Tens of thousands of master recordings thought to have been lost in Universal Studios blaze

(Image credit: David McNew - Getty)

It’s thought that the 2008 fire at Hollywood's Universal Studios wiped out tens of thousands of recordings by artists from across music history.

It was originally believed that only film was lost in the blaze, but a new in-depth feature by The New York Times says that thousands of master tapes by some of the biggest names in music were also destroyed when the fire reached Building 6197 on the site – a situation they're calling “the biggest disaster in the history of the music business.”

The website report that an estimated 500,000 songs were lost, including work by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, B.B. King and most of Chuck Berry’s Chess masters and multitrack masters. 

Other blues material by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Little Walter on the Chess label are also thought to have been destroyed.

It’s also reported that the blaze claimed tracks by artists including Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, Cat Stevens, the Carpenters, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, the Eagles, Asia, Don Henley, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Police, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Guns N’ Roses, Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Hole.

The New York Times report that tens of thousands of gospel, jazz, country, soul, disco, pop, easy listening and classical recordings were also destroyed.

Yes and Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes posted a picture of the aftermath of the 2008 blaze on Twitter, and said: “This might explain why nobody can find the original Asia album masters. Very sad, and UMG have kept it quiet for more than 10 years.”

Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic was asked on Twitter by a fan if the blaze meant that the masters for Nevermind were destroyed, to which he replied: “I think they are gone forever.”

R.E.M.’s Twitter account, meanwhile, released a statement, saying: “REM HQ is receiving inquiries from many people concerned about the New York Times article on the Universal Music fire 11 years ago. 

“We are trying to get good information to find out what happened and the effect on the band’s music, if any. We will detail further as and when.”

In light of the new article, Universal Music Group issued a statement on Variety disputing the article, saying it contained “numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets.”

Scott Munro
Louder e-commerce editor

Scott has spent 35 years in newspapers, magazines and online as an editor, production editor, sub-editor, designer, writer and reviewer. Scott joined our news desk in the summer of 2014 before moving to the e-commerce team in 2020. Scott keeps Louder’s buyer’s guides up to date, writes about the best deals for music fans, keeps on top of the latest tech releases and reviews headphones, speakers, earplugs and more. Over the last 10 years, Scott has written more than 11,000 articles across Louder, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and Prog. He's previously written for publications including IGN, the Sunday Mirror, Daily Record and The Herald newspapers, covering everything from daily news and weekly features, to tech reviews, video games, travel and whisky. Scott's favourite bands are Fields Of The Nephilim, The Cure, New Model Army, All About Eve, The Mission, Cocteau Twins, Drab Majesty, Marillion and Rush.