Rooster (song)

"Rooster" is a song by the American rock band Alice in Chains, featured on their second studio album, Dirt (1992). The song was released as the fourth single from the album in 1993. It is the fifth song on the original pressing of the album and sixth on others. "Rooster" spent 20 weeks on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and peaked at No. 7.[4] The song was included on the live album Unplugged (1996) and the compilation albums Music Bank (1999), Greatest Hits (2001), and The Essential Alice in Chains (2006). A demo version of the song was also included on Music Bank. Cantrell would later name his music publishing company as Rooster's Son Publishing.[5][6]

Single by Alice in Chains
from the album Dirt
ReleasedFebruary 22, 1993 (CD Single)[1]
FormatCD, cassette, vinyl
RecordedMarch–May 1992
Songwriter(s)Jerry Cantrell
Producer(s)Dave Jerden
Alice in Chains singles chronology
"Angry Chair"
"What the Hell Have I"

Origin and recordingEdit

"Rooster" was recorded at Eldorado Studios on Los Angeles' Sunset Boulevard, co-produced by Alice in Chains with Dave Jerden.[7]

In the liner notes of 1999's Music Bank box set collection, songwriter Jerry Cantrell said of the song: "I think there's some darts on the demo that maybe we didn't get here (on Dirt), but this has something all of its own... quality, for one thing."[8]


This song was written by Alice in Chains guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell for his father, Jerry Cantrell Sr., who served with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. "Rooster" was a childhood nickname given to Cantrell Sr. by his great-grandfather, because of his perceived "cocky" attitude and his hair, which used to stick up on top of his head like a rooster's comb.[7][9]

The "Rooster" nickname is often mistakenly attributed to a reference to men carrying the M60 machine gun ("Walking tall machine gun men"), the muzzle flash from which makes an outline or pattern reminiscent of a rooster's tail. It is also often mistakenly attributed to the 101st Airborne Division - in which Cantrell's father served - who wore shoulder sleeve insignia on their arms featuring a bald eagle. As there are no bald eagles in Vietnam, the closest thing to which the Vietnamese could draw a comparison was the chicken, thus leading to the pejorative "chicken men."[10]

Cantrell wrote the song while living at Chris Cornell and Susan Silver's house in Seattle at the start of 1991.[11][7] Silver is Alice in Chains' manager.[7] Alone, late at night, Cantrell kept thinking about his father and the psychological scars from his time in the Vietnam War that contributed to the breakdown of his family.[7] Cantrell wrote the lyrics from the standpoint of his father.[12]

In the liner notes of 1999's Music Bank box set collection, Jerry Cantrell said of the song:

It was the start of the healing process between my Dad and I from all that damage that Vietnam caused. This was all my perception of his experiences out there. The first time I ever heard him talk about it was when we made the video and he did a 45-minute interview with Mark Pellington and I was amazed he did it. He was totally cool, totally calm, accepted it all and had a good time doing it. It even brought him to the point of tears. It was beautiful. He said it was a weird experience, a sad experience and he hoped that nobody else had to go through it.[8]

In a 1992 interview with Guitar for the Practicing Musician magazine, in response to the question "Do you feel you communicated with [your father] with this song?", Cantrell responded:

Yeah. He's heard this song. He's only seen us play once, and I played this song for him when we were in this club opening for Iggy Pop. I'll never forget it. He was standing in the back and he heard all the words and stuff. Of course, I was never in Vietnam and he won't talk about it, but when I wrote this it felt these were things he might have felt or thought. And I remember when we played it he was back by the soundboard and I could see him. He was back there with his big gray Stetson and his cowboy boots — he's a total Oklahoma man — and at the end, he took his hat off and just held it in the air. And he was crying the whole time. This song means a lot to me. A lot.[13]

Cantrell said of the song in a 2006 interview with Team Rock:

That experience in Vietnam changed him [his father] forever, and it certainly had an effect on our family, so I guess it was a defining moment in my life, too. He didn’t walk out on us. We left him. It was an environment that wasn’t good for anyone, so we took off to live with my grandmother in Washington, and that’s where I went to school. I didn’t have a lot of my father around, but I started thinking about him a lot during that period. I certainly had resentments, as any young person does in a situation where a parent isn’t around or a family is split. But on Rooster, I was trying to think about his side of it – what he might have gone through. To be honest, I didn’t really sit down intending to do any of that; it just kinda came out. But that’s the great thing about music – sometimes it can reach deeper than you ever would in a conversation with anybody. It’s more of a forum to dig deeper. It felt like a major achievement for me as a young writer. When I first played it to my father, I asked him if I’d got close to where he might have been emotionally or mentally in that situation. And he told me: ‘You got too close – you hit it on the head'. It meant a lot to him that I wrote it. It brought us closer. It was good for me in the long-run and it was good for him, too.[7]

Release and receptionEdit

"Rooster" was released as a single in February 1993.[1] It spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and peaked at No. 7.[4]

Ned Raggett of Allmusic said that the song "[keeps] both the volume and the tenderness in play while tackling a slightly unexpected subject" and that it "alternates between almost dreamy verses, and surging, blasting choruses."[14]

Music videoEdit

The music video for "Rooster" was released in February 1993,[15] and was directed by Mark Pellington. The music video featured real Vietnam War documentary/news footage as well as some very realistic, graphically re-enacted combat scenes. Jerry Cantrell's father was a consultant on the video, as it explores Cantrell Jr.'s interpretation of his father's war experience.[16]

The "Rooster" character (played by James Elliott), was based on Alice in Chains' guitarist/vocalist, Jerry Cantrell's father (Jerry Cantrell Sr.), whose lifelong nickname was "Rooster." Cantrell Sr. served two combat tours in Vietnam, and also appears in the music video talking about his war experiences.[17] Cantrell Sr.'s scenes were filmed on what was then Cantrell's great uncle's property and is now the site of Jerry Cantrell's family ranch in Atoka, Oklahoma. Cantrell Sr.'s scenes, filmed in stark black & white, show him hunting in the woods as an older man, while having "flashback" memories of his youthful Vietnam combat experiences (which are shot in full color). The uncut (more graphic) version of the video is available on the home video release Music Bank: The Videos. "Rooster" was the last music video to feature original bass player Mike Starr, who is pictured on the cover of the single.

The intense combat scenes for the video were actually filmed on location in Angeles National Forest in January 1993 and have been favorably compared to Oliver Stone's classic Vietnam War film Platoon. VN Veteran and Military Technical Advisor Dale Dye served as advisor on both the "Rooster" video and on Platoon, among many other projects in Hollywood. Actor James Elliott (Southland, Entourage, Mafia II, etc.) portrayed the title role of "Rooster", the Team Leader of a Long Range Recon Patrol (LRRPs) in the combat scenes. Elliott, who is right-handed, had to learn how to handle multiple combat weapons left handed for the production in order to match the real Cantrell Sr.'s footage (Cantrell Sr. is left handed and holds his knife/rifle that way in the video). The military weapons and gear used and worn by the actors in the video are not all period-authentic. The M16A2 is used (which was not used until the 1980s), as well as the Nomex flight gloves which were not used until well into the Vietnam War. Dale Dye provided Elliott with some of his own personal combat gear which Dye had actually worn during multiple tours in Vietnam, including his military watch and map light, among other items.[citation needed]

Other actors who appear in the video include Casey Pieretti (well known real-life amputee actor/stunt performer); and popular character actor Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite, Lost, etc.). Pieretti, who walks/runs extremely well with a prosthetic leg, performed a very graphic and difficult scene in which his leg was "blown off" by a land mine and Elliott's "Rooster" character offers life-saving medical aid on the battlefield. Jon Gries's character is shown being shot in the chest during intense combat with North Vietnamese infantry troops and dying in the arms of Elliott's "Rooster" character in the final emotionally charged combat scenes of the video. Also featured are scenes of a group of children playing with bubbles.

Real life combat veterans have often commented about how moving and realistic these scenes were, yet MTV initially pulled the controversial video from rotation due to complaints about the graphic nature of the war scenes. This upset the band a great deal, especially Jerry Cantrell, who has stated how much of a foolish double standard existed at the time, as "Rooster" simply portrayed actual history with realism, yet MTV routinely showed gangsta rap and other violent videos in which gratuitous violence/death/killing was portrayed and clearly glorified.[citation needed] At the time the video was also the longest music video ever aired in full on MTV (running approximately 7 minutes long).[citation needed]

Live performancesEdit

Cantrell's father joined Alice in Chains during "Rooster" on stage for the October 19, 2007, show in Tulsa, at Cain's Ballroom. Alice in Chains performed an acoustic version of "Rooster" for its appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1996 and the song was included on the Unplugged live album and home video release. Live performances of the song can also be found on the "Heaven Beside You" single, the compilation album Nothing Safe: Best of the Box, and the live album Live.

In the Primus DVD Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People, Alice in Chains are seen playing the song live, with Les Claypool joining the band on stage dressed in a chicken suit. Jerry Cantrell reacts by throwing a bottle at Claypool and chasing him off the stage.

Jerry Cantrell often introduces his father on stage before playing the song at Alice in Chains' concerts.[18][19][20]

Track listingEdit

3."It Ain't Like That" (from Facelift)4:37
Australian release
2."Dam That River"3:10


Chart positionsEdit

Chart (1993) Peak
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[21] 7

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Alice In Chains Rooster US Promo CD single (CD5 / 5")". Archived from the original on March 15, 2018. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  2. ^ Robinson, Joe. "Top 11 Metal Albums of the 1990s". Loudwire.
  3. ^ Estates, Collin (17 Oct 2018). "Unexpectedly chart-topping Alice in Chains coming to Pikes Peak Center". Colorado Springs Independent. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Alice in Chains "Rooster" Chart History – Mainstream Rock". Billboard. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  5. ^ Liner notes, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. Capitol. 2013.
  6. ^ Liner notes, Rainier Fog. BMG. 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Yates, Henry (November 15, 2006). "Alice In Chains: the story behind Rooster". Team Rock. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  8. ^ a b Liner notes, Music Bank box set. 1999.
  9. ^ "Alice In Chains - Digging Dirt". RIP Magazine. Archived from the original on October 14, 2003. Retrieved 2014-03-31.
  10. ^ Chicken Men
  11. ^ "Jerry Cantrell Wrote Alice in Chains' "Rooster" at Chris Cornell and Susan Silver's House". YouTube. November 12, 2017.
  12. ^ "Jerry Cantrell Reflects on Writing Alice In Chains' "Rooster" For His Father". YouTube. January 26, 2018.
  13. ^ Garbarini, Vic (1992-11-01). "The "Chungemaster" of Alice In Chains". Guitar for the Practicing Musician. Archived from the original on 2004-10-20.
  14. ^ Raggett, Ned. "Rooster". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-02-27.
  15. ^ "The Clip List" (PDF). Billboard. February 20, 1993. p. 46. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  16. ^ "Green Jello Vid Sticks; Thrilling MTV Moments" (PDF). Billboard. February 27, 1993. p. 45. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  17. ^ Prato, Greg (June 13, 2012). "Rooster". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  18. ^ "Alice In Chains - Jerry Cantrell's dad". YouTube.
  19. ^ "Rockstar Uproar "The Rooster Story"". YouTube.
  20. ^ "Watch Alice In Chains Perform with the real 'Rooster' Jerry Cantrell's Father". WAAF. August 20, 2015.
  21. ^ "Alice in Chains Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved November 6, 2016.

External linksEdit