Album: Superunknown (1994)
Charted: 20


  • This song is about a street artist named Artis the Spoonman, who played the spoons on the streets of Seattle, where Soundgarden formed. Artis played his spoons on the song, and is credited on the album (Spoons: Artis The Spoonman). He is also featured in the video.

    When we spoke with Artis in 2013, he said that he earned a flat fee of $1,000 for performing on the song, and another $7,000 to appear in the video. Describing how Soundgarden contacted him, he said: "In 1992, they had me do a tweener (a performance between acts) between them and Melvins. And their manager at the time, Susan Silver, she told me Chris is writing a song, 'Spoonman,' and would I like to record on it when it's done. And so in '93, almost a year and a half later, they called me and we went in the studio that day and recorded it. Went through four takes and that was that. Two hours. That was the recording session."
  • Pearl Jam bass player Jeff Ament came up with the title. Along with Eddie Vedder, Layne Staley and various other grunge forebears, he was in the 1992 movie Singles, which stars Matt Dillon as a musician named Cliff Poncier. A prop in the film is Poncier's solo tape; Ament contrived the song titles, one of which was "Spoon Man." (At the time, Cornell was in the group Temple Of The Dog ("Hunger Strike") with Ament and Stone Gossard, who went on to form Pearl Jam.)

    When Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell, who also appears in the film, saw the tape, he recorded actual songs with those titles just for fun. The 5-song recording was pressed to about 5000 CDs which were used to promote the film. This original version of the song was recorded on a 4-track tape to emulate how Poncier would have done it. It's very raw.

    When it came time to record Superunknown, Cornell made a polished version with Soundgarden, this time as "Spoonman." Ament is credited on the album for coming up with the title.

    Cornell had yet to meet Artis when he wrote the song.
  • This won the 1995 Grammy for Best Metal Performance. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Adrian - Brookings, SD
  • This song is often credited with turning Artis the Spoonman into a bit of a celebrity, but he was already done some high profile gigs, including some performances with Frank Zappa in 1981. When we asked him how this song changed his life, Artis replied: "You know, it's kind of embarrassing. It's not weird, though. It was an honor. I do believe in luck, but even that's got some science. It wasn't luck for me. I'd been playing already 25 years. When they asked me to do that, I had already done the Letterman show, I'd been to Japan, England, Germany. I was in Australia, Bali, Singapore - I'd been places all over the world performing, I'd been called and paid and brought there to those places and doing national TV and stuff.

    So it wasn't anything like Soundgarden making the Spoonman. What Soundgarden did was another bump. I'd already gotten a hell of a lot of national coverage and I'd played a lot of national gigs and all over the country. But that bump was tremendous, a huge honor."
  • This would certainly be the most famous song about a street performer if it wasn't for the 1970 hit "Mr. Bojangles," which is about a street dancer the songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker met in jail. "Spoonman," however, features a performance by its subject. As Artis the Spoonman tells us: "There's nothing ever to regret about 'Spoonman.' That's unusually incredible, remarkable. Elvis didn't have a Grammy Award-winning song featuring him about him. Nobody did. Nobody at all. There isn't anybody. Not even that dancer, Bojangles. So it's a huge honor, what's happened to me."
  • Talking about what he's trying to convey about Artis in this song, Chris Cornell said it was "about the paradox of who he is and what people perceive him as."

    "He's a street musician, but when he's playing on the street, he is given a value and judged completely wrong by someone else," Cornell continued. "They think he's a street person, or he's doing this because he can't hold down a regular job. They put him a few pegs down on the social ladder because of how they perceive someone who dresses differently. The lyrics express the sentiment that I much more easily identify with someone like Artis."
  • Soundgarden used this to open many of their live shows between 1996 and 1997.
  • Bassist Ben Shepard sang backup vocals, like the lines, "They beat the rhythm with their bones." His voice was sent through Fender Twin Reverb. It's his favorite song on the album.
  • This was the first single from the album, which went on to sell over five million copies. The B-side on the single is "Fresh Tendrils." A special remix is included as the B-side on the singles for "Black Hole Sun" and "My Wave."
  • Artis the Spoonman didn't get rich off this song for four reasons:
    1) He got just a small flat fee for performing on the song and appearing in the video, so he didn't get any royalties from the song (the only songwriter credited on it is Chris Cornell).

    2) He was very particular about where he would perform and who he would shill for. He refused to play bars or any other venues where the audience wasn't there specifically to see him. He did do some commercials for Dairy Queen, but that was his only corporate association.

    3) He didn't pursue opportunities, as he avoids self-promotion. "It's embarrassing for me to pursue a show," he told us.

    4) He wasn't shrewd financially. "I'd take funds for a show that I said yes to, but I just take what they pay me. I took what they paid me and I didn't have a lawyer or anything," he said.
  • Like the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" and Pink Floyd's "Money," parts of this song are in 7/4 time. Soundgarden frequently used odd time signatures in their songs. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Adrian - Gettysburg, PA
  • Chris Cornell wrote a rough version of this song during the filming of Singles that can be heard in the movie in a scene where a Citizen Dick poster is being put up on a telephone pole.
  • This song appeared in the Playstation 2 game ATV: Offroad Fury. You are able to listen to it while racing. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    John - Madison, WI

Comments: 18

  • Barry from Gagetown Nb CanadaMe and a guy at work listening to and singing along with the radio both wondered what this is about and ... Well now we know! Hey Artis!
  • Elmer H from Westville, OkLove Soundgarden! What a fantastic song & background history of Spoonman. The song was still on college radio when I was an undergrad in the late Nineties & into early 2000s. It's still played on alternative rock stations in my region. The whole production on this recording is top quality.
  • Artis from Port Townsend, WaThanx Y'all, like it or not, believe it or not, I'm Artis - The Spoonman
    I couldn't be more honoured that Chris, Jeff, Ben, Matt, Kim, Susan and all the many peops involved respected me and my playing to produce this song about me. It's been about 20 years and the damn thing is still in rotation - not only as an oldie either. As for Soundgarden "making me"... Sorry, they don't get credit for that. When I was asked in 1992 if I'd be interested in performing on the record I had already performed twice and recorded with Frank Zappa, performed on Late Night to rave response and called the MVP by David Letterman, performed on David Sanborn's "Night Music", performed on television and at festivals in Japan, Australia, Singapore, England, Germany, Canada galore. Check my website for a more concise list. Thank You Soundgarden for the stellar bump. Sincerely, Artis April 2013 PS: I didn't mention the streets from Venice beach to Covent Garden, from Young Street to Bali.
  • Willie from Scottsdale, AzPop/country singer Jessica Lambert stole the riff from this song for her hit "Baggage Claim."
  • Ed from Chicago, Ilmy apologies to Kuzma...
  • Ed from Chicago, IlI have played with Artis in Portland and Seattle...since the 70's..He is the Spoonman, not because of drug use but because he took playing spoons to a much higher level.( changing keys, antique spoons vs. new, silver vs. stainless for tonal changes..That is why he is the spoonman..Jordan & Kuzma...do some research...idiots...
  • Adrian from Seattle, WaIve been to bumpershoot three times, and Artis has been there every time.
  • Rahul from Chennai, Indiathe guiar riff is awesome...gets stuck in my head alwayz...
  • Anonymous from Someplace, LaThis song is on the game "Battle of the Bands". It's weird to hear it as performed by a marching band :)
  • Jeffrey from Petersburg, InLove this song. Awesome song to jam to. Superunknown is a great cd. the band is way underated
  • Kevin from Seattle, WaNot about heroin. Seattle natives know about Artis the Spoonman. He's still at Bumbershoot almost every year.
  • Kuzma from Moscow, EuropeCalm down! Spoonman`s not a drug user. It`s the one who plays spoons, usually in the street. He beats the rhythm with a couple of spoons in order to make some profit. I remember talking to Seattle natives who told me that there were a lot of them in the streets. And that was quite an impressive show. Actually numerous spoonbeat passages can be heard on the track if you would listen to it carefully.
  • Jordan from Seattle, Waheroin is heated with a lighter in a spoon before injected. im fairly sure thats what hes talking about "spoonman, come together with your hand, save me"
  • Raphael from Wayland, MaThis song rocks. The spoons in the background are the best part. Steal the rhythm while you can!
  • Elliot from St. Louis, MoSoundgardens best, I am suprised not too many people have commented. I like the part where its just bass, drums, and spoons. If I am really tired, I usually listen to this song. It is soothing in an odd way.
  • Matt from Millbrae, CaGreat song. That really short solo does really well leading back into the amazing riff.
  • Marco from Stanfield, United Statesiv only seen clips of the video and it didnt make much sence! im confused about this it probably has some deep meaning and im not geting it! help me somone!
  • Jordan from Kissimmee, FlDefinatley one of Soundgarden's best.
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