Soundgarden (1984 – 2019): Looking back at a Rock Band that shaped my taste of music

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When I listen to Soundgarden I get a similar feeling and emotions that I get when listening to Nirvana. I guess it’s because of the similarity of the death of the lead singers Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell. May the soul of these two music geniuses rest in peace because they made my teen years. I get goosebumps and strong nostalgic feeling when I listen to them sing.

My love for rock was inspired by my dad, who loved to listen to Nirvana, Soundgarden, Tool and the likes. Eventually, I also loved rock by association! Soundgarden is one of my favourite rock bands from back in the days. I could listen to them on repeat without getting bored.

Back when I was a teen, I would have Nirvana and Soundgarden playing on repeat as I played games on ends on my PlayStation2. Rock was the only motivation I needed to win some games against my siblings. I would rarely buy physical albums back in the 90s, but I remember buying the ‘Superunknown’ album, I couldn’t just wait for it to be uploaded online after listening to it on the radio.

Background of the Soundgarden band.
In 1984, the Chicago based guitar player Kim Thayil formed Soundgarden with bass player Hiro Yamamoto and a local drummer who was a singer whose Robert Plant-like behavior started a thousand Led Zeppelin comparisons.
In 1986, Drummer Scott Sundquist joined and replaced Cornell as a frontman. Sundquist bowed out and was succeeded by Matt Cameron, a San Diego transplant who at the age of 11 had obtained his first pair of drum sticks.

Soundgarden attracted major labels very fast. Even before the group released its first Eps called Screaming Life in 1987 and Fopp in 1988. However, according to Cornell, he thought they were not musically compatible yet with the industry at the time. Soundgarden was later named after a group of pipe sculptures in Sand Point, Seattle.

Evolution of the Soundgarden Rock Band.
Sound Garden was a rock band in America that was founded by Chris Cornell (Singer and rhythm guitar player), lead guitarist Kim Thayil, and bassist Hiro Yamamoto in 1984 in Seattle, Washington. In 1986, Matt Cameron was the full-time drummer of the band and in 1990 bassist Ben Shephered had been the constant backup for Yamamoto.
In 1997, the band was disbanded and rebuilt in 2010. In an interview with the Seattle Times in October 2018, Thayil, after Cornell’s death in 2017, announced that the band would not continue together as Soundgarden. But they met again in January of 2019 for a one-off concert to pay homage to Cornell.

Soundgarden was the first of many grunge bands to sign record label Sub Pop, and it was one of the most prominent grunge rock band in Seattle at the time. Soundgarden was also the first grunge band to sign a major label with A&M Records in 1989, but its commercial successes did not come to fruition until the genre became mainstream with Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana from Seattle in the early 90s.

With the 1994 album Superunknown that made its appearance in the Billboard 200 and the award-wining singles like Spoonman and Black Hole Sun, Soundgarden achieved its greatest success during this time. In 1997, the band collapsed because of inner disagreements over their artistic course and touring fatigue. After more than a decade of projects with other bands, Soundgarden brought together their sixth and final studio album, King Animal. This album was released by Republic Records after two years.

By 2012, Soundgarden had sold over 10.5 million records in America and it was estimated that they sold over 25 million records globally. They were even ranked No. 14 in the coveted 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.

The Rise and Rise of the Soundgarden Rock Band

Soundgarden was formed in the early ‘80s by a band named Shemps, featuring a bass player Hiro Yamamoto as well as drummer and Singer Chris Cornell. The band was known as Shemps. The band regrouped as their new bass player Kim Thayil joined the band. Thayil moved from Park Forest, Illinois to Seattle along with Yamamoto and Pavitt, who later began the independent Sub Pop record label.

Cornell and Yamamoto were in touch with each other and after Shemps, the started jamming together and later Thayil joined them. Set up in 1984, Soundgarden featured Cornell and Yamamoto and Thayil. In 1985, however, the band recruited Scott Sundquist for vocal support. The later renamed to Soundgarden after a wind-channelling pipe sculpture called Sound Garden that sits on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration property at 7600 Sand Point Way, near Magnuson Park in Seattle.

The first album recordings were three tracks, titled:

  • Heretic
  • Tear to Forget, and
  • All your Lies.
It includes songs by fellow grunge pioneers Green River, Skin Yard, Malfunkshun, the U-men, and the Melvins which appeared in the 1986 compilation album for C/Z Records. In the same year, Sundquist left the band, to spend time with his family and was replaced by Matt Cameron, the drummer of Skin Yard. Susan Silver, a girlfriend and future wife, took up management of the Soundgarden in 1986.

One night, KCMU DJ Jonathan Poneman was impressed by a Soundgarden show and offered to partner with Bruce Pavitt and fund the band. Soundgarden signed up to Sub Pop and ‘Hunted Down’ was released in 1987 ass the band’s first single label. Poneman gave the band $20,000 to support them.

Record companies began showing interest in Soundgarden. Under the Sub Pop record label, the band released the Screaming Life EP, in 1987 and Fopp EP in 1988, and later released a combination of the two in 1990.

Soundgarden Major Steps: Change of record labels

As Soundgarden continued becoming popular, more record label was seeking their attention. Although the band had already signed up with some other major record labels, the went ahead and signed to the independent label SST Records for their independent album, Ultramega Ok that was released on 31st October 1988.

Cornell considered signing up with STT a huge mistake. He said that the producer assigned by SST had no idea what was happening in Seattle. Ultramega Ok was promoted on a tour by the band in America in the spring of 1989, and later on, did another tour in Europe from May of 1989. This was the first tour they did outside the US.
The band signed with A&M Records after touring to support Ultramega Ok, which created a rupture between Soundgarden and its typical audience. The band later started working on its first album for a major label, but the processes were shifted due to personnel issues. During this period, Hiro Yamamoto had abandoned the band and there was no new music from the band at the time.

Towards the end of 1989, Soundgarden released a debut album called Louder than Love which saw them take a step towards the mental mainstream as put by Steve Huey of Allmusic. Around this time, the band faced many issues concerning retail and distribution of their album’s release. Louder Than love was the band’s first album to chart on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 108 on the chart by 1990.

The bass guitar player Hiro Yamamoto thought he was not making a meaningful contribution to the band, he returned to school one month prior to the band’s tour for the Album Louder Than Love. From December 1989, through to March 1990, the band toured North America opening for Voivod. The band was promoting their album Nothingface, and also opening the tour with Fain NO more and the Big F.

Later on, the band travelled to Europe for a tour. Everman was later fired from the band at the end of the Louder Than Love tour. The band claimed that he didn’t fit in. Louder than Love won more fans to the band’s style of rock. The album was released in 1990.

Why Soundgarden became Insanely popular between 1991 – 1993

Jason Everman was substituted by Ben Shepherd, the bassist and Soundgarden’s 3rd album was then released in 1991. The band’s knowledge of music and writing re-defines its new approach. Shepherd brought a fresh and creative approach to the band.

The band’s popularity rose when they released the album Badmotorfinger in Septemeber 1991. The band had made a great step in terms of focus on music and consistency. The band appealed to mainstream metal fans. The lyrics of this album were really created to tell a story. Listening to it makes you feel like you’re reading a novel. It talked about the human conflict with self, the society, family, economy, government and a bunch of other things.
MTV showed interest to this album at its launch, although the video was banned in 1991. The video had a strong depiction of anti-Christianity. The song was forbidden to be played on MTV. Cornell had to clarify that the lyrics condemn public figures who use religion to characterize their persecution. Although the album was overshadowed at its release by the Nevermind by Nirvana.

In 1992, Badmotorfinger was nominated as one of the 100 best-selling records of the year for the Grammy Awards. Soundgarden later took part in the North American tour of Badmotorfinger in October and November of 1991.

The band was then selected for Guns N’ Roses because of the opening act of their Use Your Illusion Tour.

Some of the Most memorable Soundgarden Songs

Six Studio albums, two live albums, six compilation albums, 8 extended plays, 24 singles and 23 music videos mark the achievements of Soundgarden over their active years since 1984.

Soundgarden Studio Albums

Below is a list of Studio Albums by Soundgarden:
  • Ultramega Ok – Released October 1988
  • Louder than Love – September 1989
  • Badmotorfinger – Sept 1991
  • Superknown – March 1994
  • Down on the Upside – May 1996
  • King Animal – November 2012.

List of Soundgarden’s live Albums

  • Live on l-5 – March 2011
  • Live from the Artists Den – July 2019.

Soundgarden’s Compilation Albums

  • Screaming Life/FloppMay 1990
  • A-Sides – November 1997
  • Telephantasms – September 2010.
  • Classic Album Selection – May 2012.
  • Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path – November 2014
  • Essentials – 2019

List of Soundgarden’s Video Albums

  • Louder Than Live – May 1990
  • MotrovisionNovember 1992.
  • Live from the Artists DenJuly 2019.

List of Soundgarden’s Extended Plays

  • Screaming Life – Oct 1987
  • Fopp – August 1988
  • Flower – 1989
  • Loudest Love – October 1990
  • Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas (SOMMS) - 1992
  • Songs from Superunknown – November 1995
  • Before the Doors: Live on I-5 Soundcheck – Nov 2011
  • King Animal Demos – April 2013

List of Soundgarden’s singles:

  • Hunted Down – 1987
  • Flower – 1989
  • Loud Love
  • Hands All Over
  • Room a Thousand Years Wide – 1990
  • Jesus Christ Pose - 1991
  • Outshined
  • Rusty Cage - 1992
  • Spoonman – 1994
  • The Day I Tried to Live
  • Black Hole Sun
  • My Wave
  • Fell on Black Days
  • Pretty Noose - 1996
  • Burden in My Hand
  • Blow Up the Outside World
  • Ty Cobb - 1997
  • Bleed Together
  • Black Rain
  • The Telephantasm
  • Live to Rise
  • Been Away Too Long
  • By Crooked Steps – 2013
  • Rhinosaurus – promotional single 1997
  • Halfway There – promotional single, 2013

Soundgarden Members

Soundgarden became volatile towards the mid90s with changes in their membership which was followed by a hiatus between 1999 to around 2010. The most notable members of the Soundgarden throughout its lifetime included:
  • Chris Cornell – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, drums.
  • Kim Thayil – lead guitar.
  • Hiro Yamamoto – bass, backing vocals
  • Scott Sundiquist – drums.
  • Matt Cameron – drums, backing vocals.
  • Jason Everman
  • Ben Shepherd

Chris Cornell (1964 – 2017)

Chris was my favourite artist in the band, and my all-time favorite lead vocalist and rhythm guitar player. I didn’t fancy him much on drums, but he did the drums pretty well too.

Cornell was a singer, songwriter, drummer and lead vocalist and guitarist of Soundgarden and Audioslav. He was born in Boyle in 1964. Chris also worked solo playing soundtracks. He was also the founder of the Temple of the Dog, a one-off band that was devoted to paying homage to his late friend Andrew Wood.

Cornell’s vast catalogue as a songwriter, nearly four-octave vocal range and strong vocal belting technique makes him stand out as one of the key figures in the grunge movement back in the 90s. He also recorded four solo records:

  • Euphoria Morning in 1999
  • Carry On – back in 2007,
  • Scream – 2009, and
  • Higher Truth in 2015
He is also remembered for “The Roads We Choose (2007) and Chris Cornell in 2018 which were released posthumously. Chris was awarded the Golden Globe in 2011 for the song “The Keeper” which was used in the movie Machine Gun Preacher.

The charity solo “The Promise” was his last solo before his death. The song was used in the end credits of the movie called The Promise in 2016.

Despite being disturbed psychologically, Chris was a successful artist. In the US only, Cornell sold over 14.8 million albums and 8.8 million digital songs as well as three hundred million on-demand audio streams. Chris was nominated for 16 Grammy Awards and won three of them.

Chris Cornell was a philanthropist, in 2012 he created the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation to help the homeless, poor and abused or neglected children. Cornell would give a portion of his concert ticket sales to the foundation. He was the best friend and roommate to the singer Andrew Wood. They recorded the Island of Summer while living together. The song was released in 2011 in the album Melodies & Dreams.

Andrew’s sudden death in 1990 really affected Cornell. So much that he could not even listen to the songs they made together for almost two years. Cornell had a long fight with depression and addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. He managed the addiction from the early 80s to mid-90s when Soundgarden split up and his marriage was going down.

After playing with Soundgarden at the Fox Theatre on 17th May 2017, Chris was found dead by his bodyguard in the bathroom during the MGM Grand in Detroit. It was established that it was caused by suicide by hanging. Cornell was 52 years old at the time of his death.

Kim Thayil – lead guitarist.

Kim Thayil is a multi-talented American musician who is best known as the lead guitarist of Soundgarden. He is known to have co-founded the band together with Chris Cornell in 1984. Thayil has been named Rolling Stone’s top 100 best guitarists in 2010. He has won two Grammy Award while performing with Soundgarden.

Thayil is known to have voiced a character in Season 4 of Church of the Black Klok’s Deathcamp. In 2020 he played under Soundgarden at The Vic Theatre, Chicago. He also played at the finale of Lollapalooza in Grant Park.

Hiro Yamamoto – bass, backing vocals

Photo: Hiro & Chris / Pinterest
Yamamoto is one of the founding members of the Soundgarden band. In the Deep six compilation, he performed on the Eps of Screaming Life, Fopp, and Loudest love as well as the albums of Ultramega OK and Louder than Love. He performed alongside the Late Chris Cornell, Thayil, and Sundquist.

After the spring of 1989 European tour, he left the band. He was quickly replaced by Jason Everman from Nirvana, after which Ben Shepherd became a permanent bassist. Yamamoto went back to college to complete his Master's degree in physical chemistry at Western Washington University. He is now the Chief of Organic Chemistry at Edge Analytical in Burlington, Washington.

Scott Sundiquist – drums.

Photo Coutesy:
Scott is an American musician and well-known drummer for Soundgarden back in the 80s. Scott joined the co-founders Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil back in 1985 when the band was at its formative stage. Scott was brought on board so as to relieve Cornell of drumming so that he could concentrate on the vocals. They toured the US and the world for over a year. Scott was instrumental in the recording of C/Z Records compilation album.

Later on in 1986, Sundquist got married and had a child. Because of this, he quit the band to concentrate on his family. He was replaced by Matt Cameron who stayed with the band until its disbandment in 1997.

Matt Cameron – drums, backing vocals.

Matt hails from San Diego, California. He started playing the drums at a young age. Together with his friends in the band called Kiss. He was only 13 years old at the time. He met Paul Stanely during one of his stints. He left the Kiss for Soundgarden, later on, Kiss was disbanded after litigations and contract violations.

By September of 1986, Cameron was so popular in the local music scene that he was picked to play for Soundgarden when Scott Sundquist left. He joined Chris, Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto. Cameron was optimistic and blended very well in the band.

Final Thoughts.

Honestly, Soundgarden remains at the top of my list of best grunge and alternative rock bands of the 90s through to the 2000s. Until this day, I still listen to their albums and they never get old. The songs are simply timeless and appeal to almost all generations that came after. It is like they were singing for the future. They still blow me away with strong nostalgia.

It hurts when I look back at the lyrics of the songs written by Cornell, he was definitely fighting deep battles with himself inside. I thank God for the time we had him around, he left us with pieces of music that will last forever on earth and entertain people for years to come.

RIP Chris Cornell. We miss you.

What memories do you have of the Soundgarden band? How did you find their songs?

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Reactions: Peterlight


Omega Geeze
Jul 13, 2019
This is a band I always listen to when I wanna really dive back to those days. Chris Cornell, we miss you. :(
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New Geeze
Sep 24, 2020
You won't blame me if I said I was never a rock music lover, am more into the rnb and blues.

Reading the article have open my eyes to see and understand why a lot of people love rock music and this band history has showed me why rock music is beautiful.

If I could turn back the hands of time, I would have loved to listen to their music.


Omega Geeze
Jul 13, 2019
You won't blame me if I said I was never a rock music lover, am more into the rnb and blues.

Reading the article have open my eyes to see and understand why a lot of people love rock music and this band history has showed me why rock music is beautiful.

If I could turn back the hands of time, I would have loved to listen to their music.
Oohhh I dig the blues. Stuff like Soundgarden though, captures a kind of magic.
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Reactions: Peterlight