Newly discovered Nirvana demo tapes surfaced by Cobain friend


Nirvana was one of the most influential bands not just of the 1990s, but in rock history, despite only existing for a few years after a meteoric rise to fame. Perhaps because of the band's short lifespan -- cut short in 1994 when singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain died by suicide -- rare recordings are highly sought after by fans. John Purkey was a personal friend to Cobain, and as such, Cobain gave him several demo tapes of the band's early recordings in 1988 and 1990. Purkey recently uploaded the audio, along with images of the tapes, to YouTube with background and descriptions of the tapes for each. The tapes don't contain any genuine never-before-heard recordings by the band, but are an interesting look at what Cobain pulled together into demo form back in the band's early career. I took a listen through some of the recordings and offered some history and reactions in the following slides. Links in the story will take you to the YouTube pages where you can listen for yourself. Photo: Kevin.Mazur, Getty / WireImage

I never saw Nirvana live. I didn’t even buy a copy of “Nevermind” when it first came out in September 1991.

That’s at least in part because I was not quite 10 years old then. By the time I was old enough to make a good pitch for going to a show “in the city,” Cobain was dead and Nirvana was kaput.

But like all kids who came of age in the 1990s, I became a fan of the grunge rockers and all their peers and searched out every granule of audio I could find in whatever form I could get it (which, for me, was mostly on tape).

Fast forward to 2018 and we have a new batch of demo tapes surfacing on the internet (which is a weird thing to say), this time courtesy a Tacoma musician and personal friend to Cobain named John Purkey. You can imagine my excitement.

Cobain gave the four tapes to Purkey between 1988 and 1990, and Purkey held onto them for all the years in between, along with other mementos.

Click through the slideshow above for more about some of the tracks that appear on the tapes.


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In one video, Purkey disclosed that he had sold one of the cassette tapes along the way, but had copied it and so was able to get a copy of the copy and have it back again. In another video, he also detailed the trouble with trying to hang onto such valuable items for so long.

“Thirty years is a long time, and finding places safe for this stuff…,” Purkey said in the video. “It got pretty stressful the last few years.”

Purkey uploaded the audio from the tapes to four YouTube videos that total more than two hours of Nirvana’s music. The audio spans material from before “Bleach” to after “Nevermind,” including a song that appeared on 1992’s “Insecticide.”

Rabid fans may be disappointed to learn that most, if not all, the material contained on Purkey’s tapes has been released over the years, some on official albums, some as singles, and most on compilations and bootlegs.

RELATED: ‘Nostalgia is for Losers’ shows off relics of ’90s grunge era

But the tapes were given to Purkey by Cobain. To know you’re listening to a tape that Kurt Cobain recorded for his pal is something all by itself, regardless of how widely the sounds have been disseminated.

I took a pass through the audio recordings Purkey shared on YouTube and compiled the slideshow above with 11 songs from two of the tapes. Call it my own compilation if you will, but I’ve added info about each song as well as my own critiques and thoughts in the captions. I recommend queuing up the videos and then reading along as you listen, but have at it any way you will.

In any case, Purkey has shared a fascinating piece of Seattle music history, and for that, we say thanks.

I’ve included one of the videos above, but you can find the rest at the below links:

First demo given to Purkey in 1988

Second demo tape in 1988

Third tape, essentially the “Bleach” album (though Purkey got it in advance of its release, and with a different sequencing of the songs)

A little video explaining more about the tapes

Daniel DeMay covers Seattle culture, city hall, and transportation for He can be reached at 206-448-8362 or Follow him on Twitter: @Daniel_DeMay.


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