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Nirvana Legal Battle: 120 Unreleased Tapes At Stake

As Courtney Love and Nirvana’s surviving members face off in a legal battle over the band’s legacy, 120 tapes of unreleased material featuring Kurt Cobain sit in a vault – and that’s where they’ll remain, says a source close to the Cobain estate, until Nirvana’s record company gives the band a better deal.

The collection includes recordings of the late singer alone as well as tapes of the band throughout its career, including Nirvana’s first show in Seattle in April 1988, four-track basement demos, bedroom tapes of Cobain singing and strumming on new songs as well as embryonic versions of classics like “All Apologies,” and the band’s last complete recording, “You Know You’re Right.”

Also among the unreleased material is a song called “Opinion,” on which Cobain responds “to everyone having an opinion on his medical condition,” according to the source. The late Nirvana singer suffered from chronic stomach pain, which he blamed, at least in part, for his heroin use. A version of the song taped from a radio appearance was available on Napster until stringent screening procedures took effect earlier this year.

The Cobain estate, which is managed by Love, expects to have dozens of songs to place on a series of releases. But the source acknowledged that the majority of the tapes have not yet been screened and that it’s unknown how much of it is actually releasable.

The vault also includes eight or nine recordings that Cobain made with musicians other than Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl, including ex-Hole drummer Patty Schemel and sometime Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear.

It’s unlikely, though, that any of it will see the light of day until Love’s dispute with Grohl and Novoselic is resolved and Universal agrees to “redefine Nirvana’s deal” to meet her standards, the source said.

In a separate lawsuit, the Hole leader is suing Universal Music Group, claiming major labels, acting together as an illegal trust, force artists to sign unfair contracts. The source said there is no connection between the two cases, while Grohl and Novoselic argue otherwise, court papers show.

Love recently convinced a Seattle judge to block the inclusion of “You Know You’re Right” on a Nirvana box set planned for the fall to commemorate the 10th anniversary of their landmark album Nevermind. The source said Love’s reason was not to keep the song off the project, but to stop the box set itself. “There will be no box set until something is resolved regarding all of these songs.”

Love is seeking to dissolve the partnership she entered into with Grohl and Novoselic in 1997 called Nirvana L.L.C., which requires that all three vote unanimously on major decisions such as releasing material.

The source said the Hole singer is making progress with the band’s drummer and bassist toward an out-of-court resolution. Warren Rheaume, attorney for Grohl and Novoselic, said he is hopeful they can work something out with Love and that the parties are considering several options.

Both sides claim they want to honor the band’s legacy, but they have different ideas about who should be calling the shots. Each side blames the deadlock on the other.

A spokesperson for Geffen, the Universal label home to Nirvana, had no comment at press time.

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