May 17, 2017 – Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) was born Christopher John Boyle on July 20, 1964 in Seattle, Washington, where he was also raised. He was the fourth of six children. His father, Ed, was a pharmacist; his mother, Karen, was an accountant. Cornell was a loner; he tried to deal with his anxiety around other people through rock music but during his early teenage years, he spiraled into severe depression and almost never left the house. His first favorite band were the Beatles. A noteworthy rumor later was that Cornell spent a two-year period between the ages of nine and eleven solidly listening to the Beatles after finding a large collection of Beatles records abandoned in the basement of a neighbor’s house.
At the age of 12, he had access to heroin, marijuana and prescription drugs and reportedly used them daily by age 13, before he stopped for a year. He dropped out of school at 14, after his parents divorced, and took his mother Karen’s maiden name Cornell. He relapsed at age 15 for another year until he turned to music. After dropping out of school he worked in a seafood warehouse and as a prep-cook at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle to have some income, but at 16 Cornell turned to music for emotional release and subsequently picked up the drums as his instrument.
In the early 1980s, Cornell became a member of a cover band called The Shemps, which performed around Seattle. The Shemps featured bassist Hiro Yamamoto. After Yamamoto left The Shemps, the band recruited guitarist Kim Thayil. Cornell and Yamamoto stayed in contact, and after The Shemps broke up, Cornell and Yamamoto started jamming together, eventually bringing Thayil to join them. Cornell was the founding member of Soundgarden in Seattle in 1984, with him originally on drums and vocals. Soundgarden became the first band from Seattle’s grunge scene to get signed to a major label and the band became a template for grunge and helped pave the way for bands like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Nirvana, three other bands from the same city. On a side note: Of the four famous Seattle bands from those days, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam is now the only lead singer still alive today.
Their first effort with recording let to a little known album in 1988, soon followed by a major label release in 1989 of Louder than Love, leading to some music video work and several band changes. Bassist Yamamoto leaves the band to return to college. Jason Everman, formerly of Nirvana, joined the band briefly. He played bass on the band’s cover of The Beatles’ Come Together and appeared in the Loud Love video. Shortly afterwards, he was replaced by Ben Shepherd. In the early 1990s, along with Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden became one of the most successful bands from Seattle’s emerging grunge scene. With Shepherd on bass, the new line-up recorded Badmotorfinger in 1991. The album brought the band to a new level of commercial success, and Soundgarden found itself amidst the sudden popularity and attention given to the Seattle music scene.
Badmotorfinger was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1992. It was also ranked number 45 in the October 2006 issue of Guitar World on the magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitar albums of all time.
As a result of the album’s success, they take off on a 1991 Tour with Guns N’ Roses, and later release the video compilation Motorvision filmed during that tour.
The next year Soundgarden appears in the Cameron Crowe movie Singles performing Birth Ritual and Chris Cornell solo song Seasons is also included on the soundtrack. From July on, the band joins the Lollapalooza tour alongside the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, and Ministry.
The next year Cornell covers Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Baby (House Of The New Rising Sun)” along with Mike McCready, Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron under the name M.A.C.C. The track is released on Hendrix tribute album Stone Free, alongside tracks by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Paul Rodgers and others.
And then in March 1994 the huge breakthrough sets in with the release of their next album Superunknown. It became the band’s breakthrough as it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, supported by several successful singles, including “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun”. It was the album that brought Soundgarden international recognition. Superunknown achieved quintuple platinum status in the United States, triple platinum status in Canada and gold status in the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands.
All at once Soundgarden plays everywhere on on a worldwide tour, including in Australia and Japan for the first time. The music video for Black Hole Sun is a hit on MTV and wins Best Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. Soundgarden received two Grammy Awards in 1995; Black Hole Sun for Best Hard Rock Performance and Spoonman for Best Metal Performance.
The band’s fifth album was 1996’s self-produced Down on the Upside. The album spawned several singles, including “Pretty Noose”, “Burden in My Hand”, and “Blow Up the Outside World”. The album was notably less heavy than the group’s preceding albums, and marked a further departure from the band’s grunge roots. Soundgarden explained at the time that it wanted to experiment with other sounds. David Browne of Entertainment Weekly said, “Few bands since Led Zeppelin have so crisply mixed instruments both acoustic and electric.”
However, tensions within the group arose during the sessions, with Thayil and Cornell reportedly clashing over Cornell’s desire to shift away from the heavy guitar riffing that had become the band’s trademark. Despite favorable reviews, the album did not match the sales of Superunknown. In 1997, Soundgarden received another Grammy nomination, for the lead single “Pretty Noose”. Due to tensions within the band, Soundgarden announced it was disbanding on April 9, 1997. In a 1998 interview, Thayil said, “It was pretty obvious from everybody’s general attitude over the course of the previous half-year that there was some dissatisfaction.”
After Soundgarden broke up Cornell pursued a solo career for a handful of years and began writing and recording with guitarist Alain Johannes and keyboardist Natasha Shneider of the band Eleven. His first solo album Euphoria Morning was released on September 21, 1999 to much acclaim. The album’s single Can’t Change Me was nominated for “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance” at the 2000 Grammy Awards and the album’s bonus track Sunshower was featured on the soundtrack for the film Great Expectations, while a reworked version of the track Mission, retitled Mission 2000, was used on the soundtrack to the film Mission: Impossible II.
In 2001, just before going back into the studio for his next solo project, close friend and producer Rick Rubin asked Cornell to head up a new band named Audioslave — a project pursued by the 3 remaining members of Rage Against the Machine with Tom Morello (lead guitar), Tim Commerford (bass and backing vocals) and Brad Wilk (drums), following the departure of singer Zack de la Rocha.
Morello described their first encounter with Cornell as: “He stepped to the microphone and sang the song and I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t just sound good. It didn’t sound great. It sounded transcendent. And … when there is an irreplaceable chemistry from the first moment, you can’t deny it.”
The four bandmembers wrote 21 songs during 19 days of rehearsal and began working in the studio in late May 2001 resulting in such huge radio hits “Like a Stone” and “Cochise.”
The self-titled debut album, Audioslave, was released on November 19, 2002 and entered the Billboard 200 chart at number seven after selling 162,000 copies in its first week. Certified gold by the RIAA within a month of release, by 2006 the album had achieved triple platinum status. It became the most successful Audioslave album, having sold more than three million copies in the United States alone.
A week after the album’s debut, Audioslave performed live on the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway in New York City, for the Late Show with David Letterman. It was the first time any band has appeared on Letterman’s marquee. Like a Stone, the second single from Audioslave, was released in early 2003, and peaked at number one on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks and Modern Rock Tracks charts. It was certified gold by the RIAA and becomes Audioslave’s most successful single. The band spend eight months of that year touring worldwide.
At the 46th Grammy Awards Like a Stone was nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance and Audioslave for Best Rock Album. Audioslave spend part of 2004 working on a second album and in March, Cornell married his second wife Vicky Karayiannis. Their first child, Toni Cornell (named after Vicky’s mom, Antonia) arrived September 18, 2004. Their son, Christopher Nicholas Cornell, was born 15 months later on December 5th, 2005.
Audioslave’s second album Out of Exile was released internationally on May 23, 2005, and a day later in the U.S. It debuts at the top of the Billboard 200 chart, the only Audioslave album to reach this position, and the band tours in support of it from April until November. On May 6, 2005, Audioslave becomes the first American rock group to play a free show in Havana, Cuba, in front of an estimated 50,000 people at the La Tribuna Antiimperialista José Martí. Audioslave also performs at the Live 8 benefit concert in Berlin on July 2, 2005, and tours North American arenas from late September to November. Audioslave’s second DVD, Live in Cuba, featuring the concert in Havana, is released on October 11, 2005, and becomes certified platinum in less than two months.
In December of 2006, Audioslave receives its third Grammy nomination in the Best Hard Rock Performance category for Doesn’t Remind Me. Audioslave spent the early part of 2006 in the studio. Revelations, Audioslave’s third album, influenced by 1960s and 1970s funk and R&B music, is released in September 2006. A special marketing campaign places the album’s art concept on Google Earth as a fictional island, Audioslave Nation, in the South Pacific. The album entered the Billboard 200 at #2 and sold 142,000 copies during its first week of release.
All of Audioslave’s lyrics were written by Cornell, whilst all four members were credited with writing the music. Their songwriting process was described by Wilk as “more collaborative” and “satisfying” than Rage Against the Machine’s, which was “a battle creatively”. Cornell, for his part, saw Soundgarden’s songwriting method as inferior to Audioslave’s. Cornell’s lyrics were mostly apolitical; Audioslave’s Morello referred to them as “haunted, existential poetry.” They were characterized by his cryptic approach, often dealing with themes of existentialism, love, hedonism, spirituality and Christianity.
Cornell’s ongoing battle with addiction to prescription drugs and alcoholism was always a defining factor in the writing and recording process. Even though the singer admitted that he was “never able to write effectively” while drinking and attended rehab after recording the debut album, Morello stated that Revelations was “the first record, Cornell didn’t smoke, drink or take drugs through the recording.” However, Morello said: “Chris was stone sober during the making of our Out of Exile album. Chris was also sober during the making of Revelations and prior to recording he gave up smoking as well. I apologize for any confusion or concern that was stirred up by the original article. Sobriety can be a matter of life or death and Chris’ courage in maintaining his health for years has been an inspiration.”
News about Cornell’s departure emerged first in July 2006, when insiders stated that after the third album he would leave to pursue for another solo career. The singer immediately denied the rumors, stating: “We hear rumors that Audioslave is breaking up all the time. … I always just ignore them.”
Yet On February 15, 2007, Cornell officially announced his departure from Audioslave, stating that “Due to irresolvable personality conflicts as well as musical differences, I am permanently leaving the band Audioslave. I wish the other three members nothing but the best in all of their future endeavors.” As the other three members were busy with the Rage Against the Machine reunion with de la Rocha coming back, Morello and Cornell each released solo albums, Audioslave officially disbanded.
For a second time in 10 years Cornell returned to solo projects and for the next 3 years he immersed himself musically in solo work as he released his second solo album Carry On, produced by Steve Lillywhite, which includes a magnificent reinvention of Michael Jackson dance classic Billie Jean as a slow blues.
Cornell then writes and records a third solo album Scream with producer Timbaland and plays summer shows across the US with Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution tour. In the fall, he plays solo shows in the US and Canada and appears in front of the President at the Kennedy Center Honors Gala in Washington DC, playing The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in tribute to the band.
In the spring of 2009 “Scream” is released worldwide and Cornell continues to tour in North and South America and across Europe, taking in a total of 21 nations and including a triumphant open-air show in Tel Aviv, Israel. In December, he plays the first in his acclaimed “Songbook” series of solo acoustic shows at the Hotel Café in Los Angeles.
In early 2010 he continues with a series of collaborations with rock guitarists Slash (on “Promise”), Santana (on “Whole Lotta Love”) and Italian nu-jazz group Gabin (“Lies”), before reuniting in August with Soundgarden for new live dates and recording of what initially appeared to be their final album with Cornell as lead vocalist, 2012’s King Animal.
However Soundgarden’s historic return to the live stage as headliners for Chicago’s Lollapalooza festival, leads first to the release of their retrospective album ‘Telephantasm’ in September, followed by the March 2011 release of the live album ‘Live on I5’, taken from their 1996 US tour, and the band then enters the studio to begin recording new material. That Summer, following a sold-out ‘Songbook solo acoustic tour of the US, he releases “The Keeper”, an original song written for the Marc Forster directed film Machine Gun Preacher, released by Relativity in September 2011. The song is the lead track on the film’s soundtrack album and in December receives a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song.
In 2013 he records his song ‘Misery Chain’, a duet featuring Joy Williams, for the movie soundtrack album ‘Music From and Inspired By 12 Years A Slave’.
In the fall of 2013 Soundgarden embarks on a tour of the US and Canada and from here on Chris keeps super busy with a myriad of projects and collaborations both with the band Soundgarden as well as solo tours to Europe, New Zealand, Australia and South America. Soundgarden Touring the World continues for the next four years.
In 2016, he rejoined the members of Temple of the Dog, in a live reunion with Pearl Jam members at the PJ20 Festival in Alpine Valley, WI. The re-issued album became a certified million copy seller. (In 1990 Chris had formed side project Temple of the Dog as a tribute to his friend, the late Andrew Wood, lead singer of Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, who overdosed on heroin at age 24. Temple of the Dog saw Cornell experiment with a more soulful style alongside the future members of Pearl Jam. The line-up included Stone Gossard on rhythm guitar, Jeff Ament on bass guitar (both ex-members of Mother Love Bone), Mike McCready on lead guitar, Matt Cameron on drums and Eddie Vedder on backing vocals. On November 13 1990, Temple Of The Dog played its only live show at Seattle’s Off Ramp Club in front of 299 people.)
I think that I always struggled with depression and isolation, so those could come out. I think that the mood of Seattle to me, and the way that I always interpreted that mood was something that was always a little bit introspective and dark. And I wouldn’t say “depressing,” but introspective in a way that could be moodier and darker.No matter how happy you are, you can wake up one day without any specific thing occurring to bring you into a darker place, and you’ll just be in a darker place anyway. To me, that was always a terrifying thought, because that’s something that – as far as I know – we don’t necessarily have control over.
Blessed with the multiple talents of composing, lyrics writing and performing, Cornell continually redefined his sound and vision during his 3 decade career in music, even though he was best known as one of the main architects of the 1990s grunge movement. With his extensive catalog as a songwriter, his nearly four-octave vocal range, and his powerful vocal belting technique, he was naturally inclined to experiment with new musical directions. He released five solo studio albums, Euphoria Morning (1999), Carry On (2007), Scream (2009), Higher Truth (2015), and the live album Songbook (2011). Cornell received a Golden Globe Award nomination for his song “The Keeper” which appeared in the film Machine Gun Preacher and co-wrote and performed the theme song to the James Bond film Casino Royale (2006), “You Know My Name”. The last solo release by Chris was the charity single “The Promise”, written for the ending credits for the film of the same name.
He was voted “Rock’s Greatest Singer” by readers of Guitar World, ranked 4th in the list of “Heavy Metal’s All-Time Top 100 Vocalists” by Hit Parader, 9th in the list of “Best Lead Singers of All Time” by Rolling Stone and 12th in MTV’s “22 Greatest Voices in Music”.
According to Nielsen Music, across his entire catalog (Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and solo career), Cornell sold 14,8 million albums, 8,8 million digital songs, 300 million on-demand audio streams in the U.S. and sold over 30 million records worldwide as of 2017.
His soundtrack work has spanned both big budget and independent cinema. He was the first male American artist to write and perform the theme song for a James Bond movie (“You Know My Name” for Casino Royale). He wrote the end title song “Live to Rise” for The Avengers, the third highest grossing film of all time. He duetted with Joy Williams on his song “Misery Chain” which appeared on the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave and his song “The Keeper” from Marc Forster’s Machine Gun Preacher was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2012.
Cornell’s solo acoustic ‘Songbook’ tour attracted sellout crowds and critical acclaim worldwide. Jim Farber of the New York Daily News observed, “sometimes you don’t recognize the full power of a voice until you strip everything away from it.”
Chris Cornell died on May 17, 2017 in his hotel room in Detroit, shortly after concluding his last Soundgarden concert. As the result of a depression medication overdose, he allegedly hung himself. He was 52 and full of plans for things yet to accomplish.
As is often the case with celebrity musicians who pass suddenly and unexpectedly, the interest in their work launches them back into the spotlight in the wake of their death. Chris Cornell, who committed suicide as the result of an overdose of prescription medication, saw 5 of his albums re-enter the Billboard 200 in the wake of his death.
Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell paid tribute to his friend Chris Cornell unveiled personal stories about them spending time together on the road and beyond, in a touching interview with Variety.
Farrell said he and Cornell first met when Soundgarden played Lollapalooza for the first time in 1992. Calling Cornell “one of the most talented singers of my life,” Farrell discussed Cornell’s charm and charisma during shows. “He stood there and the girls’ jaws would all be dropped, including my wife and the dancers we were traveling with,” he recalled.
Farrell also relayed a sweet story about running into Cornell at a Toys “R” Us on Christmas Eve several years ago, where Cornell scored an in-demand kids gift. “He says to me, ‘I got the very last Sleeping Beauty Castle. Sold out.’ He was so proud, he was trying to brag to me he got the very last fairy princess castle.”
“It’s such a bummer. There weren’t – and there aren’t still – very many that could sing the way Chris can. Certainly very few rock performers, and even pop performers. People just don’t have it, that’s a God-given talent,” Farrell also noted. Farrell concluded by advising people to listen to Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” which he said he always loved. “I don’t know what did Chris in, but I hope he’s in a good place now. He was a super talent and the world should be happy they got to hear him,” Farrell said.
Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington was also a friend of Cornell’s. Bennington and Cornell shared the stage when they toured together in the late 2000s. The pair sang with each other while performing a version of Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” and Linkin Park’s “Crawling” while on tour.
Bennington penned a heartfelt remembrance addressed to his late friend. “I dreamt about the Beatles last night. I woke up with Rocky Raccoon playing in my head and a concerned look on my wife’s face. She told me my friend had just passed away,” he wrote. “Thoughts of you flooded my mind and I wept.”
Expressing his gratitude for the time they had together, Bennington also addressed Cornell’s gifts. “You have inspired me in many ways you could never have known,” Bennington added. “Your talent was pure and unrivaled. Your voice was joy and pain, anger and forgiveness, love and heartache all wrapped up into one.”
Alice Cooper raved about working with Cornell. “We could pick a voice for each song, the way a guitarist might pick either a Fender Strat or a Gibson Les Paul,” the veteran rock star tells Billboard. “To go from Unholy War to Stolen Prayer (from 1994 album The Last Temptation) together, two entirely different songs, proved his range, his versatility, in both writing and singing.
“In every genre of music there are exceptional people, and whereas that Seattle movement had its own distinct sound, he could do that and so much more. Working with Chris was, for me, effortless. When we got together to write it seemed like either he was in my band or I was in his.”
Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale reveals he enjoyed his private chats with the quiet Soundgarden frontman “in dressing rooms at different festivals”, revealing they ran into each other quite a bit because Chris shared a manager with Gavin’s ex-wife Gwen Stefani.
“We had these parallel lives as parents with jobs as singers,” Rossdale says. “That’s really dominated my whole thought process, just thinking of his family, his great wife and children. You wish he had found a way to reach out to whoever there was in his life that could help him.”
“He was one of the greatest rock singers ever… and he was such a plaintive singer, that’s what I love about him. I suppose he found solace in music and in singing, which I relate to… He always found a way to put melody over hard riffs, and so much of the time, people play hard riffs and then they dog bark their way through it, scream and stuff. With Chris, there was this innate, beautiful melody and beautiful words that anyone with any degree of sensitivity could relate to and did.”
Jane’s Addiction star guitarist Dave Navarro is really struggling with Cornell’s death, because so many of his peers have now died: “I just can’t believe that all these people I came up with are gone: Scott (Weiland), Kurt (Cobain), Layne (Staley), now Chris,” he says. “All my friends are dying. How is it possible?”
“I remember in 2003 Jane’s Addiction was on tour with Audioslave for Lollapalooza, and Chris and I were both clean from drugs and alcohol and we invited kids from treatment centres at different spots in the country to hang out backstage and just show them you can do what we do and enjoy touring and the music without being loaded,” he adds.
“That’s what makes this so very hard to wrap my head around. This is a guy who was involved in making the world a better place for people.”