By the fall of 1990, the then three-year-old Nirvana had cycled through different band names and no less than five drummers before settling on their moniker and finding their groove with their final drummer Dave Grohl.
Prior to the band members’ first encounter, the then 21-year-old Grohl was a veteran of the Washington, D.C. hardcore scene, serving as the drummer for Washington, D.C. punk band Scream. At the urging of Melvins’ frontman Buzz Osborne, Nirvana’s singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic checked out a Scream show in San Francisco, which was their first time seeing Grohl perform live. Shortly afterward, Scream disbanded and Cobain and Novoselic invited Grohl to a session where they obviously clicked.
“Kurt was kind of a drummer himself. When he would play guitar or write songs, if you ever looked at his jaw, he would be moving his jaw back and forth, like he was playing the drums with his teeth. He heard in his head what he wanted from a rhythm, and that’s a hard thing to articulate,” Grohl told Rolling Stone in 2001 about the group’s difficulty in choosing a drummer and his eventually joining the band. “I think one of the reasons they wanted me was that I sang backup vocals. I don’t remember them saying, ‘You’re in the band.’ We just continued.”
Less than a month after their first session, Nirvana’s classic lineup was solidified and they played their first live show together on October 11th, 1990 at North Shore Surf Club in Olympia, Washington. In a clip filmed during that performance, the band is seen playing to a sweaty, engaged crowd and it showcases their new drummer, shirtless and hair flying as he propels the songs’ frenetic, thunderous beats. Grohl’s live Nirvana premiere included a rendition of Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz,” which Nirvana had recorded as a single in 1988. The trio also performed Nirvana’s “Scoff” and “Sliver” as well as a cover of Devo’s “Turn Around.”
One year later, Nirvana would shape the alternative rock landscape with the release of their sophomore studio album, 1991’s Nevermind, which spawned their first Number One hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Reflecting back on that “whirlwind” time, the Foo Fighters frontman called it “the greatest achievement of my life.”
“There would be times when we would really connect — smile and laugh and feel like a band. And there were times when you felt lost and questioned what you were doing there,” Grohl told Rolling Stone of the first album he recorded as part of Nirvana. “There were times when I had to back off completely and think, ‘I’m just the drummer in this band.’ And there were other times when we’d all share something really beautiful, like a show or recording or just a vocal harmony. That’s when you really felt like you were part of something great.”