(Credits: Far Out / Andreas Eldh)
In the grunge rock era, Chris Cornell was the one frontman who could be called a rock star. Taking the stage presence of Robert Plant and putting his unique Seattle spin to it, Cornell turned into a wailing banshee whenever he took to the stage, inhabiting his throat in a way no other vocalist could. Although he may have already had his vocal trademarked by the end of the 1990s, Cornell was humbled when he saw a singer from the other side of the tracks.
Then again, Soundgarden’s brand of rock and roll was quickly dissolving into yesterday’s news by the end of the decade. While grunge may have shined brighter than any other genre under the sun in the early 1990s, the death of Kurt Cobain brought the genre to an early grave, with Soundgarden’s Superunknown serving more as a sad epitaph for what the genre could have been.
After struggling along for one more album, Cornell eventually parted ways with his bandmates to go solo. By then, he had already started channelling his acoustic Zeppelin habits into his solo debut, Euphoria Morning. Around the time that Cornell was cutting his teeth as a solo artist, though, Jeff Buckley was already reshaping what most people thought about commercial rock music.
Buckley has become known for his immortal take on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. However, his debut with Grace showcased him as a brilliant songwriter in his own right. While there are the basics of music theory throughout Buckley’s work, his greatest strength was bellowing from his gut, sounding like Robert Plant’s guttural shriek if it were fed through the world of jazz harmony.
Having been a fan of the album Grace, Cornell would say how shellshocked he was listening to Buckley’s live set on the EP Live at Sin-E. Capturing the sounds of Buckley in his natural habitat, Cornell thought that the final result was one of the most jaw-dropping feats of vocal brilliance ever recorded.
Talking about hearing it for the first time, Cornell was astonished that anyone could keep up Buckley’s vocal stamina for that long, telling Rolling Stone, “[It] was one of those moments that happens only a few times as a music fan–it was something otherworldly, and he shocked me with the display of talent he displayed. I would watch him and try to figure out things like, ‘How is it possible that he’s holding that note that long?’”
While Cornell already had a massive set of pipes of his own, Buckley may have had the potential to supersede him if he had time to flesh out his vocal style. Despite his tragic passing in 1997, shortly after recording his debut, Buckley was already on the cusp of something brilliant, creating songs that made for musical explosions on tracks like ‘Mojo Pin’ and ‘So Real’.
Even though Cornell carried on with the supergroup Audioslave, he also took bits and pieces from Buckley, incorporating the emotional resonance of his music into tracks like ‘Like A Stone’. While Cornell could have rested on his laurels as a vocalist, hearing Buckley was the best example of how every vocalist has the potential to grow.