29 Years Ago: Jane’s Addiction Release Their Indie Debut Recorded Live at the Roxy
In Los Angeles on Jan. 26,1987, Jack Nicholson rolled up to the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, only to be greeted by a “freak in a corset and a silver jacket with dreadlocks,” screaming, “Jack! Jack! We’re playing [the Roxy tonight]! Can you come in and introduce us?”
That’s Charley Brown, Jane’s Addiction‘s first manager and co-founder of Triple X Records, remembering in Whores: An Oral Biography of Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction, the night Perry Farrell tried unsuccessfully to get America’s biggest actor to play emcee for the shows that would become the band’s first album.
Jack wouldn’t have been the only big shot in the room. All of the major labels were there, as were the cream of the L.A. musical crop. In the book, Thelonious Monster’s Bob Forrest recalls watching the gig with Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis:
It was everything that everybody who had bands hoped to accomplish. It gives me chills still – how great they were. We walked out to the car and Anthony was all quiet and I was all quiet and then he said, “What are you thinking?” And I said, “I’m thinking why I even [bother to] play music,’ And he said, “Yeah, me too.” And he just started the car and drove away. They were that far ahead of everybody else.
By the date of the Roxy show (actually shows), the career trajectory of Jane’s Addiction had already become a foregone conclusion. The band had already decided to sign with Warner Bros., though they continued to string along other labels for the free food. “They took you to Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset for record label dinners back in the ’80s,” guitarist Dave Navarro recalled in the book. “Always the same place. I don’t why.”
Not that a free lunch was the only consideration. As Perry Farrell said, “We told Warner we definitely wanted to sign, but we wanted to come out on our own label or an indie first and then grow organically from there. It just made more sense.”
The indie label in question was the aforementioned Triple X, founded by a trio of employees from record distributor Greenworld. Charley Brown, Peter Heur and Dean Naleway got themselves fired in order to collect unemployment, which they used to start Triple X. They then went all in, maxing out their credit cards and even selling their cars to put out Jane’s Addiction’s first album.
Triple X tried to talk Jane’s into a longer deal (three to five records, depending on who you ask), but Farrell instead talked Brown into managing the band. This marked the launch of Triple X Management and the Triple X record deal turned into a 50-50 split on one album.
During that period, Jane’s Addiction were alternating acoustic and electric sets, so the plan was to capture both at a live Roxy showcase. As you’ll see in the video below (featuring the entire show), it isn’t exactly like anybody is standing still to lay down pristine tracks.
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But Jane’s Addiction more often drew comparisons to a different classic rock band – one that also fused thunderous guitars, androgynous vocals and trippy, meditative moments: Led Zeppelin. Perhaps the strangest comparison came from Buzz magazine, who likened Jane’s to an amalgam of “Led Zep, U2, and Culture Club,” the latter presumably a reference to frontman Farrell’s wardrobe of corsets and dresses. According to Dave Thompson’s Perry Ferrell: The Saga of a Hypester, another journalist of the period noted that “his talent for cross-dressing rivals David Bowie.”
While the music on their debut is evocative on its own, there are two things it couldn’t totally capture: the striking visuals of early Jane’s shows and Perry Farrell’s stage patter, both of which remain key elements of the band. But, back in 1987, nobody worked a crowd like Farrell.
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Two of the band’s staples, “Pigs in Zen” and “Jane Says,” would show up again the following year on their major label debut, Nothing’s Shocking, but several choice cuts (like “1%”) weren’t rerecorded for either that album or its follow-up, Ritual de lo Habitual. Some of these are among the band’s most adventurous recordings, defying the conventional arrangements of rock songs. The ballad “I Would For You” features nearly solo bass accompaniment and “Trip Away” is more shamanic ritual than pop song.
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For the album’s artwork, Farrell customized a portrait by Karyn Cantor. Triple X partner Dean Naleway remembered, “For weeks, he was painting this thing until he finally ran out of paint and didn’t have money to get any more. So he touched it up with Wite-Out because we were pushing and pushing him to finish the cover.”
Triple X released the album on several different colors of vinyl, creating instant collectibles for the band’s rabid L.A. fan base. Versions were manufactured in black, pink/purple, green, white, blue, red and clear. All remain sought after, but the earliest clear versions without a UPC code are the most valuable. Even the unused parts of the record were integrated into the band’s art. Engraved into the album’s run-outs are phrases,”What made you look here?” and “It used to be secrets! I couldn’t give them away.”
The album was influential not just in terms of its music, but in how bands went on to approach fan retention and credibility. Although Jane’s signed a deal with Warners reportedly worth as much as the record-setting deal Guns n’ Roses‘ made with Geffen, Jane’s weren’t considered sell-outs, in part, thanks to the Triple X album. Many have argued that subsequent bands like Soundgarden chose to release their debuts on indie labels only after seeing how well it worked for Jane’s Addiction.
All things considered, Nicholson probably missed the boat when he turned down Farrell’s offer in the parking lot of the Rainbow that night. But who knows? Maybe when Jane’s Addiction was released on May 15, 1987, Triple X sent him a promo copy. If it’s on clear vinyl, we’d even offer him 50 bucks for it.
[Note: Unless otherwise noted, all quotes appearing in this article are from Whores: An Oral Biography of Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction by Brendan Mullen.]