Long before Alice in Chains had singles on the radio and videos on MTV like “Them Bones,” “Would?”, and “Man in the Box,” original frontman Layne Staley sang for a different band called Alice N’ Chains. Though they are similar names and the story is a little confusing, let these posters tell the story better.
AUCTION PREVIEW: In our upcoming auction for Music and Entertainment on August 8th and 9th, we are happy to offer two vintage posters tied to critical moments in Alice in Chains’ storied career. Bidding is now open.
In the mid-1980s, there was a band called Sleze, whose final lineup featured Staley on vocals, Nick Pollock on guitar, Johnny Bacolas on bass, and James Bergstrom on drums. The band considered changing their name to Alice in Chains, referencing Alice in Wonderland but with a bondage bent. (Friendly reminder: this was the 1980s and all of the things This is Spinal Tap lampooned in heavy metal were true.) But the band was well aware that Staley’s mother – a devout Christian – would not be happy about the name. In an attempt to make it more like “Alice and Chains,” the band’s name became Alice N’ Chains. She still wasn’t happy when he told her the new name. (The usage of “N’” had nothing to do with Guns N’ Roses, by the way.)
Alice N’ Chains was around only for a year, roughly 1986 until 1987, playing heavy metal that was, as a poster once declared, “Over Easy and Super Slezy [sic].” The sound and image presentation was more of a joke with songs like “Lip Lock Rock” and “Ya Yeah Ya.”
Seated in the promo picture in the bottom right is a very young Layne Staley, looking almost nothing like what he would be known for in the 1990s. As much as grunge was promoted as a genre that had nothing to do with 1980s hard rock (later derided as “hair metal”), this is really compelling proof of how the opposite was true.
As Alice N’ Chains wound down, Staley met guitarist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney at a party and they discussed jamming together. Eventually they formed a band that gigged under a couple of different names. They decided to christen themselves Alice in Chains. Some of Staley’s old bandmates were not very happy about the usage of the name, but they later acquiesced.
Alice in Chains had hits right away from their debut album, Facelift. Videos for “We Die Young” and “Man in the Box” were in MTV’s regular rotation. With a lot of touring (supporting Van Halen, among others) the album eventually went gold, setting high expectations for their next album.
Given the positive reaction to the inclusion of “Would?” on the Singles soundtrack, their second album, Dirt, was poised to break the band even more. With many songs dealing with the effects of heroin usage, the grim subject matter perfectly fit in with the straight-faced seriousness found in popular rock bands of the time. The album went platinum four times over in the US alone.
Designed and signed by prolific Pacific Northwest artist, Mike King, the imagery is striking, even though it is just an outdoor pic of the band (rounded out by original bassist Mike Starr). No longer a shy guy sitting in a corner, Staley stands firm on the left side. There is no pretension to the band. No goofy statements to get people to pay attention. Just the band’s name in big letters, and the venue and date in smaller letters. There is a feeling of excitement in this poster – a moment in time before things became even bigger.
Grunge and alternative rock were a major jolt to the music industry, which lagged as the 1980s ended and the 1990s began. The ripples would be immense, as labels clamored to find younger bands that could replicate the success of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. It was indeed a gold rush for a handful of years.
Alice in Chains’ first era would come to a sad ending when Staley passed away in 2002 (and Mike Starr died in 2011). Years later, the band reformed with vocalist William DuVall and they continue to play and record to this day. But the band would not be so highly valued if it weren’t for these pre-fame days. Now you have a chance to own some incredible documentation of that time.
Preview the posters and get ready for our auction on Saturday, August 8th, and Sunday, August 9th.