Ed’s Pre-Pearl Jam Demo

by John Reynolds on June 6, 2003

Summer ’88 Demo

Eddie Vedder is human, and now we have proof.

The recent discovery of a four-song demo from 1988 by Eddie Vedder shows the creativity and motivation of a gifted artist before a future of sold-out arenas and concert DVDs. This vintage material was made before Pearl Jam, even before Bad Radio! This demo, like most demos, is a time capsule that can either be looked back on as a bad fashion fad or a well-aged wine. With all demos, though, there is always a story to tell.

If you’ve ever tried to make it in the recording industry, then you’ve recorded a demo. In dictionary terms, a demo is a collection of songs that an artist or band would record in order to get a gig at a local venue, to audition for a prospective band, or to showcase to record companies in hopes of a contract. In musician terms, a demo is a rite of passage that you would record with a usually limited budget and using a do-it-yourself approach that you thought would get your foot in the door. Armed with your demo, you set your sites high. You probably didn’t become the lead singer of one of the modern rock era’s greatest bands, but those dreams did dance in your head.

The “Summer 1988″ Demo

There is always more than meets the eye when you look at a finished demo. To its creator, making a demo is treated almost as a second job – albeit a non-paying job whose costs were paid for by your primary job. Making a demo as a band, let alone by yourself, is hard work yet very gratifying. In 1988, Eddie was a songwriter without a band, so the intent of making a demo was clear.

In San Diego, Eddie worked at various jobs, often on the graveyard shift. It is well known that he used his time on the overnight shift to practice guitar and compose songs. Without the luxury of a recording studio, Ed would use both the workplace and his apartment to record the songs he wrote.

Eddie is know to have recorded two demos prior to joining Bad Radio

Demo #1

Side A Side B
Can’t Find A Better Man

Crossroads
Crossroads (Instrumental)

Believe You Me
Reggae Woman
Elvis Costello cover (Live)

Demo #2

Side A Side B
One Step Up (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Crossroads
Believe You Me
Reggae Woman

An original copy of Demo #2, self-titled “Summer 1988″ was obtained after it was discovered on an online auction site. The seller’s story was a familiar one as he was an acquaintance of Ed from 1988 and only realized he had the tape when going through an old tape collection. The tape was “rescued” by a few fans who chipped in to secure the auction. The tape arrived as promised and its authenticity was verified from what was known at the time about the tape. The tape contains the original cassette, bi-fold cassette insert (j-card), and the original clear case.

Artwork

Summer 1998 Insert

The artwork is an incredible combination of artistic self-expression and creative contact information presentation. Ed created most of the inserts from his early demos, including a Bad Radio tape that was sold at local Tower Records stores. There isn’t much real estate on the visible area of a cassette insert – approximately six square inches. Since the cassette insert is bi-fold – that is, one-half the display is visible when the cassette case is closed, the other one-half visible when the case is opened – and the cassette is removed from the cradle. The whole insert can be seen by opening the tape case and unfolding the insert.

At first glance, the tape cover just looks like some white dots on a aqua blue background, with the familiar penmanship saying “Eddie Vedder” and then “Summer 1988″. Only when opened up does it become clear what the image is – it’s Eddie photocopying himself! The photocopy is Ed’s face pressed against the surface, evidenced by the bright dimple his nose makes. His right hand is open as his fingertips are in contact with the surface. His left arm is folded across his chest and – look! – it’s the same old calculator watch that he is photographed wearing from time to time.

Ed cleverly uses the display of the calculator watch to provide his contact information. The entry on the watch is entitled “THEDP”, and includes his phone number (Don’t email us for the phone number because it’s probably not his anymore, and anyway … that’s just creepy). It is not known exactly what “THEDP” means. Being capitalized, one might think it’s an acronym, but back in 1988, it’s possible that calculator watches only displayed letters in upper case. Looking at it from another angle, it’s the author’s guess that it is actually “The DP”, with “DP” a common acronym for the “Dawn Patrol”, a possible nod to Ed’s shift as overnight security at his job.

Goggle Boy

Another interesting aspect of his image is that he is wearing swimming goggles. These aren’t just any goggles, but the surfaces of the goggles are painted black so that you couldn’t see his eyes. These goggles would resurface in a few instances. In a San Diego Tribune article from 1995, it was described that Ed wore the same goggles to his Bad Radio audition at Flight 19 studios in San Diego in 1988. After responding to an ad for the singer position, Ed sent one of these demos to the current Bad Radio members, then showed up with them for the audition. Again, the goggles’ surfaces are painted black and at that audition Eddie sang … (drum roll) … “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones. The goggles were also used later by Ed for the tape for Bad Radio that was sold in local record stores.

Looking at this from one last angle – the practical standpoint – if you’re going to photocopy yourself and not close your eyes because of the blinding light, it’s probably a good thing that Ed wore goggles.

In the bottom left of the insert, you can Ed showing his roots by the top sliver of the logo of the Chicago Cubs baseball club on his shirt. Also, in the bottom left, it looks like a silhouette of a fedora-wearing figure that might be a picture of Indiana Jones or Freddy Krueger. It’s anyone’s guess. Could it be Ed himself? It looks strikingly similar to his look for promotional photos from the Yield press kit.

The writing on the tape is hand-written with a red pen and says:

All songs by E. Vedder © 1988
except for ‘One Step Up’

  • Crossroads
  • Believe You Me
  • Reggae Woman
Side A
Side B

The writing on the tape labels itself is written in pencil and reiterates all the important info such as his name, the name of the demo and the songs on each side. A subtle design touch is the addition of hand-written stripes through the reverse-printed “A” and “B” on the labels. Lastly, for the audio-nut, Ed indicates that the tape should not be played with Dolby Noise Reduction (N.R.), a common feature of consumer cassette decks that removes inherent low-level noise that tapes produce, though a feature that was not really embraced by the professional audio world for fear that it alters the sound of the original recording.

Recordings

For the recordings themselves, it is know that Ed owned the following equipment:

In order to get reverb without an effects processor, some vocals were recorded at work in a warehouse. The echo added by the concrete floors and high ceilings of a warehouse will give reverb to vocals and prevent vocals from sounding flat and unnatural. Guitars were probably recorded in his apartment. Lugging guitars and amps and cables in addition to the mics and the four-track was more of a hindrance than a benefit.

The drum machine and bass were recorded together first in mono and then mixed down to the first track. Guitars were recorded next on tracks two and three, leaving track four for vocals. For songs like “Crossroads” and “Reggae Woman”, the backing vocals and harmonies were overdubbed along with the lead vocal. Read more about this method of recording.

The Songs

“One Step Up” (4:55)

“One Step Up” is a Bruce Springsteen song from his 1987 record “Tunnel of Love”, his first effort without the E-Street band. The songwriting is classic Bruce, with the lyrics bemoaning a relationship where the bad times are having more of an effect than the good times, such as “Same old story, that’s a fact / One step up and two steps back”.

The recording is light years above average for a demo recording. As heard in his recent version of “Growin’ Up” from the July 14, 2003, show, Ed has a knack for covering Bruce. Ed’s version of “One Step Up” on this demo is a striking adaptation of the original, almost to the point of disbelief. Ed manages to show his own vocal traits and also invoke the characteristics and inflections that Bruce is famous for.

Listening to “One Step Up”, the following tracks are audible:

  • Acoustic Guitar
  • Lead Guitar – with heavy reverb or a slap-back echo effect
  • Bass
  • Keyboards – at least two tracks. One track maintains the underlying sustained notes characteristic to the original. Another track, possibly more, includes layered keyboards in the outtro.
  • Lead guitar
  • Lead Vocals
  • Drum machine – very close depiction of the original, with added effects including the “lightning crash” snare (popular in the 80s), a shaker and tambourine

Unlike common cover songs of major artists, Ed’s recording does not include many differences from the original. Two minor differences is that Ed does not include the female backing vocals on Bruce’s original, and Ed extends (positively) the layered outro.

“One Step Up” differs in sound quality from the other three songs on this tape because it was apparently recorded at a friend’s studio in Chicago. This is clearly heard by the distinct separation of the instruments and the intricate orchestration of the keyboards. If Ed recorded the guitar and keyboards for this himself, then more power to him, though it does sound different in style from the other songs.

“Crossroads” (4:38)

“Crossroads” is a well-crafted original with obvious nods to U2 and Pete Townshend, with an ’80s rock feel. The song is driven by a stutter-step rhythm and the guitar-emulating-bagpipes sound of “War”-era U2. The chorus surges with grand and spacious chords with that classic Fender Telecaster glory where you can almost imagine the visual accompaniment of Townshend style windmills. The depicts a character who frequently comes to his own “Crossroads” on such a routine basis, “Crossroads / This is my language / Leave me to my own”. This song appears on both Ed demos, has been widely bootlegged and continued to be played when Ed joined Bad Radio.

Listening to “Crossroads”, the following tracks are audible:

  • Drum machine – complete with tambourine and wooden block samples
  • Bass – the bass sounds like it was recorded on a keyboard
  • Electric Guitar 1 – sticcato picking style
  • Electric Guitar 2 – chords that are distorted, lush and full
  • Lead Vocals
  • Vocal overdubs – harmony

The structure of the song is very complex. Programming a drum machine is not an easy thing and requires considerable time and effort, even with modern-day amenities such as computer interfaces. This song has distinct drum patterns during the verses, bridges and choruses, as well as the intros, outtros and transitions between all these parts. The rhythm is driving throughout the entire song, and there are very intricate keyboard breaks including the intro and a stop-in-your-tracks break in the middle of the song.

“Believe You Me” (3:44)

“Believe You Me” is one of the most known songs of Ed’s pre-Pearl Jam career. It is highly bootlegged and recorded on both of Ed’s solo demos and well as becoming a Bad Radio staple. The song is written in the style of “Better Man” where a soft intro and simple melody grow to end in a powerful mix of band energy. On a very interesting hand-written lyric sheet of “Believe You Me”, Ed wrote emphatically “This is not a religious song”, clearly not wanting his lyrics to be interpreted as slanted. The lyrics serve as a premonition for many of Ed’s modern day advice on stage in regards to politics, policital rallys, elections and encouraging people to exhibit their beliefs, such as “It don’t matter what / Only matters when / The time has come”.

Listening to “Believe You Me”, the following tracks are audible:

  • Drum machine
  • Guitar – either one track mono and doubled, or two separately recorded tracks.
  • Bass – a real bass guitar this time
  • Vocals

The recording isn’t as great as the first two tracks and at points the bass guitar simply dominates. Again, when you don’t have the luxiry of a recording studio, some things get sacrificed like instrument levels, spacing and compression (the good kind, not the mp3 kind).

“Reggae Woman” (5:35)

“Reggae Woman” is “Ed Does Reggae” in a nutshell. The song, aside from the obvious lyrics and vocal stylings, pays homage to reggae in the way The Police masked their reggae stylings in the early 1980s. Reggae was a huge influence on The Police and many British bands, and although The Police had their own sound, you can hear a huge reggae influence in most of their early records.

Listening to “Reggae Woman”, the following tracks are audible:

  • Guitar – reggae style (what else)
  • Drum machine – including bongos
  • Bass
  • Lead Vocals

The song runs pretty long, but maintains very high spirits and a good vibe throughout. Towards the end, there sounds like a lot of manual playing of the drum machine and the songs ends by practically collapsing with random notes of guitar and drum samples.

So how does it end?

If you want to measure this tape’s effectiveness as a demo, you’d have to give it an “A+”. Did Ed use it to showcase his songwriting and vocals with the intent of joining a band? Yes. Did it work? Of course! He auditioned and joined Bad Radio just a few months later in 1988. This demo and the one before it laid the foundation for becoming a world-renown and respected songwriter. After Ed left Bad Radio, Ed took Stone’s instrumentals and recorded his vocals over them, prepared a custom tape insert, sent the tape up to Seattle and blew away Jeff and Stone instantly. What happened after that? Well, you know the rest.


See something here you know something more about? Caught an error? Have some other early Ed Vedder or Pearl Jam demo you’d like to see written about here? Please email us and let us know! We’ll post the updates right here.


References

John Reynolds ( Twitter: @jjjrrr )
A New Jersey based programmer, John handles TFT’s programming and technical aspects. He also conceives and writes his share of TFT’s articles and sections. John’s first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 12, 1992.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Hugo Simões August 10, 2014 at 1:40 am

Amazing post! Wonderful, fantastic info. :) I’m an early PJ fan that is actually writting, composing, playing and recording an homemade album, pretty much the same way. :) Keep on!

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }