by Given To Wail
Mike McCready was born on April 5, 1966, in Pensacola, Florida. I'm not sure why his family ended up in Seattle but I know they moved there shortly after Mike's birth. An only child, his mother was an elementary school art teacher and his father was a city employee. His parents were into artists like Hendrix and Santana, and as a child mike would soak them in while beating his dad's bongo drums with pencils. By the time he reached the age of 10 his friends had turned him onto Kiss and Aerosmith. Shortly after his 11th birthday he walked into Kennelly Keys, a local music store, and purchased his first electric guitar, a Mateo Les Paul Copy that he still owns.
Mike began to take lessons with a local instructor Mike Wilson. He began learning the licks and styles of Joe Perry and Ritchie Blackmore, but mainly Paul Stanley: "I worship Kiss. They're the whole reason I started playing guitar." Soon after Mike discovered, playing out of his 10-watt Fender Champ, something that would change his life forever-FEEDBACK!!!: "I used to play 'smoke on the water', and I remember my dad coming up and yelling at me because I was getting feed back out of my amp; I just thought it was really cool." By the eighth grade Mike formed his first band Warrior, which shortly after was renamed Shadow.
Shadow began by performing for schoolmates during free periods in high School. They started off by covering Kiss and UK metal bands like Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, and Thin Lizzy: "We actually played kiss' 'Black Diamond' in the lunchroom once without any vocals. How boring must that have been?" Shadow began writing originals and Mike settled in as the band rhythm guitarist: "It took me a while before I was confident to play lead, because our lead guitarist Danny Newcomb (The Cheap Ones, Goodness), was so good." Mike began to get into the lead guitar of Eddie Van Halen: "I must have seen him about five times,but at 15, that stuff was too hard to figure out." Soon after Mike discovered Jimmy Hendrix and Randy Rhoads: "I was already into Sabbath and Ozzy, so when Randy Rhoads came out, it was like 'Wow, that's what lead is all about."
After high school, Shadow moved to Los Angeles hoping to land a record deal. Mike found a job working at Aron's Records while the band played a few unsuccessful gigs. Shadow headed back to Seattle 13 months later: "We played to a couple bartenders down there, but even though it was a bad scene, it was a good experience. Basically, we weren't that good of a band, and we didn't realize it until we got down there. I guess we lost our focus, got really bummed out and came back to Seattle." Shadow broke up soon after returning home.
By 1988 Mike had all but given up playing guitar. He had cut his hair short and decided to go back to school. Spending his days at a local community college and working at night in a video store, he rarely played guitar, and was very depressed. A friend of Mike's named Russ Riedner convinced him to start playing again and in Mike's words, "Got me out of my college mode and back into playing guitar." Mike began to get into a heavy Stevie Ray Vaughn trip and slowly began jamming casually with friends and formed a short-lived psychedelic blues band called Love Chile.
Now I'm not sure how many versions of this famous story you've heard...but here it is as Mike tells it: "I was sitting around at a party with Pete Droge, an old friend of mine. I had my guitar and I was just jamming to a Stevie Ray Vaughan record when Stone, whom I'd known for a few years walked up and said, 'Wow, you're really good!' At the time Stone's band Mother Love Bone, was happening, so I was really pleased that he liked my playing." Mike continued playing and tragically, only days before the release of they're debut album, Mother love Bone singer Andrew Wood died of a drug overdose. "About three months later, Stone called asking if I wanted to jam. So we got together and everything clicked. A short while after we played together, Stone called and asked whether I'd be interested in joining his new band. At the time I was working at a restaurant called Julia's in the Walling ford district (an upscale hippie/brown rice community in North Seattle), so it didn't take me long to decide. It all stemmed from that party. God knows why it happened."
Mike had known Stone since high school, before Stone even played guitar and as Mike Points out: "We used to trade rock pictures and stuff like that." The two lost contact over the years, but Stone always had a good feeling about Mike, and after seeing him in Love Chile, he knew he had his man. Mike began to excited at the possibilities: "Stone had tons of songs - the beginnings of 'Alive' and 'Black'- and I was like, 'Shit, Yeah!' Our guitars really complemented each other; his sense of melody and rhythm, my lead style." Meanwhile, Jeff Ament was unsure whether or not he would join the band, but after Stone invited him out to dinner, and the two chatted, Jeff made up his mind to join the project.
Mookie Blaylock, named after the then New Jersey Nets Basketball player, began to take shape in early 1991. Mike, Stone and Jeff only needed a singer and a Drummer. They began laying down demo tracks with Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, one of these tapes which had three instrumental demo's on it, landed in the hands of Eleven drummer Jack Irons. He sent it to his friend Eddie Vedder who dubbed vocals over the three songs, which he named 'Alive', 'Once', and 'Footsteps'. The rest of the band was in the process of recording the Temple of the Dog album when Eddie jumped on board, for Mike it was his first time, as an artist, in a studio: "It was one of the greatest times in my life. It was my first experience doing an album, and yet it was really laid back and easy. Reach Down 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 in that track represents one of my proudest moments." The Temple of the Dog album was a success and Mookie Blaylock, now renamed Pearl Jam, was now focused on recording their first album.
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