May 22, 2017 - Robert John Hadfield

My Little Tribute to Chris Cornell

He was an inspriational disruptor in the music industry.


As a former professional musician and performer, I have heroes in that industry - and Chris Cornell was among the elites for me. So I wanted to devote this weeks article to him.

In the early 1990s I was a struggling musician and college student and like many people, I had a job at a convenience store. One night I was working late and something happened that literally changed my life as both a musician, and as a lover of music. It was dark outside, around 10:00, I was the only one in the store. I was sitting behind the register and I was listening to the radio on a little boom box.

It was the first time time I heard the song Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.

The opening guitar riff started and something clicked. I stood there with this mixture of confusion, excitement and energy. "What is this sound I’m listening too?!!" I stood there for the next several minutes just basking in this incredible noise coming out of the boom box. And by the time the song was over, I remember thinking, “that was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard and all of the music I listen to stinks.”

I think it was an experience shared by many people because it seemed within weeks, all of the famous hard rock bands at the time, bands who had been playing big arenas, just disappeared and this new sound, we called grunge, took over everything. It was amazing.

And although Kurt Cobain resonated with me in that moment, he wasn’t the one who I really connected with from that era.

It wasn’t long after that experience that I was watching MTV and I saw a video that took things to the next level. It was a video for a song called “Outshined” by Soundgarden. I had never heard of them before, but this song had everything. It was powerful. The guitars sounded amazing, It was raw and real. And it was unique, it was in a 7/4 time signature. No one does that. I think the last time a band had a hit in 7/4 it was the song Money by Pink Floyd.

But more than all of this, there was this voice and this person. I had never seen a cooler looking rock star.  And his voice was the most unique amazing thing I think I had ever heard. Of course it was Chris Cornell. If there’s such thing as a man crush – I had it. It was as if everything I loved about rock music was all wrapped up in one person. No one had impacted me like that since maybe Paul Stanley from Kiss when I was 9 years old.

I bought the Soundgarden CD Badmotorfinger immediately, and I listened to it over and over. It was as if I discovered new things every time I listened to it. It wasn’t like anything I had ever heard. To me, it is still one of the greatest albums ever. Even Johnny Cash did a version of one of the songs on that album.

I had a cover band at the time too and we were playing every weekend. And more than anything I wanted to play some Soundgarden tunes. So we learned a couple and played them a few times; but we stopped because we just couldn’t pull them off. Especially the vocals, believe me I tried.

Of course I saw Soundgarden in concert many times, the most recent was a few years ago at the first Bank Center here in Denver.

But the coolest thing for me personally happened in 1995 right after the Superbowl. A pilot for a new series, starring James Brolin, aired and I had written two songs that were in that movie. I was even lucky enough to appear in the movie.

The first time I saw the movie was on TV, just like everyone else. And at the beginning of the movie, in one of the first scenes, they used the song Superunknown by Soundgarden. And I thought, "oh my gosh, Chris Cornell and I both have songs in the same movie." And when I received the cue sheet from Universal Television, there it was, my name on the same cue sheet as Chris Cornell. And I have carried that cue sheet around in my portfolio for over two decades now.

I was stunned last week when I heard the news about Chris Cornell's death. It felt like the end of an era in my life. But his persona, his personality, his style, his image and his singularly unique approach to music and that voice, will resonate with many of us for the rest of our lives. And I have a feeling he is one of those people who will be appreciated for generations to come.

In the business world we often talk about the importance of disruption, and in the music business, Chris Cornell was a perfect example of that. You don’t make a real impact in the world being like everyone else, and Chris Cornell was truly one of a kind.

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