Personalities | Kurt Cobain | Leading a Generation | Guitar Heroes

Arguably the most important alternative guitarist of the 1990s, Kurt Cobain (1967–94) was born in Aberdeen, Washington. His parents divorced when he was seven, which had a traumatic effect on Cobain, tainting the remainder of his life.

From an early age, he showed a keen interest in music, singing along to Beatles’ songs on the radio. Given a guitar for his fourteenth birthday, he taught himself to play along to AC/DC and The Cars.

Cobain was influenced equally by hard rock, punk and pop, admiring Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Cheap Trick, Boston, The Sex Pistols, Sonic Youth, The Pixies and, he claimed, The Bay City Rollers. He formed Nirvana with bassist and fellow punk-rock fan Krist Novoselic, and with drummer Chad Channing, they formed part of the burgeoning Seattle scene, which would later be termed ‘grunge’. The band recorded an album, Bleach (1989), for the local Sub Pop label.

Soon afterwards, Channing was fired and replaced by powerhouse Dave Grohl. In 1990, Nirvana signed to DGC Records and recorded the crossover smash Nevermind (1991) with producer Butch Vig. Trailed by the classic single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ with its genre-defining quiet verse/loud chorus structure, Nevermind mixed abrasive guitar with pop melodies. Cobain felt that Vig had smoothed out the rough edges of the band’s live sound and was determined that the follow-up would capture the real Nirvana; the booming, rumbling In Utero (1993) did just that. Best known for his raw, angry style, Cobain was also adept at acoustic work as Unplugged In New York (1994) demonstrates. A notorious destroyer of guitars, Kurt favoured the Fender Mustang. He also used Stratocasters, Jaguars and occasionally a Telecaster, plus his beloved 1960s Mosrite Gospel.

The defiantly anti-Establishment Cobain did not cope well with his newfound celebrity, and his life degenerated into a tabloid soap opera after his marriage to fellow rocker Courtney Love. Struggling with heroin addiction, and stomach pains which had plagued him since childhood, he tried to commit suicide in Rome while on tour in March 1994. A month later, he shot and killed himself at his home in Seattle. Nirvana was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in April 2014.

Essential Recordings

Nirvana: Bleach

Nirvana: Nevermind

Nirvana: In Utero

Nirvana: Unplugged In New York

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