A Guide to the Unreleased Layne Staley Material
The subject of unreleased Layne Staley material received renewed attention today after this post at Alternative Nation. I covered this subject in my book Alice In Chains: The Untold Story and thought it would be worth going into some detail here:
Are any of the unreleased tracks from leftover Alice in Chains material?
When was it written and recorded?
The vast majority of the material is probably from the 1987-1988 period, during the end of Alice N’ Chains, Layne’s glam metal band, and the earliest days of Alice in Chains. The songs were written and recorded by Ron Holt, a local musician who was a friend and mentor to Layne. [Note: Ron Holt also wrote “It’s Coming After,” the Second Coming song Layne sang guest vocals for.] Layne would have been 20 or 21 years old at the time he recorded these songs. This material predates Alice in Chains: Facelift wasn’t released until August of 1990.
I’ve heard some of these recordings that have appeared online over the years. Others were described to me by Ron Holt and James Bergstrom [Layne’s close friend and drummer in Alice N’ Chains, who played drums on these recordings] during interviews for my book.
Is there any material from Layne’s later years?
There is one song, titled “The Things You Do,” that Layne recorded guest vocals on at least three versions of. The first version dates to 1988 and was recorded with Ron Holt. The second and third versions were re-recorded with Jesse Holt [Ron’s brother] in summer of 1996 and November of 1997 for a project that went under the moniker the Despisley Brothers. I’ve heard the 1996 and 1997 recordings. Here’s what I wrote about these recordings in my book:
Musically and lyrically, the two later versions are the same. Stylistically, Layne’s vocals sound very different from any of his previous work. The difference is that in the 1997 version, he sounds indifferent, with no real power or feeling in the performance. Jason Buttino, who has recordings of both versions, attributes the change to the fact that the second version was recorded more than a year after Demri’s death. Buttino also said Jesse Holt— who declined to be interviewed for this book— had to boost the level on Layne’s vocals in the 1997 version because his voice was so soft and quiet.
This is the only unreleased solo material that I am aware Layne recorded post-1996. [It is possible there is more material out there, but I’m not aware of it.] He moved into his U District condo sometime after buying the property in April of 1997. Alice in Chains producer Toby Wright told me he set up a home recording studio in the condo, so Layne had the means to write and record material if he was so inclined. However, Layne’s stepfather, stepbrother and sister told me on the record that they were not aware of any solo demos he might have recorded during his later years. The only person who would know for certain is his mother, Nancy Layne McCallum, who turned down my request for an interview.
Layne had agreed to record a guest vocal for the band Taproot in April of 2002. Unfortunately, it never happened because he passed away shortly before the recording session was scheduled to take place.
UPDATE: According to comments from Jesse Holt on the Alternative Nation website, any possible release of this material has been delayed by the Layne Staley Estate until the resolution of Nancy Layne McCallum’s lawsuit against Alice in Chains. Until that happens, Holt wrote, the estate would not be granting any permission for the use of Layne’s name or likeness for anything, which in this particular case would be essential to credibly promote the project’s release.
UPDATE II: Alice N’ Chains producer Tim Branom asked Layne’s mother if any of his unreleased material from home recordings would be released. Her response to Tim’s question, which Jesse Holt takes some issue with in the comments mentioned in the previous update, reads:
There is nothing. We’ve listened to everything and — Just because he had the equipment didn’t mean that he had the professional ability to pull it all together. I know that he practiced on it a lot. Just unfinished little ditties. And I don’t even know if he did them. It might have been a friend going “doodly-wop”. I don’t know. His music room was completely pristine and clean even though the rest of the house was an artist’s home. So I value the possibility, but no. Don’t you suppose that after 13 years if there was something valuable, it would’ve been heard by now?
I didn’t have any expectations regarding that title, but the more I was amazed.
The writer did a great job.