The “Momma-Son” Tape – Pearl Jam Music Is Born

by John Reynolds , Jessica Letkemann , Kathy Davis on September 13, 2010

The basic story of Pearl Jam’s introduction to each other is a familiar one that’s been told over and over again since Ten was made.  With some riffs, Stone Gossard brings together musical companion Jeff Ament, and old friend Mike McCready, and borrows uber-drummer Matt Cameron, and they record some instrumental demos. These demos then fall into the hands of former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons. Jack passes the tape along to a friend named Eddie Vedder, a San Diego surfer and singer without a band, and Eddie records some songs in a day. This tape – containing the “Momma-Son” songs – is snail-mailed back to Stone and Jeff. The three songs on the tape become the very first Pearl Jam songs. And here were are today.

Welcome to the first TwoFeetThick.com article in a series celebrating Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary as a band.  Read on as we discuss the first three songs developed by the band, the curious markings on the cassette sent by Ed to Stone and Jeff, and some of the earliest connections between some musicians in Seattle and that surfer in San Diego.

A Story Out of Those Three Songs

Momma-Son Cassette and Case

Momma-Son Cassette and Case

Very few people except for the band and some lucky few close to them have ever seen the actual tape Ed sent Stone and Jeff. But thanks to the band, a reproduction of the Momma-Son cassette was included in the Ten Special Edition re-issue box set last year (photo, right).  This special gift to fans actually showcases Ed’s four-track recorder process. He had to have dubbed Stone’s instrumental demos to another cassette first. Then, using his four-track, he would record his vocals on another track. With the instrumentals and his vocals, he would then make a 2-track copy that could be played on any stereo. The cassette and J-Card he sent to Stone and Jeff deserve further examination, but let’s take a look at the songs first.

From Stone’s instrumental demos, Eddie transformed three of these into what is now known as the “Momma-Son Trilogy.” During the June 18, 1992, concert in Zurich, Switzerland, Pearl Jam played the three songs together, with Ed introducing them as  “I don’t wanna ruin any interpretations of the songs that you have, but it’s about incest and it’s about murder and all those good things. And if you can picture it in your mind, the third song takes place in a jail cell so this is our own little mini-opera”.

  • Alive – originally from Stone’s demo “Dollar Short” – listen
  • Footsteps – originally from Stone’s demo “Times of Trouble” – listen
  • Once – originally from Stone’s demo “Agytian Crave” – listen

A Strong Case

Momma-Son Cassette

Momma-Son Cassette

Throughout Ed’s early years as a musician, his demos would be made not from new blank tapes, but often from prerecorded cassettes of other artists’ actual albums that he would record over. In this case, Eddie commandeered an advance cassette of a Merle Haggard best-of compilation called “Greatest Hits Of The 80s” (which would come out Oct. 5,1990), recorded over it, slathered it with Wite-out and labeled it “For Stone + Jeff.” Appropriately, Ed left one track name visible, “A Friend in California.” With his creativity flowing, he also meticulously whited-out the album information below the tape view, only leaving the letters “E-D-D-I-E” visible.

The J-Card is similar to another demo Ed made in the Summer of 1988.  The outside section of the j-card contains the Ed’s face sporting goggles, and scanning his face on a photo-copier. The hand-drawn graphic on the inside part of the J-Card contains the date of September 13 (a Thursday) and a curious drawing of four squiggly objects (meteors? sperm?) being drawn to a spiral object (black hole? egg?)

Like In Rolling Stone

After sending this demo to Jeff in Seattle, Ed’s next encounter with Stone and Jeff didn’t happen in person, but in print:

While [at the beach], he bumped into a friend who had the latest issue of Rolling Stone, and in it was an item about Stone and Jeff’s search for a singer. Eddie examined the magazine. He said nothing to his friend, but the article left him feeling self-conscious about the tape he’d just put in the mail. “It was like, ‘Aw, fuck – those are the Love Bone guys right there, I should’ve paid more attention to that tape,’” he recalled, laughing. “You know, you’d think I would’ve written a better hook, something about ‘Meet you on Saturday night.’” 1

That particular issue of Rolling Stone, dated September 20, 1990  (but on stands earlier), is below.

Rolling Stone, September 1990, with Mother Love Bone

Rolling Stone, September 1990, with Mother Love Bone

Reprint of  the ‘Mother Love Bone’ section from the article “Three of Seattle’s Finest”, Rolling Stone magazine, September 20, 1990 (shown above):

With a Quarter-million-dollar deal with PolyGram and a superb debut album called Apple just arriving in the stores, Seattle’s Mother Love Bone has all the makings of a super-star band but one: The group doesn’t exist. Lead singer Andrew Wood died March 19th of a heroin overdose, and the band’s grand entrance – preceded only by an EP on the PolyGram-distributed label Stardog – instead serves as its last hurrah.

Ironically, Mother Love Bone’s deal with PolyGram – which came after the band had played fewer than ten shows – caused some friction in Seattle’s otherwise close music scene, with the local press referring to the group members as “bonus babies” and other musicians enviously looking on. “We weren’t going after the money,” says manager Kelly Curtis. “We felt everyone was getting the wrong message.”

So how did that message get out? Maybe the night the band played Seattle’s Central Tavern to an audience full of enthusiastic local fans and many well–known industry A&R executives. “All those labels showing up,” Curtis says, “it was probably the first time there had been six or seven labels in the same room in Seattle ever. And they were _heavyweights_.”

So what happens now? Bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist stone Gossard have already recorded twelve instrumental tracks, and while promoting Apple in the coming weeks, they will be scouting additional talent for an entirely new group. “We spent so much time together,” Ament says of Mother Love Bone, “that to go out and find another singer who looked like Andy and maybe sang a little bit like Andy would just be prostitution. No matter how much I want to go out and play, and how much I love the songs I wrote, it just wouldn’t be right” – D.D.

So that is the thread of events that recount the creation of the three songs that started it all – the music on the “Momma-Son” Tape.  It’s nothing short of amazing that Stone and Jeff were looking for a band while Ed was in post-Bad Radio limbo, and that their worlds collided through one synergistic happenstance after another. So many  components had to click into place and so many serendipitous things had to happen in order to allow the musical inception of the band that we now know as Pearl Jam. But they did happen, and there’s a tape to prove it.

Stay tuned for future coverage in celebration of Pearl Jam’s 20th Year.

1 -  Excerpt from Kim Neely’s book, Five Against Onereturn to where I was


gremmieThe MP3s of Alive, Footsteps and Once are brought to you by the excellent Gremmie.net. Gremmie.net was developed for the purpose of bringing hard to find and out of print Pearl Jam music to the fan community, and hosts a great collection of rare material and B-sides.

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.
Jessica Letkemann ( Twitter: @Letkemann )
TFT co-editor Jessica Letkemann is a New York based digital music journalist & editor. She's currently VP & Editor-In-Chief of Digital at Fuse Media (Fuse.tv) and was previously managing editor of Billboard.com. She has also been on staff at Spin and Premiere magazines. Her first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 2, 1992.
Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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