Pearl Jam are getting ready to release their new album Lightning Bolt on October 14. Aside from drummer Matt Cameron, all members have been in the band since the start in 1990. Along with Stone Gossard, Mike McCready takes care of all guitar duties in Pearl Jam. For the most part, the roles are pretty clear-cut, with Gossard being the rhythm guitarist focusing on song writing, while McCready does most of the lead and solo work. Aside from Pearl Jam, McCready has been active in the classic Soundgarden/Pearl Jam spin-off tribute to Andrew Wood from Mother Love Bone — Temple of the Dog, as well as the grunge “supergroup” Mad Season along with the late Layne Staley of Alice in Chains. Mike has been known to use quite a few Gibson guitars, both on stage and in the studio. His collection includes a Gibson EDS-1275 Double Neck, a ’57 Les Paul Special, and a ’59 Les Paul Junior. According to a recent interview with Premierguitar, his favorite guitar is a ’59 Les Paul, that he calls “the King of Kings.” Here we list McCready’s ten best guitar solos, focusing solely on studio recordings this time around.
It might seem like an obvious choice, but Mike McCready’s 2-minute solo in “Alive” is one of the most inspiring pieces of music he’s ever recorded. It’s got it all - starting out rather slow, it adds flourishes of wah-wah, and some fast licks as the song builds to the finale. As with most of Mike’s solos it’s very organic. He rarely goes for many effects aside from the wah-wah pedal, letting his incredible tone and sense of melody do the talking instead. Check out Mike’s awesome solo during a live performance of the song:
2. “Yellow Ledbetter”
This B-side from Pearl Jam’s Ten sessions has grown to become a live favorite. It is often played as the last song of the night. McCready readily admits to being heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix in terms of tone and style for “Yellow Ledbetter.” The solo came in at number 95 on Guitar World’s “100 Greatest Guitar Solos” in 2007. It’s a very delicate solo, much like the song itself. McCready plays it with heavy overdrive, and throughout he appear to be on the verge of rockstar guitar-hero mode, but he reins in the music, and flavor the licks with some nice whammy-bends a la Hendrix.
Pearl Jam’s sophomore release Vs. starts out with what might be McCready’s fastest solo to date. Matching the frantic pace of the song, Mike plays insanely fast licks that are accentuated by his wah -wah pedal. Pearl Jam wanted to prove that they weren’t just a one-trick pony with Vs. and McCready made it clear once and for all that he certainly had quite a few tricks up his sleeve.
4. "Reach Down"
There is no way we could pass on this mammoth of a song from the Temple of the Dog album. The song is over eleven minutes of guitar goodness, and great vocals from Chris Cornell. McCready really gets to shine, since the entire song is basically one long jam.
5. “Even Flow”
Mike McCready is far too modest. This is what he had to say about the excellent solo in “Even Flow” in an interview with Guitar School back in 1995: “That's me pretending to be Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a feeble attempt at that. Stone (Gossard, Pearl Jam guitarist) wrote the riff and song; I think it's a D tuning. I just followed him in a regular pattern. I tried to steal everything I know from Stevie Ray Vaughan and put it into that song. A blatant rip-off. A tribute rip-off, if you will!”
6. “Wake Up”
There’s not all that many solos in McCready’s work with Mad Season, but the opening track from Above is one of few exceptions. It’s interesting how different Mike’s work with Mad Season sounds compared to Pearl Jam. The music is darker, no doubt thanks in part to Layne Staley. The wah-wah is still there and you can hear that it is a McCready solo, with the addition of reverb or a slight delay halfway through the solo.
7. "Severed Hand"
Taken from the Pearl Jam album, McCready proves he still got the chops. Even though the band have ratcheted down the amount of solos since the time of Ten and Vs., Mike pulls off a frantic solo, with fast licks and wah-wah.
8. "Call Me A Dog"
There is so much emotion in the solo for this Temple of the Dog song. McCready echo the feel from Cornell's haunting lyrics, using bends and vibrato to great effect.
9. “Amongst The Waves”
Mike’s solo on “Amongst The Waves” from Pearl Jam’s latest studio effort, 2009’s Backspacer rocks out just as much as anything he’s ever done. McCready’s tone for this one is very full-bodied. Dare we guess it’s a Les Paul with the pickup switch in the neck position? He’s certainly using one in this clip:
10. “Artificial Red”
McCready proved that he can play the blues as well on “Artificial Red” from Mad Season’s Above. This six minute slow blues has McCready doing call-and-answer licks with Staley, as well as a solo in the same vein as Hendrix’ “Voodoo Chile”. Check out the rare footage below of McCready playing the solo at a Mad Season show in 1995: