The story of Temple Of The Dog begins just over twenty years ago, when Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell lived with his friend Andrew Wood, who was lead singer in Mother Love Bone and band-mate of Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard. On March 19th 1990, Wood died of a drug overdose. With Soundgarden almost immediately heading off on a European tour, Cornell expressed his grief by writing songs on the tour that sounded very different to the kind of heavy rock his band were playing at the time.
Those songs were Say Hello 2 Heaven and Reach Down, and he approached Ament and Gossard about recording them as a tribute single to Wood. As the sessions progressed, those two began the process of putting together a new band called Mookie Blaylock and brought along guitarist Mike McCready, while Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron joined to complete the line-up. Prospective Mookie vocalist Eddie Vedder tagged along too when he arrived from San Diego to audition.
It quickly became clear that a single wasn’t going to be enough to fit in all the material that was being produced, so it became an album instead. The stand-out track was undoubtedly Hunger Strike, an impromptu duet between Cornell and Vedder that acted as a perfect taster for what the latter was about to achieve with the renamed Mookie Blaylock (Pearl Jam). The album as a whole found a hugely impressive common ground between the music the two bands would be making over the next few years.
As well as bringing together what would be established as the definitive Pearl Jam line up (with Cameron joining after Soundgarden split up and Jack Irons left in 1998), it also influenced the direction of Cornell’s songwriting, first on Badmotorfinger, which came out the same year as Temple Of The Dog, but even more so on 1994’s Superunknown. For me, the most exciting thing about seeing Audioslave play in Manchester a few years ago was hearing Cornell’s solo acoustic section, where he played Call Me A Dog, still one of the best songs he’s ever written.
More than 20 years on, Temple Of The Dog remains an album that hasn’t exactly achieved the legendary status it really deserves, but it’s always great to hear the songs performed. A Facebook group tried to get a reunion tour going for the anniversary, but that concept was never likely in the same year that saw Soundgarden back on tour and Pearl Jam focusing on their own celebrations. But it would be nice to get the chance to hear them play some of the songs together outside of the USA, so here’s hoping it might happen one day…