The Seattle-based group assembled in mourning, working through their grief in music, and the resultant 10 songs have become revered by a legion of fans that commiserated with their loss. The project was not a planned commercial venture nor like other rock bands; this was Temple of the Dog. They released one lone album in 1991, played a few shows, then split down different musical paths. A supergroup in retrospect, they have reunited for only eight big concerts, including one at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Nov. 7.
When Temple of the Dog announced back in July their intent to do a short tour, singer Chris Cornell noted in a statement that they had originally made music together for the simple joy of doing so, and that he and his bandmates wanted to pay homage to that. In a subsequent group interview with Rolling Stone, bassist Jeff Ament expressed the desire to finally road test the songs and see how they held up after all this time. No other definite touring or possible recording plans were relayed, but the notions were not squelched, either. They would see how things progressed, just as they did the first time, naturally and without an agenda.
The genesis of the band stems from tragedy. When Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose on March 16, 1990, it was days before the scheduled release of his group’s first full-length album, “Apple,” which was then delayed until July. His shocked roommate, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, soon wrote two songs about his beloved friend, “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down,” which would form the basis for a musical project with two of Wood’s bandmates, guitarist Stone Gossard and Ament. Other members came to include guitarist Mike McCready, Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and, on four tracks, singer Eddie Vedder, who had come to Seattle to audition for the group that became Pearl Jam (which included Gossard, Ament and McCready).
Recorded over two weeks in late 1990 with producer Rick Parashar and named for a line from Mother Love Bone’s “Man of Golden Words,” the group’s eponymous album, predominantly penned by Cornell, was not entirely a tribute to Wood but a collective endeavor inspired by the flamboyant frontman. The songs had a very jam-like feeling to them, favoring raw emotion over songwriting intricacies, and were certainly not as frenetic as the music of Cornell’s main band, Soundgarden. The grooves of “Reach Down” were worked over with hypnotic fervor. The somber ballad “Hunger Strike” (the band’s lone video) strikingly balanced Vedder’s lower vocal delivery with Cornell’s intense wailing during the chorus. The strutting “Your Savior” was a funky hard rocker.
And the bluesy, elegiac opening track immediately packed a wallop. “ ‘Say Hello 2 Heaven’ is a heavy song,” says Troy Smith, former program and music director for pioneering alternative rock station WFNX in Boston. “That brought tears to my eyes when I heard that. That’s just really powerful. I think of that song whenever I hear of some musician dying. I think of that song a lot.”
“I remember the day this record came out, I was at Tower Records on Mercer Street and they were playing it over the speakers,” Candlebox singer Kevin Marti recalls in an email. “I was instantly sucked in by its relentlessness and the immediacy of each song blazing through my ears. In particular, ‘Wooden Jesus.’ That song just struck every chord in my body, still does to this day, and I’m pretty certain inspired me to be a singer in a rock band. It was such an important record for Seattle and incredibly cathartic for so many of Andrew’s friends and family. It really spoke for many of us that couldn’t find the words to express what Andy meant to us all.”
Smith recalls that Temple of the Dog was not initially a label or radio priority. Almost nobody nationally knew about Mother Love Bone or Andrew Wood, and rock stations really started to play the single “Hunger Strike” in mid-1992, when A&M, realizing they had an unexploited property from their now two big acts, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, re-promoted the album with renewed MTV interest. It shot to No. 5 on the charts and passed the million sales mark.
“If you want to talk about when grunge really started to become popular and really started to happen, it was when that album came out in ’91,” says Smith. “Nirvana didn’t come along until the fall of ’91. That was really what everyone’s introduction to what grunge was, and that’s when it became more commercialized and acceptable.”
With Soundgarden and Pearl Jam both taking off in a major way back in 1992, it became clear that the project would no longer continue, although over the years Cornell has sporadically performed one or two Temple songs live with Pearl Jam. Thus the upcoming concert is going to be a huge deal for their followers, and it will be intriguing to hear what other material they might pull out (particularly any Mother Love Bone tunes) in order to fill a 90-minute concert. Either way, fans are revved up.
“The people who will attend the shows will know every single word to every single song on that album,” insists Smith. “It’s going to be awesome.”