In the latest edition of guitar and string maker Ernie Ball's ongoing "String Theory" series, Alice in Chains frontman Jerry Cantrell opens up about his musical upbringing, rising through the ranks of Seattle's 1990s grunge scene, and how the "transfer of energy" between himself and the crowd is one of the things that keeps performing fun after all these years.
"It's interesting being a musician, and it's what I always wanted to be," the guitarist says as footage of him shredding away alone in a dark studio appears. Cantrell outlines his mother's side of the family and their dedication to the craft. "There was always music in the house," he continues. "I was really taken by music at an early age."
He continues into the story of asking for a Les Paul for Christmas one year, only to be let down when a "nylon-stringed acoustic" filled the axe-shaped box under the tree. Despite his initial disappointment and limited family funds, he continued to play and his mother eventually helped him fix up an older guitar to support his rock & roll dreams.
Cantrell, who claims he was "mostly kind of ear-taught," then credits the universe for coming together in a lot of ways he didn't necessarily expect for his success. Calling Alice in Chains "one of the coolest bands in rock & roll in my opinion," he expounds a bit on his gratitude for being in Seattle at the same time as like-minded people around his age and being part of the "tectonic shift" in music that occurred during grunge's early Nineties heyday.
"The thing that keeps me playing is I don't know how to do anything else," the six-stringer jokes. Humor aside, Cantrell genuinely loves performing for an audience and connecting with people that are touched by his music. "I still enjoy the feel of the guitar in my hands. It's really exhilarating to stand on a stage in front of people who give a shit about what you're doing."