The year was 1994 and Alice in Chains was on a rocket ship trajectory to becoming the biggest hard rock band on the planet.
A tour they had lined up with metal titans Metallica, Danzig and Suicidal Tendencies was destined to add more rocket fuel to their ascension.
However, Layne Staley’s struggles with heroin addiction were becoming so severe that the band had to regrettably bow out of the tour altogether just one night before the Metallica tour was set to start.
Staley had just returned from a stint at rehab, yet showed up to the band’s practice clearly high on heroin. This was the last straw for the band, and they imploded that night. Jerry Cantrell would later recall to Rolling Stone:
“We’d been going full force, just running at top speed with our eyes closed. We had been way too close for too long, and we were suffocating. We were like four plants trying to grow in the same pot.”
Then-drummer Sean Kinney was the one who pumped the breaks on the band at that fateful practice, vowing to never play again with Layne if his addiction continued:
“Nobody was being honest with each other back then. If we had kept going, there was a good chance we would have self-destructed on the road, and we definitely didn’t want that to happen in public.”
The band’s management at the time tried to quell the swirling rumors about Layne’s addiction, saying the tour was canceled “due to health problems within the band” but that “no one’s in the hospital. They’re just hanging low and regrouping.”
Fast forward to the Metallica tour, and James Hetfield clearly was not sympathetic (at the time) to Layne’s problems. So much so that he and the band had a bit they’d do on the tour where they’d play Alice in Chains’ ‘Man in the Box’ while Hetfield would pretend to be Staley.
During the bit, he’d mockingly sing along to the song but change the lyrics to “I can’t tour. I can’t do it,” while pretending to shoot heroin into his arm. Clearly a cheap shot at Layne not being strong enough to do the tour despite his escalating addiction issues.
Understandably, some presumed Alice in Chains fans in the crowd didn’t take kindly to the mockery, with one going so far as to throw a shoe at Hetfield, which caused him to almost stop the show and storm off the stage, saying:
“Why did you throw that at me? You guys wanna throw shit? We’ll walk off the stage and you can throw all the shit you want. We’re here to play some music, man, not to look out for crap like this… we play a lot better when we don’t have to look at shit flying at us.”
In the years since, though, James and Alice in Chains have thankfully harbored no ill will. Quite the contrary- they’ve had a decades-long friendship and admiration. James would go on to perform with Alice in Chains live in the 2000’s, and even went on record several times that Metallica’s ‘Death Magnetic’ album was largely inspired by Layne. Speaking of Metallica albums, make sure you get on that new ‘Lux Aeterna’ album pre-order HERE.
Watch James Hetfield Mock Layne Staley During the 1994 Shit Hits The Sheds Tour: