Local musicians pay tribute to Cornell’s charisma

Soundgarden started in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1980s, years before Seattle became the epicenter of grunge.

The band successfully combined elements of post-punk, noise rock, hardcore and sludge metal, but this wall of sound was not complete without the soulful pipes of the band’s charismatic lead singer, Chris Cornell.

Cornell’s suicide May 18 was a blow to alternative music fans, and many still are grieving his death and his contributions to the music world.

Cntl+Alt ReWind, a local music collective that has paid tribute to different genres and artists in the past, will pay tribute to the music of Cornell and Soundgarden with free show Friday as part of downtown Youngstown’s Party on the Plaza.

“He screamed out his aches in a way that spoke to so many of us,” said Cntl+Alt ReWind vocalist Courtney Waskin. “I absolutely strive to be that in my performances, to be that beautiful screaming truth.”

For Friday’s concert, she will be joined by Scott Lowry on lead guitar, Paco Magallon on rhythm guitar, Noll Hartman on bass, Fred Whitacre on drums and Nick Miller and Adam May on vocals.

Soundgarden’s greatest commercial success came with 1994’s “Superunknown,” which sold more than 5 million copies and included the popular radio singles “Spoonman,” “The Day I Tried To Live,” “Fell On Black Days,” “My Wave” and “Black Hole Sun.” Waskin remembers seeing the music video for “Black Hole Sun” as a child.

“I was a child then and surely had little scope about the world, but I couldn’t ignore it,” she said. “It was a formative time, which forced me to acknowledge the breadth of the darker side of reality. The imagery has always stuck. I remember grunge’s heyday and, even though I was young, I definitely feel like it helped form me. It helped me understand and cope. It still does.”

Magallon remembers the time he stole his brother’s “Badmotorfinger” cassette tape when he was younger and the impact it had on him.

“This was before ‘Superunknown’,” he said. “I fell in love with the vocals and odd arrangements in the songs. I haven’t heard anything like that before.”

Soundgarden was able to write appealing songs while maintaining heaviness.

“They did it in a way that no one else did,” Magallon said. “It’s an honor to be a part of a tribute to such a talented musician. Chris was so much more than that, but to us, he was totally inspiring,” Magallon said.

The first time May saw Soundgarden was when the band made a cameo appearance in the 1992 film, “Singles.”

“I just remember Cornell looking insane and insanely cool on stage with his hair whipping around and having a maniacal look in his eyes. He was on another level,” May said.

May said that Cornell was the main creative force in Soundgarden. He said that it would be almost impossible to write some of these songs with several people.

“They’re so personal, not just lyrically, but in the way they’re arranged and in their dynamics,” May said. “His guitar playing is underrated purely from the standpoint that he’s playing and singing songs like ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ and ‘Rusty Cage.’ They’re hard enough to do one at a time.

“This time out, I’m not playing guitar, just singing. That alone has been a real challenge and has made me appreciate him more than ever. Every time I think his range can’t get any more diverse, he pushes it to a whole new level. My voice is usually pretty wrecked after a long practice. It’s awesome,” May said.

Waskin said the band will be covering a popular selection of songs including classics from the albums “Badmotorfinger” and “Superunknown” as well as songs from Cornell’s side project, Temple of The Dog, his later band, Audioslave, and some of his solo material.

“This will be my first performance working with the city of Youngstown at a Party on the Plaza event, which is super exciting for me,” Waskin said. “From a personal perspective, I’m so familiar with the struggles of depression and to be able to pay homage to a man who fought and connected us and brought so much light to the world has a special meaning to me.

“The most challenging part is absolutely in execution. Cornell was a force of nature and to do his work any justice is truly an athletic feat. My abs are having an experience getting ready for this show,” she said.

As a guitar player, Magallon said the challenge is recreating the band’s complex guitar tunings and song structures.

“I’m bringing out five guitars, and I’ll use every one of them due to all the tuning changes. With different tunings come different chord structures that I’m not used to playing,” Magallon said.

Waskin said that she loves the diversity of Cornell’s work.

“The single ‘The Day I Tried To Live,’ is such a cool groove with the alternating time signatures,” she said. “I’m also planning an opening set with cello and acoustic. This set is really pulling the songs down to their bones and giving me a chance to show people the beauty of his writing. I’ll be doing a song from Cornell’s 1999 solo album, ‘Euphoria Morning,’called ‘Preaching the End of the World,’ which feels beautifully relevant right now. This is his legacy, to see the world and present the tragic beauty of it all. It’s totally an honor to have this opportunity to pay tribute to him.”