Layne Staley once said: "When everyone goes home, you're stuck with yourself." Anyone with good taste in music will tell you: "When everyone goes home, I'm stuck with Layne Staley." You can find Layne "writhing in the ghost of a song. Rising through the rainier fog." The frontman, who is known for his work with Alice in Chains, was born on August 22, 1967, in Kirkland, Washington. Following a long battle with addiction, the icon tragically passed away at 34 years old on April 5, 2002, in his Seattle apartment. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain had committed suicide exactly 8 years earlier. In an interview that has been called into question, Layne allegedly told journalist Adriana Rubio: "I know I'm dying." Yet, the fact that Layne had just renewed his driver's license can be viewed as proof that he wished to live. Layne's departed friend Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees clarified that Layne, like Kurt Cobain, genuinely believed that he would overcome his drug habit. Layne left behind many unfinished plans. He had expressed the desire to complete a book and a solo project.
Alice in Chains’ original 1987 lineup consisted of Layne, drummer Sean Kinney, bassist Mike Starr, and Jerry Cantrell — the singer and guitarist who remains largely responsible for the band’s unique sound. In 1993, Mike Starr was replaced by Mike Inez. On the day of Starr’s final concert with AiC, both Kurt and Layne shot him up with heroin upon his request. Starr died that night for roughly 11 minutes. He returned to consciousness in Layne’s presence. Sadly, Starr would be the last person to see Layne alive. On April 4, 2002 – Starr’s 36th birthday – Layne told him that he had received the omen of a visit from his deceased ex-fiancée Demri Parrott the previous evening. Because Layne refused to allow his friend to call an ambulance that day, Starr stormed off. Starr was haunted by the fact that he had been unable to save Layne. He eventually passed away on March 8, 2011, at just 44 years old. This bold personality is still mourned.
Since 2006, vocalist William DuVall has served as Alice in Chains’ full-time frontman. In 2009, the band released their first album without Layne, Black Gives Way to Blue. The title track, which was written and sung by Jerry, is the band’s farewell to Layne: “Fading out by design. Consciously avoiding changes. Curtain’s drawn, now it’s done. Silencing all tomorrows. Forcing a goodbye.” This beautiful song, which features Elton John on the piano, is simply sublime. However, it is even more heartbreaking when one considers Layne’s high level of self-awareness: “And you must change patterns all we trained. Or n’er regain peace you seek. Now you hear me for the things I see. Yeah, I believe in inner peace, yeah.” If only he could have followed his own advice. At the same time, it is glaringly obvious that Layne was a fighter. According to his mother, he entered rehab ten times. That takes courage. Although Layne eventually isolated himself from society, he was loved by many. Sean Kinney, for example, remembers trying to contact him three times each week. All the same, Layne was hurt by the fact that he was treated like an object on a daily basis as a consequence of his fame.
Like Jerry Cantrell, Layne was a poetic genius. He has stated that he and Alice in Chains dealt with painful emotions in order to make it easier for listeners to deal with their own memories. The same applied to his work with the supergroup Mad Season. Layne claimed that Mad Season’s first concert was completely improvised and preceded by only one rehearsal. Out of all his records, Layne was most satisfied with Mad Season’s Above (1995). On the one hand, we have seen that Layne ultimately succumbed to what he described as “an infection, not a phase.” Nevertheless, the brutal honesty of his music is reported to have discouraged listeners from making “a big mistake” by indulging in illegal substances. Layne should be remembered as an artist who encouraged wakefulness: “Wake up, young man. It’s time to wake up.” He explained his position to Revolver: “I never glorify drugs in my lyrics. They’re all about the hell that you go through when you get addicted… I didn’t want my fans to think: Well, he writes great songs, and he does heroin. Maybe heroin’s cool.”
To this day, viewers remain in awe of Layne’s miraculous ability to put on an unforgettable show no matter what physical ailments plagued him. Although touring was not always possible with Layne, as long as he was in the building, even crutches failed to pose an obstacle to his charisma. Mark Lanegan stated: “He [Layne] was the most singularly impressive hard rock singer I would ever hear…” He rightly described AiC as being “like some massive apocalyptic machine onstage.” In 2020, Mark covered “Brother” with Nancy Wilson and Liv Warfield and “Nutshell” with Maggie Björklund for the Museum of Pop Culture’s celebration of AiC. This Founders Award event included all-star musicians like Billy Corgan and Krist Novoselic, who used to bring Layne food. (A couple of the videos on our list were recorded for this MoPOP special.)
Some of the artists that have performed Alice in Chains’ material include In Flames, Daughtry, Khemmis, Breaking Benjamin, Machine Head, Incubus, Sophia Urista, Fishbone, Shinedown together with Seether, Benighted in Sodom, etc. Even Layne’s mother, Nancy McCallum, has taken the stage to sing her son’s material. Since Layne Staley’s death, rockstars such as Stone Temple Pilot’s late frontman Scott Weiland and the deceased Linkin Park hero Chester Bennington have stepped up with rock with AiC. Surprisingly, Nickelback and Jerry Cantrell’s live rendition of “It Ain’t Like That” — one of Alice in Chains’ most underrated songs — is truly wicked. Post Malone’s “Rooster” also shatters expectations. Tribute concerts have been held all over the world in Layne’s honor. Fans everywhere rejoiced when August 22, 2019, was declared “Layne Staley Day” by Jenny Durkan, the now-former mayor of Seattle. Make today “Layne Staley Remembrance Day” by listening to these 15 touching tributes.
Aaron Lewis – "Nutshell"
This classic from Jar of Flies (1994) has been covered by countless artists. “Nutshell” is perhaps one of the greatest songs ever written. The piercing second verse will freeze you in your tracks: “My gift of self is raped. My privacy is raked. And yet I find, and yet I find. Repeating in my head. If I can’t be my own. I’d feel better dead.” Even those who usually “Hate to Feel” will be moved by this song. In the live acoustic performance below, Staind’s Aaron Lewis hits one out of the park.
Fans can also find Lewis singing “Rooster” with Godsmack’s Sully Erna, for example. Aaron has been performing AiC songs for a lifetime. Coincidentally, his daughter Zoe Jane was born on Layne’s death day.
Temple of the Dog – "River of Deceit" (Mad Season)
Who better to pay homage to Layne Staley than his comrade Chris Cornell?! This eerie and bewitching footage of Cornell performing Mad Season's "River of Deceit" with Temple of the Dog in 2016 will make you want to purchase a time machine and a ticket to NYC: "My pain is self-chosen. At least, I believe it to be. I could either drown. Or pull off my skin and swim to shore. Now I can grow a beautiful shell for all to see. The river of deceit pulls down."
In 2015, Cornell sang in place of Layne at a Mad Season reunion show with the group’s two surviving original members, guitarist Mike McCready and drummer Barrett Martin. Mad Season’s bassist, John Baker Saunders, had already passed away in 1999. Thus, Duff McKagan filled in for him. The Seattle City Orchestra also participated in the event.
James Hetfield – "Would?"
“Would?” was penned by Jerry in response to the death of Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood: “Am I wrong? Have I run too far to get home? Have I gone? Left you here alone? If I would, could you?” In 2020, Metallica performed “Would?” for the Museum of Pop Culture. In 2006, James Hetfield, Robert Trujillo, Sean Kinney, and Jerry Cantrell gave a beautiful rendition of the song at the MusiCares MAP Fund Benefit Concert.
Phil Anselmo & Duff McKagan – "Would?"
Phil Anselmo and Duff McKagan are no strangers to strife. They have both fought for their sobriety. Both men have admirably helped others overcome their addictions as well. Like Layne, Phil is one of the most soulful metal singers in history. He and Layne were two of the defining voices of their generation. The fact that Phil is accompanied by Alice in Chains' Mike Inez and Jerry Cantrell contributes to the magnetism of this stellar recording.
Mastodon – "Again"
Mastodon brings their unique and refreshing energy to the acerbic hit “Again,” which first appeared on Alice in Chains (1995). Mastodon’s Brann Dailor also took part in an impressive cover of “Rain When I Die” from Dirt (1992) for Two Minutes to Late Night. He was joined by artists like Russian Circles’ Mike Sullivan and Mutoid Man’s Stephen Brodsky.
Ektomorf – "We Die Young"
The Hungarian band Ektomorf puts a brutal spin on “We Die Young.” While this interpretation is bound to be polarizing, it definitely is a lot of fun. One of the most amusing moments in David de Sola’s Alice in Chains: The Untold Story (2015) is when Layne began to sing this song in the manner of Ethel Merman without apparent cause. This outburst occurred while he was out to dinner with his bandmates as well as the brilliant photographer and music video director Rocky Schenck.
Maynard James Keenan & Alice In Chains – "Them Bones" & "Man in the Box"
When Layne wrote the lyrics for “Man in the Box,” he was actually reflecting upon the issues of censorship and the way veal calves are raised. The song is so great that even Layne Staley’s mother knew that it would become a sleeper hit upon hearing it for the first time. “Man in the Box” first appeared on Alice in Chains’ debut studio album, Facelift (1990). By contrast, “Them Bones” is the killer opening to Dirt (1992). It was written by Jerry Cantrell. Layne Staley improvised the famous screams while in the studio.
Maynard James Keenan’s voice is simply golden in the following 2015 performance. The Tool frontman has joined Alice in Chains onstage during other shows. In 1993, Layne Staley actually sang “Opiate” with Tool.
Black Label Society – "Layne"
Although the other songs on our list are covers, Zakk Wylde's original tribute "Layne" is certainly worth your ear: "Nothing's pure, nothing's real. Oh, I'm just biding my time till I wave goodbye. "Layne" is the tenth track on Black Label Society's Hangover Music Vol. VI (2004), which was released on April 20, or "Weed Day." It is important to remember that this song is just Wylde's interpretation of what Layne might have been feeling. What counts most, however, is that it clearly comes from a place of compassion. Zakk Wylde is one of the coolest and most talented men in metal. The wholesome 55-year-old rocker and former child model is a true inspiration. He famously quit drinking on his own.
Korn – "Would?"
Korn’s guitarist Brian “Head” Welch told MusicRadar: “Layne’s voice was just incredible — he was the whole package.” Welch named Alice in Chains’ Facelift (1990) as one of the records that changed his life. We would love to hear Korn take on classics from Facelift like “Bleed the Freak” and “Love, Hate, Love.”
Stone Sour – "We Die Young"
This recording hails from Stone Sour’s EP Meanwhile in Burbank… (2015). Stone Sour’s Corey Taylor has covered songs by Alice in Chains’ on several occasions. Corey sang “Man in the Box” with the support of Dave Navarro, the recently deceased Taylor Hawkins, and Chris Chaney for the Museum of Pop Culture. He has even performed “Would?” with Anthrax’s Ian Scott.
We cannot move on from this section without addressing the nagging, meme-culture question that we know is on your mind: “What does Corey Taylor think [about Layne Staley]?” During a Q&A at the Riff Center in Columbus Ohio, Corey Taylor said: “Layne Staley is still one of the greatest fucking singers that ever lived.” Corey confessed that there is probably not a day that passes when he neglects to listen to AiC — “It’s still just that good.”
Sully Erna & Steel Panther – "Man in the Box"
How could you beat the unlikely combination of Godsmack’s Sully Erna and the prettiest glam band known to humanity, Steel Panther?! You add Jerry Cantrell to the mix. Watch these three parties treat fans to “Man in the Box” in 2017.
Godsmack’s name was borrowed from Alice in Chains’ song “God Smack,” which first appeared on Dirt (1992). Sully Erna told Rolling Stone: “When Dirt came out, the thing did not leave my CD player.” In regard to Layne, he continued: “I’ve never heard someone’s voice hit tape like that. He’s the reason I started singing.” Therefore, it seems only natural that Sully Erna has covered AiC at other concerts. Similarly, you should check out a clip of when Steel Panther called Mike Starr onstage in 2010. Starr played Lexxi Foxx’s pink bass guitar.
Opeth – "Would?"
Opeth’s “Would?” should be on every metalhead’s playlist. Artists can fall into the trap of melodrama when working with this beloved song. Yet, these innovative Swedes managed to put an original twist on “Would?” while remaining true to its disturbing and trippy essence. Opeth released this recording on their EP Burden (2008). Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt revealed to Spin that Alice in Chains may have been his biggest inspiration from the ’90s. Åkerfeldt noted Alice in Chains’ Black Sabbath-like grittiness. He stated: “Alice in Chains provided something I guess I had been missing. They kind of meshed the darkness from some of the more extreme metal bands I was listening to at the time with that melodic sense…”
Suicide Silence & Jinjer's Tatiana Shmayluk – "Man in the Box"
In 2020, Suicide Silence joined us as part of our Slay At Home festival. Beginning at 8:37 of the video below, you can see Jinjer’s frontwoman, Tatiana Shmayluk, drop in to steal the show during “Man in the Box.” Later in the year, Suicide Silence’s Mark Heylmun returned to Slay At Home for an awesome cover of Sepultura’s “Refuse / Resist” with Incite’s Richie Cavalera, Abysmal Dawn’s Eliseo Garcia, and our very own Frank Godla.
You can find Suicide Silence’s version of Alice in Chains’ “Them Bones” as a bonus track to No Time to Bleed (2009) on iTunes.
Слот / Slot – "Them Bones"
This rendition of “Them Bones” will show you why Слот has maintained a high status of popularity in Eastern Europe. This nu-metal band was founded in 2002 in Moscow. In 2014, their present vocalist, Daria “Nookie” Stavrovich, was attacked. A stalker stabbed her in the neck and wrist before she could attend an autograph session at the now-closed bar Stoker in St. Petersburg. Thankfully, the brave and daring singer has long since recovered.
Steve Welsh – Dirt (1992, Full)
We have been focusing on covers by well-known bands and artists, as opposed to fan videos. Nonetheless, this clip by Steve Welsh, an Australian YouTuber, is so spot-on that it's shocking: Welsh performs snippets from each song on Dirt, minus "Iron Gland," as if they had been authored by different bands. For example, "Down in the Hole" is executed in the manner of Whitesnake. The exception is "Them Bones" for which Welsh mimics Alice in Chains' style. The overall result of Welsh's effort is both hilarious and spooky.