Soundgarden

  • Grunge rock band formed in 1984 from Seattle Washington. The members of the band during the 90s were Chris Cornell (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Kim Thayil (lead guitar, backing vocals), Ben Shepard (bass guitar, backing vocals), Matt Cameron (drums, backing vocals). Founding member/bassist Hiro Yamamoto left the band in 1989. All members contributed to songwriting, with Cornell the primary songwriter.
  • The origin of the band was a group in the early 80s called The Shemps, featuring Yamamoto and Cornell. Yamamoto left The Shemps, and Thayil was recruited to join. When The Shemps broke-up, Cornell reconnected with Yamamoto. They started to jam together, and Thayil later joined. By 1984, they were a trio, with Cornell handling drums, naming themselves Soundgarden, after a sculpture in Seattle titled A Sound Garden. Soon, they recruited a drummer so that Cornell could focus on vocals, and they performed concerts at venues near Seattle, as the grunge genre was beginning to develop there. They recorded 3 songs for a compilation album of 6 Seattle-based grunge groups released in 1986. That same year, their drummer left, replaced by Cameron.
  • A Seattle DJ saw a performance, and was so impressed that he offered to fund a recording by the band. This led to the formation of a record label, and Soundgarden signed a contract. Their first single, Hunted Down, was released in 1987, and EPs were released in 1987 and 1988. Major labels began to court the band, but in 1988 they decided to sign with an independent label that featured punk rock bands, and they released their debut studio album, Ultramega OK, with the single Flower. Neither charted, but the video for Flower got airtime on MTV, and the band toured in the U.S. and Europe, increasing their exposure. The album eventually received a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. Cornell later commented that they made a big mistake with the album, since the record label didn’t understand the Seattle sound that they wanted.
  • In 1989, Soundgarden signed with a major label. While recording their next album, Louder Than Love, Yamamoto became disillusioned with the band’s direction, and he left after it was completed, before the start of their tour to support the album. Jason Everman from Nirvana joined Soundgarden for the tour, and then Everman was replaced with Shepard.
  • In 1991, the band released Badmotorfinger. It maintained their heavy metal sound, but increased its focus on songwriting. The singles Outshined and Rusty Cage did not chart, but they had airtime on rock radio and MTV. The album was nominated for a Grammy award, and eventually it was certified 2x platinum in sales, after the band’s success with their next album.
  • Their breakthrough release was 1994’s Superunknown album. It topped the Billboard 200 album chart, and it sold over 5 million copies in the U.S. Three songs landed in the top 10 of the Mainstream Rock chart – Spoonman, Fell on Black Days, and Black Hole Sun, which reached #1. They won 2 Grammy awards – Best Hard Rock Performance for Black Hole Sun and Best Metal Performance for Spoonman. The album is ranked at #335 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Albums of All Time list.
  • Soundgarden released the Down on the Upside album in 1996. It was less heavy than their earlier albums, as Cornell wanted to experiment with other sounds. It reached #2 on the album chart, and it was certified platinum. Two songs topped the Mainstream Rock chart – Burden in My Hand and Blow Up the Outside World, while Pretty Noose peaked at #2 on the Alternative Songs chart. Tension levels within the band had been growing, and after their tour to support the album, they announced that they were breaking up in 1997.
  • Over the next decade, the bandmembers worked on other projects – most significantly, Cornell started the supergroup Audioslave, releasing 3 studio albums. In 2010, Soundgarden reformed, and in 2012, they released their final album, King Animal. Two songs topped the Mainstream Rock chart – Been Away Too Long and By Crooked Steps. They continued to tour and in 2015 they started to work on a new album. Soundgarden came to a sudden end when Cornell committed suicide by hanging in May 2017 (for more information on Cornell, see my “Gone Too Soon” post from May 24, 2017).
  • Soundgarden in on the ballot for possible induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2020. In my opinion, they belong – they helped bring grunge into the mainstream. Here’s their video for Black Hole Sun, which won Best Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.