I've heard a rumor about a Soundgarden reunion at the next Coachella festival in April. As a longtime fan of the band, this blew my mind. So I poked around a little, and--according to an excellent source--the rumor is not true. But even the thought of such an event conjured up many memories and all of the connections between Nirvana and Soundgarden.
It must have been in 1986 when I first saw them at the Gorilla Gardens venue in Seattle's International District. They didn't appear like the usual punk/rock band. The guitar player looked like a pretty normal college student. Kim Thayil was studying at the University of Washington at the time. Here was this clean-shaven, short-haired East Indian dude playing this guitar with a chorus effect pedal cranked pretty loud. Hiro Yamamoto was a very capable bassist. The drummer also did the vocals. This dude, sporting some kind of new-wave spiked hairdo, could sing and keep a good beat, too! The great vocals with big riffs-dripping with chorus-made for a dark, interesting sound.
So I'd catch these fellows' shows. They found another drummer, Matt Cameron; and Chris Cornell came out front. Soundgarden had this presence. Not only did they rock, they came across as professional. Doors seemed to open for the band, and it wasn't surprising. They were the big grunge band in Seattle, and everyone knew they were on a path to world domination.
Screaming Life, released on the fledgling Sub Pop label in 1987, established them as a force in rock music. They released another EP, featuring a raucous cover of Ohio Players' "Fopp." Soon after that feat, they got signed to the important SST label and released the album Ultramega OK.
This upward trajectory continued with the band signing a contract with A&M Records. Around this time, Nirvana opened for them. We were near the bottom of the bill at a daylong festival in a park in downtown Olympia. Soundgarden showed up with all this nice gear. I looked at Matt's brand new drum kit and thought the band must have all this cash from their major label deal wadded in grocery bags. I had no idea about how a band can spend an advance so fast with all of the recording costs, professional fees, taxes, and other obligations from a record deal! The sky got dark halfway through their set (there were no stage lights), so I pulled our van up to the stage and shined the headlights on the band. Chris seemed startled and shouted something like, "It's the cops!"
Their 1990 major-label debut, Louder Than Love was great. Soundgarden left the indie/underground sphere to tour with big-name rock bands. For a while, Nirvana was a four-piece with Jason Everman on guitar. That didn't work out, and after Hiro left, Jason joined Soundgarden to play bass. Nirvana did a tour of the Midwest, and this Bainbridge Islander named Ben Shepherd came on the road with us to help with gear. One thing led to another, and Ben joined Soundgarden as the bassist!
Then came 1991 and the grunge/alternative explosion. Two things worked for Soundgarden in this period. First, they were a great band with great songs. Second, they still held their indie credibility, so they fit in with the new paradigm.
1996's Down on the Upside is one great song after another. I loved that record and was shocked to hear the news about the band's breakup the next year. It was big news-kind of like the end of an era.
I still keep in frequent contact with Kim. And I tend to bump into Ben at unusual places like gas stations on the coast. Matt now plays drums in Pearl Jam, and I really like the work Chris has done since Soundgarden. Life goes on. And even though the Soundgarden reunion rumor is not true (sorry), that doesn't mean it's not a great idea!