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Soundgarden Bassist Ben Shepherd Reflects on Almost Joining Nirvana

Soundgarden, Ben Shepherd

Casual fans of Nirvana might not know the band once considered adding Soundgarden’s current bassist as a second guitarist. Ben Shepherd, who toured with Kurt Cobain’s band early on in a roadie-like role, looked back on the era in a recent interview with Denver’s Westword. “Well, I was supposed to play lead guitar for them,” Shepherd said. “But they stayed a three-piece. “

Shepherd’s near-role as the fourth Nirvana member has been documented before, including in Michael Azerrad’s book Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana“I didn’t really roadie with them,” Shepherd told Westword of his time on the road with Nirvana. “I just went on tour with them. We all did all that shit. It was a blast to get out.” Shepherd joined Soundgarden on bass in 1990, replacing Jason Everman, who had also played with Nirvana. (A little earlier, Kurt Cobain asked Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis about filling in for Everman.)

Elsewhere in the Westword interview, Shepherd had some refreshingly frank comments about the video for “By Crooked Steps,” from Soundgarden’s 2012 reunion album King Animal. Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, who directed the video, has already wryly acknowledged pressuring the Chris Cornell-led group into making the video, which also features a cameo by Deadmau5.

According to Shepherd, the clip shows Soundgarden’s members on Segways too early. “It’s supposed to be when we’re getting chased by cops that you realize we’re on Segways,” he told Westword. “Not right away. That kind of ruined the whole joke to me.” However, Shepherd also conceded that when Grohl first pitched the idea, the Soundgarden bassist had “By Crooked Steps” confused with another song.

Shepherd previously discussed his brush with Nirvana-dom in Greg Prato’s Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music. “I was supposed to play the other guitar — but I really didn’t do anything, expect be a friend on tour,” he’s quoted as saying. “I was always like, ‘You guys should just stay a three-piece.’ They came home for a little while, then I went on the road with them. Before we left, we rehearsed everything that basically became Nevermind, and never played that shit live. They only played Bleach back then.”