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15 times Mark Lanegan conjured dark magic with alternative music's greatest guitarists

Mark Lanegan and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age performing at the 2002 KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas
(Image credit: L. Cohen/WireImage)

Even in a city of era-defining voices, Mark Lanegan was a singular talent. In many ways, the Screaming Trees frontman was the closest thing ’90s Seattle had to an old-soul bluesman: his gravelly baritone could rattle windows, but it was accompanied by a vulnerability that bared his soul with every rasp.

Accordingly, the singer was perpetually in demand – charting back to his days in Screaming Trees and well into what would become his final years, Lanegan was one of the most prolific collaborators in rock. While he would often write and occasionally record on guitar, he was always keen to broaden his horizons by working with a series of trusted players, local pals and occasional A-list stars.

To pay tribute to the late vocalist, who passed away yesterday (February 22) at the age of 57, we’ve assembled a rundown of 15 of his finest collaborations with guitarists from across his multifaceted career, presented in chronological order. These encompass one-off tracks with Kurt Cobain and Slash to longer-running projects with Josh Homme and Alain Johannes, but all are anchored by that rumbling, soul-shaking voice that will be sorely missed.

1. Mark Lanegan – Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (1990)

Guitarist: Kurt Cobain

Just as Screaming Trees were on the cusp of signing to Epic Records, Lanegan was quietly cooking up a solo record, whose stripped-back, often acoustic textures marked a departure from the raucous electric backdrop of his day job.

Longtime Lanegan co-writer and guitarist Mike Johnson helmed the album’s production, but according to the singer, the record’s origins lay in a Lead Belly covers project with Trees drummer Mark Pickerel, and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic. One track from the project’s sessions, Where Did You Sleep Last Night, would ultimately wind up on Lanegan’s debut.

While the cover became something of an epitaph for Cobain as the final track on Nirvana’s hallowed MTV Unplugged session, this earlier rendition is worth experiencing in its original form. Its screeching feedback, savage electric guitar swipes and throat-shredding screams from Lanegan and Cobain offer their own distinct chills.

2. Screaming Trees – Shadow of the Season (1992)

Guitarist: Gary Lee Conner

While the band with which Lanegan made his name had been bubbling under just outside Seattle for much of the ’80s, it took Nirvana and Pearl Jam’s storming of the national album charts for the psych-rockers to lurch into the mainstream.

Sweet Oblivion, their second full-length for Epic Records, was their breakthrough, propelled by the success of jittery pop-rock anthem Nearly Lost You, which featured on the landmark soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s 1992 rom-com Singles.

But it’s Sweet Oblivion’s Zeppelin-esque opening cut that ranks among the Trees’ greatest works. Opening with a bouncy, grooving riff and peppered with wild bends and huge open chords, Shadow of the Season effectively distils everything the Conner brothers’ guitar-bass relationship had been building towards.

Of course, it helps that it’s propelled by the recently joined Barrett Martin’s expansive drumming style and an especially wide-ranging vocal performance from Lanegan, whose octave-leaping dexterity mirrors the intensity of Gary Lee Conner’s guitar.

3. Mad Season – Long Gone Day (1995)

Guitarist: Mike McCready

One of grunge’s greatest supergroups was formed when Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready emerged from rehab with a new friend in blues bassist John Baker Saunders. The pair recruited Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley – in part to help Staley overcome his own vices – and the group’s loose jams quickly began to take shape, culminating in their sole album, Above.

Mark Lanegan was drafted in to contribute vocals to two tracks, but clearly delivered a lot more, receiving co-writing credits on both. While the grungy I’m Above might be the obvious pick here, it’s the jazzier Long Gone Day that pushes the group out of its comfort zone, and is all the better for it.

Against a backdrop of marimba, strings and saxophone, McCready takes an acoustic turn, offering gentle arpeggiated chords and harmonics, while Lanegan and Staley’s alternating stints on the mic make for a compelling dual narrative, opened with the evocative line, “So much blood I’m starting to drown”.

Numerous attempts to work on a followup record were abandoned as Staley’s health deteriorated throughout the late-’90s, leading the group to rebrand as Disinformation, featuring Lanegan as the sole lead singer. The death of Saunders in 1999 stamped a tragic full stop on the project, before a 2013 reissue of Above showcased several tracks from the group’s unfinished second album, complete with vocals and musical contributions from Lanegan.

4. Mark Lanegan – One Way Street (2001)

Guitarists: Ben Shepherd, Mike Johnson

Regarded by Lanegan as one of his best albums, Field Songs once again featured Mike Johnson, but was bolstered by Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd, who proves himself an innovative, idiosyncratic guitarist on this standout release.

The resultant record traverses dark blues, sweet lullabies and driving Middle Eastern-influenced indie, but the dusty troubadour tones of opener One Way Street ensured it quickly became a fan favorite and a staple on Lanegan’s setlists for decades to come.

Johnson and Shepherd instantly conjure a Western atmosphere with their neatly nuanced chord arpeggiations, complete with lashings of tremolo and razor-sharp acoustic leads. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Lanegan’s keen drawl.

5. Queens of the Stone Age – Song for the Dead (2002)

Guitarist: Josh Homme

Following his exit from stoner-rock pioneers Kyuss, Josh Homme found himself taking on rhythm guitarist duties for Screaming Trees’ final tours in support of swan song full-length Dust, kicking off decades of collaboration between the Queens of the Stone Age leader and the Trees’ frontman.

The pairing first bore fruit on QOTSA’s 2000 release Rated R, swiftly followed by Homme’s Rancho de la Luna-hosted Desert Sessions Volume 7 and 8, in particular on breakneck head-banger Hanging Tree, a version of which would eventually end up on QOTSA’s noughties-defining opus Songs for the Deaf.

But it’s the that album’s not-quite-title-track that showcases one of Lanegan’s edgiest performances, wailing at the upper limits of his vocal range, and hosting an irresistible interplay with Homme’s unmistakable guitar leads.

Lanegan would only be a permanent Queens member from 2000 to 2005, but would go on to collaborate with Homme several times in the years following, most prominently on the wiry lead showcase Riot in My House on Lanegan’s 2012 solo album, Blues Funeral.

6. Mark Lanegan Band – Methamphetamine Blues (2004)

Guitarists: Alain Johannes, Josh Homme

Upon its release in 2004, Bubblegum became Mark Lanegan’s most commercially successful release, and while the songwriting is among the singer’s finest, the sheer wealth of guest appearances probably didn’t hurt: the album’s star contributors included Greg Dulli, Josh Homme, Duff McKagan, Izzy Stradlin and PJ Harvey, among others.

The album is also notable for birthing Lanegan’s long-serving working relationship with producer and guitarist Alain Johannes, best known for his playing with QOTSA, Chris Cornell and Them Crooked Vultures. Besides his ear for a great-sounding record, Johannes is an awe-inspiring guitarist with a limitless vocabulary, demonstrated on album standout Methamphetamine Blues, where he channels his best Beatles leads to mirror Lanegan’s repeated refrain “rollin’ just to keep on rollin’”.

Johannes would go on to produce all of Lanegan’s solo records from Bubblegum onwards, up until his final release, Straight Songs of Sorrow, in 2020. As the guitarist told this writer in 2015: “He has an incredibly timeless voice that can coexist with any orchestrations or styles – he brings them towards himself, so it just becomes him: it's Lanegan.”

7. The Gutter Twins – Idle Hands (2008)

Guitarists: Greg Dulli, Dave Rosser

Built from the foundations of Greg Dulli’s indie-rock side-project Twilight Singers, The Gutter Twins catapulted Lanegan back into a larger-scale rock production, as Dulli brought the powerhouse rhythms and orchestrated guitar parts of The Afghan Whigs along for the ride.

Idle Hands was the lead-off single from the duo’s sole album, and proved to be one of the heavier, more visceral offerings they would produce during their relatively short tenure, launched into the stratosphere by Dulli and fellow Whigs guitarist Dave Rosser’s seismic playing in the track’s climax.

8. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – You Won’t Let Me Down Again (2010)

Guitarists: Jim McCulloch, James Iha, Jeff Fielder

While he was best known for his guttural roar, Lanegan had a sweeter, softer side, showcased on his critically acclaimed collaborations with Belle and Sebastian’s Isobel Campbell.

Three folk-leaning albums played host to the transatlantic chemistry, with songwriting and production led by Campbell. While the records were often recorded in various studios across the UK and the USA, they all possess a rootsy, small-room feel.

Glaswegian guitarist Jim McCulloch is one of the unifying factors across all three records, lending cinematic chord sweeps and acoustic strums. You Won’t Let Me Down Again is a perfect marriage between Lanegan’s rockier edge and Campbell’s ethereal folk, and further bolstered by the appearance of the Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha and Seattle guitar vet Jeff Fielder.

9. Slash ft. Mark Lanegan - So Long Sin City (2011)

Guitarist: Slash

Still yet to receive an official release, So Long Sin City was written for 2011 sci-fi comedy This Is Not a Movie, which Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash just so happened to score.

No stranger to A-list guest vocalists, the top-hatted one signed Lanegan up to lend his husky tones in between the organ swells and guitar heroics that pepper this slow-burn epic.

The subdued, low-key vocal performance ensures So Long Sin City stands alone in Slash’s pantheon of ballads, and never verges on the kind of hard-rock bombast that the likes of Axl Rose or Myles Kennedy might assign to such an arrangement.

10. Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood – Mescalito (2013)

Guitarist: Duke Garwood

This meeting of “kindred spirits” was a spinoff from The Gutter Twins, where multi-instrumentalist Garwood served as a touring member.

The resultant collaboration spawned two albums, both of which were predominantly led by Garwood’s spidery acoustic playing and deft electric touch: 2013’s Black Pudding and 2018 followup, With Animals.

As a result, Black Pudding is an essential listen for all guitarists with even a passing interest in Lanegan: Garwood’s instrumentals are beautifully orchestrated and dextrously executed, casting an otherworldly spell brought back to Earth by Lanegan’s rich, gritty baritone.

In particular, Mescalito expertly weaves this bountiful six-string vocabulary with the drum machines favored by the singer in his later years.

11. Earth – There Is a Serpent Coming (2014)

Guitarist: Dylan Carlson

In 2014, fellow Seattle scene legend Dylan Carlson sought Lanegan’s talents for Primitive and Deadly, one of the standout albums from the doom-metal pioneers’ latter-day period.

Lanegan appears on two of the album’s six tracks, There Is a Serpent Coming and Rooks Across the Gate, where his serrated growl meshes perfectly with Carlson’s creeping Sabbathian riffage.

The Earth leader would eventually return the favor in 2020, contributing guitars to Lanegan’s final album, Straight Songs of Sorrow.

12. Ten Commandos – Staring Down the Dust (2015)

Guitarists: Alain Johannes, Dimitri Coats

When Alain Johannes formed supergroup Ten Comandos with Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd, along with Off! guitarist Dimitri Coats, he called on his little black book of legendary musicians, tapping Lanegan for the album’s lead single, while Peter Frampton appears on grunge-meets-Satriani rocker Sketch 9.

Staring Down the Dust serves as another example of Lanegan’s ability to juxtapose a brooding vocal approach with fire-breathing riffage, a yin and yang approach that proves particularly potent amid the track’s numerous fuzz wigouts.

“This was the first song we recorded and we finished the rhythm track very quickly,” Cameron told Rolling Stone (opens in new tab). “We all liked the sound and feel of the song, but once we heard Mark Lanegan’s vocals on it, he took it to another level completely.”

13. Tinariwen – Nànnuflày (feat. Kurt Vile & Mark Lanegan) (2017)

Guitarists: Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane, Kurt Vile

Given his propensity for desert rock, it’s perhaps no surprise that Mark Lanegan should eventually find himself on a desert blues track.

Nànnuflày – which also features the guitar talents of indie darling Kurt Vile – is taken from Tuareg band Tinariwen’s seventh album, and while Lanegan’s croons don’t crop up until halfway through the track, his presence sounds entirely fitting. The desert blues sound isn’t far removed from the kind of vocal-and-electric guitar experimentations the singer was exploring in his work with Duke Garwood.

14. Mark Lanegan – Apples From a Tree (2020)

Guitarist: Mark Morton

On paper, Lamb of God metaller Mark Morton wouldn’t necessarily be an obvious pick to co-write with Mark Lanegan, but as he proved with his solo performances of tracks from his 2019 debut, Anesthetic, Morton’s playing holds myriad hidden depths.

This gentle acoustic fingerpicker, taken from Lanegan’s final studio effort, is one of his most quietly devastating ballads, playing host to the lines, “Good night, my love, good night / Mind the way you go / Going home tonight / You will be alone / I have taken flight”.

“I am so profoundly grateful to have had the chance to make music & become friends with Mark Lanegan,” Morton shared (opens in new tab) upon learning of the singer’s passing. “Few artists ever achieve the level of honesty & authenticity that he did. He was absolutely brilliant. Godspeed my friend.”

15. Nancy Wilson, Mark Lanegan & Liv Warfield - Brother (2020)

Guitarists: Nancy Wilson, Ryan Waters, Jeff Fielder

One of the last ‘live’ performances, virtual or otherwise, delivered by Lanegan before his passing was a tribute to his fallen friend and bandmate Layne Staley.

Assembled remotely as part of the Seattle Museum of Pop Culture’s Founders Award ceremony for Alice in Chains in 2020, the footage saw Lanegan join forces with Heart icon Nancy Wilson and ex-Prince and the New Power Generation vocalist Liv Warfield for this yearning take on AIC’s 1992 cut, Brother.

Six-string duties are handled by Wilson and Seattle stalwart Jeff Fielder on acoustic, as well as Sade guitarist Ryan Waters, who performs the track’s languid, emotive solo.

Lanegan’s vocals are heartbreaking here and on an accompanying clip of Nutshell, as he digs deep and reaches for Jerry Cantrell and Staley’s range. Yet that adaptability and dedication to his craft, present throughout his career, holds true. It’s poignant that these performances should end up serving as a farewell to not one but two icons of alternative music.

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Mike is Editor-in-Chief of GuitarWorld.com, in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He has a master's degree in journalism, and has spent the past decade writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar (opens in new tab), Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as the best part of 20 years performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe (opens in new tab).