28 Years Ago: Jane’s Addiction Release Self-Titled Indie Debut
On Jan. 26,1987, Jack Nicholson rolled up to the Rainbow Bar and Grill on L.A.'s Sunset Strip, only to be greeted by a "freak in a corset and a silver jacket with dreadlocks," screaming, "Jack! Jack! We're playing [the Roxy tonight]! Can you come in and introduce us?"
That's Charley Brown, Jane's Addiction's first manager and co-founder of Triple X Records, remembering in Whores: An Oral Biography of Perry Farrell and Jane's Addiction, the night Perry Farrell tried unsuccessfully to get America's biggest actor to play emcee for the shows that would become the band's first album.
Jack wouldn't have been the only big shot in the room. All of the major labels were there, as were the cream of the L.A. musical crop. Thelonious Monster's Bob Forrest recalls watching the gig with Anthony Kiedis:
It was everything that everybody who had bands hoped to accomplish. It gives me chills still -- how great they were. We walked out to the car and Anthony was all quiet and I was all quiet and then he said, "What are you thinking?" And I said, "I'm thinking why I even [bother to] play music,' And he said, "Yeah, me too." And he just started the car and drove away. They were that far ahead of everybody else.
By the date of the Roxy show (actually shows, but we'll get to that), Jane's Addiction's career trajectory was a foregone conclusion. The band had already decided to sign with Warner Brothers, though they continued to string the other labels along for the free food ("They took you to Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset for record label dinners back in the '80s," guitarist Dave Navarro recalled. "Always the same place. I don't why.")
Not that a free lunch was the only consideration. As Perry Farrell recalls:
We told Warner we definitely wanted to sign, but we wanted to come out on our own label or an indie first and then grow organically from there. It just made more sense.
The indie label in question was the aforementioned Triple X, founded by a trio of employees from Greenworld, a record distributor. Charley Brown, Peter Heur and Dean Naleway got themselves fired in order to collect unemployment, which they used to start Triple X. They then went all in, maxing out their credit cards and even selling their cars to put out Jane's Addiction's first album.
Triple X tried to talk Jane's into a longer deal, three to five records depending on who you're asking, but instead Farrell talked Brown into managing the band. This marked the launch of Triple X Management, and the Triple X record deal turned into a 50-50 split on one album.
During that period, Jane's was alternating acoustic and electric sets, so the plan was to capture both at the Roxy showcase. Along with their originals, the band ran through a couple of covers, including Velvet Underground's "Rock and Roll":
They also covered the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," titled "Sympathy" on the album's sleeve. Navarro claimed that they played the song "as a joke" and that he hated the Stones, "Always have, always will ... I can't believe that one of my least favorite bands is on my first record."
The band's mixture of loud and soft, electric and acoustic led many reviewers to compare them to Led Zeppelin. Perhaps the strangest comparison came from Buzz magazine, who likened Jane's to an amalgam of "Led Zep, U2, and Culture Club," the latter presumably a reference to frontman Ferrell's wardrobe of corsets and dresses. According to Dave Thompson's Perry Ferrell: The Saga of a Hypester, another journalist of the period noted that "his talent for cross-dressing rivals David Bowie."
Two things the album is unable to capture are the striking visuals of early Jane's shows and Perry's stage patter, both of which remain key factors in the band's amazing live performances. Nobody worked a crowd like Ferrell. Thompson quotes the singer teasing an audience:
I bet you girls never liked a guy in a dress as much as you like me tonight. I bet you guys never did, either. But don't worry, I won't tell your dads. I think your dad kinda likes me as well.
For imagery, we have the album cover, featuring a portrait taken by Karyn Cantor that Ferrell customized. Triple X partner Dean Naleway said that "for weeks he was painting this thing until he finally ran out of paint, and didn't have money to get any more, so he touched it up with Wite-Out because we were pushing and pushing him to finish the cover."
"Pigs in Zen" and "Jane Says" would show up again on their major label debut, Nothing's Shocking, but several choice cuts (like "1%" above) weren't rerecorded for either that album or its follow-up, Ritual de lo Habitual. Some of these are among the band's most adventurous recordings, defying the conventional arrangements of rock songs. The ballad "I Would For You" features nearly solo bass accompaniment, for example, and "Chip Away" is more shamanic ritual than song:
Triple X released the album on several different colors of vinyl, creating instant collectibles for the band's rabid L.A. fan base. Versions were manufactured in black, pink/purple, green, white, blue, red and clear. All remain sought after, but the earliest clear versions without a UPC code are the most valuable. Even the unused parts of the record were integrated into the band's art. Engraved into the album's run-outs are "It used to be secrets! I couldn't give them away" (A-side) and "What made you look here?" (B-side).
Like every live album, Jane's Addiction was "sweetened," or fixed up a bit in the studio during mixing. Triple X executive Dean Naleway:
Most everything was live, but there were a few mistakes, and a few things we had to get rid of, and that was about it. Light on overdubs ... I think the audience applause dub is from a Los Lobos show, or maybe it was [a] Ricki Lee Jones show [because] of some miking error in the room.
The album was not only influential in terms of its music, but in terms of how bands approached fan retention and credibility. Although Jane's signed a deal with Warners reportedly worth as much as Guns N' Roses' record-setting Geffen deal, the band weren't considered "sell outs" in part thanks to the Triple X album. Many have argued that subsequent bands like Soundgarden chose to release their debuts on indie labels having seen how effectively the strategy worked for Jane's Addiction.
All things considered, I think Nicholson missed the boat when he turned down Perry's offer in the parking lot of the Rainbow that night, but who knows? Maybe when Jane's Addiction was released on May 15, 1987, Triple X sent him a promo copy. If it's on clear vinyl I'll give you 50 bucks, Jack.
[Note: Unless otherwise noted, all quotes appearing in this article are from Whores: An Oral Biography of Perry Farrell and Jane's Addiction by Brendan Mullen.]