Photo Credit – Christie Goodwin, Getty Images
Chris Cornell: Guitar Genius
Chris Cornell was an icon in rock music. Best known as the vocalist for Soundgarden and Audioslave he crafted numerous solo works and soundtrack contributions as well as working with artists like Alice Cooper and Slash during a career cut short. Known for his powerful ‘belting’ vocal technique and a nearly four-octave vocal range he wasn’t just an amazing singer, but a creative guitarist and great songwriter to boot. In the anterior of Soundgarden’s formation, Cornell was actually playing the drums before making his switch to vocals and it’s said that his roots in drumming helped form his guitar style. His foundation in drums gave him a natural sense of rhythm, mixed with an unusual picking style, utilising more of his elbow than his wrist, which enabled him to create the more complex compositions Soundgarden wanted alongside Kim Thayil, a guitar legend in his own right.
Combining this with a penchant for unusual time signatures, Chris would often sing in straight 4/4 over more complex 7/4 or 5/4 riffs, which give something that sounds like a typical rock song an edge. On the well-known song ‘Rusty Cage’ the song starts in typical 4/4 but then in the second half delves into 3/4, 5/4 and then the mind-boggling 19/8 section (broken down this is counted 3+3+2+2+2+1+2+2+2). Playing and singing over these complex time signatures was a feat in itself, but it’s what set Soundgarden apart from their contemporaries. Mixed with a no-boundaries approach stylistically and the hard, sludgy riffing of Black Sabbath Chris and company managed to create something truly unique.
The Day I Tried To Live
Not content with mind-expanding time signatures Soundgarden were also known for utilising alternate tunings to enhance their creativity. ‘The Day I Tried To Live’ and ‘My Wave’ both use the unusual EEBBBB tuning, whilst ‘Mailman’ features CGDGBE and ‘Pretty Noose’ is in CGCGGE. Cornell himself stated that he pulled a guitar off the wall that just so happened to be in EEBBBB and began writing riffs on it, not even knowing what the actual tuning was, but the resultant songs would go down in music history. The thought process was to get out of the comfort zone of standard tuning and at the time not many guitarists were utilising alternate tunings. Open tunings were Country Music territory, but it was Soundgarden alongside bands like The Melvins and Sonic Youth who popularised alternate tunings, influencing pretty much every guitarist thereafter in their wake to experiment. This breaking down of the boundaries has had an effect on all guitar music thereafter and although Cornell is primarily known for his vocals, he was actually a fantastically creative guitar player underneath it all.
Photo Credit – Buda Mendes, Getty Images
Show Me How to Live
Following a short intermission where he released solo album ‘Higher Truth’, Cornell began to play with the remaining members of Rage Against The Machine following vocalist Zach De La Rocha’s departure. Recommended to the band by Rick Rubin, Chris Cornell was in the process of writing another solo album but ditched this for the chance to work with Tom Morello and co. The chemistry was instantaneous, and they wrote 21 songs during 19 days which spawned the debut self-titled Audioslave album. The heavy guitar riffing of Rage Against The Machine matched with the vocal versatility of Cornell resulted in an incredible piece of music that would go triple platinum. Audioslave would release two more albums that both had significant commercial success
Following his amicable departure from Audioslave, Cornell continued to release solo material, touring with the likes of Aerosmith and Linkin Park, producing ‘You Know My Name’, the theme song for Casio Royale and working with Grammy Award-winning producer Timbaland. Cornell was constantly writing music as proved by his extensive discography and on his solo albums, he handled both vocal and guitar duties, even lending some keys, harmonica, mandolin and percussion to his recordings. His last full album release was ‘Higher Truth’, an intimate album that’s warm, mellow and basks in simplicity, a far cry from where he started with the complex heavy riffing of Soundgarden.
You Know My Name
To celebrate the life of a music legend, Gibson has released the Chris Cornell ES-335 Tribute Guitar in a limited run of 250. The design of the guitar is as per Cornell’s own specification of his original ES-335 Artist Model, lending his own inimitable style to the construction resulting in a guitar as unique as the man himself. With Aged Lollartron humbucking pickups, the Olive Drab finish and the Mother-of-Pearl Chris Cornell signature headstock inlay, this guitar is one of Gibson’s most distinctive signature models to date. The guitar was originally unveiled at the ‘I Am The Highway: A Tribute To Chris Cornell’ honouring his legacy and raising funds for the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation and The Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation, with Gibson themselves making a donation as well as offering a selection of the limited-edition signature guitars to the foundation to raise extra funds. The guitar is now available for pre-order on the Dawsons website, with first shipments being sent in early September.
Chris Cornell is still sadly missed by the music community. His legacy imparts an imprint on vocalists, songwriters and guitar players and will continue to do so for the generations to come. Widely regarded as one of the best voices in all rock music, he received plaudits from rock n’ roll greats throughout his career and his songwriting ability was widely regarded. Although it’s often seen as secondary to his vocals, Cornell is also an unsung guitar hero, creating some instantly recognisable riffs and helping to push the boundaries of music throughout his career. Whether he was slinging an acoustic guitar by himself or creating swells of sound with his bandmates he was always pushing himself to write better music, always learning and progressing as a musician despite having a back catalogue that would be the envy of any discerning guitarist. He remains a paragon in the musical sphere and is sadly missed.
Get the Gear
You can get the Chris Cornell ES-335 Tribute guitar on our website.
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