Scott Weiland obituary

Musician and songwriter best known as the lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots

A dynamic performer susceptible to heroin addiction and cocaine abuse, Scott Weiland, who has died aged 48 of cardiac arrest, became one of the most recognisable characters in American hard rock. He shot to fame in the 1990s as lead singer with the San Diego-based Stone Temple Pilots, before achieving a blaze of notoriety by joining former members of Guns N’ Roses in the supergroup Velvet Revolver in 2003.

Stone Temple Pilots enjoyed immediate success with the release of their 1992 debut album Core, which went to No 3 in the US charts. They gained extensive exposure with the singles Creep, Plush (which won a Grammy award for best hard rock performance) and Sex Type Thing. The latter earned notoriety when some critics argued that the lyrics (written, like most of the album’s lyrics, by Weiland) glorified date rape.

Core eventually sold 8m copies, making it the band’s bestselling album, but the critics did not share the fans’ enthusiasm. In 1994, Stone Temple Pilots was voted best new band by Rolling Stone’s readers, but worst band of the year by the magazine’s writers. Weiland’s singing was often likened to a bad imitation of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.

Nonetheless the band’s second album, Purple, debuted at No 1 in the US in June 1994, and rapidly sold 3m copies, sped along by the hit singles Interstate Love Song, Vasoline and Big Empty. STP’s third album, Tiny Music... Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop (1996), found the group exploring glam-rock and Beatles-like influences. Though it sold fewer than its predecessors, the album spawned another trio of hugely successful singles in Big Bang Baby, Lady Picture Show and Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart. The band had arrived as one of the world’s biggest hard rock outfits.

Weiland was born Scott Richard Kline in San Jose, California. His mother, Sharon Williams, and his father, Kent Kline, divorced two years later. When he was five, Scott was adopted by his stepfather, Dave Weiland, and after living with his family in Bainbridge Township, Ohio, for several years he moved back to California, to Orange County, in his teens. He began performing in bands at 15.

The seeds of Stone Temple Pilots were sown in 1987, when Weiland formed Mighty Joe Young with the bassist Robert DeLeo, whom he had met at a Black Flag gig in Long Beach. The lineup was completed by DeLeo’s brother, Dean, on guitar and Eric Kretz on drums, but they retitled themselves after realising they had taken the name of a real-life Chicago blues singer.

By the mid-90s Weiland’s drug-taking was becoming problematic. He had received a suspended sentence for drug possession in 1995, and after Tiny Music’s release his personal issues forced the band to pull out of the support slot on Kiss’s reunion tour. STP temporarily continued as Talk Show with a new vocalist, Dave Coutts. Meanwhile Weiland released his first solo album, 12 Bar Blues, in 1998, which was not a big commercial success but was praised for its ambitious, imaginative approach.

Weiland reunited with STP for the 1999 album No 4, which mostly comprised aggressive hard rock, though its hit single Sour Girl (boosted by a video co-starring the actor Sarah Michelle Gellar) featured acoustic guitar and subtle vocal harmonies. Weiland admitted he had written the song about his first wife, Jannina Castaneda, with whom he was in the midst of a costly divorce. He married Mary Forsberg shortly afterwards. In 1999 he also spent five months in jail following a parole violation stemming from his earlier heroin conviction.

STP were running out of steam again by the time they released Shangri-La Dee Da (2001), which had begun amid ambitious plans to make a double album. Eventually only a single album appeared, and, despite generating the hit single Days of the Week, sales were disappointing. The band dissolved after acrimonious scenes during their 2002 tour, and the following year Weiland was recruited as vocalist with Velvet Revolver.

The other band members, all former addicts, recognised they were taking a risk hiring Weiland. As the bassist Duff McKagan wrote in his 2011 book It’s So Easy, “I found myself dealing with a raging addict and all the drama that entailed ... we figured we were the perfect group of dudes to get Scott through this ... But he had been through rehab a dozen times already.”

Yet, after a recuperative retreat in the mountains of Washington State involving martial arts training and a healthy diet, Weiland was ready for action. Velvet Revolver’s first album, Contraband (2004), debuted at No 1 on Billboard’s album chart, and scored big hits with Slither (which won the 2005 Grammy for best hard rock performance) and Fall to Pieces, the latter’s lyrics depicting Weiland’s rescue from drug hell. A year and a half of touring encompassed the US, Europe and east Asia, helping the album to sell 4m copies.

The second album, Libertad (2007), fared less well, and 18 months after its release had sold only 300,000 copies in the US. Weiland’s ingrained habits resurfaced, and the band had to cancel a 2008 Australian tour when he re-entered rehab. They regrouped for some European dates, but on stage in Glasgow in March 2008 Weiland announced, to the surprise of his bandmates, that this was Velvet Revolver’s last tour. His departure from the group was announced soon afterwards. The lead guitarist, Slash, later commented that “he’s just one of those guys that’s not a team player, that’s just the way he is”. Weiland hit back in his 2011 memoir Not Dead & Not For Sale, when he wrote of Velvet Revolver: “The money attracted me. [But] I can’t call it the music of my soul. There was a certain commercial calculation behind it.”

Weiland rejoined Stone Temple Pilots in 2008 for a big US tour, and the success of the reunion led to his last album with them, Stone Temple Pilots (2010). Further live work ensued, but eventually old tensions resurfaced and Weiland was fired in February 2013.

He had already been stepping up his solo work. In late 2008 he released his second solo album “Happy” in Galoshes, on his own Softdrive Records label. This was followed in 2011 by (on digital only) A Compilation of Scott Weiland Cover Songs, including versions of songs by Radiohead, New York Dolls, the Stone Roses and others. Then he bewildered listeners with a collection of traditional Christmas songs, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2011). In 2013 he embarked on the “Purple at the Core” tour with his new band, the Wildabouts (featuring songs from the STP albums Purple and Core), and, as Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts, released Blaster in March 2015.

Weiland was found dead on his tour bus in Bloomington, Minnesota, where he was due to go on stage with the Wildabouts. He is survived by his third wife, the photographer Jamie Wachtel, whom he married in 2013, and by his son, Noah, and daughter, Lucy, from his second marriage, which had ended in divorce.

• Scott Richard Weiland, singer, musician and songwriter, born 27 October 1967; died 3 December 2015


Adam Sweeting

The GuardianTramp

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