How Did Mookie Blaylock become Pearl Jam?

by Jessica Letkemann , John Reynolds on March 10, 2011

Neil Young + Kate Bush – Grandma Pearl = Pearl Jam

The New Name is…

Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam's first artwork

The band that formed around the nucleus of Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder may have come together and played its first show in October of 1990, but “Pearl Jam” was officially born on the same day that Jeff celebrated his 28th birthday — exactly 20 years ago today: March 10, 1991.

It was on that chilly pre-Spring day back at the tail end of the Gulf War that the guys told the world they’d shed the moniker “Mookie Blaylock” and donned the name “Pearl Jam”, announcing it on that day on DJ Damon Stewart’s “New Music Hour” radio show on KISW.  Around the same time (possibly giving the interview the next day), they also announced it in the Seattle music alt-monthly paper, The Rocket.

And no, it didn’t have anything to do with that made-up old tall tale Ed loved telling the press in the early days about his  “Grandma Pearl” and her hallucinogenic jam.

Use the player below to hear Eddie, Stone and Jeff with KISW’s Damon Stewart, March 10, 1991 or you can read the full transcript below.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Damon Stewart: New music guru Damon Stewart and some special guests here in the studio. A few months back we tried a “name the band” contest and well … let’s just go with this right now. (Break) Alright, here we are in the studio, they’re known as “Mookie Blaylock” but uh …

Jeff Ament: Not any more, we had some legal problems.

Damon Stewart: Some legal problems. Alright, Jeff, you wanna speak up and tell us what’s going on as far as “Mookie Blaylock”?

Jeff Ament: Well, we have a new name, and uh, maybe somebody else can let these people know about our new name.

Damon Stewart: Eddie, they’re looking at you.

Jeff Ament: I’ll be the transition guy

Eddie Vedder: Well, it actually wasn’t a legal (issue) … Mookie tried to take on all five of us at once (Jeff Ament: Meadowlands?) and kicked our butts. So the new name is … (pause) … Pearl Jam

Damon Stewart: Ok, so “Pearl Jam” the new name and you guys have a lot other stuff going on almost as we speak just getting underway. Correct?

Jeff Ament: Yeah, we’re going into the studio tomorrow to make our first album and we’ll have a single out in about six weeks, that will just be given out to everybody who wants it.

Damon Remembers

Click the Rhino above for more of TFT's articles celebrating 20 Years of Pearl Jam.

We caught up with Damon Stewart recently, to get his reflections on the moment 20 years ago when the band announced its name on his show.

TFT: Did you  think much about the name announcement at the time?

Damon Stewart: Yes…it doesn’t seem like it here, in this segment, but Ed explained the origins later in the interview. Plus, the new name had a ring to it. It’s funny to heat how I pronounced/enunciated “Pearl JAM.”

TFT: I know you had a lot of artists over the years come in and out, but was it unique to have Mookie Blayock / Pearl Jam come on air almost as they were being formed and blossom into this huge band?

Damon Stewart: For most of the bands I had in, yes, of course. But these guys had already established themselves with me and KISW via Mother Love Bone. It was a no brainer for both parties. It was unique in the sense that we all just knew this was something special. I’m lucky to have been a part of this amazing story, that continues to blossom, that is known as “Pearl Jam.” To do it on the airwaves of KISW, which was so influential to me growing up, made it that much more special. Thank You.

But why ‘Pearl Jam’?

Rocket, April 1991

Pearl Jam in The Rocket, April 1991

“We never really intended to keep Mookie Blaylock as a name. It wasn’t representative of the kind of music we play or of the vibe of the band” Jeff told writer Veronika Kalmar in the April 1991 issue of the Rocket, which hit the newsstands on March 25, just a couple of weeks after the interview took place at Seattle’s London Bridge studios, literally right as the TEN sessions began. Amusingly, the band’s first print interview as Pearl Jam finds the new players so fresh to the paper that Vedder’s name is spelled “Eddy” and drummer Dave gets his last name misspelled, “Crusin.”

It may have been Eddie Vedder who first said the name “Pearl Jam” publicly when he uttered it on Stewart’s radio show, but it was Ament — fittingly considering the date it was announced — who ultimately came up with PJ, partially inspired by a rock legend that would figure prominently in the band’s career.

“The first time I mentioned Pearl Jam [as a band name] was when Ed, Stone, and I were watching Sonic Youth play with Crazy Horse,” Jeff told Spin in 2001 about the February 22, 1991 Neil Young/Sonic Youth gig at New York’s Nassau Coliseum that the trio attended when in town to sign the new band’s record contract with Epic Records. “In the middle of Crazy Horse, Jeff continued, “I turned to Stone and said, ‘what about Pearl Jam?’”

As of their March 1, 1991 gig at the Off Ramp [see the handbill here], they were definitely still “Mookie Blaylock,” named after the New Jersey Nets basketball player whose name they adopted back in Oct. 1990 when they had to choose some kind of name to play their first show. A little more than a week later, they had entered London Bridge Studio to begin recording “Ten,” and they had decided on “Pearl Jam.”

“We had a list of words on a piece of paper that were around forever and ‘pearl’ was the word that I brought,” Jeff told Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt in an audio addenda to a 2006 feature. “And then I got it in my head that the name of the band had to be ‘Pearl Gaffa‘ because it was a word in a Kate Bush song ["Suspended in Gaffa"]. I didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded Germanic to me or something. It made ‘pearl’ sounded harder and sound weirder. It didn’t fly. So we were at a stalemate for a really long time. [Then] Stone and Ed and I came to New York to sign the contracts with Epic, and we found out that Neil Young was playing a show that night, and Social Distortion and Sonic Youth were opening that show. Social Distortion were on Epic at that point, so we asked if we could go see the show. It was during the ‘Arc’ tour. Us three went out to Nassau, and [Neil] played like three hours, nine songs. Every song a 15 or 20 minute jam, so that’s how ‘Jam’ got added on to it. It’s pretty cool that Neil Young had something to do with it.”

“Everybody loved ‘pearl,’” Jeff continued. “I think I got caught up in the idea that we had to have [two words]. I remember Andy [Wood, lead singer of Mother Love Bone] saying, at one point, that you couldn’t have a single word name. All the great bands had two words in the name.”

Thank You

A big thanks to former KISW DJ Damon Stewart! We’ll have more 1991 audio in the upcoming months.

Full Transcript: 3/10/91 KISW

Damon Stewart: New music guru Damon Stewart and some special guests here in the studio. A few months back we tried a “name the band” contest and well … let’s just go with this right now. (Break) Alright, here we are in the studio, they’re known as “Mookie Blaylock” but uh …

Jeff Ament: Not any more, we had some legal problems.

Damon Stewart: Some legal problems. Alright, Jeff, you wanna speak up and tell us what’s going on as far as “Mookie Blaylock”?

Jeff Ament: Well, we have a new name, and uh, maybe somebody else can let these people know about our new name.

Damon Stewart: Eddie, they’re looking at you.

Jeff Ament: I’ll be the transition guy

Eddie Vedder: Well, it actually wasn’t a legal (issue) … Mookie tried to take on all five of us at once (Jeff Ament: Meadowlands?) and kicked our butts. So the new name is … (pause) … Pearl Jam

Damon Stewart: Ok, so “Pearl Jam” the new name and you guys have a lot other stuff going on almost as we speak just getting underway. Correct?

Jeff Ament: Yeah, we’re going into the studio tomorrow to make our first album and we’ll have a single out in about six weeks, that will just be given out to everybody who wants it.

Damon Stewart: OK.

Jeff Ament: Containing three songs, “Alive”, new song called “Wash” and a cover of The Beatles’ “I’ve Got A Feeling” which was kind of a spontaneous …

Damon Stewart: In about a month, month and and a half, two months we’ll see that? (Jeff: Yeah, 6-8 weeks) Yeah, OK. We had an interesting letter come in here, Somebody requesting Mookie Blaylock, a girl named Patty Berger. You don’t know her do ya? Did you make her write this letter?

Jeff Ament: No, What’d she say?

Damon Stewart: Well, here’s how it goes, “Dear Damon Stewart, it seems that many of us out here in the listening world has (sic) suddenly become very attached to a band named “Mookie Blaylock”. Unfortunately as of yet they don’t have anything released that the general public can get a hold of and it doesn’t look like they have any upcoming shows, so I’m asking out of the kindness of your heart, that you play play play them. Take care, Patty Berger.” By the way guys, do you have any upcoming shows?

Jeff Ament: Not for a probably month and a half or so

Damon Stewart: Ok, so the next month and a half, two months we’ll see an EP released and some possible Pearl Jam shows.

Stone Gossard: Not an EP it’s just gonna be a cassette.

Damon Stewart: Just a cassette

Stone Gossard: A three-song cassette thing that you can get through the Love Bone fan club or …

Jeff Ament: … at shows. At the next show we play we’ll probably have copies to give to people.

Damon Stewart: That’d be cool. So, Patti and her friends can come out and hassle you guys for a tape

Jeff Ament: In april, early May …

Damon Stewart: OK. Late April or Early May, be on the lookout for Pearl Jam to do another live show and be on the lookout for their forthcoming cassingle release. This one’s called “Release”, It’s Pearl Jam on the KISW New Music Hour…

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.
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.

Leave a Comment