I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was a 15-year-old sophomore and couldn't drive yet, so I convinced my neighbor to drop off my buddy and me to catch our new favorite band, Stone Temple Pilots. The band was opening for an act we'd never heard of called the Butthole Surfers at a venue (Mesa Amphitheatre) in a city we'd never visited.
Now, when I say favorite new band, we weren't kidding around. We showed up to the venue around noon or some ridiculous time in the early afternoon so we could be in the front row. When we arrived, we were surprised to find that there wasn't a single person in line yet, so we were totally stoked that we'd be the first into the show.
Hours passed, and we were still the only people in line. Eventually, one of us had to find a bathroom. We walked next door to the Mesa Sheraton Hotel, and while I waited for my buddy outside, I glanced over to the right and noticed a guy with bright red hair hanging at the pool. I knew right away that it was Scott Weiland.
At the time, Scott didn't use his first name, going by his last name only. This was about the time that hotel security decided to pay us a visit and kicked us out of the building. As we started walking back toward the venue, we realized it would be our only chance to meet the group, so we sneaked back in. So we walked into the pool area with our heads down because we were so nervous. But we did a bad job hiding — the band noticed us right away. My buddy was wearing an STP shirt and I was wearing a Guns N' Roses shirt.
Guitarist Dean DeLeo immediately said "nice shirt" to my friend and engaged us. Weiland was more than happy to chat with a couple kids who were as excited about his debut record, Core, as he was. The whole band was hanging at the pool except bassist Robert DeLeo. A few minutes later, our friendly security friend showed back up and tried to give us the business when Dean cut him off and said, "These guys are with us." They asked us if we wanted them to sign something, but we didn't have anything with us because we weren't expecting to meet our new-found heroes. The best thing we could come up with was having them sign a couple of napkins for us. After they signed the napkins, we said our goodbyes and headed back to the front of the line.
We were the first people through the door after hours of waiting at the gates. We kept our signed napkins in our pockets, and we were ready to sing our hearts out.
About 10 minutes before the band hit the stage, I saw a man enter the barricade and walk right in front of us. I thought to myself, "This sucks. We've been here all day waiting to be this close and this guy just walks right in and has a better spot than us." Then the guy pulled out his camera and introduced himself and let us know he was there to shoot the first few songs of their set and that he was a professional photographer. At that moment, I realized I wanted to be a concert photographer. Seeing a show and feeling the energy of a band you love is an incredible feeling, but photographing seemed like the best of both worlds.
I continued to follow STP as they evolved musically, trading in their heavy grunge tones for power pop-laced riffs with a glam-infused Bowie charm. I became a concert photographer, journalist, and musician. As the years passed, the band got bigger and so did Scott's love for heroin, which eventually landed him behind bars. At the time, I worried we might lose Scott the same way that we lost Kurt Cobain.
During my senior year of high school, I took a photography class and started shooting local acts. I formed my first band right before graduation. After Weiland's on-and-off-again relationship with STP, he landed in Velvet Revolver with members of Guns N' Roses. It felt surreal standing right in front of Weiland and the rest of the band with a camera and thinking how much the teenage version of me would have lost his shit.
A couple of months later, Velvet Revolver played a Super Bowl party in Scottsdale, and I was able to shoot the band again. By this time, tensions were already riding high within the band. When Weiland showed up for the gig, you could see that one of his teeth had been knocked out, and there were rumors that he had gotten in a bar fight the night before and lost a tooth. This was also the first time that I met Slash, Duff, and Matt Sorum. Shortly after, Velvet Revolver announced they had parted ways with Weiland.
In 2008, Weiland reunited with STP for a second time. I was on tour as a photographer with Ashes Divide at Rock on the Range in Ohio, where STP would play its first reunion show. The band was brilliant, and once again, it seemed Weiland was ready to start a new chapter. By the time the tour hit Phoenix, things had changed drastically. I was on assignment for the Arizona Republic to shoot and review the show at the Dodge Theatre, and it was a complete disaster of a performance.
The lengthy set opened with "Big Empty," from The Crow soundtrack. Dressed in a gray suit, Weiland stumbled around the stage and fell into drummer Eric Kretz's drum kit, which confirmed my thought that he was now officially the Amy Winehouse of rock 'n' roll. When he did sing, he often forgot words or changed them. "Conversations Kill" quickly became "Masturbation Kills."
The singer's incoherent rants in between songs were cut off by his band members' starting the next song to stop the bleeding. The DeLeo brothers looked mortified as they ripped through classics like "Wicked Garden," "Big Bang Baby," and "Vasoline."
The review went viral, and parts of it were quoted by the New York Post in a preview for the band's NYC date.
The next time I saw Weiland, it was 2013 and he was embarking on a solo tour. When he came through Phoenix, my band theATTITUDE was invited by promotors to open at the Marquee Theatre.
I remember how crazy it was for me thinking back to being that 15-year-old kid waiting outside Mesa Amphitheatre to see this guy play, and here I was about to go on right before him. As I walked on stage, I saw his ego riser — an illuminated metal platform that basks whoever steps on it in angelic light — with a teleprompter below it to scroll the words of his songs. I couldn't believe it hadn't been taped off or had a note on it telling me to not step on it. Since there was nothing telling me to stay the fuck off it, I jumped right up on it before I even sang a word.
I recall just being so stoked that I was sharing a stage with someone I admired so much as an artist. As he and his band hit the stage that night, he was as potent as ever and was as engaged as I'd seen him in years. I also wondered if he would have ever put two and two together that I was the guy who wrote that review that got so much negative attention. After the show, I asked his assistant if I could speak to him. She said he already was in his pajamas but that she would send me one of his megaphones in the mail. I'm still waiting for it to show up.
In 2013, STP announced it had again parted with Weiland. It was announced that Chester Bennington of Linkin Park had replaced him. That year, the band was the entertainment at Bennington's Stars of the Season charity event. The day before the event, I had toured the Mesa's Cardon Children's Medical Center with the band as they spoke to patients and their families. The next day at the event, Robert DeLeo approached me and thanked me for capturing the band's day at the hospital. Then I told him the story about the napkin and his eyes lit up. He said, "Please tell me you brought the napkin with you."
I interviewed Weiland twice this year as he formed his new band, The Wildabouts, and toured.
Our first conversation was prior to the release of Blaster, his final album. Though I wouldn't say it seemed he was under the influence, he was very slow when responding to questions. But he seemed in good spirits. He spoke of his love of Bob Dylan and told me he'd pay $300 to meet David Bowie. The Wildabouts' tour kicked off at Tempe's Pub Rock, and I attended a show that once again looked as though Weiland really wanted a new beginning with his new band as he executed effortlessly throughout the night. After the show, I had a chance to talk to Scott and the rest of the band in the dressing room and told him how great I thought the show was.
The day before Blaster came out, guitarist Jeremy Brown suddenly died in Los Angeles, and that was when things really seemed to spiral out of control for Weiland again. His performances became erratic. There were reports of him being terrible to fans at ticketed meet-and-greets. During our second interview, I confronted him about his behavior and he wasn't too happy with me, giving me curt answers.
A couple of days after our second interview, I went to Santa Monica to escape the summer heat. When I arrived, I saw a guitar and hat on the wall above the couch I was going to crash on for a couple of days when my friend informed me that her roommate was Brown's sister.
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The band played at Livewire in Scottsdale two weeks later, and I was prepared for another meltdown from Weiland, but it didn't happen. He motored through the show and again seemed like his old self — the one many of us fell in love with over 20 years ago.
As a journalist, I've always been hardest on the ones I've admired and looked up to the most. Scott Weiland was someone who probably thought I was out to get him at times. It wasn't that I was ever out to get him; it was that I and so many others knew how great he could be. There will never be a day I hear STP staples like "Vasoline" or "Crackerman" where I don't do that Weiland dance I've been ripping off for years.