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Jerry Cantrell names Kim Thayil as the best guitar player from the Seattle grunge scene

Jerry Cantrell and Kim Thayil
(Image credit: Keith Griner/Getty Images / Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

The Seattle scene of the late-’80s and early-’90s gave birth to a cultural and musical revolution, driven by some truly great guitar players who reimagined punk, metal and hard rock in their own image. Now, Jerry Cantrell, leader of quintessential Seattle rockers Alice in Chains, has named who he considers the greatest guitarist to emerge from the boom.

During a new Guitar World interview promoting recently released solo effort Brighten, Cantrell was asked who he’d dub the best guitar player in Seattle during grunge’s glory days.

“It’s tough to say; everybody’s so unique,” he responds. “Kim Thayil is crazy. He’s got a crazy style that is unique unto itself. It’s a blend of different styles – super-big and out of control, but right on the fucking edge of coming off the tracks and going right back on. I always admired his playing.

“I always liked Stone Gossard’s style, too. Super-punk, but also really melodic and based in some kind of regular rock, hard rock, blues-based riffs and stuff. Kurt Cobain was like a cross between punk and pop. His style had a lot of ferocity, and he wrote super-memorable, simple stuff.

“I don’t know... If I had to pick one, it would be Kim.”

It makes sense that Thayil would be the frontrunner – the Soundgarden guitarist was integral to the development of Alice in Chains’ sound, having introduced Cantrell to drop D tuning at the tail end of the ’80s.

“I remember that the Alice in Chains guys at the time were more like a glam-metal boogie band,” Thayil told Guitar World back in 2012. “One day I ran into Jerry [Cantrell] at a D.O.A. concert, and he says to me, ‘Man, I love that song Nothing to Say. What are you doing there?’ And I told him, ‘Well, it’s in drop D tuning.’ And Alice in Chains became a different band almost overnight!”

Alice in Chains would cover Soundgarden classic Hunted Down during their early years, and reprised their rendition, along with a cover of Down on the Upside’s Boot Camp, for 2018’s Rock on the Range performance, in tribute to late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell.

Thayil later returned the favor, tackling It Ain’t Like That, Drone and Angry Chair for Alice in Chains’ Museum of Pop Culture Founders Award ceremony last year.

Cantrell and Thayil are set to join forces for a Sounds of Seattle rock camp in February 2022, which also features original Pearl Jam drummer Dave Krusen – and, we’d wager, a masterclass in drop D tuning.

To read the full interview with Cantrell, pick up a copy of the latest issue of Guitar World, which also features an exclusive look back at U2’s Achtung Baby with the Edge, as well as conversations with Tom Morello, Iron Maiden and Carlos Santana.

Michael Astley-Brown

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, Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as a decade-and-a-half 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.