Skip to main content

"My whole world basically came to an end and that's when I met the guys in Alice" – Jerry Cantrell remembers his first meetings with Layne Staley and Dimebag

Jerry Cantrell has had an incredible journey of darkness and light to get to where he is now. We like to call him the grunge Gilmour and he's undoubtedly one of rock's most respected guitarists and songwriters with Alice In Chains and solo. 

He sat down for over an hour to tell his fascinating musical story with Gibson TV, and talked about some of the friends he's lost over the years. Including Dimebag Darrell Abbott of Pantera and how the pair first met in Dallas back in 1985 when they were upcoming teenage guitarists.

Guitar lesson

"[In] Houston there was a smaller club called Cardi's and I loved that place because they had great acts coming through there," remembers Cantrell of his time working in Texas before Alice In Chains were even an idea. "I saw so many great bands, I saw Yngwie Malmsteen with with Talas opening up on Rising Force. God, it was fucking awesome, in a little club, you know?

"He was a really good guy and one of my best friends in this life"

"And and I would just go there every night and just soak it up. I saw Pantera roll through there when they still had Terry [Glaze, original vocalist] before Phil [Anselmo] was in the band. That's what that's how I met Dime and Vinnie, in '85 at that club. 

"I'm a fan of anybody who's a master of their instrument and even more a fan of people who are who are just in touch… just have an innate thing that is just unlike anybody else and Dime is one of those guys. 

"I hit it off with him and Vinnie right away and I remember after that show like going up to him and introducing myself and asking him about his amps and his tone because it was just otherworldly. 

More Dimebag

(Image credit: Martyn Goodacre / Getty)

Classic interview: Dimebag Darrell, 1994

"He was a huge Van Halen fan," continued Cantrell, "and you could tell that by his playing but he was also into heavier shit too and that's why you got the kind of kind of blend of what Dime was, but there's really nobody like him. 

"I remember, I was like, you know 18, so we were the same age, we were born the same year. So he's like 18, you know, 19 years old when we met in that club in Houston, and, I was a I was a fan from that performance, but I started hearing about these guitar contests that he would enter every year in Texas and he was like the best guitarist for the six years running or whatever when it to rock.

"It's obvious, you know, he was he was a badass and I think early on, he just had talent and he had an otherworldly thing and he was just a great dude. He was a really good guy and one of my best friends in this life of pirate ship rock n' roll."

Cantrell's meeting with the singer who would shape his life came a couple of years later, following a tragic period in his life when he returned to Seattle.

(Image credit: Keith Griner / Getty )

"My whole world basically came to an end and that's when I met the guys in Alice"

"I moved back, probably in '86," Cantrell explained to Gibson TV. "Then my grandmother took ill and she passed away and then my mother took ill like about a month after, then she died about five months later. So I basically lost [them]  and my house in about it in a period of about a year. My whole world basically came to an end and that's when I met the guys in Alice. 

"I met Layne at a house party I think in West Seattle, and I'd never met him before but I'd seen his band and I remember the first time I heard him sing, I was like, 'Man that guy's cool. That guy's got a great voice. I would love to be in a band with that guy.' 

"We ended up actually meeting not long after that, a couple months after. [Layne] played a show in Tacoma and I went to see it and Layne's guitar player at the time [Nick Pollock, later of My Sister's Machine] had met me and brought me over to the party.

More Alice In Chains

(Image credit: Tina Korhonen / Future)

Interview: Jerry Cantrell and William DuVall 

"I ended up meeting Layne, just coming out of basically my whole world kind of blowing up after coming back from Texas. He worked at a place called the Music Bank, which was like a rehearsal hall and it was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 40 rooms. 

"It was awesome. It was one of the coolest things ever, but basically, we just kind of crashed there and he worked there. You worked a shift of letting bands in and out of the rooms when they were doing gigs or whatever and then lock everything up and make sure everything's secure. 

(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz / Getty)

"He met me at that party and we hit it off and he's like, 'Man, Nick was telling me about your situation and if you've got nowhere to stay you can come and stay with me now, I could probably even get you a job,' and he did.

"So I basically moved in with him at the Music Bank, which was underneath the Ballard Bridge, and I got a job with layne.

"Layne would work one shift at work another and there was basically maybe four or five of us that would split shifts and kind of lived at the place."

"We lived there until till we started the band, pretty much," adds Cantrell. "That was December of '87. December of '87 we played our first show after being a band for a couple of weeks." 

The whole in-depth interview in the video at the top is well worth a view as Jerry goes all the way up to present day. He's currently working on solo recordings while Alice In Chains takes a break.