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The poignant “Black Gives Way to Blue”—which serves as the title track on the new Alice In Chains album—contains a guest appearance on the piano by none other than Elton John. We asked AIC guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell and Sir Elton to talk about how they joined forces on this tribute song for the band’s late singer, Layne Staley.

JERRY CANTRELL: “We were toward the end of recording the record, and I had demoed that particular song two different ways—with a piano track and without a piano track. It’s a really powerful and important song on the record, obviously. We decided to try it [with] a piano track, so we were trying to figure out who was going to play on it. And Baldy, a good friend of the band who had worked with Elton John before, was like, “Why don’t you call Elton?” And we laughed about that for a minute. I was like, “Yeah, right! I’m sure he’s plenty of other things to do than to come play on our song.” And he was like, “You never know unless you ask.” And I thought about that and I was like, ‘He’s absolutely right.’ Elton is a very important musical influence to all of us in varying degrees, and especially to me. My first album was Elton John’s Greatest Hits. And actually, we were reminded by Layne’s stepfather that Elton was his first concert, so it was all really appropriate. So I wrote [Elton] an e-mail and explained what his music meant to us, and that this song was for Layne. We sent him a demo, and he said it was beautiful and he’d love to play on it. In the studio he was really relaxed and gracious, and he’s got a great sense of humor. We were just trying to be cool: ‘Oh, yeah, no big deal.’ But we were excited. [Drummer Sean Kinney] and I had to walk out a couple of times to smoke cigarettes, like, ‘Holy s—, this is killer.’ It’s one of those highlights you can’t expect in life, and you’re lucky to get them once in a while. And that is one.”

ELTON JOHN: “I was kind of surprised that Alice in Chains would ask me to do anything. I never thought I’d play on an Alice in Chains record. When I heard the song I really wanted to do it. I liked the fact that it was so beautiful and very simple. They had a great idea of what they wanted me to do on it and it turned out great.”

Photo Credit: Alice in Chains: James Minchin; Elton John: Brian Hineline/Retna Ltd.

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