In the summer of 1996, as they prepared to join Metallica, Soundgarden, Ramones and Rancid on the Lollapalooza tour, Screaming Trees recruited a new touring guitarist, ex-Kyuss riff lord (and future Queens Of The Stone Age leader) Josh Homme. Though he had no part in this decision, the band's frontman Mark Lanegan took to Homme immediately.
"He impressed me right off the bat," Lanegan recalled in his astonishingly candid 2020 memoir Sing Backwards And Weep. "Not only was he a far superior guitarist to [Gary] Lee [Conner], he was highly intelligent, and even at his young age, already a seasoned veteran... as well as a natural comedian with a hilarious, quick sense of humour."
"I thanked God I finally had someone to relate to and confide in."
While Homme's presence made the tour bearable for Lanegan, who had long since tired of Screaming Trees' constant, often violent, in-fighting, he found the Lollapalooza trek challenging due to the difficulty of scoring drugs. The singer took to wandering around unfamiliar streets in every city the caravan visited, usually returning empty-handed. One evening, in Rockford, Illinois, a bored Josh Homme decided to accompany his new friend on what the pair called 'The Walk': a spur-of-the-moment decision he and Lanegan would both come to regret.
It was when a local lady offered to bring Lanegan to some friends who could sell him crack cocaine that the problems started: "Bitch, what the fuck you doing bringing the cops up in here," wasn't quite the welcome that the singer had anticipated. When Lanegan protested that he was not, in fact, an officer of the law, his new acquaintances looked over at the the clean-cut, boy-ish-looking, six-foot-plus Homme at his side and said, "Maybe you ain't, motherfucker, but he sure as fuck is!"
"Now that I considered it," Lanegan mused, "he did look somewhat like a rookie cop."
Noticing that an on-edge Homme was reaching for a knife in his back pocket, Lanegan decided that, on reflection, perhaps it might be best to remove the pair from the situation, and he offered his profuse apologies as he pulled the furious guitarist away.
With Lanegan not yet ready to abandon his quest, however, the pair were not yet out of danger. This would become instantly apparent minutes later when the older man decided to approach "some dudes" who he pegged as "obvious dealers".
"I had not taken two steps taken two steps," Lanegan recalled, "when I heard the unmistakeable sound of someone cocking a shotgun and a deep voice behind me."
"Get lost, cop."
"I had left Josh directly in front of a darkened doorway neither of us had seen," Lanegan wrote. "Once again he'd been mistaken for a fucking cop."
"We finally made our way out of the shit and onto the main road. Hoping to catch a cab, I looked behind me at every car coming up the street while Josh walked silently next to me, obviously furious that I'd put him into such compromising, potentially deadly situations. I heard yet another car racing by. When I turned to look, the barrel of a gun came out the window, pointed directly at me. I was too shocked to move. In slow motion, I watched some stranger's trigger finger squeezing - was this it?
"I was shot full in the face with a huge stream of water... "
Soaked, subdued and sober, the pair finally got a cab back to the Screaming Trees' hotel. As it pulled away, Josh Homme leaned over to his new 'boss' and said quietly, "If you ever do that to me again, I'll kill you."