Some of the biggest names in Seattle music honored Pearl Jam's Mike McCready at the Showbox.
Mike McCready has accomplished many things in his 28 years as the lead guitarist of Pearl Jam. Packed arenas, sold millions of records, written songs, raised millions of dollars toward a cure for Crohn’s disease. And just over a year ago, he and his bandmates were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
But it was Thursday night — when the Recording Academy’s affiliated charity, MusiCares, honored McCready for his commitment to helping others in the addiction recovery process — that meant the most to his mother.
“It’s probably the proudest moment I have of him,” Louise McCready said as the Showbox filled up for the “Concert for Recovery.”
“He’s helping so many other people,” she continued. “He’s gotten nine people into rehab.”
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Even better, the award McCready received was named for his hero, the late guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who inspired him to pick up his guitar again after trying and failing to get noticed in Los Angeles. (“It lifted me out of the negative mindset I was in,” McCready told Guitar World, “and it got me playing again. I thank him forever for that.”)
“He was his hero forever,” Louise McCready said of Vaughan. “All I heard was Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Mike had the hair and the hat just like him.”
After Pearl Jam exploded, and McCready fell into addiction, Louise McCready worried that she would lose her son to the perils of fame, money and the pressure that touring and performing put on an artist.
But now, here he was, being honored for surviving and saving others.
“It’s like it all comes back, full circle,” she said. “It’s completed.”
Before the show, McCready gathered on the red carpet with the same musicians he started with: Danny Newcomb and Rick and Chris Friel, from his high-school band, Shadow, and later, The Rockfords. There was high-school classmate Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses; Tim DiJulio, Paul Passarelli, Gary Westlake and Mike Musburger from the UFO cover band Flight to Mars. Singer/songwriters Kim Virant and Star Anna, who have shared the stage with McCready endless times. Barrett Martin of The Screaming Trees, who played with McCready in Mad Season. Mike Ness of Social Distortion, one of McCready’s favorite bands. And Chad Smith and Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers represented Pearl Jam’s first big tour. It was the Peppers who invited Pearl Jam to open for them in 1991.
Just as they were all posing for a photo, Nancy Wilson of Heart came through the door, kneeled down and spread her arms for the cameras while everyone cheered. Her driver had taken her to the Showbox Sodo by mistake.
Inside, the Showbox — filled with tables — took on the feel of a family reunion. People crossed the room to hug and talk. It was clear everyone was happy to be together, especially after the loss of so many gifted artists who would have, should have, been there. Andrew Wood. Kurt Cobain. Layne Staley. And, just last year, Chris Cornell.
That energy, and the antics of host Joel McHale, infused the music, too. Mark Arm of Mudhoney opened the show with a take-no-prisoners cover of The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” and then “TV Eye” before the members of Flight to Mars came out for a few powerful UFO covers. (“Cowboy Song,” “Lights Out” and “Love to Love”).
Star Anna performed a soulful cover of Mad Season’s “River of Deceit,” as well as The Rolling Stones’ “Sister Morphine.”
“Mike was the second person I called the day I decided to quit drinking,” she said before the show. “He was supportive and not pushy about it. And he was sober, still doing things I wanted to do. I am forever grateful for that.”
Newcomb brought out his 1969 Gibson SG Deluxe — better known as “The Wizard” — which he got when he was 13 and played alongside McCready in their high-school band, Shadow.
“It’s a special occasion,” he said.
Nancy Wilson (who performed Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” with McCready, as well as Heart’s “Even it Up”) is a lifelong friend of Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis and remembers when the band shot to fame. So when things got out of hand for McCready, she understood why.
“The temperament of an artist or a rock person is sort of outside the norm,” Wilson said. “Abnormal things are expected of you. And it can be a lot to bear. Even if you know you’re giving something really great out to the world, you can suffer internally. Equal parts.
“It’s all a big ball of confusion sometimes, but people like MusiCares that get help to the people fast … It’s a beautiful thing.”
It was McKagan who presented McCready with the MusiCares award.
“How fortunate I feel to be alive and happy,” the Guns N’ Roses bassist began, before someone in the audience called out “Roosevelt!” — the two musicians’ alma mater. McKagan repeated it, almost to himself: “Roosevelt.”
“We’ve been friends for 40 years,” he said to McCready, who stood at the side of the stage. “I’ve seen you struggle. I was right there with you. You are always there, always a solid anchor with a smile … Whenever I see you playing guitar, I see the madness and the beauty of an addict being set free.”
In his speech, McCready thanked his parents and his bandmates “for sticking with me all these years.” He thanked his wife, Ashley, “most of all, most of all, most of all.” And he thanked the city that launched him.
“I love being here, I love being from Seattle,” he said. “I’m sad that we’ve lost so many musicians that we loved dearly. We’ve lost too many artists to addictions and mental-health issues.”
Those still suffering have options and one bright rock star to light the way there.
Martin was as happy as Louise McCready to see his friend — like the song says — alive.
“I know what it was like before, when it was crazy,” Martin said. “And now, to see it 25 years later with families and everybody healthy and being really integrated into the community. … You can’t ask for anything more than that.