Un-rock Star

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Poor communication within the band was a problem, Abbruzzese admits. It may explain why he was blindsided by his firing. The best hypothesis is that he was oblivious to a growing personality conflict between himself and the other members of the band. The bad mojo probably reached its critical mass somewhere between late 1993 and toward the middle of 1994--between the release of the band's second album, Vs., and while they worked on their third, Vitalogy.

In a candid moment, Abbruzzese remembers times when Vedder threw water bottles at him in fits of frustration. He never took any of Vedder's behavior personally, Abbruzzese says, because he never imagined that Vedder meant it as a personal affront--just a professional dispute. Now--he says with an incredulous snort--he wonders if it was indeed the former. In a later discussion, he's more subdued when talking about his ex-bandmates, saying only that Vedder struck him as "intense" when they first met.

Gossard, though, made an effort to credit Abbruzzese with the development of Pearl Jam during its formative years. Ever the diplomat, he even went so far as to thank the band's ex-drummer at the Grammy Awards this year when the band won album of the year for Vitalogy, the second and last album Abbruzzese worked on. (McCready could be heard tiredly muttering "jeez...." under his breath when Gossard mentioned Abbruzzese.)

Abbruzzese says he has no regrets or grudges. "With all the time that's passed, I look back and think, it sure was great and sure was a lot of fun," he says. "And I learned a lot and still haven't stopped learning.

"I can definitely step back now and say that I might not have been the right guy for those guys all along. But at the same time, I can tell you with all honesty that they weren't the right guys for me, either, and I don't feel bad about that."

For a while, after being fired from Pearl Jam, Abbruzzese seriously considered retiring--not from music but from all the music-biz "bullshit." He continued to drum, participating on compilation albums such as a Jimi Hendrix tribute. "It was a time when I still enjoyed drumming, but I really needed to find out if there were reasons for playing music other than for the success and fame and everything. I needed to make sure that that something was still within me--the stuff that put me in the position to play with that band."

Months after his dismissal, he returned to the Dallas area to visit friends Darrell Phillips and Doug Neil, bandmates from his pre-Pearl Jam years. They teamed with David Castell (who produced for Course of Empire) and the four played around with a musical collaboration.

"I wanted to play with people I knew, knowing that there wouldn't be any bullshit attached to it. With Darrell and Doug, I could get in the studio with those guys and jam, and it wouldn't be like anybody would think that jamming with me would be anything more than jamming with me. It wouldn't be like a 'big break' for them or any of that sort of crap. It would just be three people who really like each other and want to get together and play, like we used to."

Soon, Ten Hands vocalist Paul Slavens was brought in at Castell's suggestion. Gary Muller, another Ten Hands alumnus, joined the impromptu jam sessions that were recorded at Castell's R.S.V.P. Studios in Garland. In those jams, the process usually involved Abbruzzese, Neil, Phillips, and Muller creating a beat--finding some crazy sound and going with it--while Slavens made up lyrics on the fly. The result, surprisingly, was a number of pretty good songs. Thirteen tracks were put on a CD--Play Parts I and IV--that Abbruzzese produced a limited number of copies of for friends and industry colleagues.

Considering the overall quality of this limited-issue CD, it's hard to believe these guys were only jamming. The music brings to mind an updating of the funk sensibility of Ten Hands, guided by Abbruzzese's energetic drums and narrated by Slavens' nonsensical yet fun lyrics. Ranging in average running times from three to five minutes each, the songs don't meander. They have a cohesiveness in sound and form. But none of these tunes was deliberately composed before it was performed. Except for minor post-production work and any necessary re-recording of lyrics, what you hear on the CD is what was first recorded. The liner notes for the CD don't list lyrics but instead describe each song's "birth." As an explanation for the track "So What If I Am" details: "A post-poker-game jam at 2 in the morning. Darrell started playing this slinky funk thing that inspired a late-night sort of groove thing."

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Howard Wen