Prime Cuts: Pearl Jam
Pearl Jams: Guitarist Mike McCready picks the pearls from his rich portfolio of jams.
“I’m so ignorant of this technical stuff,” says Mike McCready when asked to explain the intricacies of Pearl Jam’s hit-making writing process. “I’ve always done it by ear. Honestly, I’d rather do regular interviews. It’s more interesting to talk about whatever…anything other than guitars. I’m not into being a tech-head.”
He’s just being modest, of course. A guitarist doesn’t reach the top of the rock and roll heap without having a solid acquaintance with his instrument and gear. But then again, that’s what high-paid roadies are for. McCready, an accomplished musician, is not ashamed about being technically challenged. He prefers to concentrate on the more visceral aspects of rock guitar. Like stealing riffs.
“Everything I know, I stole directly from Ace Frehley, Angus Young and Keith Richards,” admits McCready. “That’s how you learn. I used to sit for hours and copy every lick on those early AC/DC and Kiss records. From there I went on to Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. After a while, you kind of develop your own style.”
Here are a few examples of McCready’s best thievery.
Temple of the Dog (1990)
“That was my first lead on an album, and I was so excited. I’d been in a studio before, but never to record an album or anything. I did that in one take! I soloed through the whole thing and ended up with the headphones wrapped around my face. I was totally flushed. The guitar work on that track represents one of my proudest moments.”
Temple of the Dog
“I remember thinking that this was a really beautiful song when I heard it. [Soundgarden’s] Chris Cornell showed me the riff. I had a ’62 reissue Strat and I wanted to use the fourth-position tone setting—between the bridge and the middle pickups—for the beginning of the song because I like that softer sound. Then I kicked it to the front pickup for the heavier part of the song. This is one of many amazing songs written by Chris.”
“That’s me pretending to be Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a feeble attempt at that. Stone [Gossard, guitarist] wrote the riff and song; I think it’s a D tuning. I just followed him in a regular pattern. I tried to steal everything I know from Stevie Ray Vaughan and put it into that song. A blatant rip-off. A tribute rip-off, if you will.”
“I copied Ace Frehley’s solo from Kiss’ ‘She,’ which was copied from Robby Krieger’s solo in the Doors’ ‘Five to One.’ ”
“The thing I remember most about this song is how thunderous Jeff Ament’s huge 12-string bass was, and me getting to noodle over it. He had just gotten the Hamer Tom Peterson model, and ‘Why Go’ was the first song he used it on. It sounded like a piano in your face. It was pretty intense.”
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