The Tragic Story of Grunge Pioneer, Andrew Wood
Kurt Cobain. Eddie Vedder. Chris Cornell. Billy Corgan. Scott Weiland. Layne Staley. Andrew Wood.
Anybody who knows anything about rock music will recognize six of these seven names. Collectively, they spearheaded the grunge and alternative rock movements of the early 90s.
Curiously though, it is the seventh - Andrew Wood - who might’ve become bigger and better than all of them, if not for an unfortunate date with destiny, at the hands of a needle.
The Love Child
Wood, also known as ‘Landrew the Love Child’ on-stage, was the enigmatic and outlandish frontman of Seattle-based alternative rock band, Mother Love Bone.
Previously, Wood had served as the singer for glam punk outfit, Malfunkshun, a band he had put together in 1980 at the age of just 14. Inspired by the musical stylings of Cheap Trick, Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and Prince, Andrew didn’t set out simply to imitate the musical stylings of his idols, but perhaps also, their notorious lifestyles.
As is often the case, creativity and insanity co-exist at an intersection, and by the age of just 19, Wood was hospitalized with hepatitis he had contracted from infected needles. In fact, one of the band’s contributions to Deep Six, an early Seattle Sound compilation, With Yo Heart Not Yo Hands, was about one of Wood’s favourite subjects - heroin.
Mother Love Bone
Despite these early dances with the devil, Wood went on to form Mother Love Bone in 1987, alongside the likes of Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, who would go on to global stardom with Pearl Jam in the 90s. The band was formed amidst a backdrop of big hair and hairspray that dominated the mainstream rock charts of the day, with Motley Crue’s Girls Girls Girls, Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and Whitesnake’s self-titled album eating up the airwaves.
Yet, their sound and attitude was a departure from the popular AquaNet topped hard-rock of the day, and towards one that was a mish-mash of Led Zeppelin, George Clinton, Guns n Roses and the Sex Pistols.
The band, whose sound has been described as glam grunge, and alternative rock, quickly became the talk of Seattle town, signing to PolyGram in 1988, and going on to record its debut album, Apple, the following year in California.
Veteran Kerrang! journalist, Mick Wall, was given an advanced copy to listen to by a record executive, and was told that “You're going to love this. I think this is going to be the next Guns n Roses”. Wall laughed off the comment, and upon sitting on it for over two months, finally got around to popping it into his stereo. He responded enthusiastically - a difficult emotion to muster up in a sea of me-too hair-metal bands, and recalls thinking that ‘this is pretty f*cking good!'.
The New York Times called Apple “one of the first great hard-rock records of the ‘90s. Rolling Stone heaped praise on the album, saying it succeeded where other hard-rock albums failed, capturing the essence of what made Zep immortal.
With Yo Heart Not Yo Hands
But Wood, tragically, wouldn’t be around to read these reviews.
Despite having been clean for four months prior, on the evening of March 19 1990, Wood ventured alone into Seattle for a hit, and it proved to be his last.
He was later found by his girlfriend, laid out on his bed in a comatose state. He spent the following few days on life support before his family decided to pull the plug. His bandmates and girlfriend surrounded his bed, lit candles and played A Night At The Opera, Wood’s favourite Queen album.
He died just four months before Apple was released.
In the years since, the album would go on to make Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Grunge Albums list, as well as its 40 Greatest One-Album Wonders list. This aside, the band and album would go on to be remembered as pioneers of the grunge and alternative rock movement of the early 90s, and despite their fall from grace, lived on in the guise of Pearl Jam, and Temple of the Dog - founded by Wood’s former roommate and Soundgarden frontman, Chris Cornell.
If Wood had lived, there’s no telling what the band would have gone on to achieve.
However, perhaps it was Wood’s very nature that led him to success on the stage, as well as tragedy off it.
Honour his memory and watch Mother Love Bone's soulful Stargazer, below.