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Guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament began playing together in 1984 in a pre-grunge band known as Green River. Green River broke up in 1987, and in 1988 Ament and Gossard formed Mother Love Bone with Bruce Fairweather, Greg Gilmore, and Andrew Wood. Mother Love Bone was about to release its first album in 1990 when Wood died of a heroin overdose on March 19. Gossard and Ament were devastated by his death, and stopped playing music. To express his grief, Gossard began writing hard-edged instrumental material. He began playing music again in mid June with his old middle-school friend, guitarist Mike McCready. McCready's band, Shadow, had broken up in 1988, and McCready had spent nearly two years depressed and working in a video store. Stone's parents allowed them to play in their attic. While working together during the summer of 1990, McCready suggeested that Gossard reconnect with Ament.
In the meantime, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell wrote two songs in late April 1990 as a tribute to Wood. (Cornell was Wood's former roommate.) Along with Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, Ament, Gossard, McCready, and Cornell recorded the two works. Slowly, in August, September, and October, the group added more songs, and Cornell's idea of a two-song single became a full album and then a tribute project -- Temple of the Dog. (Ament had suggested a full album to Cornell in the early summer.) As the group worked at the Reciprocal recording studio in Seattle, they recorded material that Gossard and McCready, Ament, and all three together had written. As the project's Temple of the Dog album came together, so did a demo tape. This demo, recorded over two weekends in August 1990, contained 12 instrumental songs, with Cameron backing 10 and former Shadow drummer Chris Friel on two. The songs "Agyptian Crave", "The King", "Dollar Short", and "E Ballad" would appear on Ten (as "Once," "Even Flow", "Alive", and "Black", respectively). "Weird A" was reworked into "Animal" and released on Pearl Jam's second album, Vs. "Times of Trouble" and "Richard E" would appear on Pearl Jam's 2003 album Lost Dogs, a collection of B-sides, rarities, and unreleased work, as "Foosteps" and "Alone", respectively. The song "Doobie E" would be reworked into the song "Breath" and find its way onto the Singles soundtrack. The song "Evil E" would be released, almost intact as a bonus track called "Just A Girl" when Ten was rereleased 2009.
Ament, Gossard, and McCready had decided some time during the mid-to-late summer of 1990 to form a new band. Recording of their demo tape was largely complete by late August or early September. Five of the songs -- "Dollar Short", "Agytian Crave", "Times of Trouble", "Richard E", and "E Ballad" -- were compiled into a tape called Stone Gossard Demos '91. The three began giving copies to friends, asking them to circulate it to singers and drummers. One of the first to receive the tape was drummer Jack Irons (who'd helped form Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1983, only to quit that same year for what he believed was his main project, a band called What Is This?). The trio had approached Irons to be their drummer, but he'd turned them down. He did, however, get copies of Stone Gossard Demos '91.
Just how Irons got the demo tape is unclear. Some stories say that PolyGram Records A&R rep Michael Goldstone sent Irons the tape. Ament and Gossard have said that they were Los Angeles on a Mother Love Bone album promotional tour and left the tape with Iron's fiancee. The two have also said they personally gave it to Irons. It's most likely that Ament and Gossard gave the tape (somehow) to Irons, because they were in Los Angeles several times in August and September 1990, promoting the Mother Love Bone album at conventions and music festivals and looking for band members. Both Ament and Gossard say they met 25-year-old San Diego singer Eddie Vedder at one of these events (possible even at the big metalhead convention, the Concrete Foundations Forum, which occurred just before September 13). Vedder was polite and quiet, and gave them a demo tape of himself singing to an accoustic guitar.
Vedder's tape made no impression. And Ament and Gossard apparently did not impress Vedder.
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Then Irons gave the Stone Gossard Demos '91 tape to Vedder. It's not clear when this happened, although both September 10 and September 12 have been mentioned by both men.
What happened next is the stuff of rock-n-roll legend: Vedder, a habitual insomniac, had not slept in three days. He was in Los Angeles hanging out with Irons and playing backyard basketball probably on September 12. Early that evening, Vedder drove back to San Diego to go to work at his job as a petroleum warehouse security guard on September 12. When he arrived at work for his midnight shift, and began listening to the demo tape. It profoundly changed something within him. The intense instrumentals broke free heartache, suffering, fear, and rage he'd kept suppressed for 10 years. He lsitened to it repeatedly that night. On the morning of September 13, he went surfing, where the lyrics for the three songs came to him almost fully-fledged. He rushed to his girlfriend's apartment (it was closer than his own home) and wrote the lyrics down on yellow Post-It notes, those for "Dollar Short" first. (They made it onto Ten completely intact.) Once he had the lyrics down, he began singing them.
He took a Merle Haggard compilation, Best of the 80s, and used white-out to remove all of the information on the cassette except for a track called "A Friend In California" and some letters below the sprockets which spelled out "E-D-D-I-E." He then wrote "For Stone + Jeff" in black ink at the top of the tape. Vedder recorded vocals over the next several hours for "Agyptian Crave", "Dollar Short", and "Times of Trouble". By the evening, he had a demo tape consisting of himself singing to Stone Gossard Demos '91. He named it "Momma-son," a word he'd come across in The Clash's 1982 song "Straight to Hell". (It was off their album Combat Rock, and was the B-side to "Should I Stay or Should I Go".) Vedder later referred to this trio of songs as a "mini-opera", describing a boy who learns that his father is not his biological father, becomes a serial killer, and then is tried and executed. The night of September 13 to 14, Vedder made some Xerox art while at work to send to Seattle along with his demo tape.
Vedder mailed his tape and artwork to Ament on the morning of September 14. Two days later, Vedder read in Rolling Stone that Ament and Gossard were looking for a new lead singer.
The tape reached Seattle on September 18. Ament was astounded by what he heard. He listened to it three times to ensure that his emotional reaction held up to repeated listenings, and then called Gossard and told him, "Stone, you better get over here."
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It took Ament three days to reach Vedder by phone. Vedder so avoided telephones that Ament was forced to contact Jack Irons and have him tell Vedder that he was wanted in Seattle. Vedder and Ament finally connected, and they had several multi-hour phone calls during which they talked music and tried to feel one another out.
During the last two weeks of September, Ament, Gossard, and McCready were also auditioning drummers. After talking to a number of them, and hearing auditions from several, they settled on Dave Krusen.
Vedder arrived in Seattle on October 8. In the two seeks since he'd sent the tape to Ament, he'd written lyrics to "E Ballad" (which appeared on Ten as "Black"). The same day he arrived in Seattle, the band members met in their rehearsal space at Galleria Potato Head (a former foundry) in an alley between Bell and Blanchard streets in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. The first song they played together was "Dollar Short" ("Alive"). McCready couldn't believe what he was hearing. They'd auditioned other singers -- Shawn Smith of LuvCo., Ty Wilman of Green Apple Quick Step -- but nobody had sounded like this. The first session lasted from 2 PM on October 8 to midnight. They broke so that Temple of the Dog, also using the same space, could rehearse. At Cornell's prompting, Vedder sang the second melody line on "Hunger Strike". (It was only the second time Temple of the Dog had rehearsed together.)
Vedder bummed around from place to place, sleeping in the studio, at Ament's apartment, at Chris Cornell's apartment, even at band manager Kelly Curtis' apartment. During the day, the band spent 10 hours rehearsing and getting to know one another. The band reworked "The King" into "Even Flow", and wrote "Oceans" and "Release". They also transformed "Evil E" into "Girl", and wrote another new song, "Goat". (Both would appear as bonus tracks when Ten was rereleased in 2009.) On October 13, the band recorded a demo tape on DAT. The track listing included "Even Flow", "Once", "Breath", "Release", "Girl", "Alive", "Alone", "Oceans", "Black", "Goat, some improv, and some scattered riffs and jams. That improvised song became "Yellow Ledbetter".
Although band members have long asserted that they spent only a week coming up with the songs that made up Ten, a host of evidence shows that, in fact, Vedder flew back to San Diego on October 14. It's not clear when Vedder returned to Seattle, but he was there no later than October 20. On October 22, the new band -- tentatively called Mookie Blaylock -- played its first live show at the Off Ramp Café in Seattle. On October 23, they write six more songs (including "Deep", "Jeremy", "Porch", and "Why Go"), rerecorded several songs, and recorded new ones for the first time. Vedder, who had taken to staying behind after the working sessions ended to work on singing and lyrics, was joined one night by Ament. Together, they crafted the moody "Master/Slave". The session cost $800. Although it's widely reported that the session occurred at a studio, it most likely occurred at the rehearsal space at Galleria Potato Head. Vedder sent out tapes on labeled "10/23" to friends, many with different track listings. It's clear some of the tracks came from the October 13 session, while others came from the October 23 session. One track listing is from a former band, Indian Style, in which Vedder had sung years earlier.
Ament and Gossard left town on October 26, and Vedder returned to San Diego on October 29.
Ament and Gossard traveled to New York City with band manager Kelly Curtis, where they met with Michael Goldstone (who'd now moved to Epic Records). The two musicians had hired Richard Lehrer, an attorney who had negotiated the employment contract for Rick Dobbis, the new head of Sony Music (which owned PolyGram). During the week-long trip, Curtis and Lehrer negotiated the cancellation of Ament and Gossard's contract with PolyGram. They convinced Dobbis that, with Andrew Wood dead there was nothing left of Mother Love Bone. They did not reveal that Ament and Gossard had formed a new band, had an amazing new singer, and were almost done with an album. Dobbis released them. That night, Ament, Gossard, and Curtis decided to have a celebratory dinner at a restaurant with Goldstone and their former lawyer Michele Anthony (now an Epic executive as well). Dobbis walked in on them before Goldstone and Anthony appeared, nearly queering the deal! (One of the band members snuck outside to wave off Goldstone and Anthony.)
Recording sessions for the Temple of the Dog project took place from November to December 1990 at London Bridge Studios in Seattle, Washington. The album was recorded in only 15 days (but spread out over several weekends). Chris Cornell asked Vedder to sing on the album, and Vedder -- who looked to him as a guide and mentor -- agreed. Temple of the Dog was released through A&M Records in April 1991.
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Vedder moved to Seattle in either late November or early December 1990. During Thanksgiving weekend (November 23 to 26), the band recorded a professional demo tape at London Bridge Studios in Seattle. Rick Parashar was the producer. The final recording sessions for Temple of the Dog occurred that same weekend. On December 19, Mookie Blaylock opened for Bathtub Gin and El Steiner at a club called Vogue. They then opened for Alice in Chains (which had just released their debut album) on December 22 at the Moore Theater.
The band celebrated New Year's at the ranch in western Washington ranch owned by rock reporter/screenwriter/director Cameron Crowe and his wife, Nancy Wilson of the band Heart.
In January and February of the new year, Pearl Jam continued to rehearse and write songs. During this period, the band wrote "Hold On", "Brother", "State of Love and Trust", "Just a Girl", "2,000 Mile Blues", and "Evil Little Goat".
On January 10, 1991, played a gig in Vancouver, British Columbia. When the crowd at Harpo's Cabaret refused to pay attention to the band, Vedder unscrewed the base from his microphone and flung the 20-pound wheel like a frisbee across the room. The stunned audience sat quietly through the rest of the band's set. The band entered London Bridge Studios on January 29 to cut a second demo tape. Once more, Rick Parashar produced. "Alive", "Wash", and a cover of The Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling" were selected by Epic records for release as singles.
On February 7, the band embarked on a two-week tour of the West Coast of the United States and Canada, opening for Alice in Chains. They'd returned to Seattle by February 25, where they played a set at Off Ramp. Matt Dillon, Kyra Sedgwick, Campbell Scott, and other cast members had begun shooting Crowe's Seattle music scene film, Singles. They attended the rowdy set, which scared every so much that only Dillon and Scott remained until the end.
On March 10, Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament announced during an interview on Seattle's KISW radio that the band was changing its name to Pearl Jam. The NBA basketball player Mookie Blaylock had sued to prevent the band from using his name, forcing the musicians to think up a new one. Ament, Gossard, and Vedder had gone to New York City to sign the contract with Epic Records about February 20. On February 22, they attended a Neil Young, Sonic Youth, and Social Distortion concert in New York City. They were using the name "Pearl", which had a secret meaning to the band members, and noticed that Young was playing these long, long jams. The word "Jam" came to mind, and the band name "Pearl Jam" was born. (Vedder loves to tease the media by claiming the name comes from his Native American great-grandmother Pearl, who made a hallucinogenic peyote jam.)
Vedder, Ament, and Gossard shot their scenes for Singles in late March and early April.
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On March 27, 1991, Pearl Jam entered the London Bridge Studios and began recording Ten. Parashar (then also the owner of London Bridge) was the producer, and Dave Hillis the engineer.
Ament and Gossard realized that Mother Love Bone had spent far too much money ($300,000) making their album, and had given in too much to the record company on major producing issues. Ament and Gossard were determined not to repeat these mistakes. Having received a major advance from Epic Records, the band agreed to spend just $25,000 making Ten and $75,000 mixing it. The rest of the money would be spent on buying top-quality instruments, a good sound board, and paying rent on their rehearsal space at Galleria Potato Head. The band fought with the lable to get "Oceans", "Release", and "Master/Slave" on the album, but won. The sessions were recorded by a Studer A800 multichannel tape recorder, and the mixing console was a Neve 8048. The control room monitors were a pair of Yamaha NS40s. During the sessions, Vedder would sit in a small booth between the control room and live room so he could see everyone in the band, and sang into a U87 microphone through a Never 1081 combined mic/line preamp, UREI 1178 stereo peak limiter, and an ADR Vocal Stressor. McCready was miked with a Sennheiser 421, and used a Marshall, Fender 57, and 1959 Bassman amp. The 57 was mixed with the Marshall, then put through two channels of the Neve and recorded to tape. For reverb, two mono Lexicon PCMs were processed through an Eventide H3000 before mixing on the Neve. It was all used: McCready overdubbed tracks time and time again.
The band had a difficult time recording "Alive", as Krusen couldn't get comfortable on his drum set, and kept speeding up in the middle. After anywhere from 50 to 100 takes (band members have given different numbers), the band gave up and used the near-perfect January 1991 demo version instead. A new McCready guitar solo was added to the outro during the mix. "Even Flow" proved to be another difficult song to record. Anywhere from 50 to 70 takes were made before the band settled on an acceptable version. The group had recorded hours and hours of takes when, at last, they began cheering and shouting "We got it!" But in the booth, Hillis was horrified to see that the tape had run out 10 seconds ago. To solve the problem, Hillis edited the last 10 seconds of a previous take onto the track. His attempt proved seamless, and worked. (Stone Gossard nevertheless remained dissatisified with the take, and the band re-recorded it for the Singles soundtrack.)
Some members of Pearl Jam today criticize the way Ten was recorded. Stone Gossard has expressed regret for spending too much time in the studio aiming for perfect takes, which killed the vibe and freshness of the recordings.
Recording on Ten ended on April 26, 1991.
On May 25, 1991, Krusen left the band to enter rehab for alcoholism. He was replaced by Matt Chamberlain. He did not accompany the band to England, but did appear in its music videos for Ten. After just a few months, however, Chamberlain decided to join G.E. Smith's Saturday Night Live Band. It was a safer gig, he felt, than trying to help launch a new band... In retrospect, it was the wrong decision. Chamberlain, however, found his own replacement: Dave Abbruzzese, who had formerly drummed for the band Dr. Tongue. Abbruzzese arrived in Seattle four days before Pearl Jam played the Mural Amphitheatre on August 3, 1991.
In early June, Pearl Jam flew to the United Kingdom to mix Ten at Ridge Farm Studios in Dorking, Surrey, England. The studio was a converted barn: The main control room was at one end of the barn, and elevated to provide a good view of the recording floor. Ridge Farm had just installed a Neve VR60 in the control room, and built a space underneath it for its two Studer A800 tape machines. Quested monitors were used on the recording floor, while Genelec 1031a speakers were used in the control room for near-field listening. Musicians had access to a Lexicon 224 digital reverb plug-in, EMT Gold Foil and 149 stereo plate reverb plug-ins, AMS Harmonizers, an Eventide Harmonizer, MXR Flanger (for sound effects), and an ADR Panscan. Pearl Jam was the first band to use this set-up. Tim Palmer, the audio engineer who had mixed Mother Love Bone's album, oversaw the mixing. Because grunge and modern rock hadn't yet exploded on the music scene, Palmer had no guide to use when mixing Ten. He layered the album with reverb, delays, and backwards reverb to add depth to the sound, employing the EMT plates and the Lexicon 224 most often. It was common for him to move from an ambient sound into a much drier sound, especially on drums and vocals. Since the initial recordings were excellent, almost no new recordings had to be made at Ridge Farm. Palmer did add some drum samples using the AMS Harmonizer to the snare, and himself provided some additional percussion using a pepper shaker and a fire extinguisher. Palmer was also dissatisfied with the ending to "Alive". He asked McCready add an outro solo, but McCready had a great deal of difficulty recording the solo. Finally, Palmer edited McCready's various attempts into a composite version. McCready was so upset he made one more attempt at the solo. He nailed it, and that was the outro used on Ten.
Mixing on Ten was finished in late June.
Pearl Jam's members came to dislike Palmer's mix of Ten. Ament, Gossard, and Vedder have all criticized the heavy amount of reverb on the album, and Gossard today regrets the heavy guitar overdubbing he did.
As a jibe at Blaylock, the band decided to title their album Ten -- Blaylock's jersey number. Jeff Ament, who had long harbored a dream as a graphic artist, designed the album cover. He designed a 10-foot high wooden set of letters that spelled out the name "Pearl Jam". They did their "all for one" pose in front of it for photographer Lance Mercer. Lisa Sparagano and Risa Zaitschek designed the album packaging. The cover was not what Ament had intended, however. Ament wanted the album's main color to be burgundy, and the photo of the band to be in black-and-white. But Sony insisted on pink tones, and a color picture of the band.
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Ten was on August 27, 1991.
Pearl Jam had convinced Epic that it should go on tour as soon as Ten dropped to promote the album. Playing a gig in a different city every other day, or every two days, the band began its tour on September 25, 1991, in Victoria, British Columbia. On October 14, the band cancelled its tour (notoriously stiffing people in Washington, D.C., where Pearl Jam was due to play the legendary Black Cat the next day) and joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik tour on October 16. Pearl Jam helped to open, alongside The Smashing Pumpkins. The producers of the tour felt that Pearl Jam should be fired and replaced by the now-far more popular Nirvana (whose album Nevermind had dropped in September 1991 to great acclaim). Nirvana was added just prior to the December 27, 1991, date in Los Angeles. But the Pumpkins quit the tour at the same time, forcing the producers to keep Pearl Jam. The tour ended on January 24, 1992, in Los Angeles at the Rock for Choice concert.
Pearl Jam immediately went on a European tour, beginning on February 3, 1992, in Southend-on-Sea in England. The European tour ended on March 13, 1992, in Munich, and Pearl Jam began a second North American tour on March 25, 1992, in Minneapolis. It did not end until May 21, 1992, in Vancouver, B.C. A second European tour then commenced on June 5, 1992, in Nürburg, Germany, and ended on July 5, 1992, in Werchter, Belgium. There were more European dates scheduled, but the band was exhausted. It had been on tour nearly continuously for nine and a half months.
Five official and one unofficial singles were released from Ten:
- "Alive" was the first single to drop, with a B-side of "Once", on August 2, 1991. But it was released only internationally, and did not get a release in the United States until June 27, 1995. By then, the single had spent a record-breaking 61 weeks on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart. "Alive" peaked at number 16 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number 18 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart.
- "Once" was the second single to drop, and the first single to drop in North America, on August 27, 1991. It never charted.
- "Even Flow" was the third single to drop, on April 6, 1992. It contained a B-side of the funk song "Dirty Frank" (written after Ten was in release), or a remix of "Oceans". But it was released only internationally, and did not get a release in the United States until June 27, 1995. The song peaked at number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and number 21 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart.
- "Jeremy" was the fourth single to drop, on September 27, 1992. It contained a B-side of either "Footsteps" or "Yellow Ledbetter". But it was released only internationally, and did not get a release in the United States until June 27, 1995. The song peaked at number five on the Billboard Mainstream Rock and Billboard Modern Rock charts. "Jeremy" was certified gold, the only song on the album to reach that level.
- "Oceans" was the fifth single to drop, on December 7, 1992. It contained a B-side of live version of either "Why Go", "Deep", or "Alive". But it was released only internationally, and did not get a release in the United States until June 27, 1995. It did not chart.
- "Black" was never officially released as a single. Vedder and the other band members were adamant that the single never get a music video, and never get released as a single, because it was too emotionally pure. To have it slotted on radio between some random, happy pop songs would rob it of its power, they felt. Nevertheless, listeners demanded airplay for "Black". It peaked at number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and number 20 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart in 1993.
It took Ten 20 weeks to break into the Top 200, which it did in mid-January 1992. It peaked at number two in August 1992, nearly a full year after its release. Unfortunately, the album never reached number one. Some Gave All, the treacly debut country-western album by Billy Ray Cyrus, spent a mind-boggling 17 consecutive weeks at number one, blocking Ten. Though Ten reached the number two spot four times in August, September and October, it never sold enough copies to unseat the album containing "Achy Breaky Heart".