It has been a very busy fall season for the Pearl Jam camp for good reasons. The instrumental core of Pearl Jam is preparing to embark on their very first tour as Temple of the Dog with Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell. This is a monumental reunion considering the historic significance of Temple of the Dog’s 1991 self-titled LP.
In late August, Pearl Jam performed at two of the most historic baseball parks in the United States – Fenway Park and Wrigley Field – and these were massive sold out shows. Speaking of Wrigley Field, frontman Eddie Vedder recently watched his beloved Chicago Cubs clinch their first World Series berth since 1945.
Two weeks ago, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced Pearl Jam’s official nomination for next year’s class of inductees. From an outsider’s perspective, this “Hall of Fame” recognition sounds so prestigious – like an official declaration of musical excellence.
Yes, Pearl Jam’s legacy deserves to be honored in the grandest fashion. Believe it or not, their groundbreaking debut Ten celebrated its 25th anniversary on August 27, which makes them eligible for induction at next year’s ceremony. Ten launched Pearl Jam into the highest stratosphere of musical prominence – a level of popularity among the likes of Led Zeppelin. Till this very day, the band is comprised of the hardest working and most talented professionals in the music industry. Dare I say, this last decade of Pearl Jam history has been nothing short of glorious for both the group and fanbase.
However, very few bands walk away unscathed by the “honor” of being inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Every year or so, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finds a way to cause controversy among the nominees and this year’s ceremony feels no different.
This nomination has created some unnecessary awkwardness and tension for Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, and Jeff Ament will be inducted alongside original drummer Dave Krusen and longtime drummer Matt Cameron. Former drummers Dave Abbruzzese, Matt Chamberlain, and Jack Irons will not be included in the induction ceremony. Truth be told, I will not make the argument for either Chamberlain or Irons – both fantastic drummers with incredible legacies – but I cannot ignore the blatantly disrespectful snub of Dave Abbruzzese.
Allow me to preface my statements, I do not place blame on Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament, and Eddie Vedder. In their Cameron Crowe documentary Pearl Jam 20, the group openly acknowledged some of their own mistakes and they even joked about their Spinal Tap dilemma since a lot of drummers have played in Pearl Jam.
I will not criticize Dave Krusen and Matt Cameron’s nomination either – I truly love Krusen’s performance on Ten (He was their drummer for a brief period of time and still made quite the impact) and Matt Cameron is one of my all-time favorite drummers (He has performed with Pearl Jam since 1998 and he is also the drummer of Soundgarden). Each nominee rightfully deserves recognition for their musical achievements. However, I take great issue with these so-called voters in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that blatantly disregarded Dave Abbruzzese’s legacy in Pearl Jam.
Case in point, here is an excerpt of Pearl Jam’s biography on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website, “Bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard played in the proto-grunge bands Green River and Mother Love Bone; Mike McCready was a highly regarded lead guitarist steeped in Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Matt Cameron of Seattle elders Soundgarden played drums on Pearl Jam’s early demos, finally joining in 1998 after a parade of drummers including Dave Krusen.”
The “parade of drummers” comment – this is one awful display of revisionist history. I just cannot fathom how voters deliberately ignored Dave Abbruzzese’s contributions on 1993’s Vs. and 1994’s Vitalogy, two of the group’s most beloved records outside of Ten. Rightfully so, Dave Abbruezzese voiced his displeasure on social media, “The members of Pearl Jam have got to know what’s the right thing to do. They can’t justify ignoring my contributions. Like me or not. If there is still a part of that band that remembers how hard we worked, how much blood and how much sweat … They will do the right thing.”
Let’s examine Pearl Jam’s early history. Ten wasn’t just another record or legendary debut; the timing of its popularity represented a cultural shift worldwide. The eighties symbolized the growth of synthesizers and electronic samples and the human element – performance wise – mostly disappeared from the mainstream. As the nineties progressed, Eddie Vedder’s otherworldly voice shouted the words, “I’m still alive,” which brought the music industry back into the garage where the purest moments of musical magic occur.
Even before Pearl Jam toured behind Ten, the band’s second drummer Matt Chamberlain accepted an offer to join the house band for Saturday Night Live so he contacted Dave Abbruzzese to replace him. Drums are the quintessential foundation of music; this band could have slid off the tracks considering how Matt Chamberlain is one of the best rock drummers in the world. Abbruzzese made the transition feel effortless – the band did not skip a beat and continued to unleash their full potential after he took over the kit.
Pearl Jam’s early performances are often considered folklore, this euphoric synergy of punk-like attitude, musical virtuosity, and eye opening stunts such as Eddie Vedder climbing across the ceilings of various venues. Vedder would literally climb to new heights and fall onto the crowd during “Porch” while Abbruzzese, Ament, Gossard, and McCready jammed away. Abbruzzese’s drumming on Pearl Jam’s Unplugged solidified his credentials even before his recording debut on Vs. The critical acclaim for Pearl Jam’s Unplugged significantly increased the album sales of Ten and catapulted the band towards the forefront of Generation X.
Pearl Jam even outsold Nirvana – the band often credited for Seattle’s mainstream breakthrough. The songwriting brilliance of 1993’s Vs. and 1994’s Vitalogy sustained their success and Dave Abbruzzese was their drummer during this career defining era. The pressure to follow up Ten would have crushed the spirit of most bands. It is nearly impossible to catch lightning in a bottle twice, let alone three times, and the music industry threw some unrealistic expectations towards Pearl Jam. In the face of adversity, this band went down a heavier route and produced a sophomore effort that truly stood toe-to-toe with their debut. They even refused to shoot music videos during the height of MTV’s popularity and still broke all-time records for first-week album sales.
From a musical standpoint, Abbruzzese’s contributions were funky, hard hitting, and song driven. His drum beats were consistently groove-ridden yet never derived attention away from Pearl Jam’s melodies. The rhythm section of Jeff Ament and Dave Abbruzzese provided equal doses of aggression and eloquence, especially on songs like “Animal” where Mike McCready or Stone Gossard unleashed their tastiest riffs.
Look no further than 1993’s Vs.’s opening track – “Go”– listen to Abbruzzese’s ruthless snare hits around the .30 second mark and make the claim, “His drumming had no impact on Pearl Jam’s legacy.” Alongside Gossard and McCready’s darkest riffs, Abbruzzese’s percussive nuances allowed Vedder to unleash the most livid screams and innocent lyrics in Pearl Jam’s catalog. Even crazier, Abbruzzese wrote a majority of the music for “Go” and this track was nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance at the 1995 Grammy Awards. “Go” broke the window open and solidified Vs.’s credibility among skeptical listeners since this LP contained moments of brilliance that matched the aura of Ten.
The same sentiment goes for Vitalogy – another genre-defining LP that produced some of Pearl Jam’s most acclaimed material. Vitalogy also featured songwriting credits from Abbruzzese on “Last Exit,” a tenacious opener, which is frequently performed by the band till this very day.
If I created a Pearl Jam setlist solely comprised of material from Vs. and Vitalogy – “Go,” “Animal,” “Daughter,” Glorified G,” “Dissident,” “W.M.A,” “Rearview Mirror,” “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” “Rats,” Last Exit,” “Spin the Black Circle,” “Not For You,” “Nothingman,” “Corduroy,” and “Better Man” – this concert would sell out within seconds and Pearl Jam tickets are already so difficult to acquire. You know what these timeless classics all have in common? They featured contributions from Dave Abbruzzese on drums.
Allow me to mention Guns N’ Roses, the band’s two most recognizable drummers – Steven Adler and Matt Sorum – were rightfully inducted into the Hall of Fame back in 2012. I will give credit where credit is due; the voters were right on this one. Steven Adler played drums on Appetite For Destruction, a musical phenomenon only rivaled by the likes of Pearl Jam’s Ten. Matt Sorum appeared on Use Your Illusion 1 & 2; both albums possessed some of Guns N’ Roses greatest songs, and kept the band atop of the mountain. Sound familiar?
Without discrediting Matt Sorum whatsoever, if he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, why can’t Dave Abbruzzese receive the same accolade? Their resumes are very similar. Dave Abbruzzese was the drummer of Pearl Jam when they were the biggest band in the world. He performed on two of the band’s most popular and commercially successful records outside of Ten. Those three records were the foundation of alternative rock and inspired millions of listeners throughout the 1990s.
Regardless of this controversy, most Pearl Jam fans genuinely appreciate Abbruzzese’s musical contributions on Vs. and Vitalogy. Personalities ultimately clashed and Abbruzzese was forced out of Pearl Jam in 1994 before they released Vitalogy. His body of work continues to stand the test of time and he deserves this big moment to thank his loved ones and to be properly recognized for his accomplishments.
I standby this statement – The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is just as credible as The Grammy Awards. During the 1996 Grammy Awards, Eddie Vedder accepted his Grammy and expressed his disdain for the voting process, “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything.”
Yes, fans possess the ability to vote each year so keep voting for your favorite bands. However, this is a private company controlled by a small group of decision makers. When a group of industry elitists copyright the title “Rock and Roll” and “Hall of Fame,” they have a responsibility to properly represent the greatest artists of its genre. Yet, historically influential bands such as Soundgarden and Iron Maiden are still denied invitations from this so-called “rock and roll” establishment.
Even with an iconic band like Pearl Jam, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame still made headlines for the wrong reasons. What else is new? Look at their track record over the last twenty-years – the sabotaged inductions of Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and Deep Purple. Each individual nominee will always possess unique circumstances and scenarios. Voters must do their homework to avoid creating a double standard. For example, “Only the original members in this band will be inducted. Anyone who performed in this other band, past and present, could be inducted.” The lines are too often blurred, which causes this unnecessary distraction and takes away from the novelty of enjoying this ceremony. Fact check and be respectful – that is all we ask.
Before I jump too far ahead, hopefully all parties will come together and fix this situation, which could be resolved before next year. The final story has not been told until the ceremony actually occurs. As I stated earlier, there is a level of professionalism in Pearl Jam that does not exist amongst most bands. If fans want to honor Pearl Jam’s legacy, keep listening to their music and see them live whenever they perform near your city. That is the ultimate way to express your gratitude. I truly believe cooler heads will prevail and the adults in the room will resolve this issue. Do not trust these voters – speak up for what is right and let’s help Dave Abbruzzese become a member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.