Three years ago today, May 18th 2017, the world lost an amazing talent. Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell passed away. The following story is about the day I spent with Chris and my on-air radio partner – a day I will never forget.
The day was October 17th 2005 and I did mornings at 99X/WJBX in Fort Myers, FL with my partner Bob Garrett (Zito and Garrett). We had an interview that morning with Chris Cornell, who was in Audioslave at the time. Bob and I were huge Soundgarden fans and were really nervous speaking to Chris that day. Honestly, our only concern was whether or not he liked us. Halfway through the interview, we calmed down and started talking like we were old friends. I actually brought up the time Soundgarden covered the Ice-T fronted Body Count song “Cop Killer” at Lollapalooza ’92 in Orlando when police in riot gear surrounded the stage. He remembered it instantly, and continued on about how antagonistic he thought law enforcement was being at that moment.
It was maybe an hour or so later that my Program Director got a phone call from Audioslave’s label rep James Bishop with Interscope Records. He went on to tell him how impressed Chris was with our interview with him. Bob and I were so thrilled! I remember us both saying “He liked us!”. What an honor, but it didn’t stop there. James said Chris wanted to invite us to a soundcheck party the band was having that day before their show with Seether and 30 Seconds to Mars. If we left Fort Myers by noon, we could get to the Sundome in time to meet Chris, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford. Needless to say, we were also huge Rage Against The Machine fans! Well, that settles it, we’re going!
We finally got there and just in time. Audioslave just took the stage to begin their soundcheck. They jammed at least 6 or 7 songs in front of about 20 people inside the Sundome. What a surreal moment. I remember the band jumping off the stage and everyone running over to Tom Morello for a picture and/or autograph. Cornell stayed on stage, grabbed an acoustic guitar and began to play the Soundgarden masterpiece “Black Hole Sun”, solo. I stood 10 feet away and stared at him like some kind of stalker.
When he finished, he jumped off the stage and was instantly surrounded by everyone lucky enough to be there that day. Bob and I were able to get his attention as we said, “Hey, we’re the guys from Ft Myers, Zito and Garrett!”. Chris instantly remembered us. He put his hand on my shoulder , walked us away from the crowd and started telling us the story of when he met Johnny Cash on the phone when he wanted to cover Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage”. I was numb. Completely star struck. I had met so many rock stars in this business over the years, but this was different. We spent a good 15 minutes together. I remember looking at Bob and saying, “There is no way this day gets any better. It can only go downhill from here.” He agreed.
We then left after driving 2 hours to Tampa, and spending 45 minutes at the Sundome. My partner and best friend Bob Garrett passed away February 12, 2017. That day we spent together in 2005 was easily one of the greatest days of my life.
– Jeff Zito