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Dave Grohl admits "ripping off" disco drummers on 'Nevermind'

Everyone’s favourite good guy rock hero Dave Grohl has had his hands full musically since he was a kid. From joining punk outfit Scream at just 17 years old, then to Nirvana, and then on to Foo Fighters, Tenacious D and Them Crooked Vultures (to name but a few), Grohl has had his fingers in pretty much all of rock’s pies for the past three decades.

A wonderfully technically gifted, precise and proficient drummer, Grohl really made a name for himself in Nirvana, the unlikely grunge heroes who became arguably the biggest rock band of the 1990s. Coming from a punk and hardcore background, Grohl found it easy to play what were essentially distorted Beatles songs written by Kurt Cobain, having been used to the faster demands and blast beats of Scream and the hardcore scene of the 1980s.

The simplicity of Nirvana, particularly on the cultural zeitgeist of a record Nevermind, allowed Grohl to focus on hitting the drums hard rather than performing complex patterns. Nirvana’s magnificent MTV Unplugged performance in 1993 is arguably one of Grohl’s personal best; he is at once focused and somewhat restrained, all the more impressive seeing as we know what an absolute beast he can be behind the kit. His outfit for the evening was unbelievably appropriate in this light; black turtleneck and hair tied up in a ponytail, almost to the point of jazz.

The universal thread of Nevermind contributed to its success and made it one of the best-selling albums of all time. While Dave Grohl’s favourite drummers unsurprisingly, given his own style, include Rush’s Neil Peart and Led Zeppelin’s John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham (he also is a big fan of Ringo Starr), it may come as some surprise to discover that during the recording of Nevermind, Grohl was heavily influenced by the fabled drummers of disco.

In an interview with Pharrell Williams, and after the humble claim that he’s “the most basic fucking drummer,” Grohl reveals, “If you listen to Nevermind… I pulled so much stuff from the Gap Band and Cameo and Tony Thompson [of Chic] on every one of those songs, all that… that’s old disco. Nobody makes the connection.”

Following the revelation of his love for disco last year and the Foo Fighters cover of the Bee Gees, ‘You Should Be Dancing’ (and a follow-up Bee Gees album cover for Record Store Day), the links between Nevermind and the general influence of disco drumming on the album become clearer. In the interview, Grohl informs Pharrell that Chic drummer Tony Thompson once came round for a barbeque, at which Grohl thanked Thompson. He said, “I was like, ‘Man, I just want to thank you because I owe you so much. I’ve been ripping you off my whole life.’ He goes, ‘I know.’” Grohl laughs.

It might seem hard to believe, seeing as grunge and disco are apparently so far apart in terms of genre and style, but the proof is all there to behold. The simple songwriting of Cobain allowed Grohl to lay down what are essentially simple four-on-the-floor beats, only hit as hard as it is humanly possible to hit a drumkit; such is the strength of Grohl. “It works every time,” he says.

You can watch the interview clip in which Grohl explains disco’s influence on Nevermind below.