Featuring: Yogi Lonich, Pete Thorn, Corey McCormick and Jason Sutter

In between Audioslave and Soundgarden reuniting, Chris Cornell rocked as a solo mission. Carry On was released in 2007 and Scream in 2009, each solidifying a unique placement within Cornell’s legacy. During this three-year stretch Cornell also toured religiously – with a full backing band that consisted of Yogi Lonich and Pete Thorn on guitar, Corey McCormick on bass and Jason Sutter on drums.

I was lucky enough to catch many of these shows and each time I would leave in awe of two things… the extent of Cornell’s unparalleled catalog and the band that accompanied him on stage.

They were fierce, versatile, incredible musicians and furthermore, displayed a charismatic camaraderie that made you smile alongside Cornell. Regardless of the city or venue, I remember Cornell always taking a minute to introduce them individually – often pacing in front of the Cornell Ave street sign on the drum riser, striking the mic back on the stand after boasting something like, “Jason Sutterrrrrrr, make some noise” and then circling it over the crowd.

From New York City’s Beacon Theatre to Iceland to Chile they took the show on the road almost non-stop for three years straight. They took on Cornell branded solo tours at the most prestigious theaters, world class festivals and partook in Linkin Park’s run of amphitheaters during the Projekt Revolution tour. At any time, Cornell could drop a Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog or solo song request (from three different records) to his four bandmates to learn and play live the next day.

Furthermore, a bond was created between the group and millions of fans they reached, but mostly, amongst each other.

I recently had the chance to connect with Lonich, Thorn, McCormick and Sutter, and today, exactly two years after the passing of the voice of a generation, an artist for all time, we take a moment to reflect upon on one of the most extraordinary periods of Cornell’s illustrious career.

photo by: Sean Smith

What do you remember about being asked to be in this band with Chris Cornell?

Yogi Lonich: It was a surreal time. I was driving to Los Angeles from Northfork, California after a 10-day silent meditation retreat, I checked my voice messages and there was one from a friend/agent, Barry Squire who was inquiring if I’d be interested in auditioning for Chris Cornell. I’d been a huge fan of his solo album “Euphoria Morning” and was also into Soundgarden, so this was a real treat for me. I had missed several rounds of auditions as I was literally off the grid for 10 days, but luckily he was still conducting auditions. The audition went well, and I was asked to join the band. When I would listen to Euphoria Morning years before, I would often think “It would be cool to play with Chris Cornell”. When It happened, it was a dream come true.

Pete Thorn: It was probably one of the coolest days in my life, in retrospect. I’d wanted to be the guitarist in a super high-level rock band my whole life. And this was the day that that dream came true. I remember the phone call from management, late in the afternoon the day that we had done out 3rd audition for Chris…and the voice on the other end saying congratulations, Chris wants to hire you. I guess the feelings could be described as- it’s a profound sense of relief, coupled with excitement about what this means, and anticipating the adventures that were coming… It was an extremely satisfying feeling. Happy, excited, a bit anxious, mostly just really elated.

Corey McCormick: I remember everything about it. I had to audition four days in a row. The first day I had to learn five songs overnight. I stayed up all night practicing. I was so nervous but excited to be there! Each day they gave use five new songs to learn for the next day.  Chris was like a rock God to me growing up so it was larger then life! And I remember him being there. The whole time. Jamming all day with the line of musicians they had. My first impression of him was that he was such a nice, warm guy. It came down to me and one other guy for the bass chair. We both watched as the other did his final audition. I thought that was weird. I also thought I wasn’t going to get it. He looked more the part. A couple days later, I was driving home from a gig. It was late. Probably 2am. His manager called me and said, “Chris would like to know if you’d be his bass player”. I calmly answered yes and that I’d be very happy to. After a short conversation, I pulled over on the side of the freeway, jumped out of my car and ran around in the grass next to the freeway screaming and crying with joy!! It was the gig I had been waiting for a long time. And it was the one I really wanted. Game changer…

Jason Sutter: The audition was a complete fluke for me. I was in my car in LA around 6:30 pm and I got a call from Barry Squire, the agent who set up the auditions, and he called and asked if I could audition for Chris the next day. He knew I was currently playing with Smash Mouth and said “I know you have a gig but we are doing call backs tomorrow for the final auditions (they had been going on for weeks already in LA) and we’ve been through 20 drummers and Chris still has not found the guy for the drum chair and I know you would be perfect for it. I know you have a gig, but just come in and audition, you don’t have to take the gig just make me look good”. I’m sure he was kidding, but I asked if Chris would be there and he said yes and that I would have to learn five songs for the audition, so, I said sure. The songs where: “Like a Stone”, “Spoonman”, “You Know My Name”, and a few others. I didn’t get the music until about 8:30 pm so I was up all night preparing for the 11am downbeat.

I showed up at Center Staging rehearsal rooms and gear was all set up. I think I filled out a questionnaire and had photos taken. I had been running into guitarist Pete Thorn on the road and at one point on a plane he said, “Dude we need to play together sometime!” I had always wanted to do a gig with Yogi Lonich who was a top call guitarist in town as well, so when I showed up Pete and Yogi where there for the call backs – I was stoked as it was at least a chance to play some great music with some cats I’d wanted to play with for a while. The bass players where Corey and Joe Ayoub – also great players I’d never met, but it was a great vibe. Barry came in and said Chris was going to be two hours late due to an unexpected interview, so I asked if we could run through everything once with each bass player before we went to lunch as I had barely learned the tunes and they were gnarly. We started with “Spoonman” and as soon as we finished Yogi spun around and told me I got the gig, that I was going to get the gig as he had played with most of the other drummers during the auditions and I was the dude. That was cool. We ran the jams twice and went to eat nearby. The hang was great, and we all regretted that only one of the bass players would get the gig and possibly one of the guitarists because the vibes where strong and it already felt like a band. I confessed I was not going to take the gig either way as I was just doing Barry a favor and already had a gig. I remember the dudes where bummed as they thought the chemistry was happening but understood. Chris had a drummer who had played on the record who was currently in Israel for a month and Chris had told Barry he could do the gig but didn’t think he was the right guy for the heavier Soundgarden and Audioslave jams but he was a potential if they didn’t find someone.

Do you remember your first practice / jam as a group?

Thorn: I think the first day we actually all played together was that final audition. And the thing I remember most is that Yogi and I – we had agreed to work as a team, as a unit, to go into the audition and have each other’s backs, so to speak, to work together as a guitar team in support of the music. And I think Chris sensed that immediately, appreciated it, and it was a huge factor in us locking down the gig.

McCormick: Some of us jammed in the audition process. We jammed with different combinations of people. I remember at one point playing with Richie Kotzen. But the first rehearsal we had was amazing! We were all a little nervous and very excited. They had us on in ear monitors and I had Chris’s vocal pretty loud (who wouldn’t). And, I think we were playing “Spoonman” or “Jesus Christ Pose” and it was the end of the song and Chris let a really good scream go and my whole body vibrated, and my head almost exploded! He had some lungs! Pete Thorn and I looked at each other, and I’m sure we were both thinking the same thing, “Holy shit that’s rock!!!!!!”

Sutter:  When Chris arrived not much was said. Everyone played their asses off and the chemistry was noticeable after the first song. Chris immediately got on his phone and stayed there for the duration of the audition and eventually we were told by Barry that he would call us. Chris waved and thanked us while on the phone and that was it. I only lived about three miles from Center Staging. I had been recommended for Smash Mouth a year prior by a drummer who was only playing with them temporarily but had done the gig for years before as he was leaving to do another gig. He had called me that morning by chance as his gig, now a year later, was going on hiatus and asked if I knew of any gigs, I told him after I did the CC audition I would recommend him later that day as I wouldn’t be taking it either way. I got a call the minute I got in my car from the drummer and he said “Congrats man you got the gig!” I was confused but he said he had just called Barry and explained that I suggested he audition, and Barry had said “CC just told me to call Israel and tell him we won’t need him after all half way through the first song!” he said “I’ve found the drummer!” It was crazy as I wasn’t even home yet and got the gig. It was definitely exciting and one for the books. Shortly after Barry called and confirmed all this and said Chris had been on the phone with his manager saying he had found his band. Barry said he had explained that I had another gig but Chris said he “wasn’t taking no for an answer.”

Management called that evening and asked if I would just learn the three songs we were asked to  learn for the next day and come to rehearsals and see how it feels and maybe I would change my mind. The audition was on a Monday so we learned three new tunes each day as homework and rehearsed all the others we had learned building up a set list that week. Each night the Manager, Peter, would call me and try to convince me to join saying things like “CC said if you do this gig the world will know who you are as a drummer!”. It was crazy. After the week I had a gig with Smash Mouth that Saturday in Washington and I remember it was a super hard decision, but I called them after that weekend and spoke to  each member and explained why I was leaving to tour with Chris Cornell!

We went on to tour three years straight in the US, Europe and South America before that year (2007) was done and only had 2.5 months off!!!! It was amazing and truly a gig of a lifetime. 

Lonich: I’m going to tell you about the first time we played “Spoonman”, but first a little back story. In the early part of Chris’ career, he was a full guttural, throaty type of singer. It’s difficult to maintain that type of voice without developing vocal nodes or other voice problems, so over the years Chris trained with Ron Anderson and other vocal coaches which gave Chris the ability to sing with his full range whether tired, healthy or sick. When we first rehearsed, we were using standard floor monitors, not in-ear monitors, so he was really singing full out with his chest voice. There was so much air moving from the vocal wedges that it felt like my hair was blowing from the pressure. The vibe was truly rock n roll. We were playing through 100-watt amps, large Ludwig drums and an Ampeg SVT bass rig. It was super heavy. It was special to be in the room with that legendary voice.

photo by Sean Smith

What were some key moments for you from that timeperiod? 

Thorn: The first gigs- Yahoo music, and Las Vegas on Freemont Street with Army Of Anyone – we were just getting going and it was so exciting. Heading over to Europe in May/June to do all the big rock festivals there, playing Hyde Park on June 24th (my birthday) with Aerosmith. South America in the fall of 2007, those were some of the best shows we did. Touring with Linkin Park for two months in 2008, that tour was like summer camp, so fun, Chester would sing “Hunger Strike” with us every night. The Wiltern gig in LA in May 2009 and jetting off right after the show to do Letterman the next day. Europe in 2009, we’d really become a band – we played and interacted like a band by then, it was second nature. Even though we were sidemen.

Lonich: I really enjoyed when Chris would tutor us on the tunings and guitar fingerings for some of his songs. He had an unorthodox style of guitar playing. He mainly played with his index and middle fingers, so he would come up with odd tunings that would accommodate his style of playing. He would sit down on the drum riser, grab a guitar and proceed to tune it in a way we’ve never heard before. I have several videos of his demonstrations. After watching him play songs, it made so much more sense. Chris would also take these moments to share stories of his life.

Another stand out moment was when we played Webster Hall in New York City and gave the audience a surprise during the encore. I was chatting with Pete that I wanted to shave my head. Pete had the brilliant idea of asking Chris to cut it on stage. At soundcheck, I asked Chris and without hesitation, he replied “sure”.  We decided on doing the shaving during the encore which would ne during the song “Reach Down”.  After soundcheck I had to find a beauty salon to buy an electric razor. Our guitar tech Dave Lapham was made aware of the stunt and procured an extension cord and bar stool for the night. I thought Chris would shave my head down in a couple minutes, but he would end up shaving my head for almost 10 minutes. Chris was an artist with my hair. The cut was to happen during my guitar solo and ended up sounding like howls and groans from my guitar. It was cathartic.

Sutter: Every show was an “event”! I do remember our first real gig was a KROQ radio morning show, super early in LA (on youtube) We played five or six tunes and by the time we walked out we were a band! Our next gig, first in front of an audience in LA, was on a movie lot. I remember Chris pulling us together before we walked on stage. No artist has ever done this before and he said ” I spent a lot of time finding all of you and we’re together for a reason. There are no mistakes or wrong notes from now on just music, don’t ever think twice if you feel something and don’t have any second thoughts. Just make music and let’s have a blast.” It was the most inspiring moment I’ve had with a boss before or since. We were all young guns ready to reach for the stars and Chris had just given us full reign to spread our wings and fly and we definitely did! We basically blew every band away at every festival and the side stage was always filled with a who’s who watching on (Brian May, Jimmy Paige, Billy Corgan etc). Chris would ask us to learn usually a few songs a week on the road and we would rehearse them at soundcheck. We would be responsible to be ready to play them at any time once we had learned them.

I remember once in Boston early on, in the first promo tour of the US, we were asked to learn Soundgarden’s “Slaves and Bulldozers” for soundcheck and after the guitar solo there was space and I just started to do a drum solo as a joke and Chris waved me on to keep going and then we all came back in with a chorus and it was insane. In the dressing room Chris said we would close with that including an extended drum solo with a breakdown, after that I would cue everyone back in. It was a show stopper and we closed with it for the first two years! By the summer I had three drum solos a night and the shows where reaching three hours as Chris would do an acoustic set in the middle. By the end of the tour we had learned over 80 songs that we had to be ready to play on a moment’s notice and often did!! Chris confessed he loved drum solos as a kid and when Soundgarden and Audioslave were playing, drum solos weren’t cool and now they were, so we just went for it. If you watch YouTube of the solos Chris never left the stage and often interacted with me as he loved them. I made it a point to change them up for him as I really was playing them for him every night. He would smile ear to ear when I tried something new. I still have a few tour front bass drum heads that have hash marks from his mic when he would join in with me.

One other fun memory is when we were doing pre-production for the Scream record he wanted to do a week before the band came in with just me a pro tools engineer and himself so he could acclimate to the new tracks and “beats”. After a few hours on one of the days, he suggested we grab lunch and we were in North Hollywood where I lived so I recommended a cool fresh Mexican secret place in a strip mall. This place is tiny, and has about eight tables. We walk in around 1pm and the only occupied table is Dave Grohl with his wife and daughter. Of course, Dave got up and gave Chris a hug and we sat across the restaurant from each other and I just remember thinking “Here I am with two legends of an era and I’m eating with them”!! Again, a wonderful memory and testament to what real and genuine humans these guys are aside from their superhuman musical powers.

McCormick: Meeting Jimmy Page backstage in London at our soundcheck, meeting Brian May in Hyde park. Playing in South America in front of the most incredible crowds I’ve ever been in front of. Mostly I think about the times (which were few) where Chris and I got to hang. He was such a sweet, encouraging guy. He never made me feel less than, he always picked me up. And the last time I saw him, at one of the last Bridge School Benefits, I was just sharing my gratitude for the times we had playing together and he grabbed my shoulder and looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t worry man, we’ll do it again”.

Do you have a favorite show you guys did? And a favorite song your performed? 

Sutter: Argentina in December of 2007 represents the true continuity of a full show top-to-bottom- just the overall excitement that Chris could bring to the stage and how we fed off that together. You can see his playful interaction and sheer joy. The audience reaction is insane. I remember one of the videographers snuck us the footage with multiple angles and immaculate sound (at the time) and we made sure it was everywhere.

The other show was June or July 2007 at the Orange County fair. It was just magical in so many ways as we were all still finding our footing and stretching you can feel that magic between the five of us. It was a hometown show so it sent shock waves of what we were up to, LA and beyond. I remember that a friend had brought Clem Burke (drummer and founder of Blondie) to the show who was one of my all-time heroes and he had brought along a British drum magazine I had a feature in, as he subscribed and knew it would take forever for me to see it otherwise. Just imagine my teen idol handing me a drum mag that I’m in!!!!  I could see him on the side of stage digging it and it meant the world to me (Chris was right! The world would know who I was after this!) I remember seeing Barry Squire after the show he was like a proud Papa as he had help put this fantastic project together and that felt great for him.

McCormick: I remember this particular show in Chile. It was in an airplane hanger. Probably 9000-10,000 people. I remember the crowd singing along to everything. Words, riffs, guitar solos it was insane!! There was so much heat in that place I think we were all close to naked by the end of the show. So much energy. I also remember doing some small clubs in the states. Sweaty, hard core rock n roll shows with one of the best ever to do it. I’m a lucky man.

Thorn: The photo of us in Santiago, Chile at the end of 2007, tells it all… man (below). I remember that gig being just electric. So many people for a Chris solo show, I think around 10,000. And it was HOT in there. And the crowd were just so into it. The other one that comes to mind is Tel Aviv, that show was amazing, the crowd sang every word of every song.

Lonich: Playing London Astoria was a favorite concert. Particularly because my guitar hero Jimmy Page was in the audience. One of Chris’ songs, “Arms Around Your Love” has the same chord progression as “Stairway to Heaven” during the guitar solo (A minor / G / F) so I started my solo by quoting Jimmy’s solo from ‘Stairway’.  It was a highlight for me. Speaking with Jimmy after the show was just brilliant!

Thinking back now – what did this overall experience mean to you?

McCormick:  So much. It was my first big gig. It put me on the map as a player. It lead to everything that’s happened since. Growing up a fan of Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog it was amazing to just be around the guy. It was one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life.

Lonich: This meant playing amazing music with a legendary vocalist/artist and making beautiful friendships that are strong to this day.  I also enlisted Corey and Jason Sutter to help me co-write and record an album for my band Run Through The Desert. It’s called “Break The Silence”.

Thorn: It was the time of my life, when it comes to playing rock music with a live band. As a rock guitarist- how can you top playing those great songs, with THAT guy singing? It’s a hard blow to think that we just can’t ever do it again. I did a gig with Chris in January 2016, the last time I ever played with him. And it was SO satisfying and fun, to do it again, after a five-year hiatus. I just thought we MUST do this again, I cannot wait. I just really loved performing music with him. Beyond that, he was my friend who I loved dearly, and I’m thankful for the chance to know him, and for his friendship over the years.

Sutter: I remember seeing Corey’s parents after that Orange County fair show. This was the biggest show he had ever done, and you could tell they were in awe of him (as we were nightly, too) it was that beautiful moment when you finally arrive in your parents’ eyes and I got to witness it. They looked at him like “Who are you? where did our little boy go? All these people watching YOU?!” It was a special memory between them that happened that night that many of us have felt with people who have known us our whole lives, but a show can change how they see us forever if it’s the right place at the right time. Chris allowed all of us to have those moments and forge bonds with family and friends, but most importantly with each other as a band. I know the four of us  will all play together someday to hopefully honor Chris in some way, but no matter what he was our friend and our brother in-arms and that will always keep us close to each other and to his fans and his family.

All photos by Sean Smith, courtesy of Pete Thorn.

Catch Jason Sutter on tour with Cher, Corey McCormick with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, PeterThorn.com, and YogiMusic.com 

Check out part 1 of our 2019 Chris Cornell tribute: Dear, Chris.