Alice in Chains guitarist tells tale of packing pistols

I was talking about guns just the other day with iconic guitarist Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains. He was telling me his favorite Vegas story.

It starts with Tommy Lee. Twenty years ago, he got busted at the L.A. airport because he had a semi-automatic pistol loaded with hollow-point bullets in his carry-on bag.

For months, Cantrell and his buddy Lars Ulrich, from Metallica, ranked on their friend, saying, “How could you not know there’s a gun in your bag?”

But soon after, Cantrell was home in Seattle, packing for a party trip to Vegas with Ulrich.

“I went in my closet, and I grabbed a gym bag, and I went to the airport. And they stopped me at the X-ray machine. I had a gun in my bag.

“It was a bag I had taken on a camping trip and I hadn’t used it since then. So I had spent the last couple of months laughing about Tommy getting ‘busted with an Uzi,’ and here I get popped with a .380 and one in the pipe and a full clip. It was the same deal.”

Lucky for Cantrell, he owned a concealed weapons permit in Washington, and this was pre-9/11.

Airport security guards kindly held on to Cantrell’s gun until he got back from partying in Vegas.

“They let me take it (the gun) downstairs and store it. I got a minor fine from the FAA.

“I still made the flight. I made a two- or three-day run with Ulrich in Vegas, limped home afterward, and picked my gun up at the airport.”

Alice in Chains returns to Vegas on Saturday to rock the hell out of the Palms’ Pearl, while touring behind a new album, “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.”

But Cantrell doesn’t have guns on the brain.

“Vegas is always fun. I think I’m going to come in early and go golfing with my guitar tech and a few friends, do the show and head out. That’s my limit.”


On a completely unrelated note, Cantrell has been promoting the video game “Rocksmith,” because the game uses a real guitar to teach real music lessons.

“Rocksmith” is a huge leap forward from the game days of “Guitar Hero,” which used toy guitars.

“I can’t count how many times I’d run into somebody playing (‘Guitar Hero’) somewhere, and some kid wanted to play me to my own song. I’m like, ‘I can’t do that, man. It’s not a guitar.’ ”

Cantrell says “Rocksmith” can teach even a big star like him a few things.

“It shows you every good note to play within whatever scale and key of the song you’re playing in.

“I’ve had a few lessons here and there, but I’m not very proficient at reading music. I do things by ear and by feel.”

Here’s an astonishing thing. Cantrell, 47, learned guitar by buying 8-track tapes at swap meets.

“I had a little stereo system that I could record. I could break the tabs out of the 8-tracks, and I’d make my own mix tapes” by recording songs to it from the local radio station.

“I’d make my own tapes, and then learn how to play to them.”

That makes Cantrell a badassador.

Doug Elfman’s column appears on Page 3A in the main section on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He also writes for Neon on Fridays. Email him at He blogs at

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