TEMPLE OF THE DOG – April 16th, 1991 Temple Of The Dog released their self-titled album on A&M Records. It was the band’s only recording and was inspired by the passing of Andrew Wood, lead singer of the band Mother Love Bone, in March 1990. The band consisted of Chris Cornell on vocals and guitar, Stone Gossard on guitar, Mike McCready guitar, Jeff Ament on bass and Matt Cameron on drums. Eddie Vedder guested on three songs.
One tragic event is all it took. Andrew Wood’s death on March 19th 1990 altered the trajectory of the Seattle music scene in a profound way. Splintering all possible outcomes for the scene into different directions. This didn’t only change the outcome of the Seattle scene, it eventually had a significant effect on music culture around the world in the coming years. Had Wood not passed, it’s almost certain Temple Of The Dog wouldn’t exist, Pearl Jam would have never formed, Jerry Cantrell wouldn’t have penned the Alice In Chains hit Would? One could spend hours working out the permutations.
Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell had lived with Wood in the late 80’s. They became fast friends and pushed each other to new heights of creativity. In a 2015 interview with Billboard, Cornell said of his relationship with Wood:
“I don’t know if you can ever take him out of my heart and soul. There was a period of time when he would sit in his bedroom across the hall from mine and we would kind of have these dueling four-track demos and songs. He wasn’t doing it for Malfunkshun and me doing it for Soundgarden; it had nothing to do with that. It was us just having fun. Maybe you can look at it as songwriting exercises? We were always kind of neck and neck. We were very different from each other in terms of our approach. He was very free and didn’t necessarily have a critical voice while he was in the process of writing a song. He would just do anything. I on the other hand,” admitted Cornell,” “not only do I have a critical voice, I have sort of an editorial staff and what that creates is something kind of completely different”
Chris added “He would do these amazing free things that felt…. almost to the degree of just being dangerous in a way, because it was so free and un-self-conscious,” Cornell reminisced. “I would think ‘How do you do that?’ We would always observe each other. That’s sort of like what I would equate to early college years, that doesn’t go away. Those experiences never stop being a part of who you are and how you think.”
After Wood’s death in 1990, Cornell threw himself into the grieving process in the only way he saw fit and frankly, knew how. By writing music for his friend. He approached Wood’s Mother Love Bone band mates Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament to help him flesh out songs he was working on.
Stone and Jeff’s world had been turned upside down in the wake of Andrew’s death. They had a brilliant debut album ready with Mother Love Bone, they had a major label supporting them, a great band and a diamond frontman. Then just weeks before Polygram was due to release their album, tragedy struck.
Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron was also recruited to the Temple Of The Dog fold, followed by (then) newcomers Mike McCready (lead guitar) and Eddie Vedder. McCready and Vedder were featured on the album due to their involvement with Ament and Gossard’s next project, which became Pearl Jam. The name Temple of the Dog is derived from the opening lyrics of the Mother Love Bone song “Man of Golden Words”: “Wanna show you something, like joy inside my heart. Seems I’ve been living in the temple of the dog”.
The recording sessions took place from November to December 1990 at London Bridge Studios in Seattle, Washington. The album was recorded in just 15 days. The group worked with producer Rick Parashar, who also engineered, mixed, and played piano. Two songs on the album, “Reach Down” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, were directly written in response to Wood’s death, while other songs were written by Cornell with re-workings of demos written by Gossard and Ament.
Ament described the collaboration as “a really good thing at the time” for him and Gossard that put them into a “band situation where we could play and make music”. Gossard described the recording process as a “non-pressure filled” situation, as there were no expectations or pressure coming from the record company. Gossard later said it was “the easiest and most beautiful record, that we’ve ever been involved with”
Say Hello To Heaven opens the album and immediately we’re met with a side to Chris Cornell that the world up to that point hadn’t seen. By Temple Of The Dog’s release in April 1991 Soundgarden were yet to release Badmotorfinger. The full on assault of Ultramega OK and Louder Than Love was still ringing in the ears of their ever growing fanbase. On Say Hello To Heaven we hear Cornell bare his soul, on what must be one of the most heartfelt and heartbreaking performances written for a fallen friend in all of rock.
This was beyond labels, beyond grunge and alternative rock, this cut right to the heart of the human condition. The band also showed a dexterity and looseness that belied their young years.
Reach Down is a tour de force for newbie Mike McCready. The song’s rolling riff is magnetic in its simplicity. With a chorus that says “You gotta reach down, and pick the crowd up, Carry back in my hand, to the promised hand” which epitomised Andrew Wood’s passion for live performance.
The song’s outro is a titanic five minute guitar workout from McCready. Maybe sensing his newness to the situation while recording and unsure of his place and how far he could take things, Cornell said of McCready: “You almost kind of had to yell at him to get him to realize that in the five-and-a-half-minute solo of ‘Reach Down’, that was his time and that he wasn’t going to be stepping on anybody else.” And Mike took heed, delivering a face melting performance that only elevates the sense of loss.
Hunger Strike was the first single and has become iconic. Written by Cornell. It features a duet between him and vocalist Eddie Vedder.
“When we started rehearsing the songs, I had pulled out “Hunger Strike” and I had this feeling it was just kind of gonna be filler, it didn’t feel like a real song. Eddie was sitting there kind of waiting for a Mookie Blaylock (Pearl Jam’s name before they came up with Pearl Jam) rehearsal and I was singing parts, and he kind of humbly, but with some balls, walked up to the mic and started singing the low parts for me because he saw it was kind of hard. We got through a couple choruses of him doing that and suddenly the light bulb came on in my head, this guy’s voice is amazing for these low parts. History wrote itself after that, that became the single”
“Hunger Strike” became Temple of the Dog’s breakout single; it was also Vedder’s first featured vocal on a record.
The album is all killer, no filler in the truest sense of the word. Pushing Forward Back, Wooden Jesus, Call Me a Dog, Times Of Trouble, Your Saviour, All Night Thing, Four Walled World, are all incredible, flawless and beyond beautiful.
There is a sharp feeling of sadness around this, and even more so now that Chris Cornell has passed. Their tribute to their friend Andy, now resonates for us all, even more, with the loss of Cornell. This album is a testament to the beauty and richness of the human spirit and what can be channelled from grief when the intentions are pure.
Temple Of The Dog is not a place of mourning, it’s a place of worship.