The artist Chris Cornell compared to “God and Jesus”

There’s no denying that Chris Cornell was born to sing rock and roll. Since forming Soundgarden in the late 1980s, Cornell’s banshee shrieks have been leaving their mark on generations of rock vocalists, from the realms of metal to even the seasoned veterans of the pop scene. As far as Cornell was concerned, genre parameters need not apply when talking about good music.

Cornell took chances singing the most challenging songs that any artist could muster throughout his career. While his clearest inspiration tended to be from Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Cornell was known to bust out his pop chops now and again, whether that means listening to radio-friendly hits of U2, trying his hand at a slower version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’, or taking on the mammoth powerhouse that is Whitney Houston on ‘I Will Always Love You’.

For all of the great songs he covered, Cornell always thrived when crafting music for Soundgarden and Audioslave. Throughout his work in both acts, Cornell had been known to flex his chops on both the reserved and intense sides of his vocal performance, from the wail of ‘Outshined’ to the soulful grit of ‘Like a Stone’. Then again, Cornell probably didn’t think that a music legend would take a song of his own and transform it.

As Soundgarden quickly turned into the biggest rock and roll band in the world, Johnny Cash was in the middle of a career renaissance. Thanks to the help of Rick Rubin, ‘The Man in Black’ had begun incorporating modern influences into his playing, performing the traditional country style with tracks from the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode.

Amid the cuts that Cash moulded was Soundgarden’s ‘Rusty Cage’, released on the album Unchained. While the grunge original benefits from some of the wildest time signature changes of the grunge era, Cash keeps the tempo to a slight bounce, playing around with the vocal melody to fit in with his intimidating drawl.

When talking about meeting Cash for the first time, Cornell was shell-shocked when he heard about Cash’s version of his tune. During his initial meeting, Cornell felt a spiritual presence around Cash, remarking, “Johnny Cash doing a song that I wrote is definitely one a career highlight. When I finally met him, it was like I was talking to God and Jesus at the same time.”

As much as Cornell admired Cash for his gruff exterior and omnipresence as a performer, he wasn’t looking to take on country music soon. Throughout the recording of Audioslave’s first records from around the same time, Cornell was finally looking to blow out the speakers with the members of Rage Against the Machine, going on a tour de force of rock grandeur with tracks like ‘Cochise’ and ‘Be Yourself’.

Then again, Cornell did have the opportunity to flex his muscles with similar arrangements on his debut solo record, Euphoria Morning. After years of mining Soundgarden’s signature style, the album comprised acoustic-based songs with more in common with Zeppelin-esque bombast than anything Cash had done. Perhaps Cornell wanted to stray away from any country music because of Cash’s rendition of his song, but he also may not have wanted to touch the perfection of what ‘The Man in Black’ had already laid down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *