Origin: Seattle, Washington
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Soundgarden was a Seattle, Washington rock band formed in 1984 by singer and rhythm guitarist Chris Cornell, lead guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Hiro Yamamoto. They were joined by Matt Cameron who became their full-time drummer in 1986. With Chris Cornell’s 2017 passing guitarist Thayil became the last remaining original member.
As seminal pioneers and creators of the grunge music genre that originated in Seattle, Soundgarden mixed elements of punk rock and metal to make a sludgy, murky sound through the use of fuzzy-sounding distortion in their guitars. Soundgarden was the first grunge band signed to a major label in 1989. They achieved commercial success in the early 1990’s along with their Seattle contemporaries Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana. Soundgarden has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide.
Soundgarden originated with a band called the Shemps, which performed around Seattle in the early 1980’s that featured Yamamoto and Cornell. The band later recruited Thayil. Upon the Shemps disbandment the trio stayed in contact jamming together eventually forming Soundgarden in 1984.
Soundgarden named themselves after a wind-channeling pipe sculpture titled A Sound Garden in Seattle. Cornell initially played drums while singing but eventually the band enlisted drummer Scott Sundquist to allow Cornell to concentrate on vocals. The band toured with this lineup for about a year with Matt Cameron eventually taking over the drumming. Soundgarden eventually signed with the Seattle label Sub Pop where their first singles were released in the late 1980’s.
Soundgarden released its debut album Ultramega OK in 1988. The band toured the United States and Europe behind the album in 1989. Ultramega OK earned the band a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance in 1990. In 1989 Soundgarden released their second album and major label debut Louder Than Love. The album and atmosphere was not without its controversies. Long-time fans who had come from the punk scene thought the band was selling out by getting on a major label and touring with Guns and Roses, while personnel issues caused most of the songwriting duties to fall on Cornell. Eventually Louder Than Love became the band’s first album to enter the Billboard charts in 1990.
Soundgarden achieved mainstream success with its 1994 album Superunknown which debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and yielded the Grammy Award-winning singles “Black Hole Sun,” and “Spoonman.” The songs on Superunknown captured the creativity and heaviness of the band’s earlier works, while showcasing the group’s newly evolving style. Lyrically, the album was quite dark and mysterious, and it is often interpreted to be dealing with substance abuse, suicide, and depression. The video for “Black Hole Sun” became an MTV hit capturing the award for Best Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. The band also won two Grammy Awards in 1995 with “Black Hole Sun” receiving the award for Best Hard Rock Performance and “Spoonman” capturing the award for Best Metal Performance. Superunknown sold more than five million albums and remains the band’s most successful album.
Following their worldwide tour behind Superunknown the band began working on what would be their last studio album in more than 15 years Down on the Upside which was released in 1996. These sessions were tension filled with Cornell’s desire to shift away from the heavy guitar that had become the band’s trademark and taking them further away from their grunge origins. As a result Down on the Upside is less dark than previous albums and mixes both acoustic and electric music. The album spawned the Grammy nominated single “Pretty Noose,” for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1997. Despite favorable reviews and modest sales the album did not match the sales or acclaim of its predecessor Superunknown.
In 1997 Soundgarden announced its dissolution. Cornell formed the platinum selling supergroup Audioslave with member of Rage Against the Machine while other former Soundgarden members remained in the music business releasing solo albums and joining short-lived groups. By 2009 rumors of a Soundgarden reunion began circulating and in 2010 Cornell announced that the band was back playing their first show since 1997 in their hometown of Seattle and by headlining that year’s Lollapooza. In 2012 Soundgarden released their first album on new material in fifteen years King Animal.
On May 18, 2017, Cornell was found dead of an apparent suicide by hanging in Detroit, Michigan after performing with Soundgarden. Following Cornell’s death the band cancelled the rest of its tour. In the year since Cornell’s death the band went back and forth on whether to continue its existence. Finally in 2018 Soundgarden confirmed that they would disband after performing one final show in Los Angeles on January 16, 2019 as a tribute to Cornell. Filling in for Cornell will be Marcus Durant of MC5 and Zen Guerrilla, while member of Foo Fighters, Metallica, and member of Cornell’s other bands Audioslave and Temple of the Dog will also perform.
Ultramega OK (1988)
Louder Than Love (1989)
Down on the Upside (1996)
King Animal (2012)
Sacramento’s K-ZAP 93.3 FM plays Soundgarden. All part of 50 years of Rock, Blues and More, 24-7 on our station’s stream at K-ZAP.ORG/LISTEN/