Born in Evanston, Illinois, Vedder grew up mostly in Southern California. In his twenties, he played in several San Diego bands, including Indian Summer and Bad Radio. His friendship with former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons led to his recruitment in the band that would become Pearl Jam.
What was your first instrument? When and where did you start playing?
A beat-up ukulele. To keep the strings taut, I had to wrap the headstock in masking tape. My first instrument, in a way, was one of those little green memo pad notebooks when I was really young. I’d write songs, putting arrows over the notes so I’d know which note was higher than the other. The ukulele thing probably happened when I was ten. My mom would go to garage sales or yard sales, clean up all the toys, and put them under the tree. I’d get a little racetrack, and a key piece of track was missing. I think it was probably a yard sale, and they just gave the ukulele to us as an act of pity.
What was the inspiration behind why you wanted to play music?
I just loved it. I was onto a record player early, early on; one of those plastic kids’ record players that came with a single of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” If we went to visit relatives, I’d take my little plastic record player, go find a room, and sit there with my records. I probably had three. Then I started raiding my uncle’s singles collection and got into adult music fairly quickly. The crossover was “Yellow Submarine.” I remember borrowing or perhaps stealing that single from him. He’s ten years older, so if I was five, he was fifteen, and he had some pretty cool records. He wore an army jacket. He was just cool. This was probably 1969 or 1970. He’d give me records, but then he’d go off with his buddies, and I’d take a few more. I distinctly remember my mom on the phone saying, “Do you have Hot Rocks?” And I’d go [sheepishly], “Um, yeah,” while I was cranking “Brown Sugar” or “Mother’s Little Helper.”
What are some of the earliest/most influential concerts you attended?
I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with my uncle in 1977 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. It was the first show of any kind I saw in person, I believe, unless there was one a year before. There was a little theater called La Paloma in Encinitas, California. It was the summer The Last Waltz came out. At this point, I’d had a few guitar lessons. My guitar teacher and I went to see Rick Danko play solo along with Jack Tempchin, who wrote “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Already Gone” for the Eagles. Rick Danko pretty much played acoustic, but he sang “Stage Fright” to a tape. Then, all the
bands I wanted to see weren’t playing all-ages. So I had to get a fake ID to get into punk shows. I remember getting into an X show and it being a really big deal. I got right into the front, and Exene Cervenka handed me a Miller Lite to hold in between songs. I just had this feeling that it wasn’t mine to drink; it was mine to hold while she played. I also saw the Pretenders at Golden Hall in San Diego. There was no barricade, and no monitor between me and Chrissie Hynde. People are pushing and shoving. I got pushed forward and my hand landed on Chrissie Hynde’s left boot. She immediately flicked it off. I thought it was so fucking awesome. I saw Sonic Youth on the Daydream Nation tour. I didn’t know if it was the greatest thing ever or if they were disrespecting us. [Laughs] By the next morning, I knew I had been changed.
What are some of the best memories you have from playing early shows with your first bands?
My sophomore year of high school, I played with a friend from class who knew so-and-so, who worked at a grocery store, who had a practice space in his garage and a nice amp. But he was really into the Eagles, and the keyboard player was into Styx, and the bass player was into the Cars, and himself. The drummer was in the school band. And then I’m into the Who, piL, and Springsteen. It sounded like shit. Everybody would get their one or two songs to sing. You’d play at parties and pretty much just suck. As bad as the group was, the part of the night that the rest of the guys disliked most was when I got to sing. In the end, which shows how bad it was, they were like, “Uh, I think we’re going to break up the band.” And within a week, another guy with a better guitar and better amp had taken my place.