UPDATE: Since this story was posted, the Youtube videos containing the Birdman Sessions audio have been taken down.
He didn't really look like Eddie Vedder. Surely, the real Vedder was bigger, with the glowing aura of a rock god. If it was actually the Pearl Jam lead singer, he'd be sucking on a bottle of Jägermeister and flanked by supermodels. This kid was too small, maybe a college student out to drown his sorrows after a blown exam. "I looked at the corner, and there was this little fellow," Sean "Birdman" Gould remembers. "He looked familiar. I said to myself: That guy looks like Eddie Vedder."
It was just after midnight on a Friday in September 2000 at Mac's Club Deuce in South Beach. Birdman — Miami's veteran rock junkie and leader of the band Birdman's Clambake — was sitting by the sticky countertop, sipping a cold one.
"I was up the street at Lincoln Road doing sound for a show with a guy named Johnny Dread," Birdman recalls. "I finished the show around midnight and decided to go to Club Deuce to grab a beer. I got halfway through the beer. I looked at it, and I was like, The beer is half full. Should I stick around, or should I bail?" That's when he saw a guy who looked an awful lot like Eddie Vedder. He gave in to his curiosity.
"I walked over to him and said, 'Excuse me. Are you Eddie Vedder?' He said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Do you mind if I hang out and talk for a second?' He said, 'No problem.'"
A second turned into hours. And before Birdman could even register what was going on, the two musicians — one with more than 60 million records sold worldwide, the other with, uh, not quite 60 million records sold — spent the rest of the night bonding over their pure, unadulterated love for Neil Young and Minutemen (and a few stiff drinks).
"We sat there from 12:30 a.m. till closing time. We just sat there and talked the whole time," Birdman remembers. "He was really gracious. He would tell me his stories but was equally interested in what I had to say."
"I already had the best time of my life," Birdman recalls. "We finished up, and they asked everyone to leave. I told him I had a workshop studio with old-school analogs and guitar amps in Little Haiti. Standing outside the Deuce, he told me: 'You mind if I come over and record some stuff?' I thought he was messing around, and about 30 seconds later, he's like, 'No, I'm serious. Can you get a band together and we'll jam?'"
The next afternoon, like a kid waiting to rip open presents Christmas morning, Birdman rang up every musician he knew — "like 40 people," he says — and told them what had happened.
Most, naturally, were suspicious. He convinced 17 people to show up at his recording studio that night.
"[Birdman] left me a voicemail and said, 'I know you won't believe this, but Eddie Vedder's on his way,'" says Tony Alarcon, owner of South Beach music venue Jazid, who would show up to play guitar that day.
"I called him back and was like, 'Are you for real, or are you bullshitting me?' And he was like, 'Yeah.' It was legit," Alarcon says. "Eddie had later called [Birdman] and left a message saying he didn't know if he was gonna make it because he wasn't feeling well or something."
But Birdman was going to have a hard time living this down if Vedder was a no-show. He eventually persuaded Vedder to come by and sent Melissa Donaldson, his girlfriend at the time, to pick up the Pearl Jam frontman at his hotel.
"The funny part is the name 'Eddie Vedder' didn't really mean anything to me," Donaldson admits. "I wasn't a huge Pearl Jam fan at the time, but Bird was telling me, and I was like, 'OK, a rock star. You need help picking up a rock star?'
"I didn't know what to do! He told me to go to the National Hotel. That's where Eddie was. I didn't know what room he was in, but just went for it."
Still confused, Donaldson walked into the hotel. "I waited by the elevators in the lobby. The doors opened, and there he was. I was like, 'Eddie?' He was like, 'Melissa?' And I was like, 'Yeah! You're coming with me.'"
Like a trusting child, Vedder followed Donaldson out the door.
"We went outside, and he's looking around for a ride, and there I was — with my Honda," she laughs. "We had awkward moments until the music came on. I played Tom Petty. We were stopped at a train. He goes, 'The planets are aligned,' I started singing 'American Girl,' and there we were."
Moments later, the two finally arrived at Birdman's recording studio in Little Haiti. Everyone in the room stood frozen for a moment. Vedder was shocked by the professional setup in the modest warehouse. And Birdman's posse still couldn't believe they were face-to-face with rock royalty.
"I opened the door to the warehouse," Donaldson says. "He saw all the musicians and was like, 'Awesome.' Everybody was trying to
"I could have been any dude in the world BSing him," Birdman adds, "but when he walked in and saw the drums, guitars, recording equipment, he grabbed his guitar and we jammed for, let's see, he got there at 10:30 p.m. and he left at daybreak."
"He was pretty short," Alarcon remembers. "He looked like a kid, but once he got on the mike, it was like, forget about it. It was weird. It was odd. It was surreal."
About eight hours and 207 beer bottles later — as Donaldson remembers counting — Vedder, Birdman, and the rest of the crew ended up playing everything from Radiohead and Jim Morrison to Tom Petty and Tom Waits.
"We recorded three CDs — however long CDs are, basically an hour and 20 minutes," Birdman approximates. "When he got there, he told me to just go ahead and roll the tape. It's a real representation of what went down, straight to CD."
But because they happened to be jamming with a legend, they all got a sneak peek at Pearl Jam's sixth studio album, Binaural.
"We're hanging out with Eddie, drinking beer, and he's like, 'Hey, man, do you wanna hear the new Pearl Jam album?'" Birdman says. "He was asking for our feedback, and we were trying to ask him all kinds of musician stuff, about what it's like being in a big band and signed to a major label and making great albums. That was the really cool moment for the musicians."
When they were finally done, the group listened back to what they had recorded. "He said, 'Wow, this is good quality,'" Birdman recalls. "He leaves one CD with us and takes two. Everybody was like, 'That was the greatest night of our lives!'?"
Vedder also left with Birdman's phone number and address. A few months later, Birdman's phone rang.
"[Eddie Vedder] calls me and is like, 'Hey, Birdman, how's it going?' So I talk to him and he says, 'Listen, I'm coming back into town. I've got a concert up in West Palm [Beach]. Wanna come to the show?' I said yeah and asked if he could get the band to go too."
Vedder, of course, hooked up Birdman and his band with passes to the Pearl Jam concert at the Mars Music Amphitheatre (now known as the Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre).
"We're backstage with Eddie Vedder. Everything's cool. I say to him: 'Hey, Eddie, I still got the CD you recorded and just wanted to make sure it was cool to give [a copy to] the musicians who played that night.'"
Vedder agreed, but on one condition: "He said, 'Just make sure it doesn't get online.'"
"So I say, 'OK, no problem,'?" Birdman remembers. "I didn't realize how easy it was [to get it online], so I give a CD to each of the people in the band, and then nothing happens. Everybody's cool. I hear from Eddie, he's leaving me voicemails, we're good buddies. Nothing happens for like two years."
Birdman affirms he kept his word to the Pearl Jam singer, but that didn't stop Vedder's fear from coming true.
"All of a sudden, I get like 500 hits on my Birdman Clambake's website [oyemamacita.com], and they're all asking, 'Hey, who is this Birdman and how did he record with Eddie Vedder?'" he recalls.
"What happened was an Italian Pearl Jam website got ahold of this CD — and believe me, the people who are into Pearl Jam are really into Pearl Jam."
Birdman tried to contact Vedder to explain the situation. After Vedder's camp found out about the leak, the Italian website received a cease-and-desist letter and had to take down the recording. "That was the last I heard from Eddie Vedder. We could never find out who leaked the CD. It's one of my biggest unanswered questions."
If the recording would have never been leaked, Birdman believes he and Vedder would still be friends. But once something gets on the internet, it stays there. And now the world has access to what's since been dubbed "The Birdman Sessions" and features some pretty legendary (and allegedly intoxicated) covers of Radiohead's "Creep" and Tom Petty's "American Girl." In the last verse of "American Girl," Vedder ad-libs, "The planets are aligned/And a stop sign/And a freight train/Warehouse/He was an American bird."
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"It was the most exciting night of my life, in terms of meeting a hero and recording with him. But the way it turned out, it looked like we had leaked the CD online, but I didn't even know how to put it online," Birdman insists. "It's bittersweet for me, and I never rectified it with Eddie Vedder. But the bottom line is it did get online."
New Times contacted Vedder, who declined to comment.
Their musical bromance may have ended, but Birdman looks at the glass as half full, just like he did the night fate brought them together at the Deuce.
"Incidentally, on the next Pearl Jam album, there is a song called 'Half Full,'" he laughs. "And it all started at the Deuce."