The Pearl Jam songs that would end up as tracks on the “Ten” album were played live at clubs along the West Coast for months leading into the band’s first recording session. The potential was there for Pearl Jam to serve as more than an opening act for bigger bands at the time — like Alice in Chains — and it needed an album to support the songs that defined the grunge scene.
“Ten” would soon be born.
“This my first real recording session with a budget of a record company, and the pressures, all that stuff,” guitarist Mike McCready said. “I didn’t really know about it. I was just stoked to be doing this. I thought our band was great.”
Pearl Jam started recording sessions in late March 1991 and the album that launched the band’s meteoric rise was released five months later. For McCready, 30 years of “Ten,” has gone by as quick as a lightning bolt.
“That was the first time I went, all of us were all firing on all cylinders here,” he said. “These are cool songs, we have a great singer. I feel confident in playing with these guys that we could go out and do really well. I didn’t know what that meant. We were just starting. I’m seeing old pictures of us from when we first started around that time. We looked very disjointed on stage. What are we doing? We hadn’t coalesced yet. But I knew the energy was there.”
McCready, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarist Stone Gossard, and singer Eddie Vedder (and drummer Dave Krusen in his lone Pearl Jam album) spent two months recording the album that sold more than 13 million copies in the United States alone.
“I remember we recorded ‘Even Flow’ like 50 times, or 40, something crazy like that,” McCready said. “We could never get the groove right. It was driving everybody crazy. Jeff ran out and got mad and shot baskets. We finally ended up getting the take. I’m not sure if Stone even loves the take that we got.”
Pearl Jam fans loved the take — and the album, and most everything else the band has produced over three decades. They hoped to celebrate 30 years of “Ten” with a tour.
McCready played on Pearl Jam's biggest hits with a Stratocaster he splurged on as his first vintage guitar purchase. He recently teamed with Fender and master builder Vincent Van Trigt to recreate the 1960 Stratocaster for sale to collectors down to the last scratch. McCready was startled to learn during the process that his beloved Strat was from 1960 — not 1959. McCready owned the Stratocaster since 1991 and it was part of his collection of vintage 1959 guitars. He loved the era of guitars so much, that he even has a “59” tattoo on his left wrist.
Not so fast.
“It was a psychological rug being pulled out from under my feet,” McCready said on a Zoom with The Associated Press. “I still love the guitar. It doesn’t matter. But it was a crazy surprise.”
McCready played his Strat on almost 800 shows and just about every record — including Temple of the Dog’s hit “Hunger Strike” — and said he accidentally picked up the replica three times to play before he realized it wasn’t the real deal. He’s getting Fender to make him a 1959 model.
He might even get to play it live next year.
On a break because of the pandemic, Pearl Jam’s postponed European tour was rescheduled for June and July 2022. The delay not only put any plans to celebrate “Ten” on hold, Pearl Jam has still yet to tour in support of last year’s release, “Gigaton.”
“We’ll get out there again. We’ll play,” McCready said. “I want to see what songs work on the ‘Gigaton’ record. That’s the thing about playing live. We were just rehearsing, all of it, four days before we canceled the tour.”
McCready and Ament only recently saw each other in person for the first time in more than a year. And Pearl Jam spent its downtime working on its voting campaign, releasing streams of classic performances, and plugging up-and-coming bands that need support (McCready named the Black Tones) more than a veteran, financially-set band like themselves.
The 55-year-old McCready credited 18 years of sobriety to keeping him energized about Pearl Jam and whatever lies ahead.
“I don’t why I’m still here, I’m just happy I am,” he said. “We still need to work on our communication. But we’re aware of all that, so I think we try to do that to the best of our ability. We’ve been through a lot of different highs and lows. But we’ve been through it together.”