pearl jam’s ten 30 years later

It’s been 30 years since Pearl Jam released their ground breaking debut album,Ten which included soon-to-be classics such as Alive, Jeremy and Even Flow.

Released on August 31, 1991, it helped launch the 90s grunge wave and established Eddie Vedder, with his baritone roar, as a superstar front man.

Eddy Vedder

You could argue that it was luck (or fate) that brought Vedder together with his bandmates in 1990 since they were living in opposite ends of the country.

As heard on episode 49 of History of the 90s, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had been bouncing around the Seattle music scene since the early 1980s, first with Green River, followed by Mother Love Bone.

After the death of Mother Love Bone singer Andy Wood, Gossard and Ament started putting together a new band with guitarist Mike McCready, initially called Mookie Blaylock and were on the hunt for someone to handle the vocals.

They shopped around an instrumental demo tape to people they knew in the music scene and when it made it’s way to California and into the hands of Jack Irons, the founding drummer for Red Hot Chili Peppers, he immediately thought of his friend Eddie Vedder.

Dung a weekly game of basketball in L.A, Irons passed the demo to Vedder who listened to the tape during his three hour drive back to San Diego where he worked overnights at a Chevron tank farm.

That night at work, he listened over and over to the tape that contained five instrumentals: Dollar Short, Troubled Times, E Ballad, Richard E and Agyptian Crave.

Pearl Jam

The next morning when Vedder finished work he threw his surfboard into the back of his pick-up truck and hit Pacific Beach as the fog crept in off the ocean.

Vedder described what happened next during an interview with Rolling Stone in 1991.  He said: “It was great music, and it was bringing things out of me that hadn’t been brought out. I was literally writing some of these words as I was going up against a wave or paddling.” 

By the time he got on dry land, Vedder had written lyrics and vocal melodies for three songs.  What he came up with was a mini rock opera which Vedder says is about birth, incest and death.   

Dollar Short became Alive, which as Pearl Jam fans know is partly biographical and is based on Vedder’s experience of learning that his stepfather was not his real father, and that his biological father had actually died before he had a chance to meet him.  

Agyptian Crave became Once, and was act Two of the mini rock opera.  It was about the protagonist from Alive becoming a serial killer because of the abuse of his parents.

And Troubled Times morphed into Footsteps for the third and final act which was about the protagonist’s time in jail. 

Vedder recorded his demo on an old Merle Haggard cassette, wrote “For Stone and Jeff” on the tape which he named Momma-son and popped it in the mail. 

About a week later Vedder heard that Ament and Gossard had been trying to reach him.  He told a San Diego radio station in 1994 that between the midnight shifts and his schedule he was never around for phone calls. It took Jack Irons from the Chili Peppers to track him down and tell him that Ament and Gossard wanted to fly him up to Seattle. 

Pearl Jam

Ament finally managed to get Vedder on the phone, and after a series of calls, plane tickets were bought with money pitched in by Michael Goldstone an A&R guy at Epic Records, and Vedder secured a week’s vacation on short notice from his job.

Sometime during all of the plan making, Vedder also managed to turn Gossard’s demo E Ballad into the song Black.

After Ten was released, it was a slow build, but eventually Pearl Jam became global superstars.

Ten has sold more than 13 million copies in the US but ironically it never topped the Billboard 200. It reached number the two spot four times in August, September and October 1992 but was blocked from the number one spot by Billy Ray Cyrus whose debut album Some Gave All spent 17 consecutive weeks at number one in 1992.

For more stories from the 1990s, make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.

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