These days, Pat Smear is forever linked to hard rock kings Foo Fighters. Despite becoming a legend in the California punk scene as the guitarist for legendary masters of mayhem The Germs and introducing himself to a whole new generation through his touring work with Nirvana, Pat Smear is a Foo Fighter through and through. With his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the band, it’s likely that Smear will always be seen as a Foo first and foremost.
When Dave Grohl was assembling the musicians who would make up the first incarnation of the Foo Fighters, Smear was his number one choice as the main guitarist. It was an easy decision: Smear and Grohl bonded during their time in Nirvana, and wanting to keep things loose and drama free, Grohl jumped at the chance to grab the easy-going and highly skilled Smear.
Of course, the Foo Fighters didn’t actually end up being as easy-going as Grohl may have envisioned. Part of that was thanks to the band’s intense touring schedule, which saw them play upwards of 125 shows in 1995 alone. This proved particularly exhausting to Smear, who was a decade older than his bandmates and had already logged nearly 20 years of small clubs, van tours, and meagre paychecks.
Tensions were also higher than they would eventually coalesce into. The Foo Fighters became known for their goofy sense of humour, best shown in their music videos and wacky horror films, but as Grohl worked hard to escape the shadow of Nirvana, he took on a more domineering attitude in the band’s early days. Manifesting in sharp critiques and stepping over his bandmates during recording sessions to get the best takes, the final straw came when Grohl re-recorded most of the drum tracks for The Colour and the Shape without informing drummer William Goldsmith. Goldsmith left the band acrimoniously, and Smear began to tire of the circus.
“I was just so sick of it. I was just so sick of the whole thing,” Smear recalled in the documentary Foo Fighters: Back and Forth. “I [didn’t] want to go out on another bazillion show tour and I don’t care. I just [didn’t] want to do this anymore.” It was a tough time to depart: The Colour and the Shape had just been finished, and the Foo Fighters were getting ready to depart on their biggest tour yet.
Grohl struck a deal with Smear that had the guitarist sticking around for six weeks while the band searched for a replacement. However, Smear recalls that it wound up being closer to six months, taking up the entire first leg of the supporting tour of The Colour and the Shape. Eventually, Grohl called his former bandmate in D.C. hardcore gods Scream, Franz Stahl, who agreed to take Smear’s place.
A literal handing over of the guitar spot happened at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. As the band finished off ‘Monkey Wrench’ atop the Radio City Music Hall marquee, Smear announced to the crowd that the previous song had been his final one with the band. He proceeded to introduce Stahl just as the rest of the band kicked into ‘Everlong’. Without much fanfare or recognition, Smear left the Foo Fighters.
Over the next decade, Smear kept a relatively low profile. He and Grohl repaired the relationship that had been strained once Smear left the band, and Smear admits in Back and Forth that he asked Grohl a couple of times in the mid-2000s to return. By that point, Stahl had been given the boot and Chris Shiflett had stepped into the lead guitar role. Shiflett shared in the documentary how he was constantly under the assumption that Smear would take over his job, but Grohl assured him that it wouldn’t happen.
Instead, during the Foo’s acoustic theatre tour that eventually became the live album Skin and Bones, Grohl expanded the band’s lineup to include more instrumentalists. It was the perfect opportunity to welcome Smear back into the lineup as a second rhythm guitarist. Over the next few years, Smear continued to be a touring guitarist for the band, and by the time recording started for 2011’s Wasting Light, Smear was officially brought back in as a full-time member.
Check out Smear’s initial final performance with the Foo Fighters in 1997 down below.