Nirvana Producer Recalls One Thing Kurt Cobain Wasn’t Initially Good At, Says Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell Struggled With Singing

During a chat with Rick Beato, producer Jack Endino recalled working with Nirvana and other Seattle scene grunge bands. Also known as the “Godfather of Grunge” for his role in the genre’s development, Endino recalled what Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell were like to work with back in the day.

In particular, Endino discussed the importance of having a good vocalist in a band and not just someone who would fill in the role just because they volunteered. The producer said (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):

“As a studio rat for many, many years, and also playing in bands for many, many years, the one thing that sets a good, noteworthy demo apart for me when I get it is – Is there a good singer? Or is it an average indie rock singer?

“Because there’s a lot of bands with great music, great lyrics, good sound, but the singing is kind of an afterthought. It’s like, ‘Well, someone in the band needs to sing. Who is it going to be?’ ‘Well, I guess I’ll do it.’ You know, someone volunteers.

Nirvana (live concert) - May 26th, 1989, Green River Community College, Auburn, WA (complete show!)

“The singing is always kind of like, ‘Well, we did it because someone has to do it.’ It’s always a pleasant surprise when someone suddenly discover that they are good at it.”

“The singing is always kind of like, ‘Well, we did it because someone has to do it.’ It’s always a pleasant surprise when someone suddenly discover that they are good at it.”

Further on, Endino recalled that Kurt Cobain wasn’t particularly good at singing while playing some challenging guitar parts. As a result, he had to simplify these guitar parts. He explains:

“[Most of Seattle’s iconic bands] didn’t start out amazing right from the get-go. Kurt had a really hard time singing and playing at the same time when they started. The first couple Nirvana shows, he was kind of mumbly.

Nirvana - First Show w/ Dave Grohl (Olympia 1990)

“It took him a couple cycles of songwriting to figure out that he had to simplify his strumming in order to be able to sing more strongly.

Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, as Endino remembers, had his own vocal struggles as well. The producer adds:

“I personally went through the same thing myself. And, you know, Chris Cornell realized that, ‘I can’t be a drummer and do this.’ Chris, when he started was kind of screamy. The early Soundgarden is very screamy and his voice is very raw.

“All of these singers… they didn’t just fall out of the chute as amazing singers. They had to sort of find it and develop it.”

Photo: possan (Chris Cornell Live 2009 (cropped)), P.B. Rage (Nirvana around 1992 (cropped))

David Slavkovic

David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.

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