Pearl Jam Guitarist Forgets How To Play “Alive”

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Pearl Jam lead guitar legend Mike McCready recently joined ‘Shred With Shifty’ to break down the band’s origin story and recap the Hendrix-inspired solo for “Alive.”

The host Chris Shiflett kicked things off with a discussion on the musical context McCready emerged from.

“If you didn’t have this punk rock background, then you were looked down upon,” remembers McCready.

He explained that his upbringing was less punk rock and more Cub Scouts until he picked up the guitar.

He and Pearl Jam rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard preferred the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and after Gossard caught McCready shredding Stevie Ray Vaughan licks at a party, he phoned him up to start a two-guitar band.

“I could only do what I knew how to do, which was play leads,” says McCready.

A major turning point came for McCready when he witnessed Muddy Waters’ performance in The Last Waltz.

“It seemed like he could do more in one note than I was doing with all these thousands of notes,” he says. The observation led him to give up shredding and move in an emotion-driven, blues-rooted direction.

That spirit drives the soaring solo on “Alive,” which McCready cut with a 1962 Japanese Reissue Stratocaster, a Tubescreamer, and a Marshall JCM800. McCready reveals how Jimi Hendrix’s sounds on “Machine Gun” influenced his own performance.

After the lesson, McCready answers questions about how “Alive” has changed over the years, Eddie Vedder’s punk-ish rhythm playing, and why he smashed a Strat onstage last year.

“Stone [Gossard] does that so I don’t know how to do it,” he said about playing the Alive opening riff. He then attempted to play it and didn’t nail it. “That’s the first time I’ve ever played it,” he said.