His unique basslines and technique were essential to the 90’s Soundgarden’s sound
Soundgarden’s Ben Shepperd turns 55 today
Ben Shepherd was born Hunter Benedict Shepherd on September 20th, 1968 in an American military base in Okinawa, Japan. Shepherd became interested in music after listening to Johnny Cash on television, sitting as close to the speakers as possible. Growing up in the U.S Northwest where the Grunge Rock scene was blooming, Shepherd played in numerous punk-rock bands with friends as a teenager like March of Crimes, Mind Circus and 600 School, meeting future musicians such as Stone Gossard, Krist Novoselic and Matt Cameron. After graduating from high school, he worked as a carpenter and a laborer, and while playing in Tic Dolly Row, drummer friend Chad Channing, introduced him to Krist Novoselic, who went on to bring Channing into his band Nirvana. Shepherd would later travel with Nirvana on a tour leading up to the release of “Nevermind”, being a nominal second guitarist but not playing on stage. Shepherd was a fan of Soundgarden ever since their early days as a three-piece. Once bassist Hiro Yamamoto left in 1989, Shepherd auditioned to replace him even as his primary instrument was the guitar. The band members liked Shepherd and his attitude, but given he did not know how to play the songs, they eventually picked bassist Jason Everman who had previously been in Nirvana also as second guitarist. Following the closure of the “Louder Than Love” tour in 1990, Everman was fired, and the band contacted Shepherd to see if he could join the band. His introduction was deemed by Soundgarden as helpful towards their musical evolution, bringing his own compositions that showed a new style, and guitarist Kim Thayil adding that Shepherd gave “a creative and emotional punch”. In addition to his role as bass player, Shepherd’s role as a singer and songwriter increased during his tenure with Soundgarden. On his first recording with the band, the studio album Badmotorfinger, Shepherd took part in writing the following songs: “Slaves & Bulldozers” (music, co-written), “Jesus Christ Pose” (music, co-written), “Face Pollution” (music), and “Somewhere” (music and lyrics). Shepherd also introduced some of the now signature alternate tunings to the band, such as in the singles “The Day I Tried To Live”, “My Wave”, “Pretty Noose”, and “Burden in My Hand”. In 1994, Soundgarden released their acclaimed album “Superunknown”, which featured Shepherd compositions “Half” and “Head Down” and In 1996, “Down on the Upside”, in which six of the sixteen album tracks were lyrically and/or musically composed by Shepherd. The tracks were: “Zero Chance” (music), “Dusty” (music), “Ty Cobb” (music), “Never Named” (music) “Switch Opens” (music) and “An Unkind” (music and lyrics). “Ty Cobb” was the first song Shepherd wrote that was made a single.The “Down on the Upside Tour” ended on February 9th, 1997 in Honolulu, with an acrimonious meltdown started by Shepherd. Two months later, Soundgarden announced it was breaking up, citing dissatisfaction and artistic differences. Sheperd would go on to form Wellwater Conspiracy with several other artists, he was the lead vocalist on their first album, “Declaration of Conformity”. In 1998, he quit Wellwater Conspiracy for unknown reasons. On January 1, 2010, Chris Cornell confirmed that Soundgarden would reunite, with Shepherd playing as their bassist again. The band played its first show in 13 years on April 16, 2010 at Seattle’s Showbox theater under the anagram Nudedragons. In 2014 the band released a reissue of their 1994 album “Superunknown” as part of its twentieth anniversary and has toured with drummer Matt Chamberlain filling in for Matt Cameron. On May 17, 2017, Chris Cornell was found dead in his hotel room, cancelling the rest of their tour. Ben Shepherd has been very active as a musician over the last 30 years, though he still is more famous as the bassist for the Soundgarde, Sheperd’s continuous projects have been many, however after Cornell’s death there is still little to be known about his future in the music industry.
Watch Soundgarden playing “Jesus Christ Pose” Live at Pink Pop Festival 1992, co-written by Ben Shepperd
Listen to a selection of Soundgarden songs with Ben Shepherd compiled by Pop Expresso on Spotify
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