Remembering Andrew Wood: The Pre-Pearl Jam Voice of Grunge
Before Pearl Jam, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament were fame-bound as members of Mother Love Bone, led by singer Andrew Wood. But on March 19, 1990, the charismatic 24-year-old frontman died of a heroin overdose, silencing his talented voice and forever changing the course of his bandmates lives.
In many ways, there could be no Pearl Jam if there had not first been Mother Love Bone. And there could not have been a Mother Love Bone without Wood, whose lyrics and ready-to-rock persona elevated the band from a local favorite to a major label bidding war in the days long before America fell in love with Seattle’s grunge explosion.
Wood had seemingly been everyone’s friend. He'd been gigging around Seattle for years as L’Andrew The Love Child and fronting the band Malfunkshun, and he counted members of almost every other band in the scene as his audience. Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell was his roommate. Gossard couldn’t wait to jam with Wood the second he and Ament’s previous band, Green River, called it quits in 1987. This led to the formation of Mother Love Bone.
Wood knew his way around a big rock anthem, combining ‘80s bombast, a sprinkling of the ‘70s glam he idolized, and a bit of the introspection and honesty that would come later with grunge. These dynamics were reflected in Mother Love Bone. For every big energy “Stardog Champion” there was a powerful, earnest “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns,” the one Mother Love Bone song that Pearl Jam ever covered.
In the post Guns N’ Roses late ‘80s, it took mere months for Wood’s band with future Pearl Jammers Ament and Gossard to attract label interest. Mother Love Bone quickly signed with Polygram after what Wood jokingly called “the restaurant tour of Seattle,” taking free dinners with A&R execs from L.A. who were looking for more bands where GNR’s Duff McKagan had originated.
Wood was ready, joking in the Mother Love Bone documentary The Love Bone Earth Affair that he’d been yelling “Hello Cleveland!” to imaginary arena audiences since his smallest club shows.
Unfortunately, Wood’s embrace of the trappings of rock ’n’ roll extended to drug use, and he had at least two stints in rehab. His struggles found their way into his lyrics, including the ironic line, “I don’t believe in smack / So don’t you die on me” in "This Is Shangrila."
But March of 1990 was a happy, exciting time. Mother Love Bone’s debut album, Apple, was due in April, and a huge tour would follow. The band played a celebratory hometown gig at the Central Tavern on March 9, previewing the album’s songs. Wood had been clean for several months, and openly spoke about his sobriety. “I was a druggy until I went into treatment. I’m not doing it anymore,” the singer noted in an interview with Rip magazine at the time.
On Friday, March 16, 1990, Wood decided to have just one more fix. His girlfriend Xana LaFuente would find him unconscious that evening. He lay in a coma all weekend. Come Monday, March 19, his family, bandmates and close friends gathered to say goodbye, playing music by his idol, Queen’s Freddie Mercury, as they took him off life support.
Mother Love Bone died with him, though the Apple album would be released later in the year. Gossard grieved by writing music, jamming with an old-school friend named Mike McCready, and eventually playing with Ament. Wood’s roommate, Cornell, also channeled his sadness into songs.
From the music inspired by their grief, two timeless bands would form. Gossard, Ament and McCready founded Pearl Jam later in the year. Cornell gathered them -- plus PJ’s new singer Eddie Vedder and Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron -- for Temple of the Dog, named after a line in one of Wood’s Mother Love Bone songs, “Man of Golden Words.”
From the ashes of Mother Love Bone came some of grunge rock's most dynamic artists. But none of it would have existed without Wood.