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Jerry Cantrell

Alice in Chains

"I still enjoy the feel of the guitar on my hands. It’s really exhilarating to stand on stage in front of people... to elicit and emotion from them and to feel that emotion yourself, it’s a transfer of energy and that’s really the whole thing."

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Jerry: It's interesting being a musician and it's what I always wanted to be. My mother's side of the family is pretty artistic in a lot of different ways, but mostly everybody played some sort of an instrument. So there was always music in the house and I was really taken by music at an early age. It made me curious about the aspect of like, could I do that?

Jerry: I went to live with my father who was stationed in Pennsylvania. You know how kids put your Christmas wishlist on your door, so you can tell your parents what you want for Christmas. And I had only one thing on there, I had a Les Paul on there because I was a big Kiss fan. And I always loved Ace Frehley and I think I probably wrote over the top of it, "This is all I want." And it was just a picture of a Les Paul.

Jerry: A couple of days before Christmas, the presents start piling up underneath the tree. And I saw something that looked like it could be a guitar case. I'm like, "I think I got it." And I was so excited. Come Christmas day, we started opening up our presents and I opened it up thinking it was a Les Paul and it was just a little nylon string, acoustic guitar.

Jerry: I was so fucking bummed out. I was so bummed. I looked up at him and I probably said something and he's like, "Look, you learn how to play that first and then I'll buy you a Les Paul. I'm not buying you a Les Paul until you learn how to play that." And of course I messed around with it for a little bit and it went in the closet.

Jerry: My cousin Kyle went to a swap meet and he bought this, it's basically kind of like a Mustang copy. It was called a Victoria and it was in really bad shape. It had like two tuning pegs left and only two strings, the A and the E. And the rest of them, there was no tuning pegs and the action was this far off the neck. But it was cool.

Jerry: It had all these buttons and dials and stuff on it, but with those two strings, I was able to make a bar chord, right? So, once I got an electric guitar in my hands, I was totally in. I stopped going outside. I stopped playing with my friends. I just spent all my time in my room listening to music and trying to figure out how to play guitar.

Jerry: And I remember my mother coming into my room one day and she's like, "You're not going to stop this, are you?" And I'm like, "No." She's like, "Well, we better get it fixed then, so you can learn how to really play it." And we didn't have a lot of money back then, so it was a big deal. She took me down to Alta Vista Music, I think, in Lakewood, Washington.

Jerry: And they put new tuning pegs on it, new strings. They adjusted the action. Then it was actually a pretty cool little guitar. That's also where I used to go get my guitar picks and my strings. And the first set of strings I ever got ever got were Ernie Ball's as well. So also back then money was pretty tight.

Jerry: So you'd play those things until they basically just rotted off your guitar. But the cool thing about Ernie Ball's is they always had the bins of individual strings. So whichever one busted you could go get a replacement instead of having to buy a whole set. But I always remember that.

Jerry: I remember the early days of listening to other people's music and trying to emulate it, trying to learn it. Listening to the radio and making my own little mix tapes of stuff and then trying to learn it. Taking a few lessons here and there when I couldn't figure something out. But mostly it was, I was pretty much just kind of ear taught.

Jerry: From a very early age, I understood what I wanted to do. I had a dream that I wanted to follow. One of the main things in life for anybody to do, no matter what the goal or the dream or the path that you're trying to forge is, it's just that if it's something that you feel that you're driven to do, you got to take that chance. On the worst end of the scale, if you fail and you don't get there, at least you tried and you know yourself. You know, yourself, that you gave your best shot.

Jerry: This is something I always believed I wanted to do. Now, whether I thought I was going to get there and do it? I can't say that I completely knew that that was going to happen. It took a lot of factors that were out of my control. Number one, meeting a band of like minded individuals and being in one of the coolest bands in rock and roll, in my opinion, which is Alice In Chains and my friends for life.

Jerry: Being in the city at the right time, while so many other guys and girls our same age, were doing the same thing. And to have music completely shift, to be involved in one of those tectonic shifts when things go, one day, it's this thing and then it is not that thing. It's a whole other thing and you are that thing. You are that thing that shifted.

Jerry: Well, I mean the thing that keeps me playing is, I don't know how to do anything else. And so there's that and I really couldn't think of anything that I'd rather be doing. 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. And to elicit an emotion from them and to feel that emotion yourself. It's a transfer of energy and that's really the whole thing.

Jerry: I think throughout the journey, you get little signs along the road that you're on the right path. All you can really do is listen to that. And then the second half of that is, are you willing to take the risk and do the work? For me, it was pretty clear what I wanted to do from an early age. I had a lot of things line up and I just had a real drive and a real belief to give it a shot. And it ended up working out.