Vocalist Christopher J. Cornell was born on July 20, 1964, in the
suburbs of Seattle. He was one of six children, and had an early
affinity to music, beginning with piano lessons and listening to
borrowed Lynyrd Skynyrd, Beatles, and Alice Cooper records as early as
age 7. Cornell soon stopped taking piano lessons and acquired a drum
kit, playing along to Rush and Yes tunes. Cornell's parents divorced
when he was 14, and he dropped out of high school, taking a job as a
Cornell's first band, the Jones Street Band, covered songs by Rush and AC/DC, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. It was his first attempt at being a vocalist, an interest which he would later pursue. Cornell cites Killing Joke's self-titled record as the first genre-blending music he had heard, realizing that he, too, could mix new wave and heavy metal and be a success.
By this time, Cornell had moved out of his family's home and was living with a roommate in Seattle, joining a band called the Shemps in 1982, which had been founded by Kim Thayil's roommate, Matt Dentino. Cornell's roommate proved to be a bit too flaky, and he soon moved in with Hiro Yamamoto, the Shemps' original bassist. In 1984, after the demise of that band, Cornell and Yamamoto invited Thayil to form a band with them. They named themselves Soundgarden and Cornell assumed the role of both drummer and vocalist.
In 1986, the band now being a four-piece outfit with the addition of drummer Scott Sundquist and his quick replacement by Matt Cameron, Cornell moved to Melrose Avenue East, taking over the rent from Malfunkshun's Andrew Wood, with whom he had lived earlier. He was also taking singing lessons and working at the Rain City Grill at this time. A neighbor remembers Soundgarden rehearsing there, and Cornell standing in his kitchen practicing his screams. Cornell's then-girlfriend, Susan Silver (who he would subsequently marry, in September 1990), was brought in to manage the band.
Soon Cornell was interested in expanding his talent as a musician, and taught himself guitar and bass; his learning of the guitar has been a huge influence on Soundgarden's music, and he invariably has guitar in hand in shows these days. His guitar ability also led him to some solo ventures, such as the song "Seasons," from the Singles soundtrack and the acoustic version of "Like Suicide" from S.F.W..
On March 16, 1990, Andy Wood died, and as a tribute, Cornell wrote and recorded demos of "Reach Down" and "Say Hello 2 Heaven." In November of that year, those songs were recorded and released as part of the Temple of the Dog project, which also featured Matt Cameron. Cornell later teamed up with Cameron on the side again as half of M.A.C.C., covering "Hey Baby" for the Stone Free tribute to Jimi Hendrix.
Chris Cornell speaks...
on drummer Matt Cameron's joining the band:
on his vocal influences for "Beyond the Wheel":
on selling out:
on the band: