He was determined to buy that car at that moment. “So I looked across the street—it was an auto row area—and I’m like, ‘You just lost a sale, dude. I’m going to walk across that street, I’m going to buy a car. I’m going to come back over here and I’m going to show it to you.’ And I did. I walked across the street, bought a f–kin’ Ford Explorer, and when I got the paperwork done, I came back by the window and probably flipped him off and then drove off,” he says with a chuckle.
Cantrell got an SUV since he lived in the Northwest. “It’s pretty much all SUVs, it’s rainy all the time. Sometimes it’s snowy and icy,” he says. “That’s just the practical ride for everybody in that zone.”
He would later flip the SUV in the early morning hours, returning from a Jane’s Addiction concert when he hit black ice, he said.
Today, Cantrell’s SUV of choice is his Range Rover. He still likes having an SUV to haul his guitar and amps. “It’s a solid car, it looks great, it’s a good ride, it’s well built. It’s my first Rover,” he says.
The vehicle is good for trips like driving around the mountains as well as out to the desert in L.A. “I was a big Escalade fan for a number of years,” Cantrell says. “My friends Dime and Vinnie Paul from Pantera, my good brothers, drove those and they turned me on to driving those. My drummer has always been a Rover fan, and I finally decided to give one a try, and I now I think I’ll probably never go back.”
1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray
After he bought his Ford Explorer, Cantrell bought this eye-catching convertible with a removable hardtop, which was the most “extravagant purchase” he made for himself. He paid about $60,000 back in 1994.
“I’m not too much of a gear head, but it’s red with a black hood scoop, it’s got side pipes. I think it’s all matching numbers. There might be a couple of things I’ve added to it, but I kept the original parts,” Cantrell says. “It came with a 427 Tri-Power, which I took out not to further damage and put a 454 in, so I can drive it around like a regular car. It’s just cool, it’s loud as f–k, it rumbles when you drive it, it smells of leather, oil, and gas. I don’t drive it that often, but I’ve maintained it throughout the years.”
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray
Cantrell loved Corvettes so much that, a year after he bought his 1967 Corvette, he bought this Sting Ray, which is a split-window coupe. “I grew up in the era of the astronauts, and a lot of those guys drove Corvettes. I was a big Speed Racer fan kid too, and that was a car that reminded me of the Mach Five,” he says.
To Cantrell, this is just a classy-looking car. “The ’67 is like a sexy pig,” he quips. “It just rumbles and it’s so throaty, but it looks so good and it really just drips power, as well as looking amazing. But the ’63, I call it a little bit more refined, a little sleeker, doesn’t have the side pipes. It’s got a leather interior. The ’67 has a red, red on red. The ’63 is Ermine White on the outside with a saddle interior.”
When I mentioned that Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir was a former Celeb Drive who also had a 1963 Sting Ray, Cantrell recalled meeting Rush’s Neil Peart a few years ago at what was the old A&M Studios. “He’s a big ‘Vette fan too, and we talked ‘Vettes for a little bit. He’s got a ’67 and a ’63, as well. He likes the silver, chromy-gray-looking car. All his cars are within that range. So I met another ‘Vette brother in one of my heroes. It’s pretty cool.”
Car he learned to drive in
Cantrell first learned to drive when he was very young, sitting on his dad’s lap steering a pickup truck. Later, he learned officially on his mom’s manual-transmission 1976 Volkswagen Super Beetle in Washington.
“That’s probably the car I learned to drive as a teenager and moving into being a young adult. But my dad had me driving—I’d go visit him in the summertime, in Oklahoma. He’d take you out in the fields or on the dirt roads and put you in the truck and let you roll,” he says.
Cantrell recalls a story that highlights his dad’s liberal nature when it came to letting his young son drive without a license.
“He had a Z28, and it was killer looking. He and his buddies were hanging out, and he wanted something from the store and I wasn’t old enough to drive,” he laughs. “He’s like, ‘Go get me such and such at the store.’ I jumped in that, in eighth grade. I’d cruise around town in that, hit the store, stop by a spot where some of my friends can see me driving the car. I could barely see over the steering wheel.”
When it came to taking his driver’s test and learning how to operate a manual transmission, it was all with the help of his mom and her VW. “That little tiny, whiny motor. It’s funny, Volkswagens always have the same smell. All of those Beetles, when you get in them they smell exactly the same. It’s a similar thing to the ‘Vette, they have a very unique odor. If I get in one blindfolded I could tell I was in a f–kin’ VW Beetle,” he says. “Same thing as a ‘Vette, as well.”
Although he passed his driver’s test, Cantrell’s mom needed the car, so he mostly took the bus. “That car was her lifeline to work, so she couldn’t afford me [damaging the VW],” he says. “So other than getting some driving tips and practicing on some back roads with her to get a license, I didn’t get to really drive it too much. I didn’t have a car again until I bought that Ford Explorer. I inherited my grandmother’s Toyota, but I needed to get it licensed and I never did, and it sat outside the place we were living until it kind of rotted away, when we were living at the Music Bank in Seattle.”
Favorite road trip
Cantrell has been on many road trips, and he says most of his life is about driving. “From the time I was a kid and my dad was in the service, he didn’t fly, so we drove everywhere,” he says. “We drove to Alaska, we drove back. We drove from Washington to Oklahoma, from Mineral Wells, Texas, to Pennsylvania, we drove everywhere. He didn’t like to fly, he liked to drive, and my job is constantly travelling.”
When Cantrell was a kid, he traveled with his family on the Alcan Highway in Alaska, where his dad was stationed to serve for a year in the army. “That was pretty amazing. It took a while to get up there, and most of it at that point was still dirt roads in the early ’70s,” he says.
Although they drove everywhere his dad was stationed, this road trip from Tacoma to Alaska was memorable for many reasons, especially the scenery. “The majesty of it it was so f–king wild to be driving through these forests and mountains,” he says. “Pretty amazing.”
New album Rainier Fog and worldwide tour
Alice in Chains just released its first new record in five years, which hit number one on Billboard and iTunes’ rock charts.
“We worked really hard on it, and I think that we hit the quality level that we always try to shoot for,” Cantrell says. “It’s unlike any record that we’ve ever done, and we’re a band that is known for that,” he says.
Cantrell says the band really doesn’t make one album that sounds like another. “At the same time, we keep our musical identity. [The album is] strong from top to bottom, and it’s named after where we come from,” he says. “Mount Rainier is the big mountain that dominates the skyline in Seattle, and we recorded the bulk of the basic tracks in Seattle at Studio X where we also recorded the self-titled record years ago, so we went home to make this record.”
Recording at the original studio was a full-circle moment for Cantrell. “We made the third full-length record in that studio, which may not exist [for much longer]. It may get torn down for a f–king high-rise. I hope not.”
Alice in Chains is supporting this new album on the current leg of the band’s worldwide tour, which stops in Texas today and tomorrow. The album dropped when the band played its hometown of Seattle.
“We’ll play a handful of tunes from this record, but we’ll play a handful of tunes from all our records. We try to represent all eras,” Cantrell says. For more information, please visit AliceinChains.com.