In 2014, Chris Cornell was an unlikely guest at the CMT Artists of the Year special, backing up honoree Jason Aldean on Aldean’s song “Just Gettin’ Started.” Cornell, the singer for Soundgarden and a pioneer of the grunge movement, died at age 52 Wednesday night of an apparent suicide.
“I only got to work with Chris once, but he was a true rock star,” Aldean tells Rolling Stone Country. “He was a badass onstage and a class act off stage.”
The performance of the song featured Cornell on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, lending his signature harmonies – bordering on a howl – to the track, a Number One off Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt album. While the collaboration felt ultimately like a tease, and an underuse of Cornell’s vocal prowess, his star power in the hall of Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center was hard to ignore. Even Keith Urban was noted giving the singer a warm hug.
Cornell’s collaboration with Aldean wasn’t his only foray into the Nashville world, however. In 2015, he teamed up with Zac Brown Band for “Heavy Is the Head,” a song on the group’s genre-spanning release Jekyll + Hyde. The hard-rocking single was a Number One hit on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock chart and they performed the song on Saturday Night Live in March of 2015.
Zac Brown Band remembered Cornell on Twitter: “Chris Cornell touched so many & we were fortunate to have worked w/ him. He was a true talent & gentleman. Our thoughts are with his family.”