Jerry Fulton Cantrell Jr. (born March 18, 1966 in Tacoma, Washington) is an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter best known for his work with the rock band Alice in Chains, as lead guitarist, backing and co-lead vocalist, main songwriter, and co-lyricist. He performs lead vocals on his solo projects, and is part of Alice in Chains' harmonizing dual-vocal style. He resides in Los Angeles and spends time on his family ranch in Oklahoma.
Cantrell is currently touring in support for their newest studio album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, which was released on May 28, 2013.
Cantrell noted in an interview that he was "raised on country music" as a youth and that he admires the emotion conveyed in the genre. He also considers himself "half Yankee and half redneck." However, hard rock music caught Cantrell's interest predominantly, and he bought his first guitar in his mid teens. It would not be until the age of 17 that he began seriously playing the instrument. Cantrell would later cite guitarists such as Ace Frehley, Tony Iommi, Angus Young, Eddie Van Halen as major influences.
Cantrell attended junior high and high school in Spanaway, Washington and, before owning his first guitar, was a member of the high school choir which attended many state competitions. In his senior year Cantrell became choir president, and the quartet sang the national anthem at basketball games and won competitions with the highest marks achievable. Cantrell has cited his interest in dark musical tones as dating back to this period: "In choir we performed a cappella Gregorian chants from the 14th and 15th centuries. It was scary church music." His choir teacher and drama teacher were, early on, his two greatest motivators toward a career in music. When Alice in Chains' first album went gold, Cantrell sent both teachers a gold record.
Cantrell's parents divorced when he was seven, and his mother died in 1987 at the age of 43.
In the mid-1980s, Cantrell began a band called Diamond Lie which included drummer Bobby Nesbitt and bassist Mike Starr. Layne Staley, a vocalist and Cantrell's roommate, also agreed to join on the condition that Cantrell join his funk project (which ended shortly after). Diamond Lie gained attention in the Seattle area and eventually took the name of Alice 'N Chainz, then renamed Alice in Chains.
Alice in Chains
Jerry Cantrell served as the lead guitarist, co-lyricist, co-vocalist and main composer of Alice in Chains until the group's near-permanent hiatus beginning in the late 1990s and leading through the death of lead singer Layne Staley in April 2002. The band reformed in 2005 with its surviving members. Cantrell played in a number of concerts with Alice in Chains featuring lead singers such as Maynard James Keenan, Mark Lanegan, James Hetfield, Phil Anselmo, Billy Corgan, Patrick Lachman, Scott Weiland, and William DuVall. Although Cantrell acknowledges the benefits of working as a solo artist, he expressed his happiness with being back in the band culture. On September 29, 2009, Alice in Chains, with William DuVall as vocalist, released their first record since the death of Layne Staley, Black Gives Way to Blue, and toured in support of the album. The band released their fifth studio album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, on May 28, 2013.
Cantrell's career outside Alice in Chains has consisted of two solo albums, as well as many appearances with other musicians and on film soundtracks. His first solo material came in a song entitled "Leave Me Alone." This was released exclusively on The Cable Guy soundtrack in 1996, featuring Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney. It had a music video and reached Number 14 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks.
As the activity of Alice in Chains slowed and the band's future came into question, Cantrell reluctantly began work on his first full-length solo record. While video footage from Cantrell's official website claimed that he wanted to work solo for some time, his comments in Guitar World stated otherwise:
- "It's something I never really wanted to do, but the way things have played out, it's like, why not? To be honest, I'd just be happy being the lead guitarist and singer for Alice In Chains. It's always been my first love, and always will be, but the situation being what it is... we've been together for a long time, and right now it's kinda played out. It's time to let it be. Now I've got to step up to the plate and take a few swings."
Boggy Depot was released in April 1998. It contains three singles including the popular "Cut You In" and "My Song." His touring band for the album included Alice in Chains bandmates Inez and Kinney, and Cantrell expressed hope to have a second album released by the following year.
The same year of Boggy Depot, Cantrell began writing a follow-up album. He also departed from Columbia Records during this time and had trouble finding a new label. Cantrell said of the writing experience:
- "In '98, I locked myself in my house, went out of my mind and wrote 25 songs. I rarely bathed during that period of writing; I sent out for food, I didn't really venture out of my house in three or four months. It was a hell of an experience. The album is an overview of birth to now."
Finally in June 2002, Cantrell issued his second album, Degradation Trip, with Ozzy Osbourne's then live rhythm section, Mike Bordin (drums) and Robert Trujillo (bass). Released on Roadrunner Records, Degradation Trip hit shelves soon after Layne Staley's death and was dedicated to him. The album, which received better critical reception than its predecessor, featured two singles, "Anger Rising" and "Angel Eyes," and the track "She Was My Girl" was included on the Spider-Man soundtrack. The live show was well received by audiences on a national tour that helped build upon the solo albums success. Degradation Trip was re-released in November of that year as a double album, featuring eleven additional tracks that made for the album as Cantrell originally intended.
Cantrell has been rumored to be working on his third full-length solo album for several years, for a supposedly planned release in 2006. However, as of 2013, this album still has not been released. Subsequent work with the revamped Alice in Chains may have stalled this release. When asked about releasing another solo album, he issued this statement:
- "Not for a while. My first and foremost love has been this band and always has been. The only reason I did those two records is because we weren’t working as a band. But being a part of this band is a full time job. Some guys can do multiple things and maybe when I was younger I could do that, but not now."
Cantrell has appeared as guest guitarist on several albums and projects, including the Danzig album Blackacidevil and the Metallica album Garage Inc. He also guested on Circus of Power's album Magic & Madness in 1993 for the song "Heaven 'N Hell." He provided guest vocals for the track "Effigy" on Gov't Mule's 2001 album, The Deep End, Volume 1.
In early 2004, Cantrell collaborated with The Cult guitarist Billy Duffy to form the rock supergroup Cardboard Vampyres. Under the moniker of the Jerry Cantrell-Billy Duffy Band, they debuted during the three-concert series for Sweet Relief Musicians Fund at The Troubadour in April 2004. "This band is really just about having fun and playing tunes that we were fans of growing up," Cantrell stated. Performing mostly cover songs from bands like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, and Aerosmith, the group was rounded out by vocalist John Corabi, bassist Chris Wyse, and drummer Eddie Livingston. The band played at various venues in the United States; although, they predominately played along the West Coast. No formal albums were released by the band.
Cantrell is featured in the movie Singles along with the rest of Alice in Chains performing the songs "It Ain't Like That" and "Would?". He is also featured as an actor in the movie Jerry Maguire. He also wrote the song "Leave Me Alone" for the 1996 dark comedy The Cable Guy, which can be found on that movie's soundtrack. Cantrell returned to the movie scene in 2004 to write, with the newly formed metal band Damageplan, the song "Ashes to Ashes" for the movie The Punisher. That song can be found on that movie's soundtrack, and as a bonus track on the Japanese version of the Damageplan album New Found Power. He also appears briefly with Warren Haynes in the documentary Rising Low which documents the work of the band Gov't Mule following the death of bassist Allen Woody. Recently he was featured in the independent comedy Rock Slyde.
Cantrell is known to prefer G&L and Gibson Guitars. 2009 saw the release of his G&L Rampage Jerry Cantrell Signature Model Electric Guitar. His current guitar rig consists of a Custom Shop "Jerry Cantrell" Gibson SG, two of his signature G&L Rampages, his two 1980's G&L Rampages, several G&L ASATs, two Gibson Les Paul Customs, and a Fender 1972 Telecaster Deluxe Reissue. He recently added a Gibson ES-175 to his rig as of 2010.
He currently uses Friedman and Bogner amplifiers, whose amps he has used since the beginning of Alice in Chains, his first being a Marshall JCM800 modded by Bogner which was used for the first two Alice in Chains albums. He began using "actual" Bogner amplifiers in the mid-1990s, his main one being the Bogner Ecstasy. His current amp rig consists of a Bogner Fish Preamp running into a Mesa/Boogie 2:Ninety Power amp, and a Bogner Uberschall or Shiva ran with a custom "Marsha" head built by Dave Friedman. All of these run into a Bogner 4x12 cabinet isolated from the stage.
Cantrell also owns a Peavey 5150 amp head given to him by Eddie Van Halen and a Les Paul Junior he bought from Nancy Wilson of Heart. Both of these were used to record Boggy Depot. Cantrell recorded all of the demo tracks for his album Degradation Trip at his Seattle home using a four-track recorder and his white Les Paul.
Cantrell worked with Dunlop in 2009 to release the Crybaby Jerry Cantrell Signature JC95 at winter NAMM 2010. This wah includes a fine tune knob to adjust the dynamic frequencies of the wah and modified circuitry to create Talk Box like sounds.
In 2013, it was announced that a Jerry Cantrell signature Friedman amp would be released. It will be based on modifications done to his Friedman "Mad" and "Pissed" amps. It was made available in 2014 as the Friedman Double J.
His pedalboard includes the following
- Tone Freak effects Buff Puff
- BOSS TU-2 Chromatic Tuner
- MXR Talk Box
- Dunlop Rotovibe
- Dunlop JC95 Signature Crybaby
- Two Custom Dave Friedman Marsha Heads – One named 'Mad' and another named 'Pissed' (which is more metallic sounding than 'Mad')
- Two Bogner straight front 4x12 cabs in ISO boxes ('Mad' cab running Celestion, Greenbacks and 'Pissed' cab running Vintage 30's)
- Palmer PGA-05 ADIG-ST Advanced D.I. x2
- Shure UR40 Wireless Unit x2
- Tour Supply Multi-Selector
- Dunlop Custom Shop Rack Wah
- RJM Music Technology Effects Gizmo (this holds his effects pedals, which are controlled by a Voodoo Labs Ground control offstage by his Tech, Dave Lapham)
- Rack Systems ISO Transformer x2
- MXR Smart Gate x2
- Ibanez TS808HW Tube Screamer
- MXR Flanger
- MXR Ten Band EQ
- Boss GE-7 Equalizer
- Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble
- Strymon Ola
- BBE Soul Vibe
- MXR Bass Octaver
- Eventide Time Factor
- Dunlop Rotovibe
- Dunlop Crybaby Controller x2 (One on stage right, one center stage)
- Tone Freak Effects Buff Puff
- BOSS TU-2 Chromatic Tuner
- MXR Talk Box
- Dunlop Rotovibe
- Dunlop Jerry Cantrell Wah
(The JC Wah, Rotovibe, Talk Box, Tuner and Buff Puff are located stage left)
- G&L Rampage ("Blue Dress") w/ Motor City Pickup, tuned to Eb Standard
- G&L Rampage ("No War") w/ Motor City Pickup, tuned to Drop Db
- G&L Rampage ("Black Star") w/ Motor City Pickup, tuned to Eb Standard
- G&L Rampage ("Alice") w/ Motor City Pickup, tuned to Drop Db
- Gibson Les Paul Custom w/ Motor City Pickup in Bridge, tuned to Eb Standard
- Lush Custom Tele Shape, tuned to Eb Standard
Motor City Pickups are pickups custom wound for Jerry Cantrell
Guitar Rig and Signal Flow
- A detailed gear diagram of Jerry Cantrell's 2010 Alice in Chains guitar rig is well-documented.
Cantrell's early influences made Alice in Chains' heavy metal tones stand out among their fellow grunge/alternative rock-oriented bands of the Seattle music scene. However, his musical range also extends into elements of blues and country as heard on his solo debut album. Cantrell's guitar playing is known for its unique use of wah pedal as well as odd time signatures. In a 1998 interview with Guitar World, he was asked about the latter quality:
- "I really don't know where that comes from; it just comes naturally to me. I could sit down and figure it out, but what's the use? Off-time stuff is just more exciting – it takes people by surprise when you shift gears like that before they even know what the hell hit 'em. It's also effective when you slow something down and then slam 'em into the dash. A lot of Alice stuff is written that way – 'Them Bones' is a great off-time song."
In July 2006, British hard rock/metal magazine Metal Hammer awarded Cantrell the title of Riff Lord, at its annual Golden Gods Awards show, held at the London Astoria. He was apparently thrilled at winning the title, over several famous artists such as Slash, James Hetfield, and Jimmy Page.
He is ranked #38 out of 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists of all time by Guitar World and recently ranked #37 out of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time also by Guitar World.
Cantrell's father, Jerry Sr., is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. He was the main subject in the song "Rooster" which Cantrell wrote as a tribute to his father. Jerry's first childhood memory is meeting his father for the first time after he had returned from war. Due to the strain of war, his parents divorced and Jerry lived with his mother, Gloria.
Cantrell's mother, Gloria Jean Cantrell, died in 1987. His close friend Andrew Wood (of Mother Love Bone) died in 1990, leading Jerry to pen the song "Would?" for AIC's second album Dirt in Wood's memory. He also dedicated AIC's debut album Facelift to Wood, as well as his late mother.
After residing in Seattle for many years, Cantrell moved to Los Angeles, California in mid-2003 by which time he had stopped his heavy drug use. The peculiarity of this transition would be expressed in the song "Check My Brain". Cantrell also spends time on his family's Oklahoma ranch which was once featured on an episode of MTV Cribs. Jerry has since sold his Studio City, California home and bought a residence in Burien, Washington.
He co-owns a hard rock bar called Dead Man's Hand in Las Vegas with Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian.
He has dated actress Heather Ankeny.