It seems that every iconic band has been forced to go through a period of lineup reshuffle before they find their perfect formula. Take The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, for example.
In the case of The Beatles, they had a successful stint with original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe and drummer Pete Best before they reconfigured as a four-piece with Ringo Starr on the drums in 1962. As for The Rolling Stones, they have been through numerous lineup changes in their career, and it has in many ways contributed to their longevity. They spent around six months at their inception with drummer Tony Chapman before they hired legendary rhythmic lynchpin Charlie Watts.
The list of bands reconfiguring before hitting the real major leagues is actually endless. Fleetwood Mac’s Buckingham-Nicks era is another classic example that springs to mind, but that is a tale so extensive, we’ll save it for another day. It isn’t just a modus operandi saved for the ‘classic rock’ acts, either. Grunge icons Nirvana also fit into this category.
Formed in Aberdeen, Washington, by high school friends Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic in 1987, the band originally played under a string of names, including Fecal Matter and Skid Row, before settling on Nirvana. The band had a couple of early iterations with fleeting drummers before they settled on mutual friend Chad Channing in 1988. This was to be the first solidified iteration of the grunge trio, and, from there, they quickly hit their artistic stride and gained a large following in the Seattle area. Things moved so fast that in June 1989, they released their debut album, Bleach, on iconic Seattle indie, Sub Pop.
When the time came to record their follow-up, tensions arose. Both Cobain and Novoselic became increasingly discouraged by Channing’s drumming ability, who, in turn, was frustrated that he had no involvement in the songwriting process. As the demos for the band’s follow-up started to gain traction and major labels started to encircle, Channing opted to leave the band.
In September 1990, mutual friend Buzz Osborne, frontman of sludge heroes Melvins, introduced Nirvana to Dave Grohl, the former drummer of hardcore band Scream, who had just broken up. Quickly, an audition was scheduled. After Grohl’s audition, Novoselic recalled: “We knew in two minutes that he was the right drummer.”
The rest, as they say, was history. Bleach‘s follow-up would become the groundbreaking Nevermind, and Nirvana would become one of the biggest bands of all time. But what about Channing? Well, it turns out he has “no regrets” about leaving the band just before they hit the big time. In a 2018 interview with KAOS TV, he revealed all, stating: “I have no regrets because I always thought that things just sort of fall in place for a reason. For example, I was that perfect puzzle piece for the band at the time, and then they needed another piece to do other things and stuff.”
Channing explained that he actually remained friends with the band after his departure: “Our differences were strictly on a musical level. We always stayed friends. In fact, I remember the first time I saw them with Dave (Grohl) at this place called the OK Hotel. It was the first time I’d seen the guys in probably a year or so, and it was really good to see them. It was like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ It was very friendly.”
Speaking of his relationship with Grohl, Channing continued: “I found out what a really nice guy Dave is. So it was really cool meeting him too.” In a brilliant show of respect to Channing, when he was unfairly omitted from Nirvana’s Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2013, Grohl took steps to rectify the injustice. With Channing in attendance, Grohl publicly applauded and thanked Channing for his vital contributions to the band, and more critically, noted that some of Nirvana’s most iconic drum riffs from the period were, in fact, Channing’s.
It seems that Channing just wasn’t cut out for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, and luckily, he views his time in Nirvana objectively. He told the publication: “I have no regrets. I look back at those days, and I think, ‘Wow, I played a small part in something.’ So I’m happy with that.”
Like an amicable Pete Best, it says a lot about the personal constitutions of Nirvana and Channing and the fact that they were able to remain friendly after such a momentous decision is remarkable. It’s a refreshingly positive tale within the subject of rock ‘n’ roll departures, showing that it doesn’t all have to be backstabbing drama and that some things, like friendship, are more important than stardom.