Quiet. Unassuming. Artistic. But when Jeff Ament slings his bass over his shoulder he becomes a master at work, making the four-string instrument roar. Since their inception, Ament has been laying down some of the most solid grooves in Pearl Jam, and since 2000 – when drummer Matt Cameron joined the band – Ament and Cameron have been the backbone to one of the world’s greatest rock & roll bands.
Ament grew up in the small town of Big Sandy, Montana, and like a lot of kids in a town with little to do, Ament took to playing the bass and art. He even went to the University of Montana to pursue his artwork, but when they discontinued the art program, Ament packed his bag and headed west to the Emerald City.
Once in Seattle, Ament became an important part of not only the music scene but the art scene as well. In fact, Ament has been the bassist for three of the biggest bands to ever come out of Seattle – Green River, Mother Love Bone and of course, Pearl Jam. Being in a rock band with the magnitude of Pearl Jam has afforded Ament many luxuries, mainly playing music with other musicians in many side projects, including his solo albums.
The success of his music has also afforded Ament to give back to causes he believes in (much like everyone in Pearl Jam). Ament has backed political figures, namely United States Senator Jon Tester (Montana); is big on organic farming; assisted in the building of the Missoula’s Mobash Skate Park – he’s a really big skate boarder – and also supported the Save the Children Foundation by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with his girlfriend.
Ament’s energy and passion is as inspiring as his music – and there’s a ton of it. Not only has Ament been in a trio of successful and influential bands, but he has also had a handful of side projects, and it’s time to rank them worst to first (though Ament really hasn’t been in any shitty bands).
#9 Deranged Diction
Formed in Missoula Montana in 1982, Deranged Diction was Jeff Ament’s first band, formed while he attended the University of Montana. Featuring future Mother Love Bone guitarist Bruce Fairweather, Deranged Diction was what you’d expect from a young band of college kids. It was raw punk much in the line of the Ramones, the Stooges and the Clash. The band had moderate success before packing their bags for Seattle in 1983. After a line of lead singers, settling with Seattle singer Rod Moody, the band made their recording debut on the Mystic Records compilation ‘We Got Power’ with the track “Pruning” (listed on the album as “Crooning”). Deranged Diction went back to Montana where they recorded their demo ‘No Art, No Cowboys, No Rules.’
The band broke up shortly after the demo release, but reunited at the Crocodile in Seattle to celebrate 25 years and the release of their two-disc anthology ‘Life Support/No Art, No Cowboys, No Rules.’
After the break up, Ament went on to join Green River, then Mother Love Bone and finally Pearl Jam, while Fairweather played in Mother Love Bone and Love Battery.
#8 Three Fish
Three Fish was the first of Ament’s many side projects while in Pearl Jam. The band featured Tribe After Tribe frontman and guitarist Robbi Robb, along with iconic Seattle drummer Richard Stuverud (The Fastbacks, War Babies, among others). Ament and Stuverud would go on to be in several bands together.
To be honest, the first time I heard Three Fish’s 1996 self-titled debut album it freaked me out a little. It was nothing like anything Ament had been playing with Pearl Jam, or any of his other bands, for that matter. Three Fish was a concoction of jazz, world music, rock and pop. It was very earthy, kind of like Jane’s Addiction without the heaviness of the guitar.
Growing to enjoy the new style of music, I was anticipating the bands follow-up, 1999’s ‘The Quiet Table.’ The follow-up to their debut carried on in the same vein with the Eastern musical influences along with the rock and folk vibe. However, with Brett Eliason doing the production, ‘The Quiet Table’ had a bit more of an edge to it than the debut. The band hasn’t done anything since touring in support of the second album and looks to be gone for good.
#7 Neil Young
In the 1990s when “gunge music” was hugely popular, the legendary Neil Young was unceremoniously branded the “Godfather of Grunge.” He became close friends with the boys in Pearl Jam, so close in fact, the band lovingly referred to Young at “Uncle Neil.”
As Young and Pearl Jam appeared on stages together, it was only a matter of time that the two would meet in the recording studio. When Young headed in to record his 22nd studio release he asked Ament, along with Pearl Jam guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready and drummer Jack Irons to be his backing band. Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder would provide backing vocals and take the lead vocals on “Peace and Love.”
‘Mirror Ball,’ which was certified gold, was recorded at Seattle’s Bad Animal Studios and produced by Brendan O’Brien, who had worked with Pearl Jam on two previous albums – ‘Vs’ and ‘Vitalogy.’ The album, which would be released in 1995 as ‘Mirror Ball,’ took only a total of four days to record, with Young coming in with the majority of the songs already written. Young was quoted at the time of the record’s release, “Recording Mirror Ball was like audio vérité, just a snapshot of what’s happening. Sometimes I didn’t know who was playing. I was just conscious of this big smoldering mass of sound.”
That gives you a really good description of what to expect from ‘Mirror Ball.’ The 11-track album is a marriage between Young’s 1960s peace and love outlook along with the attitude of 1990s Generation X. Musically raw and filled with feedback, ‘Mirror Ball’ is an album best listened to through headphones.
#6 Tres Mts.
Could this really be happening? Two of my favorite bass players in one band? Well, there were rumblings of Ament working with King’s X bassist and frontman Doug Pinnick since King’s X toured with Pearl Jam in 1994. It took nearly 20 years, but Ament and Pinnick did form a side band together, along with Richard Stuverud on drums and additional guitar by Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. The project was dubbed Tres Mts., and they issued their sole album, ‘Three Mountains,’ in 2011. With Pinnick on guitar and vocals, Ament added his in-the-pocket-funk on the bass, giving Tres Mts. a deep groove to their rock & roll sound. The thing which stood out for me, however, was not just the music, but you could feel the players having so much fun as they were writing and recording the songs. Tres Mts. did tour behind the record, which earned critical praise.
Lead by “Holes in the Road,” “Afrosheena,” “My Baby,” and the standout track “She’s My New Song,” ‘Three Mountains’ mixed the heavy rock with funk and classic blues. It was certainly a powerful mixture, one I hope to hear again.
#5 Solo Albums
Pearl Jam’s Gossard did it, Vedder did it too, so why not Ament? Ament seems to be constantly writing, whether it’s for Pearl Jam or a side project or himself. In 2008 the bassist bypassed another side project and went alone with his solo debut, ‘Tone.’
The 10-song album was a labor of love for Ament, as he wrote these songs over a 12-year period. Unlike his side projects, Ament took everything on himself, from the writing to recording and playing nearly all the instruments and singing lead. He did, of course, have long-time collaborator Stuverud contribute drums to several tracks, while Tres Mts. partner Doug Pinnick added lead vocals on “Doubting Thomasina.”
Where ‘Tone’ was a conglomeration of his previous side project with the world sound of Three Fish and the raw power of Tres Mts., his solo follow-up, 2012’s ‘While My Heart Beats,’ showed more growth in Ament. The second solo album was much more straightforward rock, which benefited Ament’s singing and bass playing. Let it be known Ament is just as good on the lead vocals as he is on the four-string.
#4 Green River
This is where it all really began for Ament. While working at a coffee house in Seattle and with the status of his first band Deranged Diction on thin ice, Ament befriended singer Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner of the band Green River. Along with Alex Vincent on drums and Stone Gossard on guitar, Green River needed a bass player, and Jeff Ament was a perfect fit.
Prior to “grunge” and the flannel craze and anyone outside of the Pacific Northwest knowing there was a music scene in Seattle, Green River released their debut EP ‘Come on Down’ in 1985. The band quickly became a fixture in the Seattle music scene and was asked to submit a song to the now legendary C/Z Records compilation ‘Deep Six.’ Turner then left the band and was replaced by Ament’s old buddy Bruce Fairweather. Green River released their second EP ‘Dry as a Bone’ in 1987 and their full-length ‘Rehab Doll’ the following year.
Some have said Green River was the first “grunge band.” Whether or not that is true is your opinion. However, what is known is that Green River was a groundbreaking band. They were/are the catalyst by which all “grunge bands” are measured.
I had heard of and looked into the music of singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur simply based on Ament’s constant mention of him in interviews I had read. Arthur was a fantastic lyricist and guitar player, so it was no surprise when the two joined forces to form yet another side band for Ament entitled RNDM. Of course, where there’s an Ament side band you can bet Stuverud will be on the drum kit.
The trio released their one and only (so far) album ‘Acts’ in 2012, and it was the surprise album of the year for me. I had questions of which direction the band would go – would it be like many of the Ament/Stuverud collaborations in the past, or would Arthur’s talents be thrust to the forefront, or would it be a mixture of the two? After one listen to the dozen tracks on ‘Acts,’ I was taken aback by the general pureness of the songs. They were poppy with a hint of driving rock when Arthur cranked up his electric guitar. For a three-piece, ‘Acts’ is full and powerful without blowing your eardrums. Ament’s bass playing on the record is at the front of the songs and quite frankly, is some of his best playing he has recorded. Mixed with Stuverud’s solid drum skills and Arthur’s gorgeous songwriting skills, RNDM was nothing like anything Ament has been a part of before and damn, I hope he does it again. The band is just infectious.
#2 Temple of the Dog
This collaboration is, well, to say the least, bittersweet. Temple of the Dog was a one-off side project to celebrate the life and friendship of Andrew Wood, former lead singer of Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, who passed away on March 19, 1990.
Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell was at one time Wood’s roommate. When Wood died, Cornell asked former Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament to join him on some songs he had written in honor of Wood. With all three on board, Cornell recruited Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, while Gossard brought in future bandmates Mike McCready (lead guitar) and Eddie Vedder (background vocals). They dubbed the project Temple of the Dog, taken from the Mother Love Bone song “Man of Golden Words” – “I want to show you something, like joy inside my heart, seems I been living in the temple of the dog.”
The self-titled album took15 days to record and featured two tracks – “Reach Down” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven” – inspired by Wood’s death. The album would eventually go platinum, and the project was the precursor to Pearl Jam.
Ament described the collaboration as “a really good thing at the time” for him and Gossard that put them into a “band situation where we could play and make music.” Gossard described the recording process as a “non-pressure filled” situation, as there were no expectations or pressure coming from the record company. Gossard later said it was “the easiest and most beautiful record that we’ve ever been involved with.”
#1 Mother Love Bone
Before Pearl Jam and after Green River seems to be the true hallmark of Ament’s career. Sure Green River was a great band, but Mother Love Bone was on the cusp of rock & roll stardom when lead singer Andy Wood died. If it weren’t for that poignant event in music there would have not been a Pearl Jam and the multiple side projects that come along with it.
For my money, of all the projects Ament has been in, excluding Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone is it. There isn’t anything better, and there isn’t thing anything remotely close to touching the greatness that was Mother Love Bone.
With Mother Love Bone, I think Ament really tapped into his bass sound he was looking for and has tweaked it over the years. He has that laidback, knees bent kind of grove going on while throwing in tasty fills to carry the song where it wants to go. From top to bottom of Mother Love Bone’s two releases – ‘Shine’ (1989) and ‘Apple’ (1990) – Ament and his bandmates Andrew Wood (vocals), Stone Gossard and Bruce Fairweather (guitars), and Greg Gilmore (drums) separated themselves as one of the best bands to ever come out of Seattle. They were fun. They were tight. They were rock. They were punk. They were Mother Love Bone.
It’s an interesting ride listening to all these bands to prepare this blog. To hear Ament’s playing go from the raw youth of Deranged Diction to the raw punk power of Green River and the polished rock of RNDM and Pearl Jam. Ament can seemingly handle any type of bass line to fit a song and is one of the most overlooked bassists in rock & roll today.