For a band that played only a handful of live shows and recorded one album, the lore behind the super-group that was Mad Season has survived and created a legendary rock beast, and deservedly so. Created by Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and bassist John Baker Saunders after meeting during a rehab stint, the beginning of Mad Season was underway upon arriving back in Seattle and bringing in Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. After a a jam session or two, and writing the music for two songs, McCready decided to bring in Alice in Chains lead singer and friend Layne Staley, whose well-known substance-abuse problems had already taken on a life of its own by 1994. He believed that being around friends, and sober ones at that, would help Staley clean himself up….unfortunately, we know how that story ended.
After barely having the beginning workings of a few songs, the band decided to play a show at Seattle’s The Crocodile Cafe. The show was a huge success and gave the members of the band the initiative to go in the studio and record a proper album. After scheduling two more shows, billed as The Gacy Bunch, after the serial killer John Wayne Gacy and the Brady Bunch, the band finished the album and decided to go with the name Mad Season, which happens to be an English term for the time of year that psilocybin mushrooms are in full bloom.
The album was titled Above, was recorded in a week, and also featured Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan. The record did fairly well, with the singles “River of Deceit” and “I Don’t Know Anything”, but it was the now legendary Live at the Moore video, which was taped at Seattle’s Moore Theatre on April 29th, 1995 that put the band into another stratosphere. While the record stands up to some of the best of the best of the 90′s, the raw energy and incredible live performance that was captivated on the video shows a band in full swing and completely in tune with one another. A cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier” that was recorded for a tribute album titled Working Class Hero, was yet another achievement for the band. And jam-scene stalwart and badass saxaphonist Skerik contributes to several tracks, both live and on record.
Unfortunately, with commitments to their other projects, the band went on an indefinite hiatus, and future efforts to record new material and play more shows were simply not in the cards, as Staley fell deeper into drug abuse and heroin addiction, eventually succumbing to his demons in 2002, while Saunders overdosed in 1999. Staley’s lyrics were always brutally honest and introspective, as he never feared the topic of his inner demons and the darkness within himself; yet, that also led to this melancholic beauty that no other lead singer has ever been able to replicate. He was very much one-of-a-kind by rock standards.
What we got on Above was more bluesy-rock than 90′s grunge, though every member of the band was responsible for the rise of the grunge scene. Eighteen years after its initial release, we now get the Above: Deluxe Edition, which includes unreleased live tracks, a DVD, and completed recordings that were previously aborted, with Mark Lanegan taking over vocal duties. For any fan of not just the 90′s grunge scene, but of just great fucking rock, this album is a must.
You can order the Above: Deluxe Edition from the Mad Season website here, or on iTunes here. The album will also be available on vinyl on Record Store Day, which takes place on April 20th.
Here is a listen to several Mad Season tracks:
“River Of Deceit”:
“I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier” (John Lennon Cover) – check out Skerik’s sick Sax solo:
“Lifeless Dead” (Live at the Moore):