It’s an unlikely pairing, but it’s legit: Elton John sings on “Black Gives Way to Blue,” the title track on Alice in Chains’ September 29th album. The song is a tribute to the band’s late frontman Layne Staley, who died in 2002 from a lethal speedball, and the collaboration was born when singer-guitarist Jerry Cantrell thought the track could use a little piano.
When a pal suggested Cantrell ring up Sir Elton John, “I remember laughing and saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll get right on that,’ ” Cantrell says in a statement. “But I decided it was worth trying and wrote Elton an e-mail explaining what that song means to us — that it’s a real, raw openhearted song for Layne.” The band sent John the track and were “blown away” when he quickly responded saying he was in. “Elton John is a huge influence on me as a songwriter and having him on that song is an amazing honor for us,” Cantrell adds.
John reveals that he’s been a “an admirer of Jerry Cantrell” for quite some time, and “couldn’t resist” the offer. “It was a great recording session with Alice In Chains for a beautiful song,” John says in a statement. Recording was done in Vegas, where John was wrapping his Red Piano concerts. “Walking into a studio and seeing the sheet music for that song on Elton’s piano made it meaningful on so many different levels,” Cantrell says in a statement. “The whole experience was pretty magical.”
When Rolling Stone spoke with Alice in Chains last month, Cantrell said Black Gives Way to Blue is the next step in the band’s legacy. “It takes a big set of fucking balls — four sets of balls — to take on a challenge like this, and we did it for the same reasons we made music before,” he said. “We care about it, we respect what we did, and we also respect the fact that we want to continue to make music with each other, so there’s a certain level that it has to live up to.” William DuVall joins the band’s surviving members, sharing guitar and vocal duties, but Staley still looms large for the band: “I can tell you from our point of view, there is no fucking replacing the dude,” Cantrell said.