Pearl Jam, the band that would come to define a region and an era found its earliest pieces when Montana-born bassist Jeff Ament and Seattle guitarist Stone Gossard joined fellow guitarist Steve Turner, drummer Alex Vincent and frontman Mark Arm in 1984 to launch Green River, a band named after a local serial killer.
As documented in Kim Neely's Five Against One: The Pearl Jam Story, among the pioneering Seattle groups that were fusing hardcore and metal in the wake of punk's rise and fall, in autumn 1985, Green River put out what many consider to be the first grunge record, the six-track EP Come On Down. Clashing interests led to their demise before the release of a full-length album in June 1988.
Meanwhile, Ament and Gossard had found another like-minded musician in Malfunkshun vocalist Andy Wood, a magnetic frontman equally capable of outlandish stage theatrics and heart-tugging piano ballads. The trio merged with guitarist Bruce Fairweather and drummer Greg Gilmore to form Mother Love Bone, their must-see performances and increasingly polished sound leading to a deal with PolyGram Records in November 1988.
However, as Mother Love Bone recorded their debut album, Apple, in fall 1989, Wood's heroin use had become a major source of concern for the band. Although he seemingly righted the ship in rehab, the talented frontman fell into a coma after a relapse in March 1990 and was pulled from life support just days before the scheduled release of Apple.
After the death of Wood, Ament and Gossard had to start a new band from scratch
As Mother Love Bone was meeting its sudden and shocking end, another Seattle musician, guitarist Mike McCready, was rediscovering his groove.
Formerly a member of the hard-rock outfit Shadow, McCready had abandoned his musical dreams after his group struck out in Los Angeles. But the passion was reignited with his discovery of Stevie Ray Vaughan's blues guitar, and he was playing with a group called Love Chile when Gossard, an old friend, approached him to collaborate in spring 1990.
Ament soon joined their rehearsals, and with the threesome quickly jelling, they recruited Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron to record a five-track instrumental collection that became known as Stone Gossard Demos '91. With Cameron only assisting on a temporary basis, the others reached out to former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons, who declined their offer to join the group but knew of a singer-songwriter who could help their cause.
Eddie Vedder impressed his future bandmates by singing over their instrumentals
Hailing from the Chicago area, Eddie Vedder spent his high school years in San Diego and returned there after fleeing a turbulent home life. Laser-focused on a career in music, he fronted a band called Bad Radio through the late 1980s and worked night jobs that came with the freedom to write songs, squeezing in gigs as a volunteer roadie for major bands that passed through the area.
One such gig led to his friendship with Irons, who put Vedder in touch with Ament and Gossard. Armed with a copy of the Stone Gossard Demos, Vedder listened to the instrumentals at work one night, the music echoing through his sleep-deprived mind as he went surfing the following morning. Returning home, he recorded vocals for three of the tracks – songs that became "Alive," "Once" and "Footsteps" – and sent his redubbed tape back to Seattle.
As he recalled in Five Against One, Vedder soon wished he'd put more time and effort into his homemade demo, but that didn't matter to Ament and Gossard, who invited him into the fold after listening to his emotionally wrenching vocals and lyrics.
The band originally named themselves after a pro basketball player
By October 1990, the burgeoning group had found their drummer in Gig Harbor native Dave Krusen, who fit in despite coming of age outside the punk-metal community that had shaped the others. They also had their frontman when Vedder arrived, ready to get down to immediate business.
After a few days of rehearsal, the band played their debut gig at the Off Ramp Cafe in Seattle on October 22 under the name "Mookie Blaylock," then known by basketball fans as a player for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. Their set included many of the songs that would appear on their first album, Ten, including "Alive," "Black" and "Even Flow," though Vedder's mostly restrained performance only hinted at the showmanship to come.
After polishing off their Wood tribute project with Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Mookie Blaylock set to work on building buzz for their debut effort for Epic Records, with local production on the Cameron Crowe-directed Singles providing an amusing distraction (Ament, Gossard and Vedder appeared in the film as members of Matt Dillon's band).
Shortly before stepping into London Bridge Studio to record Ten in March 1991, the band announced that they would now be known as Pearl Jam, a name with murky origins, though Vedder claimed was inspired by a Native American grandmother who made preserves out of psychedelic ingredients.
The band went through several drummers before the release of 'Ten'
While momentum was building, there were still a few obstacles in Pearl Jam’s path to stardom. Krusen had developed a serious alcohol problem, a situation that raised red flags for the surviving members of Mother Love Bone, and he was out of the band after playing at the Singles wrap party on May 25.
They found a capable replacement with New Bohemians drummer Matt Chamberlain, but he, too, would soon exit, thanks to an offer to join the Saturday Night Live house band. While the drummer seat would prove a difficult one for the band to fill on a permanent basis, Chamberlain at least found the man who would accompany Pearl Jam over the finish line and into the national spotlight.
Dave Abbruzzese had dropped out of his Texas high school to pursue his musical dreams, and he was playing in a funk band called Dr. Tongue and hosting a Dallas weekly radio show when he got the call to try out for Pearl Jam in summer 1991.
Arriving on Seattle on August 3, Abbruzzese watched Pearl Jam film the video for "Alive" at the RKCNDY club before getting the chance to show his skills. Despite his funk leanings – and what he perceived as a not-so-warm welcome from Vedder – it was clear to all that the musical chemistry was there.
On August 23, Abbruzzese played his first show with Pearl Jam before 4,000 fans at the Mural Amphitheatre at Seattle Center. Four days later, the release of Ten ensured that they would soon be playing for far larger audiences as drivers of the alt-rock movement that was about to take off and shape popular music through the rest of the decade.