With no Nirvana shows booked across the festive period in 1990 Dave Grohl chose to fly home to Virginia, spending Christmas with his family. Whilst in the area he would take the opportunity to catch up with Barrett Jones at his Laundry Room Studio. Armed with new songs, including those recently penned and recorded in the Olympia apartment, Grohl arrived at the studio on December 19th, which was still set up in the basement of Jones’ Arlington house.
Since first meeting approximately six years earlier Grohl and Jones had become good friends, working together on several projects and helping each other with their solo projects. During this time, the pair had developed a working process which meant they could record at an impressive speed. With amps and microphones quickly set up, Grohl would begin by laying down a drum track, then “listen to playback while humming [the] tune in [my] head to make sure [the] arrangement is correct.” Next would come the guitar, with two or three unique tracks recorded dependent on the song. His weakest instrument, Bass Guitar, was left for last and only once instrumentals were recorded for all songs would he add vocals, if at all.
Following this method, nine songs were recorded by the duo over the course of just a single day – four of Grohl’s, four of Jones’ and the ninth a collaboration between the two. Tracked first were three Dave Grohl penned tracks - ‘Throwing Needles’, ‘Friend of A Friend’ and ‘Pokey the Little Puppy’. ‘Friend of A Friend’ was written about Dave’s first few months with new Nirvana bandmates Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain, the latter of whom he’d been living with the past two months.
“I probably have to talk about that song the most because everybody tries to make some sort of correlation to Nirvana out of almost every song I write,” said Grohl in a 2008 interview. “I just tell them that there are lots of people in this world that I love and hate, not just two. But that song is about Kurt, Krist and me, and it was written that way. They were strangers. I had just joined that band and didn't know them at all.”
Next onto the reel was one of Jones’ tracks, ‘Living on Command’, for which Grohl recorded the drum track. Track five of the day was the final Dave effort. ‘Just Another Story About Skeeter Thompson’ featured a heavy metal style backing track over which he would recite a story about Skeeter Thompson, the bassist of Grohl’s previous band Scream. The focus moved back to Jones music for the song ‘For The Record’ after which the pair decided to have some fun.
In the recording of ‘Hooker’ the pair first laid down a simple, funky instrumental and then when it came to the vocals Dave imitated the style of several high-profile singers - Perry Farrell of Janes Addiction, James Brown, Ian Astbury of the Cult and Neil Young. When airing the song on Seattle radio in 1994 Barrett Jones played along with the idea that all of the singers had been at the studio recording on the track, having been in town for a convention. The truth was of course that Dave just enjoyed mimicking the performers in a throwaway track neither really intended for anyone to hear. The lyrics, according to Jones, were all about “the evils of sex”. The recording session was rounded out with two further Jones penned tracks, ‘Be (Bad)’ and ‘Heal the Savior’.
At one point during the day Jenny Toomey (local musician and co-founder of the 'Simple Machines' record label) visited the studio and heard the music Grohl had recorded. “I thought it was great,” said Toomey. As it happened Simple Machines were planning to release a cassette series focusing on music that was unfinished and rough around the edges, or by bands no longer performing. For Toomey, it made perfect sense to ask Dave to add his solo recordings to the series. Grohl was initially hesitant, apprehensive about people other than his close friends hearing his music, still shy about his voice.
“I hassled him for a tape. About six months later, he gave me one when I was visiting in Olympia,” recalled Toomey. Having been worn down the tape he gave to Toomey featured his four original songs from this session, but not ‘Hooker’. The songs (along with six others recorded at later sessions, detailed on the following pages) were released as 'Pocketwatch' under the pseudonym 'Late!. The 'Late!' name was something of a joke from Grohl, envisioning naming a band 'Late' so that when they played live shows he could walk on stage and say “Hi, we're late!”
The cassette was released in 1992 through the Simple Machines mail order service at a cost of $4 but very quickly demand was far outweighing the speed at which tapes could be produced, as word quickly spread about a solo release from “The drummer in Nirvana”.
A few years after releasing the cassette it was still causing Simple Machines grief according to Toomey. “It's sort of been a thorn in our side. Each mention of the cassette in Rolling Stone or wherever translates to piles of mail, and for the most part, these kids have never bought anything through the mail from an independent record company,” explained the label owner. “So when they haven't received their tape in two weeks they write us nasty notes about how we've stolen their $5 and their mothers are going to sue us,” she recalled of the ongoing heavy demand for the tape.
Simple Machines did hope to get upgraded copies of the recordings from Grohl and release them on CD, along with bonus tracks, but it was not to be. “He went back and forth with the idea and then it fell off the face of the earth,” Toomey said of the plans. “I think he's worried about the quality. Which I can understand and appreciate, but his modesty is killing us! I know he also thinks it's cooler to have it this way. Which it definitely is. But it's been a mixed bag as our cassette masters degenerate. It's really only a matter of time until the cassette gets removed from the catalog” said Toomey in 1997. An upgrade or re-release never materialized, and the cassette did indeed get removed from their catalog soon after.
The 'Pocketwatch' cassette is now long out of print and genuine copies are commonly sold on auction websites such as eBay for prices in excess of $200, making it one of the most expensive and sought after Grohl releases amongst fans.