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Mark Lanegan, lead singer of the Screaming Trees, dies at 57

Mark Lanegan performs live at the Trip Music Festival 2018 at Triennale Milan Italy
(Image credit: Roberto Finizio/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Mark Lanegan, the rock vocalist best known as the frontman for the Screaming Trees, has died at the age of 57.

A statement (opens in new tab) on Lanegan's Twitter account read, "Our beloved friend Mark Lanegan passed away this morning at his home in Killarney, Ireland. A beloved singer, songwriter, author and musician he was 57 and is survived by his wife Shelley." No cause of death was given in the statement announcing his death. 

Known for his distinctively gravely voice, Lanegan was a central figure in grunge who never reached the astonishing commercial heights of some of his peers in the scene, but certainly commanded their respect, and indeed worked with many of them. 

Aside from his acclaimed work with Screaming Trees, Lanegan collaborated over the decades with a who's who of alt-rock royalty – Queens of the Stone Age, the grunge supergroup Mad Season, Kurt Cobain, Greg Dulli (in their band The Gutter Twins), and Belle & Sebastian's Isobel Campbell among them.

Born in Ellensburg, Washington in 1964, Lanegan co-founded the band Screaming Trees with guitarist Gary Lee Conner, bassist Van Conner and drummer Mark Pickerel.

After the release of their 1986 debut album, Clairvoyance, the band caught the attention of – and were subsequently signed to – venerated indie label SST Records. With their blend of hard rock, psychedelic and punk influences, the Screaming Trees fit in well with SST's increasingly popular roster and in 1990 the band made the jump – around the same time as many of their grunge peers – to a major label.

Propelled by the rock radio hit Nearly Lost You, the band's 1992 album, Sweet Oblivion, went on to sell 300,000 copies. Around that same time, the band also appeared – at the behest (opens in new tab) of Kurt Cobain – at the 1992 Reading Festival, an occasion that would go down as one of the most legendary rock festivals of the 1990s. 

Screaming Trees never again reached the success of Sweet Oblivion, and recorded their last album, Dust, in 1996, before dissolving in 2000. Some of Lanegan's most famous work, however, was made with some of the grunge stars whose commercial success eclipsed that of his own band.

In 1989, Lanegan, Cobain, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel recorded (opens in new tab) an EP of Lead Belly covers under the name The Jury. Cobain also provided backing vocals for Down in the Dark, a song from Lanegan's 1990 solo debut, The Winding Sheet.

Lanegan made extensive vocal and lyrical contributions to Above, the 1995 debut album from Mad Season, the grunge supergroup comprised of Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, bassist John Baker Saunders and Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. 

After Staley's health worsened due to drug addiction following Above's completion, Lanegan became the new lead singer of Mad Season (the band later changed their name to Disinformation following the addition of Lanegan), though the new band never managed to record another album together.

Lanegan also had a decades-long creative partnership with Josh Homme, which began when the latter was hired as a second guitarist for Screaming Trees in 1996. Lanegan contributed lead and/or backing vocals to almost all of the albums released by Homme's Queens of the Stone Age project to date, starting with 2000's Rated R, and co-wrote the theme song to the TV show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown with Homme.

Lanegan's incredibly long list of side projects also includes The Gutter Twins, his band with the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli, and his trio of albums with Belle & Sebastian's Isobel Campbell. He also released 11 genre-blending solo albums, the most recent of which was 2020's Straight Songs of Sorrow.

Last year, the singer revealed (opens in new tab) that a severe case of COVID-19 – and a subsequent fall while he was battling it – had left him in a coma for a month, and in the hospital for a number of months afterwards.

He detailed the experience – in both prose and poetry – in a memoir titled Devil In A Coma, which was released in December.

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Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player (opens in new tab). Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder (opens in new tab) and Unrecorded (opens in new tab). Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.