“He has that incredible baritone and that haunted, tortured persona”: these are Chris Cornell’s five favourite singers, in his own words

Chris Cornell playing the guitar in a recording studio
(Image credit: Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

The late Chris Cornell was one of the greatest rock singers of the last 40 years. Even in the early days of Soundgarden, he possessed a power and range that few of his Seattle peers could match – he was the grunge Robert Plant, capable of switching from seductive croon to piercing howl in a heartbeat. The albums he made subsequently, with Soundgarden, Audioslave or under his own name, only underlined his vocal talents.

But who were the singers who inspired him? In 2009, eight years before his death. Cornell sat down with Classic Rock to tell us about the vocalists who influenced him, from cult pre-grunge mavericks to gravel-throated boho singer-songwriters. This is what he had to say.


John Bigley (U-Men)

“In Seattle there was this band called the U-Men. Their singer, John Bigley, had this erratic, unique approach to being a frontman – it was like he didn’t want to deal with the crowd. If he addressed them at all it was through gnashing teeth.”

Greg Sage (Wipers)

“There was a band out of Portland, Oregon called Wipers. They were punk/pop and their frontman was this guy called Greg Sage. Your eyes were just drawn to him; he was so enigmatic.”

Iggy Pop

“The quintessential rock singer in all its forms. He’s got great presence and a relentless attitude. If they created an anime version of a rock singer, it would look like Iggy. That energy he gives off comes across in his physique too. What’s more, he can sing. He can really croon.”

Nick Cave

“He has that incredible baritone and that haunted, tortured persona thing going on. He’s a writer, too – a real renaissance man – and that’s the beauty of the long career he’s had. He can pull anything out of the hat.”

Tom Waits

“An inspiration. He’s made his voice an instrument. He’s totally changed his style from the way he sang on those early albums.”

Originally published in Classic Rock issue 131

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