Staley met and was joined by guitarist and song-writer Jerry Cantrell in
1987, renaming the band "Alice in Chains", and, along with two of Cantrell's
friends, bassist Mike Starr and drummer Sean Kinny, they began writing
original material and playing local Seattle clubs.
The group signed with Columbia Records in 1989, and in early 1990 they issued the "Facelift" promotional EP. The title track became a moderate hit on metal-oriented radio, setting the stage for the release of the groups first full LP later that year, Facelift. The album spawned an unexpected hit with the crunchy and infectious "Man in the Box", the video for which went into regular rotation on MTV. Supported by a tour that saw the band opening for Van Halen and Iggy Pop, Facelift would go on to achieve gold status by the close of the year.
After releasing a small, unexpected collection of purely acoustic compositions in the form of the Sap EP, the group received more exposure in 1992 when one of their new songs, "Would?", made an appearance on the soundtrack for Singles, a motion picture by filmmaker Cameron Crowe which revolved around the lives a number of Seattle singles. This helped build anticipation for Alice's next LP.
Dirt, packed with the groups patented heavy, distortion-drenched sound, was released in the fall of 1992, and was both a critical and a commercial success, going Platinum by the end of the year. However, the lyrical content of the impenetrably dark record - which dealt mostly with isolation and addiction - stirred speculation that Layne Staley had fallen far into the depths of a serious heroin addiction. We now know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that for the most part these rumors were true.
After seeing them perform at Lollapalooza in 1993, the alternative music scene braced itself for another hard, angry, loud release from the Seattle quartette, but when Jar of Flies hit shelves in January, 1994, it stunned fans and critics alike with its wholly uncharacteristic sound. Released as an EP, but now widely considered to be of album caliber (and indeed, the design and length would indicate it as almost being that), Jar of Flies debuted at No. 1 on album sales charts, making it the first EP release to ever do so. In striking contrast with Dirt - though still containing similar (but more understated) lyrics of self-blame and isolation - Jar of Flies consisted of well-developed acoustic pieces, complete with subtle string arrangements, fused perfectly with exclamation points of Cantrell's signature electric-guitar attack. Slowly evolving from the alternative, progressive sound of the first track to more traditional ballads, the record seemed to pay respects to Cantrell's musical roots. Despite the EP being written and recorded in a single miserable and alcohol-laden week, some critics hailed it as a mini-masterpiece.
The band stayed off the road for the remainder of their run, which once again fueled speculation about Staley's addiction. Nonetheless, Staley performed a few shows with Gacy Bunch, a "Grunge-Super-Group" side-project of his formed in 1995, which included Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. They later renamed themselves Mad Season, and released a single LP, Above.
In November of 1995, Alice in Chains returned with the release of a self-titled album, Alice in Chains, though most fans have taken to referring to the album as "Tripod", due both to a lack of labeling, and the image of a forlorn three-legged-dog which appears on the cover. Once again evolving their sound (as all their releases have), and now relying more on melody and textured arrangements than their previous releases (some see the album as the child of Dirt and Jar of Flies), the record debuted at number one on the charts. The group again didn't support the album with a tour, sparking further discussion about Staley's heroin addiction. Ultimately, this would be the last official album that Alice in Chains produced - though they did write a few new songs after this release, including "Get Born Again", and "Fear the Voices", which can be located on the various compilations.
The group made one final appearance, their first in three years, giving a last show in 1996 when they performed on MTV Unplugged. Staley was in visibly poor health, but nonetheless the group gave an outstanding performance, including a stunning rendition of "Down in a Hole", and went to great lengths to rework much of their harder material to suit the acoustic nature of the show.
Although the band never officially disbanded, Staley spiraled even deeper into a depression from which he would never recover in 1996, when his fianc?died of a drug overdose. Rarely leaving his Seattle condo, the front-man became incredibly reclusive. Although Jerry Cantrell tried to stay in touch with him, and did want to keep the band together, it eventually seemed clear that Staley would never return, and Cantrell launched a solo career.
The possibility of an Alice in Chains reunion finally ended on April 5th, 2002, when Layne Staley died in his condominium from an apparent lethal overdose/suicide of heroin and cocaine, exactly 8 years after the suicide of another icon of the grunge era, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.