On Tuesday afternoon (March 8th), former Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr was found dead in Salt Lake City, Utah. The founding member of the seminal Seattle band was 44 years old and had struggled with addiction his entire life. His passing sent shockwaves through the rock world, and his death has devastated friends, fans and his former bandmates. In recent years, Starr had become more famous for his stint on "Celebrity Rehab" than he ever was as a musician, but his legacy as a key member of Alice in Chains should not be understated.
The core sound of Alice in Chains was as much about Starr as it is about Jerry Cantrell's guitar sludgy guitar licks or late singer Layne Staley's wails from the crypt. The low end of the sonic spectrum was not as important to a lot of the other bands who came up during that era (Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament always seemed like he'd be more comfortable in a jam band, while Nirvana four-stringer Krist Novoselic mostly provided color for Kurt Cobain's guitar riffs, "Come As You Are" notwithstanding), but in order to nail Alice in Chains' particular brand of brutality, Starr's bass was key. The brutality on the low end was terrifying, and the punch of early Alice in Chains hits like "Man in the Box" would be impossible without Starr's muscular chops.
Starr shared writing credit on two songs in the AIC catalog: "It Ain't Like That" from Facelift and "Rain When I Die" from Dirt. "It Ain't Like That" is a typical grinder, but "Rain When I Die" is something else entirely. Star's bass opens and anchors the song with a Ginsu-sharp bass roll that provides a bed for some Cantrell riffing before the main hook kicks in. "I think it's gonna rain when I die," Staley moans in the chorus. There's certain a storm front moving through the rock world today.