July 19th, 1990, MOTHER LOVE BONE released their only full-length studio album, Apple, through Stardog/Mercury Records. Apple was the bridge that linked the end of the hair metal scene and the beginning of grunge. It’s also forever associated with tragedy. On March 16th, 1990, days before the album was originally scheduled for release, frontman Andrew Wood was found unconscious by his fiancé Xana La Fuente, having overdosed on heroin.
Wood was taken to Harborview Hospital in Seattle and placed on life support. After three horrific days, Wood’s family decided that his life-support system should be turned off. His band-mates and fiance surrounded his bed with lit candles and played A Night At The Opera, his favourite Queen album. He was pronounced dead at 3:15 p.m. that day, thus effectively bringing Mother Love Bone to an end. He was just 24 years old.
The death of Andrew Wood would have a profound effect on the tight-knit music scene of the Pacific Northwest and Seattle in particular. His passing radically altered the trajectory of future events, causing musical permutations to be forever changed, lost and reborn. After his death, those close to him were inspired to create some stunning works. Songs and albums of breathtaking scale and emotional power were birthed.
These tributes acted as an attempt to come to terms with the loss of one of Seattle’s brightest young stars. After Wood’s death, Mercury Records delayed the album’s release until July of 1990. It’s hard not to overstate how different the ’90s rock music scene would be if Mother Love Bone had been able to tour and promote Apple and go on to make a second album. Their combination of Northwest grunge and runny-mascara glam sounded like it had one foot planted in what was and another in what was to come. Also, had the tragedy of Woods’ death not occurred, Pearl Jam would not exist, nor would Temple Of The Dog. Jerry Cantrell might not have written Would? His tribute to his fallen friend. And on it goes.
Mother Love Bone rose from the ashes of the break-up of three bands. In early 1988, Stone Gossard, Bruce Fairweather and Jeff Ament left Green River. Around the same time, Andrew Wood called time on Malfunkshun, a band that drew much attention around the Pacific Northwest scene, mainly due to Wood’s larger-than-life on-stage persona. After the break-up of legendary Seattle punk band Ten Minute Warning in 1984, Duff McKagan and Greg Gilmore left the Emerald City for Los Angeles. Gilmore eventually grew sick of LA and returned home; McKagan stayed in the City Of Angels and joined a new band of reprobates called Guns N Roses.
Mother Love Bone’s origins began in 1987. they rose from the ashes of the cover band Lords of the Wasteland, which featured Wood, Gossard, Ament and Malfunkshun drummer Regan Hagar. By early 1988, the band had added Fairweather, replaced Hagar with drummer Greg Gilmore and changed its name to Mother Love Bone. The new line-up quickly set about recording and playing shows and, by late 1988, had become one of Seattle’s more promising bands. In November 1988, the band signed to Polygram subsidiary Polydor and recorded their debut EP Shine. Things were moving fast.
The band recorded Apple at The Plant, Sausalito, California, in the fall of 1989 and at London Bridge Studio, Seattle, Washington, in the winter of 1989. Terry Date, fresh off producing Soundgarden’s 1989 opus Louder Than Love, was behind the desk. Tim Palmer mixed the album at Soundcastle in Los Angeles and Swanyard in London.
Producer Terry Date recalls recording with Wood: “I remember several things we did with Andy during that record. I’d set him up in this old ’70s room when we were doing his vocals. Andy always had his keyboard set up in front of him because he felt comfortable having his hands on it as he was singing or hitting a key for a note occasionally. I put Andy in that little corner alcove with his keyboard and a microphone, and he always had candles set up on the keyboard for a vibe. Andy’s vocal style was somewhere between David Lee Roth and Freddie Mercury, and his personality was too…”
Date elaborates: “I think more than his singing voice, my memories are of his personality and charisma. He had this “little kid” quality that was really magnetic. I remember during a particular song, we were sitting in the control room listening to vocals, deciding which parts of which takes were the best when suddenly he jumped up and ran out of the room. I was thinking, “What the fuck?” He ran into the vocal booth, and three-foot flames were coming off the carpet! One of his candles had fallen over, hit the carpet, and started on fire, so we had a bonfire underneath his keyboard. [laughs]..”
“I remember my wife and I driving once after a Mother Love Bone rehearsal, and we saw Andy walking down the street with his keyboard under his arm. We slowed down, and I told him, “Andy, rehearsal ended two hours ago. You’re just now leaving?” He replied, “Yeah, I stayed a little longer because I wrote another album.” That’s the way he was. He was so prolific; he lived for it…”
In late 1989, as the decade came to a close. With a great album in the bag, a ground swell of hype, and a major label backing, things were looking up for Mother Love Bone. The possibilities seemed endless. The album was set for release in March 1990.
Apple begins with 30 seconds of reversed tape sounds and percussion, building in intensity before exploding into the main riff of “This Is Shangri-La.” The song’s main riff is, in hindsight, unmistakably a Stone Gossard jam. Greg Gilmore’s propulsive drum swing and Jeff Ament’s powerfully melodic bass groove support its sweeping, energetic octave guitar riff. Wood sings in the chorus, “Get me to the stage, it brings me home again, This is Shangri-La..”
“Stardog Champion” follows. It’s another classic Gossard guitar riff. Slower in tempo with a wrecking ball swing. The sheer weight of the groove is monumental. Wood’s voice is in commanding form. The song’s bridge turns to an ominous Wah-drenched guitar riff, all cascading octaves, minor intervals and whirlpool intensity, before rising back from the depths for one more chorus. Then, a shard of light, as the tone and chords become brighter, and Wood leads a children’s choir in a “na na na na” refrain. This really shouldn’t work. But it does, in spades.
“Holy Roller” opens with a peal of feedback and a blistering Zeppelin-like riff. It’s middle eight is a half-time dream-like sequence with Wood freely intoning the virtues of his brand of Love Rock to those in attendance. “..I tell ya people, Love rock awaits ya people, Yeeeah lo and behold, lo and behold…”
One of Mother Love Bone’s strengths was the quality of their slower songs. Even though the influence of the 80s rock scene can be heard in their sound, they never fell foul to the saccharine, vomit-inducing, power ballad tropes of the 80s. Instead, their more reflective songs are genuinely moving, profound and aurally gorgeous. Songs like “Bone China,” “Man Of Golden Words”, “Gentle Groove”, and “Crown Of Thorns” (released on Apple without its companion piece “Chloe Dancer”) all display the depth and unaffected beauty of songs like Pearl Jam’s “Black” and numerous Temple Of The Dog tunes. These stand-out songs add a dynamic counterpoint to the straight-up rockers and hint at a new approach.
“Come Bite The Apple” sounds like a distant cousin of Pearl Jam’s “Dissident” from their 1993 album Vs. It’s less strident than “Dissident” with a more gliding, languid guitar motif. The song’s verses are heavy with groove-laden riffs and gang vocals before a wide-open chorus and Wood begging, “So bring me an apple, I’m crying, I’ve been persecuted like a dying man…” Elsewhere, “Heartshine” and “Captain Hi-Top” exude Led Zeppelin swagger, and “Mr Danny Boy” is a dark-driving love rock anthem.
When Apple was finally released in July of 1990, it was met with acclaim and positive reviews, albeit the jubilation was clipped and dampened by the tragic passing of Wood.
Stone Gossard said in 1991, after the album’s release, “Sometimes it makes me sad, and we talk about Andy daily. We still laugh about him, his jokes and what he would do. Not like, ‘I really miss him.’ We talk about Andy-isms. A lot of times, I catch myself thinking I see him…”
Chris Cornell of Soundgarden was Andrew Wood’s best friend and one-time roommate. He spoke about Wood’s loss in 2015, “I don’t know if you can ever take him out of my heart and soul. There was a period of time when Andy would sit in his bedroom across the hall from mine, and we would have these duelling four-track demos and songs. He wasn’t doing it for Malfunkshun and me doing it for Soundgarden; it had nothing to do with that. It was us just having fun. Maybe you can look at it as a songwriting exercise?”
“We were always kind of neck and neck. We were very different from each other in terms of our approach. Andy was very free and didn’t necessarily have a critical voice while he was in the process of writing a song. He would do anything. I, on the other hand,” admitted Cornell,” “not only do I have a critical voice, I have sort of an editorial staff in my head, and what that creates is something kind of completely different.”
“He would do these amazing free things that felt so – almost to the degree of just being dangerous because it was so free and unself-conscious,” Cornell reminisced. “I would think ‘How do you do that?’ We would always observe each other. That’s what I would equate to early college years; that doesn’t go away. Those experiences never stop being a part of who you are and how you think.”
The death of Andrew Wood was a pivotal moment for the burgeoning Seattle music scene. Out of his tragic passing grew so much life-affirming music. Wood himself never got to experience the astonishing global impact his city and friends had on the world just one year after his death.
Andrew Wood was a crucial part of why that scene came packing the heat that it did. It’s easy to get caught up in a game of what-ifs. No one should lose sight of the fact that Mother Love Bone was an incredible young band. And Apple is a testament to their talents and abilities. What came next was the stuff of legend, and even though Wood was gone, so many new fans around the world found Mother Love Bone and L’Andrew The Love Child, aka Andrew Wood.