The Roots of Indie: Mother Love Bone
They should have been the biggest band to come out of Seattle. Instead, they were finished before they even got started.
Before Mother Love Bone, two very distinct bands roamed the Pacific Northwest. The first was named Green River, and among its ranks were guitarists Stone Gossard and Bruce Fairweather and bassist Jeff Ament. With future Mudhoney singer Mark Arm up front, the band specialized in that unique blend of punk and '70s hard rock that later earned the name "grunge."
And in the red corner, standing 18 feet tall and weighing in at awesome, stood Malfunkshun. With their charismatic frontman, Andrew Wood, Malfunkshun played straight ahead, anthemic rock and roll. Only 14 when he and brother Kevin formed the band, Wood was a born rock star cut from Freddie Mercury cloth. On stage he was Landrew the Lovechild, bigger than life.
Gossard and Ament had similar ambitions over in the Green River camp, but vocalist Arm wanted to keep the band indie. The rift eventually broke up the band, and the two found their way to Landrew's camp. What started out as a cover band eventually added Fairweather and drummer Greg Gilmore, and by early 1988 Mother Love Bone sparked to life like some kind of Green River/Malfunkshun Frankenstein monster.
It wasn't long before major labels were sniffing around. The band signed with Mercury and released the EP Shine on Stardog Records, their own vanity imprint. The album only contained five tracks, the last two of which mesh together into one of the greatest climbing songs you'll ever hear:
Released in March 1989, Shine was the first major label release from the booming local Seattle scene. Wood's roommate, Chris Cornell, would release his major label debut with Soundgarden six months later. Alice In Chains picked up their major label deal in '89, too.
And so the race was on for the L.A. record executives to find the next big Seattle band while Mother Love Bone moved down to San Francisco to record their first full length album. They knocked out Apple on time and settled in for the big launch scheduled for March 1990.
Wood struggled with addiction since the Malfunkshun days. At some point during '89 he gave rehab a shot, but his addictions eventually got the best of him. Days before the release of Apple, Wood's girlfriend found him comatose; a heroin overdose had resulted in an aneurysm. He died on March 19, 1990, just one day short of the one-year anniversary of Shine's release.
This should be the end of the story.
This should be the end of the story. The charismatic frontman dies tragically before the band breaks out nationally, and that's the end of that. But Mother Love Bone were an exceptional band. When Apple finally dropped after a three month delay, critics both raved about the music and bemoaned the loss of what could have been.
So did the fans.
Their grief was distant, though. Those close to Wood were dealing with the loss of a friend and bandmate. Former roomie Cornell wrote a couple of songs as a tribute to Wood. He approached Gossard and Ament about recording "Reach Down" and "Say Hello 2 Heaven" as a tribute single, and they agreed.
Cornell brought along Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, and Gossard and Ament brought Mike McCready, the guitarist in the new band they were putting together. The latter three named their new band Mookie Blaylock after the then New Jersey Nets basketball star. (Blaylock's jersey number, 10, eventually factors into this story, too.)
San Diego-based singer Eddie Vedder was in town auditioning for Mookie Blaylock. He tagged along and provided backing vocals.
What started as a single turned into the one-off album and band, Temple of the Dog, named for a line in the Mother Love Bone song Man of Golden Words.
Cornell and Cameron returned to Soundgarden and the rest of the guys returned to Mookie Blaylock. A quick name change and they were Pearl Jam. Almost six months to the day after Wood's death, Pearl Jam played their first gig at Seattle's Off Ramp Cafe.
By the time Pearl Jam's debut album, Ten was released in August 1991, grunge was poised to take over the world, but it was Nirvana's Nevermind, released a month later, that was the first album to really blow up. Gossard's and Ament's latest band was criticized in some circles as poseurs who were riding the Seattle wave.
Most importantly, when the two bands collided in 1987 to form Mother Love Bone, something truly special happened.
But the roots of what happened in fall 1991 stretch back a decade, to 14-year-old Andy Wood and his brother putting together Malfunkshun. Those roots stretch to Green River's mix of indie punk and hard rock, too. Most importantly, when the two bands collided in 1987 to form Mother Love Bone, something truly special happened.
Without Mother Love Bone leading the gold rush to Seattle, that whole alternative scene may have never broken out of the Pacific Northwest.
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