Nancy McCallum – Layne Staley’s mother – did an interview with Northwest Music Scene recently. This particular exchange caught my attention:
“In 5th grade, he borrowed his Uncle Bob’s trumpet, so that was his first instrument. Then, our family friend Fred loaned him a drum set, and he loved the drums. He wasn’t really into the trumpet but the drums he loved. And then, our neighbor sold him a drum set and he changed his middle name to Thomas, because he admired Tommy Lee (Motley Crue).”
The subject of Layne’s middle name at birth and its subsequent change to Thomas was covered in my book.
Layne was born Layne Rutherford Staley on August 22, 1967. I stumbled onto this fact completely by accident when, during the course of an on the record interview with his friend and former bandmate Nick Pollock, he mentioned that whenever he wanted to get under Layne’s skin, he would refer to him as “Rutherford” in some variation of his name or another. In Nick’s words, “It would make him madder than fuck. He would get so angry at me, he would be ready to get out of the goddamn moving car.” At the time of the interview, Nick had no recollection of what the name was or what it meant to Layne. I assumed – correctly – that in order to have provoked that kind of a response, it had to have some meaning to him.
It was a very touchy subject for him, one that he swore his teenage bandmates in Sleze/Alice ‘N Chains to secrecy about. According to James Bergstrom, “I think he confided in us. I think we were having one of our band talks. I don’t know if it was just him and I, because I don’t think I told anybody because he asked me not to.” Ultimately, I was able to confirm this information through five on the record sources (Jim Elmer, his stepfather; Ken Elmer, his stepbrother; and Johnny Bacolas, Bergstrom, and Pollock, his former bandmates) and a court document from Layne’s parents’ divorce, which identified him as “Layne R. Staley.”
The next question I attempted to answer in my book was when and why Layne changed his middle name to Thomas. None of Layne’s relatives or close friends who spoke to me knew why, beyond his dislike of Rutherford. I filed a public records request to get a copy of his birth certificate. The document I got identified him as “Layne Thomas Staley” and was a modern printed document, not a copy of the original document from after his birth 1967. I was later told that when a person legally changes his or her name, then the person’s birth certificate is updated accordingly and replaces the previous version of the document. I couldn’t find any court records or other documents showing when the name change took place either. My best guess was that he did it at some point after he turned 18 – legal adult age.
This interview with Nancy – who declined requests to be interviewed for my book – finally answers part of the question of why Layne chose Thomas as his middle name. Beyond that, her explanation also suggests the name change may have happened sooner than I originally thought, potentially during his teenage years while still living at home with his parents before he switched from drums to singing.