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Happy 50th Birthday Chris Cornell, Soundgarden kicks off tour this weekend

Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell turns 50 on Sunday (July 20th). Since first emerging in the mid-'90s as one of the key acts of the Seattle music scene, Soundgarden has become one of the most acclaimed and influential groups of the past 25 years, with Cornell's powerful voice and intense physical presence onstage a crucial component of that band as well as Audioslave and his own solo projects.

Early Life:

Cornell was born on July 20th, 1964 as Christopher John Boyle in Seattle to pharmacist Ed Boyle and accountant Karen Cornell. He has two older brothers and three younger sisters, with brother Peter and sisters Katy and Suzy also becoming musicians. Chris himself was set on the path to rock stardom when he found a stash of Beatles albums abandoned in a neighbor's basement at the age of nine.

While working as a seafood wholesaler and sous-chef, Cornell joined a cover band in the early 1980s called The Shemps. When that band's bassist, Hiro Yamamoto, left, the band recruited guitarist Kim Thayil to take his place. After the Shemps broke up, Cornell and Thayil decided to keep working together and brought Yamamoto in. The first lineup of Soundgarden was formed in 1984 with Thayil on guitar, Yamamoto on bass and Cornell on drums and vocals.

Career: Soundgarden, Audioslave, Solo:

The band added Scott Sundquist on drums in 1985 so that Cornell could become the band's frontman and recorded three songs for the now legendary Deep Six compilation album. Sundquist was replaced a year later by Matt Cameron and Soundgarden signed to Sub Pop Records, releasing its debut EP, Screaming Life, in 1987. With the exception of Yamamoto leaving in 1990 and being replaced by Ben Shepherd, the band lineup has remained the same.

Cornell told us that right from the start, the members of Soundgarden saw making music as something more than just a career: "We all had jobs. We all worked 40 hours plus a week so that we could support this thing we were doing called Soundgarden. So we're really lucky that we found an audience and that there were people that helped us connect with that audience and find it and maintain over the years up 'til now."

Soundgarden was at the forefront of the so-called "grunge" movement that also included Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. They were the first of the Seattle acts to sign with a major label, although their full-length debut, 1988's Ultramega OK, was released on an indie. Their first major label release, Louder Than Love, came out in 1989. Cornell and Cameron also joined with the members of Pearl Jam to make the Temple Of The Dog album, a tribute to late Seattle singer Andrew Wood that produced the classic single "Hunger Strike."

Cornell told us a while back that Seattle's musical legacy remains as strong as ever: "It's not one of those scenes that came and went. There's still bands that make music with just as much enthusiasm, with kind of the same purity. I feel like I still carry that with me, the inspiration that came then, and really everybody else that was part of it, that's still making music and still making records, which is most of them, I feel like they feel the same way too. I feel like the records are still vibrant, and the bands are still vibrant, and the music's still great."

1991's Badmotorfinger and 1994's Superunknown made Soundgarden into superstars, with the latter's more accessible songwriting yielding five hit singles and multi-platinum record sales. But by the time the band released Down On The Upside in 1996, relentless touring and recording schedules were taking their toll on the band and Cornell's voice, leading the group to disband in 1997 at the height of their success.

Cornell told us a while back that there was never any juicy story behind their decision to break up: "Nobody really likes the answers they got with why did Soundgarden break up, because they almost feel like it wasn't tabloid-ish enough. People seem to want to sort of hear rumors and things that were based on what you normally hear, I guess, which is, you know, 'I hated that guy' or 'that guy hated me' or a specific thing happened one day that was unbelievable or horrible. And, like, none of that existed. We had just been a band, I think, a lot longer than a lot of people knew about."

Cornell embarked on a solo career, releasing Euphoria Morning in 1999 and debuting a softer sound both live and on the record. But when that album failed to take off, he accepted an offer in 2001 to join with the instrumental members of Rage Against The Machine after vocalist Zack de la Rocha exited that group. The new act, called Audioslave, released its self-titled debut in 2002. Cornell told us at the time that the musicians saw the band as a long-term project: "For sure, one of the things that we wanted it to be was the best thing we'd ever done. It wasn't like, 'Oh, we'll look at this as a side project and make a record and go on tour.' We all had a similar attitude in that if we're gonna do this, we want this to be great."

With its supergroup pedigree, Audioslave was a huge success from the start and released two more albums, 2005's Out Of Exile and 2006's Revelations. But by the time Revelations came out, Cornell was already looking at other projects and recorded the theme song, "You Know My Name," for the 2006 James Bond comeback film Casino Royale. In early 2007 he officially left Audioslave to revive his solo career, while the rest of the band reactivated Rage Against The Machine. Although Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello said at the time that he never officially heard from Cornell that he was leaving the group, the singer told us that he did make his intentions clear: "Tom and I did have communications about the fact that I was gonna go make a record, and that I was tired of what ended up seeming like political negotiations toward how we were gonna do Audioslave business and getting nowhere with it. We had back and forths about that, and we also as a band sat in a room with other people trying to work this out on numerous occasions, and it wasn't really happening."

Cornell issued his second solo album, Carry On, in 2007 and the controversial Scream in 2009. The latter album was produced by Timbaland and found Cornell attempting to pursue an urban/pop direction, making him the focus of ridicule from musicians like Trent Reznor.

Rumors of a Soundgarden reunion had been percolating for several years and became a reality in 2010, with the band getting back together for a few shows at first, then full-fledged tours and eventually a brand new album in 2012, King Animal. After successfully touring behind that disc, the band members all reaffirmed that they would continue to tour and make another album. Cornell told us not long ago that Soundgarden's songwriting has always made the band unique: "It's made us a very eclectic band musically, and a band that's really hard to distill. We were never an easy band to mimic. There's a lot of bands influenced by us, but I don't think you could sit down and point to three or four bands over the history of the last 20 years that really just tried to cop what we did and then came out. 'Cause it wasn't possible."

Personal Life:

Cornell was married to Soundgarden manager Susan Silver for several years, with the couple having a daughter named Lillian Jean in 2000. Cornell and Silver divorced in 2004, leading to court battles over some of Cornell's property, including a collection of 15 guitars that he finally won back in 2008.

The singer is currently married to Vicky Karayiannis, a Paris-based American publicist of Greek heritage. She gave birth to his second daughter, Toni, in September 2004, and his third child, Christopher Nicholas, in December 2005.

In 2002, Cornell checked himself into rehab for two months after years of drug and alcohol addictions, forcing Audioslave to cancel what would have been its first tour and leading to Cornell also separating at the time from Silver. He emerged from rehab clean and sober and has remained that way ever since. He told us a while back what finally led him to check himself into rehab: "I really had to come to the conclusion, the sort of humbling conclusion that, guess what, I'm no different than anybody else, I've got to sort of ask for help -- not something I ever did, ever. And then part two of that is, like, accept it when it comes and, you know, believe what people tell me. And trusting in what I have been told, and then seeing that work.”

In other Chris Cornell / Soundgarden news:

Two of the most legendary names in alternative rock get together this weekend to kick off their first-ever co-headlining tour, as Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails launch their summer trek on Saturday (July 19th) in Las Vegas. Some of the shows may find Soundgarden performing its 1994 album Superunknown in its entirety in honor of the disc's 20th anniversary, while Nine Inch Nails continues to support its latest album, 2013's Hesitation Marks.

Of course there is the matter of the "feud" between Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell and NIN main man Trent Reznor, which took place in 2009 when Reznor blasted Cornell for his ill-advised foray into urban pop, the Timbaland-produced album Scream. Cornell told us it's all water under the bridge: "He was kind of, I think, probably having a moment in an interview where he talked s*** about that record and then it became this viral Twitter thing that happened kind of by accident. 'Cause I made some sort of just absurd comment, sitting in an airport probably, and people took that as a response to a comment that he made. And then it became like this Twitter feud which never happened. That was kind of the beginning and the end of it."

Soundgarden released its first album in 16 years, King Animal, in November 2012.

Confirmed Soundgarden/Nine Inch Nails tour dates (subject to change):

July 19 - Las Vegas, NV - Planet Hollywood
July 21 - Morrison, CO - Red Rocks Amphitheatre
July 22 - Morrison, CO - Red Rocks Amphitheatre
July 24 - Tinley Park, IL - First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
July 26 - Clarkston, MI - DTE Energy Music Theatre
July 27 - Toronto, ON - Molson Canadian Amphitheatre
July 29 - Mansfield, MA - Xfinity Center
July 30 - Camden, NJ - Susquehanna Bank Center
August 1 - Wantagh, NY - Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre
August 2 - Holmdel, NJ - PNC Bank Arts Center
August 4 - Bristow, VA - Jiffy Lube Live
August 5 - Virginia Beach, VA - Farm Bureau Live at Lakewood
August 7 - Charlotte, NC - PNC Music Pavilion
August 8 - Atlanta, GA - Aaron's Amphitheatre at Lakewood
August 10 - West Palm Beach, FL - Cruzan Amphitheatre
August 11 - Tampa, FL - MidFlorida Credit Union
August 14 - Austin, TX - Austin360 Amphitheatre
August 16 - Woodlands, TX - Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
August 17 - Dallas, TX - Gexa Energy Pavilion
August 19 - Albuquerque, NM - Isleta Amphitheatre
August 21 - Chula Vista, CA - Sleep Train Amphitheatre
August 22 - Irvine, CA - Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
August 24 - Mountain View, CA - Shoreline Amphitheatre
August 25 - Los Angeles, CA - Hollywood Bowl
August 27 - Wheatland, CA - Sleep Train Amphitheatre
August 29 - Ridgefield, WA - Sleep Country Amphitheater
August 30 - Auburn, WA - White River Amphitheatre

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