By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy
“Heaven send Hell away/No one sings like you anymore.” Those are my favorite lyrics from the Soundgarden classic, “Black Hole Sun.” That was really the first time I paid attention to the band’s frontman, Chris Cornell. His voice was pure poetry; he just had this way with words, which could cleanse the human soul. He had this incredible 4 octave range, which almost nobody could match. As everyone is already aware, we recently lost the famed rock musician. From his charismatic stage presence, to his righteous bands that included Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog, to his masterful singing and magnificent songwriting, Cornell was the voice for my generation. I did not get into him until I was a senior in high school, but when I did, I was always there to give him my ears.
Growing up in Seattle, Washington, Cornell got his first taste in music by listening to nothing but Beatle records for two years. Around his teen years, he met bass player Hiro Yamamoto and started jamming around with him. They brought in guitarist Kim Thayil and they formed the band Soundgarden. Starting out as a drummer, they eventually replaced him with Matt Cameron so he could develop his voice more efficiently. Between 1988 and 1989, Cornell started to front the band and dropped their debut album, Ultramega OK. Soundgarden was part of the famous Seattle Grunge Era of the late 1980s and early 1990s, along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains. Unlike most grunge groups, Cornell and his band mates were profoundly influenced by heavy metal. Shortly after the release of Louder Than Love, Yamamoto left the group and was ultimately replaced by Ben Shepherd, thus establishing the classic Soundgarden lineup.
Before they hit the big time, Cornell and Cameron would team up with some of the members of Pearl Jam to form the short-lived supergroup, Temple of the Dog. They would release one album that is still considered as a masterpiece today, the self-titled Temple of the Dog, which featured “Hunger Strike” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven.” When Soundgarden dropped their 1991 release, Badmotorfinger, the whole game changed for them. They achieved success like they never experienced before, and Cornell was almost immediately recognized for his impressive singing technique. With hit singles like “Outshined” and “Jesus Christ Pose,” Soundgarden was sitting pretty. Even their other hit song off the record, “Rusty Cage,” would be covered by country music legend Johnny Cash.
However, it was not until 1994, that they put together their greatest achievement, Superunknown. This was the record that defined their sound and turned them into bona fide rock gods. It featured classic tunes like “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” and “Fell On Black Days” to name a few. Combining Cornell’s stellar voice with Thayil’s heavy guitar riffing, Shepherd’s soulful bass tones, and Cameron’s versatile drumming, Soundgarden were leaving their mark on rock history. After the release of their successful follow-up, Down On The Upside, and the subsequent touring for it, the band called it quits citing creative differences and tensions within the group.
During this point in his career, Cornell threw his hat into solo business, releasing his 1999 debut, Euphoria Morning. The record represented a slight departure from his usually heavy rock signature, opting to exploring new genres, like folk rock and psychedelic rock. While it did not favor too well commercially, with did get nominated for a Grammy for Best Male Rock Performance, despite this. I really dug his vocal range he used to match the new sound. In 2001, he decided to form a new band with Rage Against the Machine musicians. Featuring guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk, they created the newest rock sensation, Audioslave. They created their self-titled debut in 2002, and the fans of rock were ecstatic by this lethal combination. Cornell’s voice meshed very well with Morello’s known eclectic, hip-hop inspired guitar playing. Audioslave would release three albums in total and played to sellout crowds with hit songs, “Like a Stone,” “Cochise,” “Your Time Has Come,” “Be Yourself,” and “Original Fire.” Unfortunately, it would not last for too long, as the group disbanded over differing creative directions.
Cornell would return to his solo career, putting out two new records, Carry On (2007) and Scream (2009). Carry On represents mix of alternative rock and adult contemporary. The album featured a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” and the hit single, “You Know My Name,” which was written specifically for the James Bond film, Casino Royale. The song snagged Cornell his first and only Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song. Later on, he decided to team up with legendary hip-hop/R&B producer Timbaland and craft his most daring experiment ever, Scream. This record is a clear departure from his heavy riffs and bass licks, instead wanting to explore electronic rock and dance pop. While I did not think it was his best album, it featured a couple of catchy tunes like “Scream,” and I applauded him for taking a chance on something that was a left field choice.
After Scream, he did the unthinkable that nobody thought would ever happened. Cornell reunited with Soundgarden after 14 years of hibernation. The band took to the road in 2011 for a reunion, and the fans were overjoyed for the return of band that perfected the “Seattle Sound.” The next year, they released their last record with Cornell, King Animal. It was a glorious record that reminded me why I loved this band. With songs like “By Crooked Steps” and “Been Away Too Long,” King Animal rejuvenated Soundgarden and brought them rock glory again. Between 2013 and 2016, Cornell kept busy with a new solo record, Higher Truth, and a mini reunion tour with Temple of the Dog. Higher Truth was the solo album we wanted. Mostly acoustic, Cornell wrote more intimate songs that tugged at the heart-string, like “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” and “Through the Window.” Things were looking up on the hypersonic frontman.
When I heard the news of his passing, my heart just dropped. I never had the opportunity or honor to either interview him or see him perform live. However, his music will always be close to me and never fade from my ears. Artists like U2, Corey Taylor of Stone Sour, The Pretty Reckless, and Megadeth to name a few honored him at their concerts, by playing various songs from his catalogue. This was a fitting tribute to a great musical icon. While most media outlets are focusing on his death and the circumstances surrounding, I rather remember the good things about him. Hopefully his passing will help people reach out whenever they are feeling low about themselves. He was one of a kind and there will never be another like him. Before becoming a full-fledged metalhead, his music gave a life and showed me how to live like a rocker. To Chris Cornell, thank you for the excellent lessons you have imparted in me and countless others. We all salute you. Horns up!!!
I dedicate this article to Vicky Cornell and her children, as well as anybody out that struggles with depression. You are not alone. You are loved and wanted.