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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Almost 15 years ago, former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl quietly circulated among his friends copies of a demo tape on which he did all the singing and played all the instruments.
He considered the project "a goof," and he dubbed it "Foo Fighters" because he wanted people to think it was a real band, "like the Ramones or the Pixies," he recalled at a taping of VH1's "Storytellers" series on Wednesday.
That would have been the end of the story. But the tape inevitably ignited a bidding war among record labels, all desperate to release the first music from the Nirvana camp since the suicide of frontman Kurt Cobain in 1994.
Grohl assembled a real band with three musicians, signed with Capitol Records, and officially released the demo tape -- still dubbed "Foo Fighters" -- in July 1995.
Fast-forward past seven hit albums to next week, when the band will release its first compilation, simply titled "Greatest Hits." The 16-track RCA Records set also boasts two new tracks, "Wheels" and "Word Forward," both of which were unveiled at the "Storytellers" taping.
A deluxe version includes a 21-track DVD. Music videos have been good for the Foo Fighters, a showcase for their self-effacing sense of humor. Grohl recounted that the Mentos-themed clip for 1995's "Big Me" led to the band being pelted by the sweets every time it played the song.
He also mimicked a fey flight attendant's snooty reaction to the band's Grammy-winning video for 1999's "Learn To Fly," in which Grohl plays said character, among many others.
The "Storytellers" episode featuring Foo Fighters will air on the music cable network in November 27. The voluble Grohl, the band's singer/guitarist, warned his audience at the outset that "the microphone is my friend," and shared lengthy anecdotes between renditions of 13 songs.
The intimate setting on a Sony Pictures studio soundstage allowed for some back-and-forth with the audience, including 24-year-old fan John Clanton who helpfully pointed from his second-row berth that some stray mucus was hanging from Grohl's nose. A roadie scurried over with a box of tissues, but Grohl had gratefully wiped it away already.
Amid the hilarity, there were some serious moments. Grohl recalled that the 2002 song "Times Like These" was written after the band almost broke up.
"Things got kinda weird and it got kinda difficult and we actually had to step back from the band," he said.
But the hiatus proved even more uncomfortable, and the bandmates found that absence made their hearts grow fonder.
Things got a little uncomfortable for the audience when Grohl said fatherhood enabled him to open up more emotionally when writing songs.
"When I write a love song or something I know what love means now that I'm a dad," he said. Some female fans gasped some heartfelt "aws!," Grohl realized he was slipping into Hallmark-card territory and uttered a humorous expletive.
He saved the best for last, a version of the band's most-loved song, "Everlong," which appears on the hits album in both electric and acoustic forms.
"I honestly think that if it weren't for this song we probably wouldn't still be here because it opened up so many doors for us, melodically, dynamically," Grohl said.
He dedicated the electrified "Storytellers" version to Bob Dylan, after recounting perhaps the greatest highlight of his time in the Foo Fighters.
The band opened for Dylan in 2006, and Grohl recalled being nervously ushered into the rock legend's presence backstage at a hockey arena in Canada.
After some light banter, Dylan said to him, "Man, what's that song that you guys got?" and recited some lyrics. Grohl replied that it was "Everlong," and Dylan said, "Well, you gotta show that to me. I wanna start doing that song."
Dylan does not yet appear to have covered "Everlong," but Grohl was clearly chuffed by the exchange. He summarized his reaction to the "Storytellers" audience: "You know what? I'm done."
For Clanton, the nasally observant fan, the taping marked his 14th Foo Fighters show. "No artist out there engages the audience the way Dave Grohl does," he said.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte