Lessons Learned With Jerry Cantrell

Alice In Chains co-founder discusses MusiCares MAP Fund honor, progress on new Alice In Chains album, songwriting and inspiration, and the importance of MusiCares
  • Photo: Chiaki Nozu/WireImage.com
    Jerry Cantrell
  • Photo: Lester Cohen/WireImage.com
    Alice In Chains at the 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2010
  • Photo: Lester Cohen/WireImage.com
    James Hetfield and Jerry Cantrell perform at the 2nd Annual MusiCares MAP Fund benefit concert in 2006
May 30, 2012 -- 11:46 am PDT
By Steve Baltin / GRAMMY.com

Alice In Chains' co-founder Jerry Cantrell is set to join elite company at the 8th Annual MusiCares MAP Fund benefit concert on May 31. The vocalist/guitarist, who will receive the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award for his commitment to the MusiCares MAP Fund and helping other addicts with the addiction recovery process, joins previous event honorees such as Alice Cooper, Chris Cornell, Anthony Kiedis, Dave Gahan, and James Hetfield.

Along with certified interventionist Neil Lasher, Cantrell will be the guest of honor at the annual benefit designed to raise funds for the MusiCares MAP Fund, which provides members of the music community access to addiction recovery treatment regardless of their financial situation. The evening will be hosted by Steve-O and will feature an all-star concert lineup with performances by Alice In Chains, Heart's Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson, Billy Idol, Mark Lanegan, Duff McKagan, and a DJ set by Moby.

In advance of the benefit concert, Cantrell discussed the significance of the award, the importance of MusiCares to the music community, progress on the forthcoming new Alice In Chains album, and how collaborating with Elton John on the title track to 2009's GRAMMY-nominated Black Gives Way To Blue brought him full circle.

I saw you play with Metallica at the MusiCares MAP Fund benefit in 2006. That was obviously a special performance, but I know you've been to a number of these shows. Are there any favorite memories for you?
Yeah, that one is obviously a classic. I've been a fan of Metallica and friends with those guys for a long time and that was just great — half Alice In Chains and half Metallica playing together. Obviously, on a more serious note, it's inspiring to see James [Hetfield] take control of his issues, some of the same things I have issues with. And it's just inspiring to see somebody make the effort and make a turn for the better.

By accepting this award do you feel like a role model or a positive example?
A better way to look at it is I admire those guys for the effort they make. It's cool to get here, it's cool to know that you can get here and it's nice to be [proof] that no matter where you find yourself in life you've always got a chance to turn it around.

When you look at not only your bandmates, but even recent examples like Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston, do you feel very fortunate?
A common part of the human experience is if you f*** around with it long enough, it's gonna get a hold of you. That's been the case for me and for a lot of people too. It's not just explicitly musicians, but being a musician and [having] so many friends that are, it's really nice to have an organization like MusiCares to take care of each other. I remember when I first came here in 2003, Buddy Arnold helped me out.

Tell me about the other artists playing at this year's benefit concert.
Ann and Nancy [Wilson of Heart] are the top of the heap. They've been there for us and we've been there for them too. Any time we got a chance to remind people how important their role has been to music and the world and what that means to us, we're always there for them. I look at them as my older sisters, they've given a lot of great advice and they fought through a lot of adversity and I'm very much looking forward to having them play.

When they told me I was gonna receive the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award, they asked me if I would make a little list of the people I would like to see play. I had just seen [Mark] Lanegan out in Silver Lake and he killed it. God, it was amazing. I hadn't seen him in some years and it was a really magical experience, so I gave him a call and asked him. Duff [McKagan]'s been a friend for years and been very involved with our band as well in various ways. And I don't know Billy [Idol] personally, but I do know Billy Morrison and Steve Stevens, the guitar player. I jammed with Steve a couple of times as well.

Your last album, Black Gives Way To Blue, spawned two GRAMMY nominations. What did that mean to you?
Well, we were very happy to be nominated and lose two GRAMMYs again. I think that put us at zero and eight. Hey, look, dude, it's the old cliché, but it's totally true, it's an honor to be thought of. To be considered one of the [best hard rock performances] of the year, we achieved something. But we were very happy with that, we were very happy with the success that we had. It just felt good, it was hard work and it was worth every bit of it. And we're looking forward to doing it again.

Do you think the new Alice In Chains album will be out this year?
It'll depend on when it's done. We started writing stuff last year. I think we're all good with that now, so now it's time to cut it. So we're gonna try to, but if not it'll probably be out early next year. It'll be out about three or four minutes after we're finished [laughs]. Give the record company time to set it up and plan the attack and tour for hopefully a year, year and a half.

So the writing is pretty much done though?
The thing that set me back is I had some bone spurs [and] cartilage issues in my shoulders. I had the same issue in the other shoulder about six years ago so I've had them both done now. It's a repetitive motion injury from playing. But the repair takes a year [laughs]. So that kind of set us back a little bit, but it takes time anyway — my body started a vacation.

Who are those songwriters that are universal to you?
The earliest examples are the ones that got me started [and] that's the songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. That's what really got me into it. I didn't even know two-thirds of the s*** these guys were talking about, but I felt it. And also I realized this music and these feelings that are coming to me on this piece of plastic have all this weight, all this magic in it and it inspired me to want to do that myself. And then years later to have Elton play piano on [our] last record especially, it's funny how s*** comes around cause that's the guy [who] got me started. It's a really cool thing and it also speaks to the journey of your life, it's going back to what we were talking about with MusiCares. It's a good example not to give up. You never know what is gonna come down the road. There's some pretty cool s*** that happens if you decide to stick around.

What does it mean to you to be honored with the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award?
That the award is honoring Stevie, who's an incredible musician and then also a person that made changes and turned his s*** around — it's a hell of an effort. It's nothing easy. It's doable, but it's not an easy thing and I can tell you that from experience. It takes some balls for sure, and it takes some serious effort at times. To receive this, what it means, is I'm very honored. And obviously that it started with Stevie, that's a pretty great thing. As a guitar player you don't get much better than that.

(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, MOJO, Chicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)

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