The Legacy of Chris Cornell

The story of his life and career.

Ultimate Guitar
The Legacy of Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell will sure be remembered as a man of a unique voice, but it would be wrong to think that his voice came to him naturally. It was a path of thorns, as his producer, Michael J. Beinhorn said once:


I remember Chris telling me that he developed the high range of his voice by literally screaming until the screaming became musical pitches. I imagined that this took a lot of time and dedication. He didn’t have any guarantee that he would ever be able to do more than scream. He had no safety net. However, without a safety net- without anyone to catch him, he went ahead and made the effort anyway. That was his road to greatness- through tremendous dedication and effort. Without any guarantee of success.

Today, we'll tell you about Chris Cornell's path to glory.


His musical career started when he was just 13. He used to play in a band called Inflatable Soule with his sisters, Katy and Suzy. He was a huge fan of The Beatles, which greatly influenced him.

Even at age nine, they had a big impression on me, and later on my writing, without me realizing it. The Beatles did whatever they wanted. This is a band that did “Helter Skelter,’ ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Penny Lane. No one said, “Hey, they can’t do that!
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He suffered through heavy depressions as a kid, dropped school and used to sit home all the time. Rock music was the best remedy for his social anxiety. Perhaps that’s why he joined the Seattle cover band called The Shemps without a second thought. That’s where he became acquainted with bassist Hiro Yamamoto and guitarist Kim Thayil. The Shemps eventually broke up, the three of them started jamming together and that’s where the story of one of the greatest grunge bands begins.


In the beginning (1984), the plan was for Chris to become a singing drummer, but then, they enlisted Scott Sundquist, who was soon replaced by Skin Yard drummer Matt Cameron so Cornell could concentrate solely on singing. Together, they decided to name themselves Soundgarden, after a wind-channeling pipe sculpture titled A Sound Garden, located in Seattle.

After some line-up changes and recorded albums, the band released their breakthrough album Badmotorfinger in 1991, becoming one of the most successful bands from Seattle's emerging grunge scene in the early 1990s along with Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. 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 may have been a successful album, but it was the second album Superunknown that made them one of the cult band of the 90's. Upon its release in March 1994, Superunknown debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. The album launched several successful singles, including "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun", and granted Soundgarden international recognition.

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However, the band eventually burned out. As Thayil said: "It was pretty obvious from everybody's general attitude over the course of the previous half year that there was some dissatisfaction." And As it often happens, a grunge band Soundgarden died with the grunge era and Chris went to pursue a solo career.

Temple of the Dog

While still in Soundgarden, Cornell recorded an album with future members of Pearl Jam. The band was called Temple of the Dog and the album of the same name came out in 1991. The album is a tribute to their mutual friend, and Cornell's former roommate, Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose a year before.

The album went platinum, mostly thanks to the singles "Say Hello 2 Heaven" and "Hunger Strike", the latter of which features a duet between Cornell and Vedder. In 2003 and 2009 Pearl Jam concert, Cornell appeared as a surprise guest to perform "Hunger Strike" and "Reach Down".

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Solo career

After Soundgarden was "eaten up by the business" Cornell released his first solo album in a matter of years called Euphoria Morning and embarked on a tour. While it received positive reviews from critics, it wasn't a commercial success. He wrote songs for various Hollywood movies, such as Great Expectations, Mission: Impossible 2 and Casino Royale.

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Throughout his solo career, he often performed with other famous musicians like Aerosmith, Chester Bennington, and Timbaland. In 2007, he finally released his second album called Carry On with some help from his friend Gary Lucas.


In 2011 Cornell released Songbook, an acoustic live album. It was his first live album as a solo artist and includes stripped-down solo performances of songs from Cornell's whole career as a solo artist as well as with Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog plus covers of Led Zeppelin's "Thank You" and John Lennon's "Imagine".


In 2001, he was approached by Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk as after Zack de la Rocha left the band, they needed a new vocalist. Cornell wanted to work with them so much that he even put his own album on the shelf for a time being.

Morello described Cornell:

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.
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Their first album called Audioslave was a major success, but it didn’t come easy for Cornell who had alcohol problems and ended up in a rehab for two months, separated from his wife. He remained sober ever since. When asked how Cornell beat all his addictions he stated:

It was a long period of coming to the realization that this way (sober) is better. Going through rehab, honestly, did got me away from just the daily drudgery of depression and either trying to not drink or do drugs or doing them and you know, they give you such a simple message that any idiot can get and it's just over and over, but the bottom line is really, and this is the part that is scary for everyone, the individual kinda has to want it...not kinda, you have to want it and to not do that crap anymore or you will never stop and it will just kill you.

He also quit smoking which positively influenced his voice on their second album Out of Exile. He left the band in 2007, after which Audioslave was officially disbanded.

Soundgarden reunion

In 2010, Cornell hinted to a Soundgarden reunion by writing on his Twitter: "The 12-year break is over and school is back in session. Sign up now. Knights of the Soundtable ride again!"

And so it happened. Soundgarden were back in business, releasing singles and a commercial successful and critically acclaimed studio album King Animal.

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Since then, Chris was touring with the band right until the fateful night after the show in Detroit. Here's the last time when he performed Soundgarden's most famous song - Black Hole Sun.

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Rest in Peace, Chris, we all miss you.

26 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I'd like to see some love for Down on the Upside, it's a great album. This is hitting me hard today.
    That one is more of an acquired taste but yes it has some fantastic songs on it.
    It was actually my access point to Soundgarden. I took to it right away. I used to spend hours​ in my garage working out to it.
    It's good stuff man, definitely a little more experimental for them but still rocks. My first was Badmotorfinger, such a heavy album.
    Been listening to Soundgarden all day, and particularly this performance of "Slaves and Bulldozers" hits hard - We've not only lost an incredible one-of-a-kind musician, but also with him, an absolutely incredible band... RIP Chris 
    This song helped me get through the worst time of my life a year ago, I was listening to it every day because Chris's voice had just this calming effect on me. And him singning with Layne created one of most beautiful sound I have ever heard. The finale of this track still makes me cry, it is too beautiful. And please remember about such songs like "#1 Zero" from Audioslave and "Like Suicide" from SG, both being a little known masterpieces on which Chris gave his absolute best. RIP you beautiful man
    I was at the show last night, and let me tell you, it was incredible. He and the guys were on point and played an amazing set. I will forever be grateful for having attended that performance.
    He was off key, his vocal timing was off from the music... watching the videos on YouTube again and you could tell there was something... "off", especially on "My Wave". Tragic regardless... RIP Chris. 
    In my life there has never been an artist who's death has hit me like this one. His music, particularly with Soundgarden, has meant so much to me. The Day I Tried to Live is a song that has special meaning to me. It sounds depressing, but it actually has an uplifting message. Thanks for the music, Chris. Rest In Peace.
    Well looks like I'll probably be playing Soundgarden all day and through the weekend. No one knew what was going on in his life, but I really can't believe this. It's completely shocking and heartbreaking, it really leaves me speechless.
    I wonder how far along they were with the new album. Because a) if it's near complete and awesome the fans deserve to.have him.go out on a high note. Or b) the ideas are uninspired and the band want to shelve it but the label will release something against his will to make a quick buck.
    I don't know if i could listen to Like Suicide again.  It will tear me up.   Love the song - one of my favorites.  
    I never got round to getting the early Soundgarden albums or the second and third Audioslave albums. Guess I will now
    Personally I love Badmotorfinger and louder than love more than superunknown, ultramega ok is good but not essential in my opinion
    Third of Seattle Four is died... And it's strange death again One more step to the edge of Grunge's grave hole. Too bad
    Its soo heartbreaking.When i first read it this morning my head just started to spin.The man had everything.Just sheer talent.I hope the suicide rumour is not true as it would just break us fans even more.
    I just hoped that he knew how people loved him so much and his works so things like this won't happen.