Kurt Cobain Almost Banned Dave Grohl From Performing Nirvana's 'Unplugged' Show

Grohl's skin-bashing didn't appeal to frontman for an acoustic session.

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Marking the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's iconic "Unplugged" record, MTV unveiled exclusive footage of behind-the-scenes state of affairs, confirming that Dave Grohl for nearly booted from the gig for being too much of a skin-basher. As producer Alex Coletti noted, "up until the day [of the concert], there was talk of Dave not playing at all in the show. Kurt wasn't happy with the way rehearsals were going; he didn't like the way Dave sounded playing drums with sticks. "Dave's a heavy hitter, and the thing about 'Unplugged' is, if the drummer doesn't get it under control, it makes it a bad-sounding electric show, instead of a good-sounding acoustic show," Coletti explained, noting that he eventually even bought Grohl a pair of wire brushes to soften the hit. "And, typical Dave, he just went 'Oh cool, I never had these before!'" the producer said. So the tension was at an all-time high basically until the very beginning of the show. Dave ultimately did handle the drumming duties and the album became one of the classics. However, on one of the songs, the "Pennyroyal Tea" track, Kurt decided to go on his own. It might seem a bit staged while watching it live, but the brief chat between Cobain and Grohl regarding the drummer's participation was where the decision was actually made. "That song meant a lot to him," said director Beth McCarthy-Miller, "it was very personal, wand he wanted to feel simple and raw, just him singing his heart out. Any other instruments were getting in the way of the emotion of the song for him. Dave plays drums like Animal from 'The Muppet Show,' and Kurt knew that, he was very deliberate about it. He wanted it to be his song." Check out documentary clips and the "Pennyroyal Tea" performance below and let us know what you think in the comments.

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89 comments sorted by best / new / date

    crazyhorse174
    "...that Dave Grohl for nearly booted from the gig for being too much of a skin-basher." Does not compute...
    lou.tjahjono
    Just a fancy, or confusing, way of saying he was drumming too loud.
    KerNeL_KLuTcH
    if you watch the Nevermind Classic Albums episode Butch Vig talks about how hard it was for Dave to track the drums on "Something In The Way" because he naturally hits hard.
    Intersting
    Actually, it was hard for him to track the drums because Kurt insisted on not using a click track, the tempo is all over the place.
    VertigoViking
    He didn't insist on it. The song was basically recorded while Cobain was playing it all by himself. And then they added everything else later. That's why the tempo is all over the place.
    UncleBluck
    How could Curt do that...didn't he know Dave was soon to become GOD....at least in the imaginations of the average UG bloggers.....
    BwareDWare94
    Not fancy. The inclusion of "for nearly" is completely out of place and makes zero sense.
    Ultima2876
    It's a slight mistake - 'for' instead of 'was'; "confirming that Dave Grohl was nearly booted from the gig for being too much of a skin-basher."
    ehbacon
    personally I thought that meant they were mad at him for taking his shirt off or something. \_([u]" )_/
    rebreh
    Kind of the ultimate tribute in my opinion. No you can't play with us cuz you go too damn hard in the muthaf&^%in paint
    USCENDONE BENE
    Kurt was very picky when it came to this show. You can watch other rehearsals (The Man Who Sold The World comes to mind) from the unplugged show where he gets annoyed at the way Pat Smear was playing and how it was distracting Kurt from his own performance. If you read Heavier Than Heaven, Charles Cross contends that Cobain was very self-conscious about this show and really wanted it to sound good. They also nearly dropped the Meat Puppets covers until they got the Kirkwood brothers in to help. I think that Nirvana's Unplugged show was just poorly prepared for overall if they only decided on the day that Grohl should use brushes. Sensationalist headline again
    GenerationKILL
    "oh cool, I've never had these before!" Who else lol'd at the visual they got of Dave being stoked for wire brushes? Dave was laid back and cool, even back in the day!
    Tantamount
    As is the case with NIRVANA, we're lucky to have anything at all. Thank god this show was captured before he died. Just makes me wonder how many other remarkable gems he would have gone on to create had he lived. Such a terrible and tragic waste
    beastpenis
    Has anyone not heard this story before? Tomorrow UG Headline: "Ringo Starr not Original Beatle's Drummer"
    Dime6String
    Why all the bashing on Kurt Cobain lately? O.o
    Brandon1993
    I think it may be because they're up for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
    BwareDWare94
    I'd say it's because there's a large group of fans who know that the other three bands from the big four of grunge were significantly more talented than Nirvana and therefore dislike that Nirvana gets all the glory, to this day.
    abacus!
    Significantly more talented musicians, yes. Significantly more talented songwriters? Not a chance.
    BwareDWare94
    Ten, Superunknown, and Dirt are significantly better than anything Nirvana ever released. Yes, they were absolutely better songwriters.
    Hungry_Hameds
    No, they weren't. Musically they were better yes, McCready, Cantrell and Thayill are all better guitarists than Kurt, Cornell, Vedder and Staley are all better singers, Grohl is the best drummer, but overall yes the other 3 are musically better. But as a songwriter, Kurt was the man. Release by PJ is an amazingly well written song, so is Down in a Hole, but Kurt wrote at this level pretty much for every song, not the odd track. I love all 4 bands, but you're wrong sir.
    leo4sf
    I agree with 90% of this. With the exception that Matt Cameron is a WAY better drummer than Grohl.
    Tantamount
    Even if those guys were "better guitarists" than Cobain, Grohl was hands down the best drummer.
    mitch311
    I dunno, Sean Kinney and Matt Cameron also kick ass. They all of have their own styles though so there's no hands down "best"
    bobmarley_fan
    I like Sean Kinney. And while we are talking about acoustic sets It was Sean Kinney's Idea for AIC to make an acoustic album. So by the time they did their MTV unplugged Sean Kinney already had two acoustic albums under his belt.
    Iommianity
    Nah, Dave isn't better than Matt Cameron. They're both solid drummers cut from the same cloth, but Matt's definitely a better drummer. The stuff he does on Soundgarden's sludgier tunes or anything with whacked out time signatures proves that. Music isn't a contest so being technically better doesn't mean you're musically superior, but if you dig deep and compare the two Dave's about doing a lot with a little.
    AwesomeOne3
    So, Dave Ghrol almost didn't play for the unplugged show because he was to much of a skin basher. They complained that he was too loud, Nirvanas a loud band, but I do think tat Dave needs to take it down a notch for the unplugged show. Plus I can't believe its been 20 years of that show
    Brands99
    well could you imagine dave playing in an acoustic show the way he plays live at massive concerts????? it would have been a disaster! still love the album!
    USCENDONE BENE
    Also, this video from the making of Nevermind covers how this was an issue within the band before Unplugged, see the part where Butch Vig talks about the drum takes:
    paulyg
    I'm glad Dave Grohl eased up on the drums for Unplugged album. If you listen to KISS unplugged you'll know what i'm talking about!
    Iommianity
    Jesus, if speaking about Kurt like a human being with flaws is 'bashing' him, why don't we just make Nirvana threads a complete circle jerk? This martyrdom needs to end already. He wrote some great songs in the short amount of time he was here. Wouldn't be the first person, wouldn't be the last, and certainly wasn't the best or least flawed as a human being. It's gotten to the point where even anecdotes by people who actually knew Kurt Cobain are treated with hostility of they don't speak about him as a mythical figure.
    sexasaurusrex
    Anyone who knows a lot about this band knows that Dave had a lot of potential to mess up the dynamics on the Unplugged by playing too loud. It's just how he plays. I don't think Kurt meant it personally, he just had the ability to recognize what he needed to pull off the performance the right way, and if Dave came in smashing the shit out of the drums like he did normally it would have created a completely different atmosphere.
    Tantamount
    NIRVANA gets the enmity because they're a thing of the past and yet arguably still more popular than any of their peers and that has a lot of people envious, jealous, and resentful, eager to deride the quality of their music based on character assassinations and technical elitism. Yeah The Beatles ended a long time ago, and The Stones are still Rolling, but who's the greater band? Everyone knows.
    Birdall
    Personally, I think this album was their best. It was very raw, showing off Kurt's songwriting ability.
    Tantamount
    Well all the albums showcased Cobain's impeccable songwriting talent and unique guitar style but this one showed how dynamic and multi-faceted the band was, and it really took them up several orders of magnitude in esteem from a great band to a timeless band. Lots of people who don't listen to hard rock still own NIRVANA Unplugged, it really opened up the band's potential audience.
    Xenophy
    you guys could explain to people what skin-bashing means instead of mentioning it in one sentence and leaving people confused. I swear you guys have the worst writers for these articles
    NarwhalG2G
    I'm not even a drummer and I picked up "skin-bashing" immediately. I suppose they'd think it was really obvious what it was, and if it wasn't obvious, it's not their fault. Skin-basher is not in any way an obscure term for a drummer.
    riti
    Knowing how many people Dave has banned on Foo Fighters , damn I would have n-joyed seeing Dave banned on that concert lol
    Everlong729
    He's only "banned" William Goldsmith
    AaronianKenrod
    The Goldsmith situation is such an awkward one. On one hand, it seems unfair that Dave wanted to drum on the Foo's albums when he wasn't the drummer, but then again if something really isn't working out I wouldn't expect anyone to just sit and let it happen to their song.
    Everlong729
    Dave says he wished he'd handled the situation differently. I'm not really sure how he'd do it though. He wanted the drum tracks to sound a certain way, which makes sense as a drummer because you know how you want it to sound in correlation with your guitar tracks. Personally, I'm glad he redid the drum track, I love the sound of the record, but it does make him look bad
    sideslick
    Still, A trillion awesome moves compared to that one bad one, I'd say Dave's done alright with his life so far.
    nzhead
    Easy. Man up and tell him to his face - don't sneak off and re-record the album. No doubt it was the right decision but man he handled it poorly - and Dave is the first to acknowledge that...
    Ultima2876
    He didn't intentionally sneak off and re-record it, according to his account of the situation - he recorded 'guide tracks' for the drums to communicate how he wanted Goldsmith to record them (his intention being to have Goldsmith come along to the new studio and record the parts himself), and they ended up using those (probably on the producer's recommendation). This shit happens and it shouldn't have been made into the huge issue that it was. The only reason it was so overblown was because everyone knew there was a lot of money involved - if this were a band recording their first album, that drummer would've shrugged and understood. There was also Franz Stahl who was 'unceremoniously kicked out of the foo fighters' - again the blame often falls on Grohl but it was in reality a whole band vote thing. Being in the public eye sucks because everyone judges you an thinks they know what you're about.
    saul44
    The thing that annoys me with this is that he's repeatedly said that at first, foo fighters were just a project to have fun and start making music again. If it's about having fun and making music with people then who cares if the drums sound a little off? Do you have to be a perfectionist all the time? even when having fun?
    Everlong729
    I'm sure that by the second album he knew foo fighters wasn't just gonna be as small project to have fun on. He wanted it to be serious and sound great, which it did. Also, I wasn't really a big fan of Goldsmiths drumming, it was just hilarious to watch him live. Try and find a video of him playing this is a call, he looks like a bunny in the post chorus
    TomMon
    Paul Brannigan's Grohl autobiography has snippets from Goldsmith, Grohl and Gilmore and suggests Goldsmith simply didn't feel comfortable drumming for the Nirvana drummer. It suggests he felt under pressure to let Dave drum more than there actually was expectation that that would happen. Dave always wanted a band, not one guy doing everything, what he regrets is probably that he couldn't convince Goldsmith to play and that he was good enough and wanted.
    stephen28
    nirvana unplugged is a terrible album if you listen to it objectively...if cobain was alive still, people would consider it their worst.....ah the magic of an untimely death....a severely over rated live band....pretty sure alice in chains was the best live of all of the grunge bands...and probably pearl jam as much as I hate to admit it
    edge_of_rome
    Pearl Jam unplugged sounded pretty bad to me. They just played acoustic as if they were still holding electric guitars and the drums was drowning over the sound of the guitars. They were like making a poor imitation of themselves.
    Tantamount
    Pearl Jam epitomized how NOT to do an Unplugged. Besides, they did theirs way too early in their career. If they would have done it in say 1998 it might have been fantastic.
    melvin_86
    I wonder if Dave felt offended, or complimented on this? As a drummer back then, probably the latter. Most drummers are insane to be fair.
    strato60
    I thought this information was already out... There's a interview with Dave Grohl talking about it.
    SkepsisMetal
    lol Dave and Pat going for a smoke during Pennyroyal Tea. Everyone understood it was Kurt's band, but Dave still looked pissed at the little dig at the start; "Am I going to do this by myself"
    AlecBeretz
    people making drama where there doesn't have to be any for someones entertainment.
    link no1
    If this was near any other band the comments section would be a shit-storm of people 'bashing' the singer for 'banning' another member from a gig.
    Hunter Buick
    kurt had his reasons dave is a skin basher and does play like animal from the muppets however thats what gave nirvana and foo fighters their distinct sound was daves kick ass drumming
    cotlodjimmy
    a basher makes for a bad unplugged gig ...Nirvana makes for a band untalented band plugged or not!!. All the nonesense with this gig and queensryche's revolutionary unplugged set was overlooked. If you want to see talent just watch the arrangements for that show( on youtube) Nobody from the no talent cant play my instruments grunge scene could have done that. wasn't Kurt once beating on suitcases for drums? Just goes to show that MTV and the general public are a bunch of easily led idiots.