Seattle rock enthusiasts and those reminiscing about the 90s grunge scene have much to celebrate this month, with the 30th anniversary re-release of “Facelift”; Alice in Chains’ debut in a deluxe boxed set, full of retro items that will remind you of better days. To celebrate the album, which featured such genera defining songs as “Man in the Box” and “We Die Young”, VIBRANT Entertainment & Arts is publishing the memoirs of Christy Kells, aka MusicBankChristy, who helps us remember the life and the legacy of Alice in Chains lead singer, Layne Staley.
I DATED LAYNE.
I dated Layne in 1987…not a serious relationship by any means, but we did go out on dates off and on throughout that year.
My sister Barb worked at The Music Bank studio, where Layne recorded, and on December 10, 1986, she introduced me to him outside the Seattle Center Coliseum, following a David Lee Roth and Cinderella concert (I only know the exact date because I still have my ticket stub). Layne was with his friend Morgan, who played bass for Layne’s band, Sleze. The conversation was brief, and after a few minutes Layne and Morgan hopped in a cab and were gone.
The day after the show, my sister shared that Layne told her he had a crush on a girl from the show who was dressed in all-white, with a white hat with netting down the front… and that girl was me! I was so excited! Layne was a big deal even back then. After all, he was the lead singer of Sleze! Layne gave my sister a Sleze cassette tape and a photo.
During the rest of December my sister said Layne would ask about me but didn’t want to do anything because he thought I was “too wrapped up with my boyfriend.” But in reality, I had an instant huge crush on Layne. I knew it was over with me and my boyfriend, but still hadn’t broken up with him. I remember drawing a heart on a piece of paper with Layne’s name written in the middle… and I would stare at his picture for hours while listening to his demo tape.
During the next few weeks, my sister would tell me stories about Layne and what went on at The Music Bank when she was there. One of my favorite stories of hers is when Layne came into the office while she was working. He told her to go into their practice room because he had something really cool, he just HAD to show her. So she follows him in there and he had her sit down. She said he suddenly produced a crimping iron! She said he proceeded to crimp her hair with vigor and sort of childlike enthusiasm. Then he had her look in the mirror and she started laughing so hard because her hair was HUGE! She had super long thick hair anyway. She said Layne was ecstatic!
On January 9, 1987, I went to see the band Stryper at The Paramount in Seattle, (again I remember the date because I still have my ticket stub). I took extra care getting ready because Stryper was going to be filming a video for their song ‘Free’ that night, and I was also secretly hoping I’d see Layne there. During the show, I was on the balcony looking down at the crowd and there he was! He was all “glammed” out with big crimped hair and makeup. I was in love! I watched him walk out the door with a bunch of his friends. I tried to get downstairs to say hello before he left, but he was gone.
I went outside planning to take a cab home but saw this guy standing near the doorway. He was dressed just like Layne with crimped hair and makeup and everything, so I went up to him and asked, “are you in the band, Sleze?” He said yes, and introduced himself as James Bergstom, drummer. I asked him if he knew where Layne went and he said he had probably gone to The Music Bank. He asked if he could give me a ride there because that is where he was headed as well. I accepted. We waited for James’ girlfriend Traci outside for a few minutes because she had gone the bathroom. James introduced me to Traci and we headed for the Music Bank…and the three of us became instant best friends.
We pulled up to The Music Bank and went in… no Layne. I talked with James and Traci for about an hour in Sleze’s practice room. James offered me a ride home and I accepted. Right as we were walking out, in walks Layne (of course). It was a little awkward because sud-denly I wanted to stay. But it was late, so I left.
I broke up with my boyfriend a couple days later.
My sister shared that once she told Layne I was single, he got nervous about calling me. She said she kept calling him a chicken, and he would jokingly tell her to shut up. He finally called, but was sicker than a dog with bronchitis. The poor guy couldn’t get one sentence out without having a major cough attack. I ended up telling him to call me back once he felt better. After that, we gave up on the phone and began passing messages through my sister, Barb. It was weird but me and Layne had this shy thing between us, so that’s what we did.
“ It’s not every day, that you can say you played drums for Alice in Chains ”
My sister said Layne wanted me to come to The Music Bank to hang out. So, I went. Layne and I sat in the office, nervously looking at each other and making small talk as bands checked in and out of the studio. It got late, and I called a cab. When it arrived, Layne followed me outside and waited with me for my cab. There was lots of tension in the air. The cab pulled up and I knew Layne was going to chicken out, so I went for it. I put his face in my hands and kissed him.
For the next three months, when I wasn’t at school (Community College) or work I was at The Music Bank. Most of the time we would just hang out there and only we only left for shows and parties. I was at almost all of Sleze/Alice N Chains practices. I remember laughing at Layne because he would smoke cigarettes and drink beer while singing. This was back in the days of most singers aspiring to sing like Geoff Tate from Queensryche. I thought of Layne more like a blonde Stephen Pearcy (the singer of Ratt) than a Geoff Tate type. Scott Hunt, co-owner of the Music Bank said he could totally see that as well.
When I wasn’t watching them practice, I would sit in the office with Layne and others watching TV. We watched The Cosby Show a lot.
One day, James (Bergstrom) and I arrived early for practice. I was sitting on the couch in the practice room and looking at Layne’s nicely folded laundry on the end of the couch. James told me he’d show me the basic drum beat to play while he worked out the bass line for a song he was working on. I was reluctant but he talked me into it, so I kept practicing until everyone showed up. Scott Hunt, co-owner of The Music Bank and drummer, popped his head into the practice room and said, “oh, I thought you were one of my students!” My sister was working that day and got a kick out of watching me play. Shortly after, we heard the drummer (Johnny) wasn’t going to make it to practice. James insisted that I sit in on drums. I was a nervous wreck. In no way did I want to play in front of Layne and Nick.
But it happened!
I played the damn song…the very basics. Layne kept looking back at me and laughing (in the nicest way possible) while trying to sing. Well, it’s not every day you can say you had a part in practicing a new song with Alice N’ Chains! It was called Ya Yeah Ya! LOL! James still calls me a co-writer of that song just for fun. Although I really had nothing to do with writing it.
At the beginning of April things changed. I started dating a guy from my work and Layne started dating Gina. I still had a thing for Layne, but I kept it hidden. I really liked Gina. You’ll see her name is on the liner notes for Sleze/Alice N’ Chains demo.
I still went to The Music Bank periodically, and still went to all of their shows. So around the end of May I got a call from James asking if I would be interested in going up on stage with 4 other girls during their song “Football”. We would basically just have to strut out onto the stage wearing football jerseys and high heels. We’d bend over and hike a football at Layne’s direction, so of course I said YES! The practice was going to be at Music Bank. There were 5 girls; Me, Traci, Gina, Tami, and one other girl that I don’t remember (her name). We showed up at practice and Layne and Johnny described what they wanted. None of the girls wanted to go first – I finally volunteered.
The show was going to be on June 6, 1987 at Kane Hall, University of WA. They were playing with Mis-trust and DeVol. It was a pretty big deal. Layne and Johnny were interviewed by Jeff Gilbert on his Brain Pain Hour on KCMU a couple of days before the show. The interview was short but hilarious. I taped it onto a cassette tape at the time it aired. You can find it on the Alice N’ Chains page of my Layne the Legend site (LaynetheLegend.net).
The show was the next day; James and Traci came over to my parent’s house to get ready. Traci and I crimped the hell out of James’s hair, and it was huge. We did his makeup and he put on his long shiny jacket. We went downstairs to head out just as my Dad was walking through the living room. He looked at James, looked at me, shook his head and walked out… it was too funny!
It was so surreal when it was time to go on stage, but it was so much fun! We strutted out there and took our places. There were a lot of people there, AND they were cheering! Layne told the crowd, “usually we have a well-trained crowd, tonight we have well-trained women!” Haha! Then on hut three, Traci was to hike the football, only it wasn’t a football because someone forgot it. So, she had to hike a tin can instead! Lol! And that was that! Us girls left the stage. It was such a fun night.
At some point in the summer of ’87, I went down to the Music Bank to see my sis and noticed Layne was there. We saw a couple making out in the hall and my sister turned to Layne and said, “that should be you and my sister. Layne made the comment, you mean like this?” Then, totally out of character, he pushed me up against a wall and passionately kissed me. I was shocked! I could NOT fall out of love with him at that point!
I went down to the Music Bank again one night in August 1987. This was the night Layne introduced me to Jerry (Cantrell). The old Alice N’ Chains lineup was over. I was sad about it, but my sister said that Layne was happy about the new formation, and that this was a “serious band.” The Alice in Chains that would travel the world had been born.
I didn’t see Layne again for a couple of months. I think it was December of 1987, and my friend Shelley and I were at a house party. Layne and Jerry were there as well. While me and Shelley were talking, Layne came over and addressed us by saying “You are the two blondes of the party!” He ended his statement with a short laugh. Then he sat down next to me and said, “My friend tells you’re his girl, and says he’s going to date you for a long time.” I answered with a teasing voice, “Oh, really, and how do you know that?”
Anyway, for whatever reason, maybe because we were both drinking, we actually talked nonstop for quite a long time! It was so weird to sit there with him and have it not be awkward. Granted, it was a pretty crowded party and it wasn’t just me and Layne in a quiet room or his car… plus we were not on a date, so no pressure.
After a while, Jerry came over to Layne and said they had to go to another party. Layne invited me to go, but I was with my friend and we both had to work the next day. I walked outside with Layne though and suddenly he kissed me. We ended up kissing for about 5 minutes with Jerry several yards away telling Layne they really had to get going… plus my friend was standing around waiting for me. At that point, Layne asked me to call him the next day at the Music Bank. Then we said goodnight.
I did call him the next day, but while we were talking, Jerry was in the background telling him to finish the call. Layne tried to explain to Jerry who he was talking to, but Jerry was insistent that they needed to practice. I told Layne it was fine, and I let him go. I never called him back…nor did he call me.
“OMG! OMG! Freaking Layne is on MTV!”
Late in 1988, my friend called and told me Layne was on TV. It turned out to be the King 5 documentary that is on the Music Bank box set. I watched the second airing of it later that night. Layne’s hair was curlier than it had been, and he had grown a goatee. I remember not being a huge fan of it at the time. Hehe! and I thought, “Damn, that apartment is messy!” …and “they are never gonna make it big!” LOL! Also,
To watch that documentary now really hurts. The scenes inside the Music Bank make me want to go back and have a do-over. Why did we not take more pics of the inside of the place? Why did we take everything and everyone for granted?
In 1991, I had MTV as background noise on my t.v., when suddenly I heard something familiar. I looked at the TV and my jaw dropped! It was the “Man in the Box” video.
I was like “Holy Sh*t! They did it! OMG! OMG! Freaking Layne is on MTV!” I was so excited for him! I called my sister and she was freaking out too!
Still, they hadn’t quite made it. When I saw them with Van Halen in 1991. The crowd was spitting all over the stage in disapproval, and with my usual front row seats, I got sprayed too! Haha!
So fast forward to 1994. James Bergstrom tracked me down and invited me to a show in Auburn, WA. The band was called FTA (funding the album). They played cover songs.
The band included James Bergstom, Johnny Bacolas, and Travis Bracht. They were great. James also told me he and Johnny were in another band called Second Coming with singer Jesse Holt (Maxi). I started going to their shows as well. I went to the show with my sisters. I can’t remember if it was before or after the show but Barb spotted Layne and went up to him and said, “Christy’s here!” She told me later that Layne spun around and started looking for me, “She is? Where?” We hugged and talked for a bit, then posed for a picture. But the person who took it cut Layne’s head off! Duh! It was not the last time I saw Layne, but it was the last time we spoke.
The rest of 1994 I saw all the Second Coming shows. Layne came out and performed “It’s Coming After” a handful of times. The last time I saw him live was January 31, 1994, New Year’s Eve. The lineup was Hot Saki, Second Coming, and Mad Season.
Layne died on April 5, 2002.
I miss him dearly.
- By Christy Kells aka Music Bank Christy
*View the original article in its entirety, along with fan art and original photography by Kathy Kells-Hazel at https://nehistripes.com/category/music-bank-christy/