Pearl Jam are an iconic rock band. The quintet, formed in Seattle, Washington in 1990, boasts a best-known lineup comprised of frontman Eddie Vedder, rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard, lead guitarist Mike McCready, bassist Stone Gossard and Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron. Cultivating a powerful and heady form of hard rock, Pearl Jam’s sound is unmistakable.
The band has seen members come and go over the years, with drummers Dave Krusen, Jack Irons, Dave Abbruzzese and Matt Chamberlain all holding the position before Cameron entered the fold in 1998. Keyboardist Boom Gaspar also joined the band in a touring and session capacity in 2002, adding an extra edge to their sound.
One of the best selling rock acts of the 1990s, Pearl Jam’s influence is colossal, and they’ve inspired everyone from Silverchair to The Strokes. Their hard-rocking style continues to impress today, over 30 years since they broke onto the scene.
Famously, Pearl Jam were formed after Gossard and Ament’s previous band, the legendary Mother Love Bone, split in the wake of frontman Andrew Wood’s fatal heroin overdose in 1990. Many of Mother Love Bone’s characteristics were carried over to Pearl Jam, instilling the new band with the energy and passion of the now-defunct alternative metal pioneers.
Pearl Jam’s most notable release is their 1991 debut, Ten, which came as part of the tidal wave of ‘grunge’ that took the world by storm that year. It was such a success that it stayed on the chart for nearly five years, and today it is certified as 13x platinum in the US.
The band would then continue on this stellar run in the ’90s, with their sophomore effort, 1993’s Vs. setting the record for the most copies of an album sold in its first week of release. Their third effort, 1994’s Vitalogy, also broke records, becoming the second-fastest selling CD in history at the time.
Interestingly, even though Pearl Jam were always lumped in with the grunge scene due to their position as one of Seattle’s most prominent bands, one would argue that, musically, they weren’t really grunge at all. If anything, there’s an argument to be made that Vedder’s dark and often challenging lyrics were what actually placed them in the grunge category. However, when you listen to the music of Pearl Jam, it’s clear that they’re a hard rock band, taking cues from the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who and Neil Young.
Clearly, it was Led Zeppelin who had the biggest impact on Pearl Jam’s style, and when you listen to the powerful, blues-inspired licks of McCready, Gossard and Ament, you can hear this clearly. Ament even told Bass Player in 2020: “Stone was always writing from kind of a Zeppelin angle”.
Duly, it won’t surprise you to heed that Ament, the purveyor of Pearl Jam’s meaty basslines, is a huge Led Zeppelin fan, taking his cues from Led Zeppelin’s master of the four-string, John Paul Jones. During a 2021 interview with SPIN, Ament listed Zeppelin’s 1975 record, Physical Graffiti as one of the five albums he can’t live without.
Ament explained: “Only because it’s two records, cuz they did not make a bad record. I’d be happy with any one of them. ‘In the Light’ and ‘Kashmir’ (are) both otherworldly, which would be needed on the desert island”.
It makes a lot of sense that Pearl Jam were inspired by Led Zeppelin and that bassist Jeff Ament takes many artistic cues from them. Extending this connection, there’s also room for an analogy to be drawn between both bands, with Pearl Jam being Led Zeppelin’s contemporary successor. Hard-rocking, blues-inspired, with a focus on groove, the similarities are stark.