Mother Love Bone

TrackAlbum / EP
With Yo' Heart (Not Yo' Hands)Deep Six
Thru Fade AwayShine EP
Bone ChinaApple
Crown Of ThornsApple
Mr. Danny BoyApple
Holy RollerApple
Stardog ChampionApple
Man Of Golden WordsApple
Say Hello 2 HeavenTemple Of The Dog
Reach DownTemple Of The Dog

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Contributor: Philip ‘Sid’ Sittlington

I often like to play a game whereby I imagine I have the power to relocate certain artists/bands from the history of rock ‘n’ roll, just to see how things could have turned out had they arrived a decade later or later still. Mother Love Bone are one such band … I wonder what could have been.

To the passing music fan Mother Love Bone are probably just that band who became Pearl Jam. However there is ever so slightly more to their story than that simplistic fact.

The late 1980s, early 90s scene of Seattle, USA, holds a reverential appeal to many music fans due to the numerous artists who broke out to worldwide acclaim. If you look up a ‘grunge’ rock family tree it shows a close knit, almost incestuous, forest of Seattle players and acts. Rock history dictates the main trunk of that tree are Nirvana and Pearl Jam, the two bands who went on to the greatest fame. Year Zero for grunge is typically taken to be 1991, with both Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Pearl Jam’s Ten released in that year. But amongst the earlier roots are some very special bands, and one of these is Mother Love Bone.

The band came together in their earliest incarnation some time in 1987, featuring members of Seattle scene bands like Green River, Malfunkshun and Skin Yard. Going by the name Lords Of The Wasteland they built a reputation with their live shows. As seems typical of that scene at the time, there were many line-up comings and goings. By 1988, the name had changed and a line-up settled upon – Andrew Wood, Jeff Ament, Bruce Fairweather, Stone Gossard, Greg Gilmore.

Lead singer Wood was already somewhat of a Seattle scene legend. He was a born frontman; over the top and engaging, and in Mother Love Bone he stepped up that persona to another level. Unlike other bands he had been in, Mother Love Bone were truly his. They started making early recordings, and their shows were increasing in popularity, things were lining up nicely. More and more record labels were sniffing around this burgeoning scene, MLB became one of the first to sign with a major label. PolyGram Records showed such confidence in them, that they created a unique imprint for them, Stardog Records. The ears and eyes of an increasingly worldwide audience were looking towards Seattle.

Early in 1989 the band released their debut EP, Shine; it is often listed as one of the first releases of the grunge phenomenon. With expectation increasing, their schedule constantly expanding, and great things expected of the band, all seemed rosy. Through 1989 they were touring wider and wider areas, creating column inches with each show, and all the while recording tracks for a planned debut album. By March 1990 the band was no more.

Andrew Wood photo

Andrew Wood started his first band, Malfunkshun, at the age of only 14. They played live and recorded to good local acclaim. However, still not twenty years old, Wood had already been in and out of rehab for drug addiction on more than one occasion. In late 1989 he checked in to a clinic hoping to straighten out in time to be ready for the release of Mother Love Bone’s debut album. On March 16th 1990 Wood was discovered by his then girlfriend, unconscious from a heroin overdose. Hospitalised and then placed on life support, it was just three days later that he suffered an aneurysm and was taken off life support. He died aged just 24.

Wood’s flamboyant on-stage persona, his delicate lyrics and intense personality gave Mother Love Bone a sound and style that made them stand out among their peers. If grunge is recalled for plaid shirts and a heads-down harder-rock sound, Andrew Wood and Mother Love Bone looked and sounded nothing like their greasier counterparts. He was a test-tube creation of distilled parts Kiss, Queen and New York Dolls, mixed with bits of Bolan, Zeppelin and Morrison. Lyrically, he was poetic, uplifting and heartbreaking. He definitely did not fit with what became the typical sound and style of grunge, the scene that took over the early to mid 90s music landscape.

For me, this is why Mother Love Bone have not quite fitted into the traditional major timeline of rock ‘n’ roll history. Some of their members’ later careers so eclipse the short life of MLB that they often become just a footnote. Being so unlike many of their contemporaries from that early Seattle scene, when lists of grunge greats are made up, a band as colourful as Mother Love Bone all too often get left off.

After Andrew Wood’s death the label did release their debut album, Apple. While it received a lot of positive reviews, without the chance to properly promote the release it did not achieve the success it so obviously deserved. At a time when lots of vapid hair metal acts were vying for airtime with the new bolder, louder and wiser grunge sound, a band like Mother Love Bone should have been atop all of them.

To listen to Apple today (and I regularly still do) I still wonder of what could have been. The influences are clear … it is packed with the stomp of UK glam and stadium friendly Kiss, even Zeppelin, anthemic guitar pieces. But for every fist pump or lighter wave you also get the messier edgier influence of punk too. Holy Roller or Come Bite The Apple are all these things, all at the same time … epic, silly, vicious and double loud! The overall flow on the whole album is near perfect; you are stopped in your tracks by slower songs, then subtly built back up with the next.

There is an art in great lyrics. How they can sweep you along or unpick parts of your being. But the way that a full album can internally create an image which is so intrinsically that band or writer is a rarity. It’s easy to forget that Apple was the debut statement from a very young band; it is so well formed that I can’t imagine what we have missed out on with the death of Andrew. But I have meandered …

Shortly after Andrew’s death, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, who was one of his closest friends, wrote a handful of new songs in tribute to his friend. Cornell, along with Mother Love Bone’s remaining members, booked studio time with the idea of recording these songs for release as a single or EP in honour of their friend. Taking on the name Temple Of The Dog, referencing a line from one of Wood’s songs Man Of Golden Words, their sessions came together into a complete album.

Temple Of The Dog is an album tied so closely to Mother Love Bone that, for me, it is part of the band’s history as much as anything recorded with Andrew. The subsequent album featured lyrics written solely by Cornell, composed in part with Gossard and Ament. At that time Mother Love Bone may have been creatively spent, but still deeply loved. It is a beautiful album, not a typical tribute – new recordings of old songs, it is more a memoriam to their lost friend. It was during these recordings that Eddie Vedder, who was in town to audition for Ament, McCready and Gossard’s new project, recorded for the first time with the line-up that was soon to become Pearl Jam.

Twenty years on, both Pearl Jam and Chris Cornell still play Mother Love Bone or Temple Of The Dog songs in their live sets. They keep alive a band and man who should not be forgotten. Mother Love Bone and Malfunkshun have both been resurrected on occasion to play live for tribute or charity shows, with fellow Seattle scene alumni Shawn Smith (Brad, Pigeonhed, Satchel) taking on vocal duties.

I wanted to choose a Toppermost to include as much of this history as possible; the pre MLB rougher edge of Malfunkshun, early demos, album tracks, live performances, and latter pieces from Temple Of The Dog are all represented in the video playlist below. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy this small tribute to a band and man that I think could easily have gone on to greater things … if only my powers actually existed.

 

The full Toppermost 10 on a YouTube playlist

Malfunkshun – With Yo’ Heart (Not Yo’ Hands) from Deep Six (1986) that included Green River, Soundgarden, The Melvins, Skin Yard and U Men

MLB – Thru Fade Away from Shine EP (1989)

MLB – Bone China from Apple (1990)

MLB – Crown Of Thorns from Apple (1990)

MLB – Mr. Danny Boy from Apple (1990)

MLB – Stardog Champion … live 1989 at Club With No Name, Los Angeles

Andrew Wood – Man Of Golden Words unreleased demo

Temple Of The Dog – Say Hello 2 Heaven (Temple Of The Dog, 1991)

Temple Of The Dog – Reach Down demo version (1991)

MLB – Holy Roller … live rehearsal (2010)

The Love Bone Earth Affair video – concert footage/interviews

Mother Love Bone fansite

Malfunkshun – The Andrew Wood Story

Mother Love Bone biography (iTunes)

This is Sid’s first piece for Toppermost and we look forward to posting more. He has been doing monthly mixswaps for over a decade at the International Mixtape Project and a smaller more boutique gang at Yahoo! Groups – find out more by following him on twitter at @sirsidneyp

TopperPost #371

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