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Born Edward Louise Severson III in Evanston, IL on Dec. 23, 1964, Eddie Vedder was the son of Edward Severson, Jr., and Karen Lee Vedder, who divorced shortly after their son's birth. His mother subsequently married attorney Peter Mueller, whom Vedder was raised to believe was his biological father. Vedder's teenaged years were cut from the same cloth as so many creative types; his mother's marriage to Mueller collapsed shortly after the family relocated to San Diego, CA, and she soon returned to Illinois. Not wishing to change schools again, Vedder remained in California with his stepfather, whom he soon learned was not his biological parent. Sadly, he was unable to meet Severson, who died from multiple sclerosis shortly before his son's discovery. By his senior year, Vedder was living alone in his own apartment, supporting himself by working nights at a local drug store. The experience was marked by bouts of extreme loneliness, shyness and even despair, which Vedder combated through music. He had received his first guitar at the age of 12, and found great comfort in the songs of the Who's Pete Townshend, who had penned some of rock-n-roll's most poignant statements about teenaged alienation. Finally, the pressures of maintaining his grade average and his monthly bills proved too much, and Vedder dropped out of school to reunite with his mother in Chicago. There, he earned his GED and adopted her maiden name as his surname.
Vedder returned to California in 1984 with the goal of making his way in the music business. He fronted several San Diego area bands, including the alt-front act Bad Radio, but none of the groups ever progressed beyond the city's club scene. By 1990, he was working the night shift at a local gas station. But his tenure in the area music scene brought him in contact with drummer Jack Irons, who had spent some time with Los Angeles' Red Hot Chili Peppers. The pair became friends, and Irons passed along a demo tape from a Washington-based group in search of a vocalist. Vedder penned lyrics for the music on the tape and sent it to Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, both former members of the group Mother Love Bone, which had just lost its vocalist, Andrew Wood, from a heroin overdose. The pair invited Vedder to come to Seattle and contribute to a tribute project to Wood called Temple of the Dog, which also featured vocalist Chris Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron of Soundgarden. Vedder's powerful baritone and confessional lyrics won favor with the assembled musicians, and Gossard soon recruited him to provide vocals for a new group, initially called Mookie Blaylock, with Ament, guitarist Mike McCready and drummer Dave Krusen, who would soon be replaced by Matt Chamberlain and a rotating roster of percussion players.
After signing with Epic Records, the band changed their name to Pearl Jam and released their debut album, Ten (1991), which was followed that same year by the Temple of the Dog LP. Ten would take almost a year to achieve significant sales, during which time their fellow Seattle musicians Nirvana would transform the music industry with 1991's Nevermind. Though some critics and fans, as well as Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain, would dismiss Pearl Jam as a would-be classic rock band, the music-buying audience largely disagreed. Fueled by the strength of its Grammy-nominated single "Jeremy" and follow-ups "Alive" and "Evenflow," Ten would reach No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart while building a significant fan base through their intense live shows. By 1993, the band was gracing the cover of TIME, which placed Vedder, like Cobain, in the unwanted position of spokesperson for not only a scene, but also a generation. Though Vedder did not rail against the mainstream media's perception of him with the bitterness that Cobain employed, he did take measures to reduce the sheer amount of coverage he and his band would receive, including giving few interviews and refusing to shoot videos for new singles. They instead devoted their energies to touring and recording, which generated a string of well-received albums, beginning in 1993 with their sophomore record, Vs.. The record topped the Billboard 200 almost immediately after its release, and would net Grammy nominations for the songs "Daughter" and "Go."
The following year saw the band's third album, Vitalogy, also reach the top of the albums charts, while its lead single, "Spin the Black Circle," finally netted the band a Grammy. But 1994 was also marked by Pearl Jam's boycott of Ticketmaster over high ticket prices, which severely impacted their ability to promote the album through concerts. Though praised for their dedication to their fans, the self-imposed band came at an inopportune time for Pearl Jam, which began to experience a downward turn in their fortunes. Their fourth album, No Code (1996), plunged off the charts after its debut at the top spot, while its follow-up, Yield (1998), reached No. 2 before its swift descent. A surprise hit came in the form of "Last Kiss," a cover of a maudlin 1964 pop track about a fatal car crash that was recorded as a 1998 Christmas release for its fan club. Radio stations began playing the song in heavy rotation the following year, sending it to No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart, the highest position ever achieved by a Pearl Jam song.
The success of "Last Kiss" proved that while chart success was no longer an expected part of Pearl Jam's recorded output, the band had cultivated a loyal following on par with such acts as Phish or the Grateful Dead. The band soon released a staggering series of 72 official bootleg recordings of live shows, which set a record for most albums to debut on the Billboard 200 at the same time. A sixth studio album, Binaural (2000), reaped a Grammy nomination for the single "Grievance." In 2003, Pearl Jam received a Golden Globe nomination for "Man of the Hour," their contribution to the "Big Fish" (2003) soundtrack. After contributing guest vocals to songs for countless film projects, including "I Am Sam" (2001), "Body of War" (2007) and "Reign Over Me" (2007), Vedder stepped into the solo spotlight for the soundtrack to 2007's "Into the Wild." His folk-based material for the soundtrack won a 2008 Golden Globe and Grammy nomination for the single "Guaranteed." His first solo tour took place the same year, covering much of the United States and Canada. In 2009, Vedder reunited with Pearl Jam for their ninth album, Backspacer. Released through their own label, Monkeywrench Records, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, the first release to do so since 1996. It was soon followed by his first solo studio album, Ukelele Songs (2011), a stripped down collection of original and cover songs performed by Vedder on the titular instrument with minimal backing. The album broke into the Top 5 before generating a second solo tour.
By Paul Gaita