Tag Archives: John Bonham

Rock & Roll Heaven: Chris Cornell

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After a nearly seven year break, this piece marks the return of my “Rock & Roll Heaven” series, which began nine years ago.

It was originally intended to be a week-long mini-series of articles. That first week included pieces on Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Michael Hutchence, and Jim Morrison. However, I also offered that I might consider continuing the series with additional occasional pieces. 

After receiving positive feedback, the series continued over the next two years. The musicians highlighted after the original mini-series were Karen Carpenter, Ty Longley, and John Bonham. All articles in the series can be enjoyed by simply clicking on the series ‘label’ at the bottom of this piece.

Bonham, the drummer for Led Zeppelin who Rolling Stone magazine has ranked as the top drummer of all-time, died in September of 1980. He was just 32 years old. The alcoholic Bonham died after a two-day drinking binge.

That factor is a hallmark of my series. All of the artists portrayed were icons in their generation, and died young under controversial or dramatic circumstances. 

Icon of his generation. Death under controversial circumstances. That perfectly fits the loss earlier this year of Seattle grunge band icon Chris Cornell. The lead vocalist for Soundgarden and Audioslave, Cornell’s death on May 18, 2017 was ruled a suicide. He was known to have suffered from substance abuse issues and depression.

Like many popular rock artists of the early 1990’s, Cornell emerged from the Seattle, Washington scene. He was born in Seattle on July 20, 1964, and so was less than three years younger then me. 

He helped form Soundgarden in 1984, and by 1990 the band was receiving a Grammy Award nomination for their debut album. They continued to record and tour together through 1996, and their 1994 album “Superunknown” won the band a pair of Grammy Awards.

One of those 1994 Grammys was “Best Hard Rock Performance” for the song “Black Hole Sun”, perhaps their most well known among the wider music-listening public.


Of those early 1990’s years with Soundgarden, Cornell stated the following:

“Nobody came to Seattle to sign a band or write about you or put your song on the radio, so everything there was very genuine. I’m privileged to have been in that place at that time. I also put a lot of energy into that. We really had to beat the doors down.”

In 1990, Cornell had to cope with the death of his close friend and roommate, Andrew Wood. A fellow musician from Seattle, Wood died in March 1990 following a heroin overdose. In an interview with Jim Farber for The Guardian just a year ago, Cornell stated: 

“I’ve always had really difficult time with loss. I didn’t deal well with Andy’s death. After he died, numerous times I’d be driving and I would look out the window and I thought I saw him. It would take me five minutes to update to the moment and realize, ‘no, he’s actually dead.”

Cornell recorded a 1990 tribute album to Wood with a project band known as Temple of the Dog. This band included members who would go on to form Pearl Jam. 

Temple of the Dog featured the first recordings by Eddie Vedder. Originally from San Diego, his friendship with Cornell helped legitimize Vedder in the Seattle music scene. The two would remain close friends, and Cornell would go on to work with Pearl Jam a number of times over the next two decades.

In 1985 at age 20, Cornell began dating Soundgarden’s manager, Susan Silver. They married in 1990, had a daughter in 2000, and divorced in 2004. Later that year he married Vicky Karayiannis. The couple would have two children, a daughter born in 2004 and a son a year later.

His Irish-Catholic father and Jewish mother were both alcoholics according to Cornell. If true, that propensity towards addiction was already going to be a factor at some point in his life.

Cornell stated in a 2006 interview with Dorian Lynskey for SPIN magazine that his early life had been “pretty great.” But then a bad experience after trying PCP at age 14 left him with panic disorder and he slipped into depression through his teen years.


In a December 1994 interview with Alec Foege for Rolling Stone magazine, Cornell stated that he took guitar and piano lessons as a kid. 

He has also stated that he believes that drums purchased for him by his mother may have saved his life during those tough teen years. “It was the only thing I had an attention span for,” he said per Foege: 

“When you’re young, playing drums is immediately satisfying ’cause whether or not you know how to play anything, the bottom line is that you’re pounding on something, so you’re happy about it.”

It wasn’t until his late-20’s that he succumbed to his parents alcoholism. That eventually led him to prescription drugs, and then harder drugs. 

Internal conflicts regarding the band’s creative direction led to the Soundgarden breakup in early 1997. Cornell released a commercially unsuccessful solo album in 1999. Then in 2001, Cornell joined three former members of the band Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave. 

Over the next half-dozen years, Audioslave recorded three albums of material, all of which proved commercially successful. Their 2002 self-titled debut LP went triple-platinum, and their second “Out of Exile” in 2005 went platinum. The band broke up when Cornell decided to leave in early 2007.

In 2006, Cornell co-wrote and performed the song “You Know My Name” for the James Bond film “Casino Royale”, taking home both a Satellite Award and World Soundtrack Award.



During the Audioslave years, as well as both immediately before and after, Cornell worked on a number of solo and side projects. He also contributed music and vocals on the work of other artists, including Slash, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, and Smashing Pumpkins.

On the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 Islamofascist attacks on America, Cornell performed John Lennon’s “Imagine” on the popular Conan O’Brien late night TV show. He would later release a version on his acoustic live album “Songbook” in November 2011.

Whispers of a Soundgarden reunion began in 2010, and in April of that year the band verified by announcing they would play that summer’s Lollapalooza concert. The band would remain together, recording and touring over the next few years.

In April 2013, Cornell gave the introduction speech for Heart when that iconic band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the speech, Cornell stated that Ann and Nancy Wilson had been role models for him and numerous Seattle musicians and singers. Cornell joined in a version of Heart’s classic hit “Barracuda” along with the Wilson sisters and other musicians.


In 2015, Cornell recorded the solo LP “Higher Truth”, which would prove to be his final album. 

As Soundgarden was breaking up in 1997, his marriage to Silver falling apart, Cornell slipped into a depression that lasted for years. He turned to OxyContin at one point before finally checking in to rehab in 2002. 

In a 1996 interview with Robyn Doreian for Metal Hammer, Cornell had first publicly mentioned the idea of suicide:

“I know what it feels like to be suicidal, and I know what it feels like to be hopeless. There is some point where I learned enough about myself to know that I don’t have the tolerance to create other hurdles as well.”

“If I would have ever started taking drugs when I was younger, I would never have lived. I would have gone out quick. I don’t have the tolerance to live in that emotional and physical pain and not have anything positive or good around me.”

On May 17 of this year, Cornell performed with Soundgarden at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Sometime after the show, Cornell returned to his room at the MGM Grand. His wife later stated “When we spoke after the show, I noticed he was slurring his words; he was different. When he told me he may have taken an extra Ativan or two, I contacted security and asked that they check on him.”
 
He was found on the floor of his hotel bathroom by his bodyguard, an exercise band wrapped around his neck. An investigation, confirmed later in the coroner’s report, ruled that the death came by suicide. Only therapeutic amounts of prescription drugs were found in his system, but there were a variety of those.
 
In a public statement released to the press and reported by Rolling Stone, his wife Vicky stated:
 
“Many of us who know Chris well noticed that he wasn’t himself during his final hours and that something was very off. We have learned from this report that several substances were found in his system. After so many years of sobriety, this moment of terrible judgment seems to have completely impaired and altered his state of mind. Something clearly went terribly wrong and my children and I are heartbroken and are devastated that this moment can never be taken back. We very much appreciate all of the love we have received during this extremely difficult time and are dedicated to helping others in preventing this type of tragedy.”
 
Yet another tragedy in the long history of them in the rock and roll world. This time we lost a man who readers of Guitar World had voted as “Rock’s Greatest Singer”, and who Rolling Stone ranked as 9th on their “Best Lead Singers of All Time” list.
 
Singing lead vocals in Rock and Roll Heaven, or a place in hell? For Christians, the answer isn’t as simple as suicide leading to eternal damnation. That is not the teaching of any reputable Christian church, including Catholicism


The more relevant question is, where was Cornell at the time of his death in regards to his personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Same goes for anyone else covered prior in this series, or who we will cover in the future, on Rock and Roll Heaven. 

Cornell frequently wore a cross on a chain around his neck. If that was not just a fashion statement, then I think that I know the answer in the case of Chris Cornell.

Rock & Roll Heaven: John Bonham

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The late John Bonham was the drummer for Led Zeppelin

 

Sometime on September 23rd, 1980, John Bonham began to drink. This was not an unusual event in Bonham’s life. He was a big drinker.

But the binge that he was about to undertake was a big one even by his standards. Over the next day and a half, Bonham, would take approximately 40 shots of vodka in a drinking binge that would end his life.

John Bonham was the drummer for the legendary rock band ‘Led Zeppelin’, and he was universally considered one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock music.

As he undertook that final late September alcohol binge, he and his mates in Zeppelin were in preparations for their first world tour in over three years, a tour that would never take place.

The legendary original Led Zeppelin lineup was born as a band in London, England in the latter half of 1968, at the height of the 1960’s ‘flower child’ and ‘hippie generation’ crazes. Jimmy Page, who was and is universally regarded as one of the greatest guitarists on the planet, and his band ‘The Yardbirds’ had just broken up.

Page met up with singer Robert Plant and began to consider putting a new band together. It wasn’t long before the talented Bonham, who both men knew from studio sessions, would be recruited heavily and agree to join the band.

With the addition of bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones the four men originally set out as ‘The New Yardbirds’, but following their first touring effort it was obvious to all that they had little in common with that original band. The band’s name was changed to ‘Led Zeppelin’, and the rest is music history.
Zep’s hard-rocking guitar-fueled style is often credited as being at the forefront of what is now known as ‘heavy metal’ music, but they did much tremendous acoustic work together as well.

During the 1970’s, Zeppelin grew into one of the most popular, successful, and influential rock bands in music history. The band became known for extravagant clothing and wild partying during touring.

The band’s classic hits released during these years included “Rock and Roll“, “Going to California“, “Black Dog“, “Houses of the Holy“, “Immigrant Song“, Chase Utley’s signature theme “Kashmir“, and a song widely acknowledged as one of the greatest in rock history, “Stairway to Heaven“.

Bonham had a couple of brief acting turns, first appearing as a drummer in 1974’s “Son of Dracula“, and then in an action drag-racing scene during the Zeppelin vehicle “The Song Remains the Same” that was set to “Moby Dick“, his signature half hour-long concert solo.

Bonham had been married since before the Zeppelin years. He and his wife, Pat, had a son born back in 1966 named Jason Bonham. Jason would go on to drum himself for bands including ‘Foreigner’. During the height of Led Zepplin’s popularity, the couple added a second child when daughter Zoe was born in the summer of 1975. But as a rock and roll star, his life was far from that of the typical family man.

On July 23rd, 1977, following a Zeppelin concert in San Francisco, Bonham became involved in a controversial backstage incident. The band’s manager, Peter Grant, had his son helping with the breakdown job. The son apparently took down a dressing room sign that was not band property, and got into an argument with a member of the promoter’s staff, who slapped young Grant. Bonham saw this and ran to the kid’s aid, beginning an attack that ended with the staffer badly beaten by members of the band’s entourage.

This was just one incident in the downward spiral of Bonham’s life. In one episode, Bonham is said to have ridden his motorcycle through a hotel. During a June 27th, 1979 show in Germany, Bonham collapsed while on stage and was rushed to the hospital. It is widely believed that his collapse was caused by his continued misuse and abuse of both alcohol and drugs.

On September 24th, 1980, Bonham was well into his fatal final drinking binge when he attended a rehearsal session for what was planned to be the first Led Zeppelin tour in almost three years. The session ended in the evening and the entire band along with some of their crew and entourage went back to Jimmy Page’s home. At some point after midnight, a drunken, passed out Bonham was put to bed and placed on his side.

The next day, John Paul Jones and the band’s manager went to try to wake Bonham, and they found him dead. A subsequent autopsy found no other drugs in his system, and ruled that he had died an accidental death, the result of his having vomited, inhaled it, and dying as a result from asphyxiation.

Dave Grohl of the band Foo Fighters, who had to deal himself with the personal tragic loss of his own former ‘Nivana’ bandmate Kurt Cobain, is quoted as having said “John Bonham played the drums like someone who didn’t know what was going to happen next – like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff.” It can be said without exaggeration that Bonham lived his life that same way. A great way to drum, perhaps, but perhaps not the best way to live.

John Bonham was just 32 years old when he died from the alcohol abuse. That old adage of sex, drugs, and rock and roll can be extended to include booze as well, a substance that Bonham abused regularly and voluminously. Does he now play the drums in some all-star ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’ band with Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain on guitar and Janis Joplin at the front? We may one day get to find out for sure, but one thing we know now is that his life ended too soon from his own choices involving one of the usual suspects.

NOTE: this is the return of the ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’ series of articles here at the www.mattveasey.com website, all items of which can be read by clicking on that Tag link at the bottom of the article.