The Sad Story Of Mad Season & Layne Staley
Today on Rock N’ Roll True Stories they take a look at the band Mad Season and their aborted second album session. Check it out below!
Some of the most memorable bands of the early 90’s alternative rock movement were collaborations between some of the biggest bands of the time. And the one’s that really come to mind include Temple of the Dog with their self titled record and of course today’s topic Mad Season with their lone record Above. And like a lot of bands to come out of Seattle drugs played an important role in the history of the band not just in its formation but in stopping the band in it’s tracks.
Pearl Jam Meets Alice In Chains Meets The Screaming Trees
The formation of Mad Season really began with Pearl jam’s third record Vitalogy. During the making of the album Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready was struggling with alcohol and substance abuse and would head to Minnesota to go to rehab. it was there he would meet Walkabouts bassist and fellow seattle resident John Baker Saunders. Following their treatment, the pair agreed to start a band together to help them both remain sober. They would seek out Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin to start writing material and all the band needed now was a singer so McCready would reach out to Alice in Chains front man Layne Staley who was deep in the throws of addiction. Now McCready was hoping that the trio would have a positive influence on Staley and help him get clean.
Alice in Chains Almost Broke Up Leading to Mad Season
1994 had been a disastrous year for Alice in Chains as the band had started off the year releasing their hugely successful EP Jar of Flies and the band was supposed to tour that summer with metallica but addiction and infighting forced the band to split up for about 6 months. With lots of time on his hands, Staley agreed to front Mad Season and at that point in his life Staley was living with a roomate named Johnny and the members of Mad Season would drop by Layne’s place to discuss the band and have him listen to instrumental tracks the trio had come up with and Layne’s roomate would recall in the book The Untold Story of Alice in Chains how Layne and John Baker Saunders didn’t exactly get off to a good start as Saunders use to come over to Layne’s place and fall asleep on his couch. Layne would take guitarist Mike McCready aside and tell him that Saunders couldn’t keep coming over and falling asleep at his place because then Layne would have to tip toe around his apartment and that one little misstep aside the band would get together several times to jam and based on the great chemistry the group had booked their first gig. Now the band would play their first show at the Crocodile Cafe in october of 1994 and most of the songs played at the first gig would end up on Mad Season’s Above album, but they also threw in a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child. And since the band didn’t have a name yet and by the time their first gig rolled around they called them selfs the Gacey Bunch named after the serial killer John Wayne Gacey.
Recording A Record Or A Demo For Mad Season?
Now it would be guitarist Mike McCready who would suggest that the band record a demo, but it would be Layne Staley who would raise the stakes suggesting the group record an album instead. Now the group knew they had to come up with a legitimate name though. McCready would look back at Pearl Jam’s first album Ten, which was mixed in Surrey, England. The name of Mad Season originated and i won’t go too deep in to it. When we were mixing the first record, the Pearl Jam record in Surrey, England, the people who worked at the studio said oh it must be the mad season and that’s the season when all the hallucinogenic mushrooms come out over in Surrey, England and I thought ah I’ll keep that title for something, someday. Now the band would head to Bad Animals studio to record with producer Sam Hofstedt and Hofstedt would remember the recording of the album saying
“Layne was still working on his lyrics and vocal parts when it came to actually recording the album. He would go into the studio by himself and have no one else around him and he could operate the tape machine himself and do a little bit of experimentation without feeling like anyone was listening to him or watching him.
So Brett Ellason who worked with Pearl Jam also worked with Mad season in the studio and also recalled Layne’s drug use at the time saying Layne was not healthy. Heavy heavy drug use. Such a sweet guy and such an amazing talent we were in cahoots with his roomate who would get Layne off the couch and point him in our direction and Layne would show up and he would go back to the bathroom and he would be doing dope back there and you’d wait hours before he was ready to come out. He was pretty open about it. I asked him why are you doing this to yourself and he said I’m either going to drink or do dope and drinking is harder on me he’d say. Now the band would spend 2 weeks in the studio with Staley writing all the lyrics focusing on similar topics found on Alice in Chains records. Layne was heavily into reading at the time and his personal favourite was a group of 1923 philosophical essay’s titled the Prophet. The song is even referenced in the song River of Deceit on the record and in 2002 drummer Barrett Martin described Layne’s headspace at the time saying Layne felt like he was on a spiritual mission with his music. Not a rock mission, but a spiritual one. And in the end Above would be a very blues influenced album more in line with Pearl Jam’s sound and less in line with what Alice in Chains were doing. Now two successful singles would be spawned off the record including River of Deceit and I Don’t Know Anything. And The album would finally be released in March of 1995 and would be certified gold by June. Now in early 1995 the band would play a series of shows with the final performance of the band taking place on April 29, 1995 at the Moore Theatre. Now members of Alice in Chains and there production staff were in attendance as Layne was already back with Alice in Chains at the time working on their self titled record. Now that performance at the Moore would be released years later. According to John Baker Saunders brother, the band was at one point in talks with Saturday Night Live to perform on the show, but unfortunately nothing would happen. so what was Jerry Cantrell’s feelings on the supergroup. It’s about the music you know and I think early on in a band’s career. I think you mentioned previously. I can use experiences from my own band as well. You know the guys can get a little jealous if you do something outside. Myself included. You know when Layne did the record he did with Mad season with McCready I was a little pissed about that myself you know. If you’ve spent so much time together in a non-sexual way it’s like somebody your girlfriend you know basically you know what i mean? You’ve got this relationship with him you feel a little betrayed but as you grow a bit and a couple of days pass and you think about it a little bit I mean that can only be healthy. You know? And I think i dealt with that issue and that’s a good thing to see. For all that jamming and for all that exploration he’s a better player without a doubt. Wherever you got on a trip man i mean you’re going to bring that back to the group you know whether that is used within the group or whatever. You know it’s hard to say exactly where that’s going to come out whether you’re a better player or you got some different ideas or whatever or you just feel better and you come back with a clean slate and whatever. You know you gotta being in a band is a really tough thing it’s a really bizarre balance you know of these 4 or 5 really strong personalities and creative people and if most of the material is coming from one angle a whole lot even if that’s what you’re known as you know i mean that can be a little stifling i imagine you know and in my case i’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of the stuff i’ve written played with Alice and then you know doing this thing I think layne doing that record was a good thing for him as well and i think it’s a very cool thing. Now 2 years after the Above album came out there were rumblings in 1997 that Mad Season was going to reconvene to write a follow up record. Now it’s improtant to note that at this point in time Alice in Chains seemed to be done as Layne Staley still hadn’t kicked his addiction and his health had only gotten worse In the book Everybody Loves Our Town it was rumoured that the second Mad Season album was going to be called Disinformation and Barrett Martin would tell Author Mark Yarm we started making a second record for Mad Season. We had 16 or 17 songs we were working on. We were going to do the same thing have Layne be the main singer and lyric writer and have Mark Lanegan of The Screaming Trees be involved, but I could never get either of them to come into the studio and then Mike McCready had an idea to do a band called Disinformation. I guess Lanegan was going to be the singer, but again he never showed up. So what happened to all the studio time the band had booked? According to drummer Barrett Martin the band divided the studio time amongst the different members who would go on to do their different projects. One member of Mad Season who was eager to get the band back together was bassist John Baker Saunders. So in the book Everybody Loves Our Town they talk about his demise and how he was the first member to pass away due to a drug overdose. Now one of his friends was interviewed in the book and recalled I was in Bakers house probably a week before he died in 1998 he lived in a tiny house in a suburb of Seattle and was really sad that they weren’t finishing Mad Season’s second record and he was stressing financially as well. He was just really somber. When he first came out of rehab and I met him he was extremely excited he was because it was a fresh start. In the same book author Mark Yarm would speak to another friend of Saunders who shed some more light on his life at the time and described how Baker had recently got into a relationship with a women from Belgium who had gone back home and he was feeling really lonely. Baker would end up relapsing and overdosing when his dealer was at his house, but his dealer waited a while before calling 911 and by the time the paramedics got to him he was dead. And one of the last people Baker talked to was Barrett Martin who was supposed to meet him the next day over lunch to catch up since they hadn’t seen each other in a while. Now with Baker gone, Mad Season’s future seemed more in doubt as Layne Staley revealed in a interview in 1999 with Rockline. The members of Alice in Chains were promoting their Nothing Safe box set when a caller called into the show to ask Layne about Mad Season and here’s what he had to say. Hey i got a question for Layne hey what’s going on. Hey do you have any more mad season in the works and if so are you guys gonna do any small club dates or anything like that across the united states. No no. Double no. No were not going to do anything more. Actually the bass player passed on this last year. Yeah right. Baker. Baker yeah. So nothing in the works for Mad Season. Yeah. Fast forward now almost 13 years and Mike McCready would reveal that he was looking into bringing back Mad Season with a new singerand he would reveal how he would like to re-release the Above album along with the Moore theatre show in addition to several unreleased tracks. Now the unreleased tracks dated back to the aborted second Mad Season record and the eventual release box set would come out almost 18 years after the original release of the Above record. That wasn’t where the story ends. In 2015 the band teamed up with Guns N Roses bassist Duff McKagan, Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra to do a one off performance. The performance would be released and the album deubted at number 4 on the billboard top classical crossover albums chart. And the same year Barrett Martin revealed he was writing new Mad Season material with Mike McCready as well as Duff McKagan and that project would eventually morph into the Levee Walkers, which would release several songs over the subsequent years. So that concludes today’s video guys. Thanks for watching. Let me know your comments below and as always if you have suggestions for future topics let me know them as well. Be sure to hit the like button and subscribe. If you guys want to support my channel, simply watch another video or go check us out on Patreon. take care.