Skip to main content

Kim Thayil reveals the classic Soundgarden riff he found particularly tricky to learn

With four songwriting musicians, Soundgarden's ability to experiment and explore within the rock genre was unrivalled by their peers. They were fearless when it came to forging hooks from odd tunings and time signatures, with one song in a particular proving a shining testament to that. And if you've ever struggled to learn to play it on guitar like we have, you might be relieved to hear guitarist Kim Thayil did too. 

“This was Chris’s song, and it has one of the coolest arrangements," Thayil told Guitar Player recently about the genesis of Rusty Cage – the third single from the band's 1991 opus, Badmotorfinger. 

"It’s a verse/chorus, verse/chorus thing, and then a C section and a D section ending. It’s trippy as hell. I remember I spent a lot of hours, days, and months learning the main riff, because it’s not an easy one to play."

"The fact that Chris could play the riff of this song and sing it at the same time – I don’t know if that’s more a testament to his abilities to weave a melody around a trippy riff or to his abilities as a guitar player"

All the more striking is that Chris Cornell was originally the band's singing drummer before Matt Cameron took over, and was only made the shift to live guitar duties for the Seattle band later.

“Eventually it became easy and we were able to play it live," added Thayil. But I will say this: The fact that Chris could play the riff of this song and sing it at the same time – I don’t know if that’s more a testament to his abilities to weave a melody around a trippy riff or to his abilities as a guitar player. But it was pretty amazing to see.” 

For his part, the band's late frontman also found Rusty Cage a challenge, as he told Total Guitar himself in 2012, likening it to By Crooked Steps, from the band's final album King Animal, to it in terms of challenge.

"That was the first song we worked on where I felt that we were taking what it is that we do to a new level," Cornell said of the latter song. "And at the same time it’s definitely the most challenging one to sing and play. To just sing it would be easy but the singing and playing part; it’s a new beast. But I’ve run into that before – Rusty Cage was a very difficult song at first.”