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While Dave Grohl’s drumming became synonymous with Nirvana, the band had a lesser-known figure behind the kit in their earliest days: Aaron Burckhard. Burckhard’s path to Nirvana began in Aberdeen, Washington, where he crossed with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic in 1987.

In this article, we will explore topics related to Nirvana’s original drummer and tell you that the history of Nirvana’s drumming extends far beyond Nevermind and Dave Grohl.

Who is Aaron Burckhard? How He Became Nirvana’s First Drummer?

Aaron Burckhard (born November 14, 1963) is currently 61 years old. He is an American musician who became the first drummer for what would soon be known as Nirvana, joining the band formed by Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic in 1987, at 23 years old.

In 1986, Kurt Cobain began his music career with a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band called The Sellouts. Kurt played drums, Krist Novoselic handled guitar and vocals, and Steve “Instant” Newman played bass. Their lineup was short-lived, though, as Newman tragically lost his fingers in a logging accident and was forced to leave the band. After that, they briefly recruited Bob McFadden on drums, but this iteration also proved short-lived, disbanding after just a month.

Undeterred, Cobain and Novoselic continued their musical exploration. In early 1987, Kurt Cobain played a lot of guitar riffs after his first adventure in recording music as his project called Fecal Matter, but he lacked the means to travel and record music properly. That was the main reason for inviting a neighbor named Aaron Burckhard, who owned a van, and whom he first met at a Melvins practice. This new formation experimented with various names, including Skid Row, Ted Ed Fred, and Throat Oyster, before settling on Nirvana.

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Now the trio started playing in an unnamed group with Krist Novoselic on bass and Aaron Burckhard behind the drums, Kurt Cobain as a frontman and songwriter for the first time.

During the first few months of 1987, Nirvana practiced with relentless dedication. Night after night, the music would pound until Kurt, their driving force, declared the workday over. Rehearsals often ended with a pilgrimage to Kentucky Fried Chicken. As Burckhard remembers from the “Heavier Than Heaven” biography, “Kurt loved Chicken Littles from KFC,” recalled Burckhard, “Once Kurt took electrical tape with him and made an inverted cross on the speaker of the drive—thru.

Aaron Burckhard played Nirvana’s first live show at a house party in Raymond, Washington, on March 3, 1987. Burckhard also drummed for a radio performance on KAOS radio on May 6.

You can watch the historic Nirvana first concert in the video above, and check out the setlist:

Love Buzz/ Downer/ Mexican Seafood/ Pen Cap Chew/ Spank Thru/ Floyd the Barber/ White Lace and Strange/ Hairspray Queen/ Annorexorcist/ Unknown #1 (cuts out)/ If You Must/ Unknown #2 (Mrs. Butterworth)/ Unknown #3/ Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves.

The drummer left the band twice for two different reasons. The first time was due to financial difficulties. Aaron Burckhard, who lived in Grays Harbor, took a job at Burger King in Aberdeen. As the band was struggling financially, Aaron couldn’t afford to continue with Kurt and Krist, marking the beginning of a carousel of Nirvana drummers over the next four years, until the arrival of Dave Grohl.

With Dave Foster now on board, his time with the band was also cut short. Dave Foster got into trouble for beating up the son of the mayor of Cosmopolis. After spending two weeks in jail, losing his driver’s license, and facing thousands of dollars in medical bills, Kurt was forced to fire him.

Aaron Burckhard was brought back, but things didn’t last long, again. The drummer ended up driving under the influence of alcohol in Kurt’s car, leading to his dismissal. The search for a drummer continued… the drummer saga went on.

Other factors may have contributed to Aaron Burckhard’s being fired from the band. His volatile personality often led him into physical confrontations with others. Additionally, Kurt Cobain felt Burckhard wasn’t as dedicated to the band as he expected.

Aaron Burckhard’s drumming stint with Nirvana spanned a brief period from April to December 1987, just over half a year. He departed the band before their first demo recording at Reciprocal Recordings in Seattle on January 23, 1988, and was replaced by Melvins’ drummer Dale Crover for that session.

What Songs Did Aaron Burckhard Recorded With Nirvana?

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Nirvana’s early songs with Aaron Burckhard on drums can be heard on the compilation “With The Lights Out.” The songs that feature Aaron on drums are:

  • “Heartbreaker (Live, 1987) (First Nirvana Show)”
  • “Anorexorcist (Radio Performance, 1987)”
  • “White Lace And Strange (Radio Performance, 1987)”
  • “Help Me I’m Hungry (Radio Performance, 1987)”
  • “Mrs. Butterworth (Rehearsal Recording, 1987)”

A notable recording featuring drummer Aaron Burckhard was a rehearsal session at Cobain’s house in Aberdeen during the summer of 1987. Previously unknown to fans, except for the posthumously released track “Mrs. Butterworth,” this rehearsal session was made public after Kurt Cobain’s death. You can listen to this recording in the video above!

What Happened to Aaron Burckhard After Being Fired From Nirvana?

After leaving Nirvana, Aaron Burckhard continued playing in local bands. He has remained active in the music scene since being fired from the band in 1987. In 2005, he became part of Attica. He joined forces with Clint Mullins and Mat Watson in 2011 to form Screaming Sons. Two years later, he co-founded another band, Under Sin.

In 2014, Kurt Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen, Washington marked the 20th anniversary of his death. The city declared a “Kurt Cobain Day” and bassist Krist Novoselic reunited with original Nirvana drummer Aaron Burkhart for the first time in decades. This marked a rare public appearance by the two surviving members of Nirvana’s original lineup.

What Has Aaron Burckhard Said About Nirvana in Recent Years?

Aaron Burckhard has made a concerted effort to connect with fans, give interviews, and ensure he’s acknowledged within the Nirvana story. In a 2014 interview, Burckhard said, “[Cobain] wasn’t always depressed. He was never depressed, he was always pulling pranks and funny stuff. Everybody portrays him as this depressed, hating life type of person.

On another occasion, Burckhard told HuffPost that Cobain was fun-loving at heart, but heroin changed that: “Everyone paints him as sad, but he wasn’t, he was happy,” he said. “He just got a hold of a whole lot of heroin and that fucked him up. I’m a recovering addict myself, I’ve been clean almost five years. When you’re on that shit, you don’t even want to live.

In 2016, Aaron Burckhard, Nirvana’s original drummer, participated in an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on Reddit, providing fans with his thoughts on the band. Here are some key takeaways from his responses:

I met Kurt Cobain at a Melvins band practice. Before that, I had already seen him walking around the streets of Aberdeen several times back then.

Some of our first covers were of the song ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves’ by Sonny and Cher, some Led Zeppelin songs, and of course, ‘White Lace and Strange’.

I love all of [Nirvana’s songs], but the song ‘Drain You’ has always been one of my favorites. The lyrics to that song are like a painting.

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