Pearl Jam is an American rock band, formed in Seattle, Washington, in 1990. Since its inception, the band’s line-up has comprised Eddie Vedder (lead vocals), Mike McCready (lead guitar), Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar) and Jeff Ament (bass). The band’s fifth member is drummer Matt Cameron (also of Soundgarden), who has been with the band since 1998. Boom Gaspar (piano) has also been a session/touring member with the band since 2002. Drummers Dave Krusen, Matt Chamberlain, Dave Abbruzzese and Jack Irons are former members of the band.
Formed after the demise of Gossard and Ament’s previous band, Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam broke into the mainstream with its debut album, Ten, in 1991. One of the key bands in the grunge movement of the early 1990s, over the course of the band’s career, its members became noted for their refusal to adhere to traditional music industry practices, including refusing to make proper music videos or give interviews, and engaging in a much-publicized boycott of Ticketmaster. In 2006, Rolling Stone described the band as having “spent much of the past decade deliberately tearing apart their own fame.”
To date, the band has sold nearly 32 million records in the U.S. and an estimated 60 million worldwide. Pearl Jam has outlasted and outsold many of its contemporaries from the alternative rock breakthrough of the early 1990s, and is considered one of the most influential bands of that decade. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic referred to Pearl Jam as “the most popular American rock & roll band of the ’90s.”
Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament were members of pioneering grunge band Green River during the mid-1980s. Green River toured and recorded to moderate success but disbanded in 1987 due to a stylistic division between the pair and bandmates Mark Arm and Steve Turner. In late 1987, Gossard and Ament began playing with Malfunkshun vocalist Andrew Wood, eventually organizing the band Mother Love Bone. In 1988 and 1989, the band recorded and toured to increasing interest and found the support of the PolyGram record label, which signed the band in early 1989. Mother Love Bone’s debut album, Apple, was released in July 1990, four months after Wood died of a heroin overdose.
Ament and Gossard were devastated by the death of Wood and the resulting demise of Mother Love Bone. Gossard spent his time afterwards writing material that was harder-edged than what he had been doing previously. After a few months, Gossard started practicing with fellow Seattle guitarist Mike McCready, whose band, Shadow, had broken up; McCready in turn encouraged Gossard to reconnect with Ament. After practicing for a while, the trio sent out a five-song demo tape in order to find a singer and a drummer. They gave former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons the demo to see if he would be interested in joining the band and to distribute the demo to anyone he felt might fit the lead vocal position.
Irons passed on the invitation but gave the demo to his basketball buddy, San Diego, California singer Eddie Vedder. Vedder was the lead vocalist for a San Diego band, Bad Radio, and worked part-time at a gas station. He listened to the tape shortly before going surfing, where lyrics came to him. He then recorded the vocals to three of the songs (“Alive”, “Once”, and “Footsteps”) in what he later described as a “mini-opera” entitled Momma-Son. Vedder sent the tape with his vocals back to the three Seattle musicians, who were impressed enough to fly Vedder up to Seattle for an audition. Within a week, Vedder had joined the band.
With the addition of Dave Krusen on drums, the band took the name Mookie Blaylock, in reference to the then-active All-Star basketball player. The band played its first official show at the Off Ramp Café in Seattle on October 22, 1990. and soon signed to Epic Records and renamed themselves Pearl Jam. In an early promotional interview, Vedder said that the name “Pearl Jam” was a reference to his great-grandmother Pearl, who was married to a Native American and had a special recipe for peyote-laced jam. In a 2006 Rolling Stone cover story however, Vedder admitted that this story was “total bullshit”, even though he indeed had a great-grandma named Pearl. Ament and McCready explained that Ament came up with “pearl”, and that the band later settled on “Pearl Jam” after attending a concert by Neil Young, in which he extended his songs as improvisations of 15–20 minutes in length.
Pearl Jam entered Seattle’s London Bridge Studios in March 1991 to record its debut album, Ten. McCready said that “Ten was mostly Stone and Jeff; me and Eddie were along for the ride at that time.” Krusen left the band in May 1991 after checking himself into rehabilitation; he was replaced by Matt Chamberlain, who had previously played with Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. After playing only a handful of shows, one of which was filmed for the “Alive” video, Chamberlain left to join the Saturday Night Live band. Chamberlain suggested Dave Abbruzzese as his replacement. Abbruzzese joined the group and played the rest of Pearl Jam’s live shows supporting Ten.
Released on August 27, 1991, Ten (named after Mookie Blaylock’s jersey number) contained eleven tracks dealing with dark subjects like depression, suicide, loneliness, and murder. Ten‘s musical style, influenced by classic rock, combined an “expansive harmonic vocabulary” with an anthemic sound. The album was slow to sell, but by the second half of 1992 it became a breakthrough success, being certified gold and reaching number two on the Billboardcharts. Ten produced the hit singles “Alive”, “Even Flow”, and “Jeremy”. Originally interpreted as an anthem by many, Vedder later revealed that “Alive” tells the semi-biographical tale of a son discovering that his father is actually his stepfather, while his mother’s grief turns her to sexually embrace her son, who strongly resembles the biological father. The song “Jeremy” and its accompanying video were inspired by a true story in which a high school student shot himself in front of his classmates. Ten stayed on the Billboard charts for nearly five years, and has gone on to become one of the highest-selling rock records ever, going 13x platinum.
With the success of Ten, Pearl Jam became a key member of the Seattle grunge explosion, along with Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Soundgarden. The band was criticized in the music press; British music magazine NME said that Pearl Jam was “trying to steal money from young alternative kids’ pockets.” Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain angrily attacked Pearl Jam, claiming the band were commercial sellouts, and argued Ten was not a true alternative album because it had so many prominent guitar leads. Cobain later reconciled with Vedder, and they reportedly were on amicable terms before Cobain’s death in 1994.
Pearl Jam toured relentlessly in support of Ten. Ament stated that “essentially Ten was just an excuse to tour,” adding, “We told the record company, ‘We know we can be a great band, so let’s just get the opportunity to get out and play.'” The band’s manager, Kelly Curtis, stated, “Once people came and saw them live, this lightbulb would go on. Doing their first tour, you kind of knew it was happening and there was no stopping it.” Early on in Pearl Jam’s career, the band became known for its intense live performances. Looking back at this time, Vedder said that “playing music and then getting a shot at making a record and at having an audience and stuff, it’s just like an untamed force…But it didn’t come from jock mentality. It came from just being let out of the gates.” In 1992, Pearl Jam made television appearances on Saturday Night Live and MTV Unplugged and took a slot on that summer’s Lollapalooza tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, and Ministry, among others. The band contributed two songs to the soundtrack of the 1992 Cameron Crowe film Singles: “State of Love and Trust” and “Breath”. Ament, Gossard and Vedder appeared in Singles under the name “Citizen Dick”; their parts were filmed when Pearl Jam was known as Mookie Blaylock.
“Black” is a song by the American rock band Pearl Jam. The song is the fifth track on the band’s debut album, Ten (1991). Featuring lyrics written by vocalist Eddie Vedder and music written by guitarist Stone Gossard, “Black” is a soliloquy by a broken-hearted man, who is remembering his absent lover.
After Ten became a commercial success in 1992, Pearl Jam’s record label Epic Records urged the group to release the song as a single. The band refused, citing the song’s personal nature. Despite the lack of a commercial single release, the song managed to reach number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Remixed versions of the song were included on Pearl Jam’s 2004 greatest hits album, Rearviewmirror, and the 2009 Ten reissue.
The song originated as an instrumental demo under the name “E Ballad” that was written by guitarist Stone Gossard in 1990. It was one of five songs compiled onto a tape called Stone Gossard Demos ’91 that was circulated in the hopes of finding a singer and drummer for Pearl Jam. The tape made its way into the hands of vocalist Eddie Vedder, who was working as a San Diego gas station attendant at the time. Vedder recorded vocals for three of the songs on the demo tape (“Alive”, “Once”, and “Footsteps”), and mailed the tape back to Seattle. Upon hearing the tape, the band invited Vedder to come to Seattle. On his way to Seattle, Vedder wrote lyrics for “E Ballad”, which he called “Black”.
Guitarist Mike McCready on the song’s lead guitar work:
“That’s more of a Stevie [Ray Vaughan] rip-off, with me playing little flowing things. I was way into that trip—I still am, actually, but it was probably more obvious back then. I really thought the song was beautiful. Stone wrote it and he just let me do what I wanted.”
Vocalist Eddie Vedder on the song’s lyrics:
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder had been a fan of American Music Club for years. Pearl Jam’s song ‘Black’, [Melody Maker’s Allan] Jones maintains, “couldn’t have been written without AMC’s songs as an example. ‘Black’ doesn’t quote directly from ‘Western Sky,’ but it paraphrases the line ‘Please be happy baby’ where Vedder sings in a very Eitzel way, ‘I hope someday you’ll have a beautiful life’.” Vedder confirmed Jones’ interpretation when they first met. ” Oh yes, nobody ever picked up on that, ” the singer told him. “It is American Music Club, but I’m surprised that anyone here has even heard of them.”
“Black” became one of Pearl Jam’s best known songs and is a central emotional piece on the album Ten. Despite pressure from Epic Records, the band refused to make it into a single, feeling that it was too personal and the feeling of it would be lost by a video or a single release. Vedder stated that “fragile songs get crushed by the business. I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t think the band wants to be part of it.” Vedder personally called radio station managers to make sure Epic had not released the song as a single against his wishes. In spite of this, the song charted at number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number 20 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1993. The popularity of “Black” gained it everlasting rotation, putting it amongst Pearl Jam’s most enduring songs.
Stephen M. Deusner of Pitchfork Media said, “On songs like…’Black,’ with strangely dramatic vocalizations, there’s a hardscrabble dynamic that the band would be unable to capture on subsequent releases.”
In March 2009, “Black” was made available as downloadable content for the Rock Band series as a master track as part of the album Ten. The song was featured in the Cold Case episode “Into the Blue” in 2009.
In May 2011, “Black” was voted the 9th best Ballad of all time by readers of Rolling Stone magazine.
Black – Vedder, Gossard
Sheets of empty canvas, untouched sheets of clay
Were laid spread out before me as her body once did.
All five horizons revolved around her soul as the earth to the sun
Now the air I tasted and breathed has taken a turn
Ooh, and all I taught her was everything
Ooh, I know she gave me all that she wore
And now my bitter hands chafe beneath the clouds of what was everything.
Oh, the pictures have all been washed in black, tattooed everything…
I take a walk outside, I’m surrounded by some kids at play
I can feel their laughter, so why do I sear?
Oh, and twisted thoughts that spin round my head, I’m spinning, oh,
I’m spinning, how quick the sun can drop away
And now my bitter hands cradle broken glass of what was everything
All the pictures have all been washed in black, tattooed everything…
All the love gone bad turned my world to black
Tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I’ll be… yeah…
Uh huh… uh huh… ooh…
I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life,
I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky,
But why, why, why can’t it be, can’t it be mine?
Too doo doo too, too doo doo [many times until fade]
- Audio from the 1991 album, Ten:
Black - by Pearl Jam