Eddie Vedder's Eighties Alt-Rock Band Bad Radio
When he wasn't working graveyard shifts as a hotel security guard or a gas-station attendant, young Eddie Vedder could often be found at clubs across the San Diego area, tape recorder in hand, adding to his formidable collection of bootlegs. The avid music fan had no outlet for his own compositions until 1986, when he answered an ad in the San Diego Reader for a band in search of a new lead singer. Bad Radio had initially been influenced by New Wave bands like Duran Duran, but they hoped a new frontman would push them into a new alt-rock direction. Pleased with Vedder's homemade demo, a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City," they called him in for a live audition. Three singers showed up; Vedder got the gig.
His voice had yet to acquire its singular husky resonance – and his stage fright was so severe that he reportedly wore blacked-out goggles during his first performance – but the Vedder-fronted outfit soon attracted a following with their funk-tinged rock reminiscent more of the Red Hot Chili Peppers than any of the singer's grunge anthems to come. On top of his raw vocal talent, his new bandmates were impressed by Vedder's collection of original material, which included an early version of the future Pearl Jam classic, “Better Man.” They never recorded it in the studio, but by 1989 the band managed to produce two tapes: Tower Records Demo (named for the record chain where it was sold) and What the Funk – the latter funded by winning a battle of the bands on San Diego's 91X radio station.
Propelled by a relentless drive that could register as overbearing to his fellow bandmates, Vedder acquired a reputation as the fiercest hustler on the San Diego scene. In addition to writing the bulk of the music, booking the shows, and hawking their tapes to local radio stations, he designed cassette inserts, Xeroxed posters and networked with every promoter he came across. Still, he remained frustrated by their lack of progress. "We'd win 'battle of the bands' on intensity alone, but it was coming from me," he told Rolling Stone in 1996. "I couldn't get anybody else to give up their fucking bullshit." The disagreements began to grow more serious and Vedder took the band to task for perceived laziness. "We got in fistfights, with me telling them they needed to work harder." In February 1990, Vedder left the band for good. "We were on a different level," bassist Dave Silva later admitted. "He had already surpassed us in terms of dedicating his whole life to music."