Andy Wood was already a rock star even before he joined Mother Love Bone despite his young age. He had already successfully trodden the Seattle underground stages with Malfunkshun, but what he found in Mother Love Bone would be a definitive channel for his talent. A very gifted singer, talented songwriter, and charismatic performer, Andy would have belonged to the “Seattle sound” royalty. Like so many young people of that generation, Wood was a slave to heroin and, among the first but unfortunately not last who tragically lost the battle to addiction. The grim reaper took him on March 19, 1990, when after a few days in a coma he was declared brain dead and disconnected from life support. An overdose.
Exactly a year earlier, Mother Love Bone had debuted with the EP “Shine”. The five-track record increased the anticipation for their first LP. Their new record, Apple, is ready when Wood dies and arrives in stores just a few months later, a strange and sad posthumous debut as Mother Love Bone no longer existed. But it is a landmark, a record that integrates the 80s of glam and hair metal in the context of the alternative rock of the 90s. An album where heavy metal riffs (“Stardog Champion”, “Capricorn Sister”) and goosebumps ballads coexist (“Bone China”, “Stargazer” or the wonderful “Crown Of Thorns”).
This is the story of a young boy who didn’t get to grow up, of the band that influenced many, achieved fame, but whose wings never flew. The story of Andy Wood and Mother Love Bone.
Andrew Wood – the boy
Andrew Wood was born in Columbus, Mississippi, but grew up on Bainbridge Island, Washington state. He was the youngest of three brothers. The household echoes with music, and their parents support the three brothers when they decide to learn to play musical instruments. He develops a passion and draws inspiration from artists such as Elton John, Queen, Aerosmith, and Kiss.
Andrew Wood joins his first band at the age of fourteen. Together with his brother Kevin and friend Regan Hagar, they form Malfunkshun. In April 1980 they recorded their first demo. Each member of the group then takes on a stage name: Andrew becomes “Landrew the Love Child”, Kevin becomes “Kevinstein” and Hagar “Thundarr”.
Right from the start, Andrew assumes a rock star attitude within the group, inspired by the icons of glam rock. This way of acting as a protagonist on stage will be maintained throughout his career, making him one of the most charismatic characters of the Seattle scene. Many will even compare Wood to Guns N ‘Roses singer Axl Rose for his stage presence. His singing style harks back to those of Freddie Mercury, Paul Stanley, and Marc Bolan.
By 1985 Wood began using drugs and entered a rehabilitation community the same year.
In 1986 Malfunkshun released several demos, two of which, “With Yo ‘Heart (Not Yo’ Hands)” and “Stars-n-You”, are included in the Deep Six compilation. Malfunkshion continued to perform in Seattle, opening concerts for other local bands until 1988, the year of their break-up.
In 1988 Andrew Wood and Regan Hagar left Malfunkshun. They began rehearsing together with two former members of Green River, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament. They begin performing as a cover band under the name of “Lords of the Wasteland”. The band is soon joined by Bruce Fairweather, the other Green River guitarist, and Greg Gilmore replaces Hagar on drums. With the new lineup, the band changes its name to Mother Love Bone.
Mother Love Bone & Andy’s death
The group embodied a completely different idea of music from Green River. They left the glam taste in place of the heaviness of garage punk, inherited mainly from Andrew Wood. The band was one of the “out-of-the-box” voices in the Seattle scene of the late eighties, and, despite this fact, they, in turn, set the foundation for the whole grunge wave.
Mother Love Bone begins to compose their own music and through Stardog, their own record label, they release the EP “Shine” in March 1989. Shortly after they sign a contract with PolyGram. The band then spends the rest of the year and early 1990s performing and recording their debut album. At that moment Wood’s heroin addiction is in full charge, and he decides to go into rehab in hopes of being drug-free for the album’s imminent release.
For the rest of 1989, and the first months of the following year, the debut album, “Apple”, was recorded. Just as the album was going to print, on March 16, 1990, the singer is found by his girlfriend Xana La Fuente in his apartment lying on his bed in a coma and rushed to Seattle’s Harborview Hospital. Here Wood is admitted to intensive care. At first, he seems to respond well to treatment. But then, a sudden aneurysm causes his brain to stop working and he goes into an irreversible coma.
On March 19, his parents agree to unplug life support and Andy dies with Queen’s “A Night at the Opera” in the background.
Dedicated to Andrew Wood
Immediately after Wood’s passing, Mother Love Bone broke up. By the end of 1990, Andy’s roommate, Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden, and some of the remaining members of Mother Love Bone formed “Temple of the Dog”. On April 16, 1991, the group released an album in memory of their deceased friend.
Their self-titled album “Temple of the Dog” is considered to be a milestone of grunge and the Seattle sound. The album is the collaboration of two members of Soundgarden, Cornell on vocals and Matt Cameron on drums with former Mother Love Bone Jeff Ament on bass and Stone Gossard on guitar. In addition, two musicians who would become legends with their band Pearl Jam joined the group. They were Mike McCready on guitar and Eddie Vedder as vocalist. Two tracks, “Reach Down” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, were written by Cornell in memory of his friend: hence the idea of an entire tribute album.
Alice in Chains dedicated their entire “Facelift” album to Wood. Two years later, they would dedicate their iconic song “Would ?” to Andy as well. The track also appears in the soundtrack of the film Singles by Cameron Crowe. Layne Staley, the singer from Alice in Chains tragically followed Andrew’s fate, and died of drugs in 2002, at the age of 34.
In 1992, Los Angeles sleaze metal group Faster Pussycat dedicated the song “Mr. Lovedog”, included in their third album “Whipped!” To Wood. The following year, Candlebox wrote the song “Far Behind” in memory of the late Mother Love Bone’s singer. In 1994 “the Cult” names Wood, together with other artists who died young, in their song “Sacred Life”.
The next year, in 1995, Stone Gossard, of Mother Love Bone, released the album “Return to Olympus” featuring some songs by Malfunkshun. The documentary “Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story” was released in 2005. It documents Wood’s musical career and part of his family history. In 2006 the remaining members of Malfunkshun, joined together to record old Malfunkshun songs with lyrics left by Wood.
The legacy of Andy Wood and Mother Love Bone
Both Andy Wood and Mother Love Bone influenced music beyond what most people realize. In my opinion, Andrew’s music and death set the tone of the Seattle sound. Grunge’s biggest bands, all the legends were deeply touched by Wood. Unfortunately, only Vedder is still around creating great music both with Pearl Jam, and on solo projects. Staley and Cobain lost their battles with addiction and life. Cornell was the victim of depression for most of his life, and in 2017, he gave up by taking his own life.
Grunge is a genre that I have loved from the first time I heard it in the early 90s. It changed the face of music forever. I can’t shake off the feeling that there was so much more to come. I often daydream about all the music that could still be created today if Layne, Kurt, and Chris were still with us. What would their contribution to the world of music be today? I feel like we were cheated of real greatness. It is my sincere opinion that, were those guys alive today, much of the crap we see and hear would be rightfully considered trash.
R.I.P. Andy, Kurt, Layne, and Chris.