Last updated: 12/11/2011 10:00:00 AM
some sections reprinted from The Soundgarden Story and Rolling Stone magazine
As best as anyone can tell, the seeds that would eventually become Soundgarden were sown in 1981, when Kim Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto (who would serve as the band's bassist until 1988), living in Park Forest, Illinois, and having kicked around in local bands for a few years, graduated from Rich East, an alternative high school. Wanting to continue their educations in a similar manner, the two set out for Olympia, Washington, planning to enroll at the progressive Evergreen State College. Unable to find jobs once they got to Olympia, and admiring the crop of bands that had sprung up in Seattle, where Thayil had lived until the age of five, they moved there instead. Thayil enrolled at the University of Washington, where he eventually earned a degree in philosophy.
Probably the earliest incarnation of Soundgarden was a short-lived cover band called the Shemps, which was founded by Thayil's roommate, a guitarist named Matt Dentino. Chris Cornell, then nineteen, had started out as a drummer, but he wanted more musical input than drummers were typically allowed. "I always figured I would just end up being such a good drummer that the best band in the world would ask me to be in it," says Cornell. "I guess I lost that attitude pretty quick." Deciding to try singing, Cornell answered Dentino's vocalist-wanted ad. When Cornell joined the Shemps, Yamamoto was playing bass; he subsequently quit and was replaced by Thayil.
"When I met Chris," says Thayil, "my first impression was that he was some guy who just got out of the navy or something. He had real short hair and was dressed real slick. He had a great voice -- even though we were doing shitty material." As Thayil tells it, Dentino was "obsessed with people who died," and the Shemps' repertoire consisted almost entirely of Doors, Hendrix, Otis Redding and Buddy Holly tunes. Their only original was a snappy Dentino composition called "Marilyn Monroe" ("We're all looking for Marilyn Monroe/She's just a girl that I could go for . . .").
Cornell and Thayil often crossed paths with Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd around this time. Cameron was drumming in a band called Feedback, which would eventually evolve into Skin Yard, and Shepherd was the guitarist for a local hardcore outfit called March of Crimes. That band's biggest claim to fame, says Shepherd, was a tape that sold a few copies in Finland. "And," he adds, "we got to meet Jello Biafra [of the Dead Kennedys] because he liked our name."
By 1984, the Shemps were history, and Cornell, looking to get away from a flaky roommate, had moved in with Yamamoto. "I was a drummer, and he was a bass player," says Cornell, "so it was sort of like the law that we had to start a band." After jamming around with a number of guitarists, the two invited Thayil into the fold. Christening themselves Soundgarden after a pipe sculpture in Seattle's Sand Point that makes unearthly howling noises in the wind (check out a great illustration of "discovery" of the Sound Garden, scanned from a comic book; the whole thing is one large inline image, about 265kB), the trio began gigging, Cornell doubling on drums and vocals. The band's first show was with a New York band called Three Teens Kill Four; its second was with the Melvins and Husker Du.
After enlisting drummer Scott Sundquist to free Cornell up for frontman duties, the band gigged around for a year, and in 1986, they began recording, contributing two songs -- "Heretic" and "All Your Lies" -- to a CZ Records compilation album called Deep Six, which also featured the Melvins, the U-Men, Skin Yard (with Matt Cameron), Malfunkshun and Green River. (Green River would eventually splinter into Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, the latter fronted by Malfunkshun singer Andy Wood.) By most accounts, it was Deep Six that sent the first brigade of major-label A&R reps to Seattle in the Eighties; in light of this, it was reissued in 1994 with the collaborative effort of CZ and A&M Records.
Sundquist, who had a wife and kids, bowed out of Soundgarden the same year. After some prodding, Cornell, Thayil and Yamamoto lured Cameron away from Skin Yard, and the four began recording their first Sub Pop EP, 1987's Screaming Life (check out the original contract between Soundgarden and Sub Pop). It was released as a 12-inch, with the first 600 copies on orange vinyl. Sub Pop also released a promotional single ("Hunted Down" b/w "Nothing to Say") in support of the most valuable records on the label (A mint condition copy can easily go for $100 and up in some markets). They followed up in 1988 with a second EP, Fopp. Built around droning funk-metal and dub versions of the Ohio Players song (from their 1976 album Honey), the EP foreshadowed Soundgarden's bent for offbeat covers. Both EPs were later reissued together on one CD, 1990's aptly-titled Screaming Life/Fopp on Sub Pop.
By this time A&M Records had come a-courting, but the band members chose to stay on the indie circuit and sign with SST -- home of the postpunk bands they idolized -- to record their first full-length LP, 1988's Grammy-nominated Ultramega OK, which featured a cover of John Lennon's "One Minute of Silence" (actually a cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Two Minutes of Silence", but they didn't do Yoko's portion). A&M's persistence eventually won out, though, and the label signed them later that year.
Soundgarden began work on its A&M debut, Louder Than Love (the original title allegedly being Louder Than Fuck), in December of 1988. Just after the album's release, in the fall of 1989, Yamamoto wanted to return to school and left the band. Left in a lurch, with a tour already booked, Soundgarden began auditioning bass players. Ben Shepherd was among those who showed up, but though the band liked his style, he didn't know the songs. Jason Everman, who did know them, got the gig [he is in the band photo that appears at the very top of this page]. The A&M album led to tours across the states and Europe, including a successful tour package with Voivod and Faith No More.
An earlier show was filmed for a home video, which was released as Louder Than Live. The videotape displayed the band's vengance in concert and featured a medley consisting of Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom" and Cheech and Chong's "Earache my Eye". A&M also released a promotional CD called Louder Than Live, with a few other songs not on the video. But after the tour, Everman (who had previously worn out his welcome with Nirvana in record time) was history. "Jason just didn't work out," says Thayil.
It was right around this time that Mother Love Bone singer Andy Wood -- who had been friends with the members of Soundgarden and a onetime roommate of Cornell's -- died of an overdose.
"When Andy died," remembers Thayil, "I started thinking how there was nobody like him. And Chris was thinking this. I remember we were drinking, and Chris goes, 'I've been thinking about Ben a lot, because there's something in his spirit that Andy had.' We said, 'You know, Ben is that kind of person -- he's just one, there's just sort of one Ben.' And we thought: 'Jesus, it just makes sense to honor that kind of talent. Okay, let's get Ben.'" Shepherd joined Soundgarden in 1990.
As their first musical effort together, the band decided to release a single on Sub Pop as a gift, "Room A Thousand Years Wide" b/w "HIV Baby." It was released as a freebie for members of Sub Pop's single of the month club in a pressing of 5000 copies, with the first 1500 on grape vinyl. Not surprisingly, the record sold quickly and gave a good indication of what the band had in store for the future (mint condition copies on grape vinyl have been selling recently for $50 and up).
In a tribute to Andy Wood, Chris penned a few songs and asked Pearl Jam guitarist, Stone Gossard, to collaborate. Along with Stone, Chris asked fellow Soundgardener Matt Cameron, as well as Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, and Eddie Vedder (also of Pearl Jam) to lend their music. This was Temple of the Dog. An album was recorded from that material and released in April, 1991 on A&M records.
In addition to his contribution to Temple of the Dog, Matt Cameron could also be found playing drums on an album called Ankey Low Day by the Tone Dogs, a group featuring avant-garde jazz saxophonist Amy Denio.
In the spring of 1991 the band worked on its next album with producer Terry Date. Badmotorfinger was released in the latter half of the year (check out A&M's press release/biography). The album featured a different version of "Room a Thousand Years Wide" and it exposed the band to an even wider audience. Its success was proven when Badmotorfinger rewarded the band with their first platinum album, commemorating the sale of one million copies.
In addition to the album tracks, Soundgarden recorded a number of songs from the Badmotorfinger sessions that were meant for non-LP tracks or future reference including several cover tunes. One of these, "She's a Politician," can be found as a split flexi-disc with Rights of the Accused in the December 1991 issue of Reflex (P.O. Box 544, Mt. Morris, IL).
These non-LP tracks were eventually made available inside a limited edition double disc Badmotorfinger album package that included a bonus CD of these songs. The bonus CD, entitled Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas (try to read it backwards, too!) -- or SOMMS -- also included "She's a Politician" as well as a live version of "Slaves and Bulldozers," Black Sabbath's "Into the Void," Devo's "Girl U Want," and the Rolling Stones' "Stray Cat Blues."
In support of Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden began a grueling tour schedule. Starting in late 1991, shortly after the album's release, the band hit the road with Guns N' Roses, touring parts of of the US and Canada. They then moved on to an opening slot with Skid Row in February of 1992, once again taking them through parts of the US. Next it was off to Europe on a headlining tour, this time with Monster Magnet and Swervedriver. In May the band once again hooked up with Guns N' Roses, taking them back to Europe through June 1992. Faith No More was also on that bill. When SG returned to the states in july, they embarked on the crazy summer festival we know and love, Lollapalooza! When summer came to an end so did the Lollapalooza tour. In August of 1992 Soundgarden settled in for a well-deserved rest.
Well, they sort of rested. Throughout the year, Soundgarden, as a band and individually, undertook several projects.
In early 1993, Ben and Matt hooked up with some of their buddies and recorded Hater, a ten song album that was eventually released on A&M records in late september of '93.
Motorvision, a home video, was assembled and released in early 1993. Filmed during the band's 1991-1992 tour, it featured performances of new as well as old Soundgarden material.
Chris contributed his songwriting skills to Alice Cooper and Kim teamed up with Jeff Gilbert, Bill Rieflen from Ministry, and Paul Larken from Below Sound and Splinter Party to form Dark Load, a project that came to fruition with a release on a compilation called Smell The Fuzz in 1996.
Soundgarden as a group contributed songs to some worthy causes. These included the No Alternative compilation to benefit AIDS research and a Greenpeace benefit titled Alternative NRG featuring Soundgarden with Queen guitarist Brian May playing together on "New Damage."
Last but not least 1993 saw Soundgarden return to the studio to record a new full length album. Titled Superunknown, it featured fifteen new songs (16 on the international version) and was released March 8, 1994.
However, prior to the release of Superunknown, the boys hit the road. On January 15, 1994, Soundgarden played their first show ever in Australia. They performed several more Australian shows through early February then headed up the Pacific Rim to Japan where on February 8, 1994, the guys played their first ever show in Japan.
The band then went on to play 3 more shows in Japan, returned to the states, released Superunknown (remember, March 8), and then flew to London to begin an extensive tour of Europe. (That's a lot of touring to do before an album is even released.)
After touring Europe through April 1994, Soundgarden returned to the United States to begin Leg One of their North American summer tour. This first leg started in May with Tad and Eleven as openers and burned its way through the country until the beginning of July when Leg One turned into Leg Two. On the second half of this hot, sweaty summer tour The Reverend Horton Heat and You Am I took over the supporting duties. Leg Two took the band through mid-August, ending in Seattle with a big homecoming show featuring Screaming Trees along with The Reverend and You Am I.
Upon returning home, Chris had complaints about the way his voice felt. The doctors discovered Chris had severely strained his vocal chords and put him under medical directive to immediately stop all strenuous use of his voice in order to avoid permanent damage and to allow for a complete recovery. This medical directive forced the band to cancel several European festivals and small shows.
In making the announcement the band said, "We would like to extend our personal apologies to all our fans, thank them for their patience, and let them know we appreciate all their support." Chris added, "I always want to give Soundgarden fans and my band the best performance I can. It wouldn't be fair otherwise. I take seriously the fact that our fans pay hard-earned money to buy our records and see our show. They desrve the best show I can give, and I wouldn't want any of them or myself to be disappointed with my performance."
Soundgarden won their very first MTV video music award for "Best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Video" for "Black Hole Sun." On the September 8, 1994, broadcast of the award ceremony, Chris and Kim were also given the honor of presenting an award.
Several other singles were released in many different versions throughout the world; "Spoonman," "The Day I Tried to Live," "My Wave," and "Fell On Black Days" are spread over dozens of different CDs, many of them containing bonus tracks (such as "Kyle Petty, Son of Richard," which was subsequently released on the Home Alive compilation).
In the fall of 1995, Soundgarden returned to Europe, touring from August 23 to September 9, and including such major dates as the Reading Festival and the Pukkelpop Festival.
On November 21, 1995, Soundgarden made its first trip into the world of computer entertainment with the release of Alive in the Superunknown, a CD+ that contains four standard audio tracks as well as a multimedia experience.
In March 1996, the first single from Soundgarden's new studio album, which at the time had not yet been released, became available, titled "Pretty Noose." Graphic artist Frank Kozik directed the video, which was edited by MTV because of material they felt was inappropriate.
On May 14, 1996, Soundgarden released Down on the Upside, their most recent studio album, which debuted at #2 on the Billboard Top 200.
To support the album, the band became the first act to ever play the main stage twice as it joined Lollapalooza for its summer tour. Prior to the tour, Soundgarden played their first club gig in a long time, appearing at the Showbox in Seattle in front of an audience of only 800.
Shortly after the band returned from Lollapalooza, the second single from Down On The Upside, "Burden In My Hand," was released. The band then toured Europe in early fall 1996 and returned to the United States to play shows across the country (ending in Seattle on Decvember 18). The US leg of the tour suffered, due to problems with Chris Cornell's voice that led to the cancellation of 2 shows and the postponing of 2 more. After resting for the holidays, Soundgarden headed to Australia and New Zealand, followed by two shows in Hawaii on February 8 and 9, 1997.
The third single from Down On The Upside, released before the band toured the US, was "Blow Up The Outside World," whose video caused controversy in Europe. It was even banned from MTV Europe for a few weeks.
The tour over, the band announced it would be taking the summer off and then hopefully going back into the studio in the fall of 1997. Chris spoke enthusiastically about recording when interviewed before the Grammy awards, for which "Pretty Noose" was nominated, but did not win. Kim was featured on the new Pigeonhed record. In March, Ben Shepherd announced he would be playing with Devilhead as a side project; his first gig with that band was in Seattle on April 4, 1997.
On April 9, 1997, Soundgarden stunned the music world by announcing that they were disbanding. As the press release stated, "After twelve years the members of Soundgarden have amicably and mutually decided to disband to pursue other interests. There is no word at this time on any of the members' future plans."
The final single from Down On The Upside was "Ty Cobb," released only in Australia, featuring ex-Ministry member Bill Rieflin's remix of "Rhinosaur" as a b-side.
The Soundgarden Fan Club provides Soundgarden: Then, Now, and Forever, its account of the band's history, with membership; at last count it was out of date, having been compiled prior to the release of Down On The Upside.