Although not an original member of Soundgarden, bassist Ben Shepherd was present for the band's most successful period. Hunter Benedict Shepherd was born on September 20, 1968, in Okinawa, Japan (the son of a U.S. serviceman), but grew up on Bainbridge Island -- across Puget Sound in Seattle. Attracted to punk rock as a teenager, Shepherd took up guitar and formed several garage bands throughout the '80s, including 600 School, March of Crimes, Tic Dolly Row, Mind Circus, and Episode. Besides playing shows and building up a small regional following, none of the aforementioned bands issued recordings. Shepherd also served time as a roadie for Nirvana during their early days (and was considered at one point to join as a rhythm guitarist).
A major fan of another up-and-coming Seattle band, Soundgarden, Shepherd tried out for the band's vacant bass position shortly after the quartet released their major-label debut, Louder Than Love, in 1989. Although he was seriously considered, the spot went to another Nirvana graduate, Jason Everman. By spring of 1990, however, it was clear that Everman wasn't working out, and Shepherd was finally asked to join up -- touring with the band throughout the summer. Shepherd's songwriting presence was immediately felt on Soundgarden's next release (and commercial breakthrough), 1991's Badmotorfinger, as he lent a hand in penning (or co-penning) three tracks. Shepherd proved to be an unpredictable performer on stage as he tried to come to terms with the band's sudden success -- sometimes smashing his bass, yelling and/or spitting at the audience, and even walking offstage midsong.
In 1993, Shepherd and Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron organized their first side project together, Hater. Issuing a self-titled release the same year, the ad hoc band of Seattle musicians specialized in the garage rock of Shepherd's early bands. A year later, Soundgarden issued their masterpiece, Superunknown, which placed the band at the top of the hard rock heap, and featured two striking Shepherd compositions, the Beatlesque "Head Down" and the Middle Eastern-influenced "Half." But after only one more release, 1996's Down on the Upside, Soundgarden would call it quits. Shepherd continued to record with others, appearing on Josh Homme's Desert Sessions series, the Ramones' live album We're Outta Here!, Peter Krebs & Gossamer Wings' Sweet on a Rose, and Mark Lanegan's 2001 solo album, Field Songs. Shepherd has also done further work with Cameron, as part of another retro garage rock outfit, Wellwater Conspiracy, and guesting with the former Soundgarden drummer on Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi's first-ever solo album, 2000's Iommi. ~ Greg Prato