,  Agytian Crave, Footsteps, Richard’s E, and E Ballad, and the hunt was on for a singer and drummer. In September of 1990, the demo got into the hands of Eddie Vedder, a singer out of San Diego, who decided to write lyrics for the first 2 tracks, that went on to be called Alive and Once, and sent the tape back to Seattle. They were delighted with the result and called him for an audition. On the way there, he wrote lyrics for E Ballad, retitled it Black, and no more was needed, the job was his. A short time later, they inked drummer Dave Krusen and just like that, they signed immediately to Epic Records. Pearl Jam was born (although, at the time, they were still called Mookie Blaylock). 

They started recording Ten in March of 1991 and finished in May. They added more songs to the demo ones, which they wrote during the recording session, but only Porch, by Vedder, and Release, a collective effort, were not written by Gossard or Ament. The former is the heaviest, he wrote  Alive, Even Flow, Once and Black, whereas Ament wasn’t as prolific but counted on his emblematic Jeremy. McCready had a tune that Vedder put words to called Yellow Ledbetter that remained off the album (it was Jeremy’s B side of ) but it became one of the band’s fan’s favourites, with the lead guitar giving tribute to one of his big influences, Jimi Hendrix. Despite this, it would be one of the decisive elements of the record with some of his solos becoming classics. The best example found is in Alive which was inspired by Ace Frehley and his solo on She, which in turn was inspired by Robbie Krieger’s 5 to 1 by The Doors. However in the end, it goes back to sounding like Hendrix. Of course he doesn't forget to to pay tribute to the guy who inspired him to buy his first guitar and on Even Flow there is that Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texan feel . As it couldn't be any other way, all of them playing a Stratocaster plugged into a Marshall amp.


Certainly the crowning glory of the album was Eddie Vedder’s voice and lyrics. His powerful pipes and peculiar tone would inspire hundreds of imitators. His lyrics were what put the band  on an alternative path, not about stairways to heaven, but rather childhood trauma, the homeless, and suicide victims. If their music wasn’t the discovery of the wheel, their songs have proven to pass the test of time with the highest mark. Today, Alive, Black, Even Flow, Once, and Jeremy, still sound like the hymns they always were and make this Ten the essential record in the discography of this great band.