Pat Smear

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Pat Smear
FoosLollBerlin190917-18 (cropped).jpg
Smear performing in September 2017
Background information
Birth nameGeorg Albert Ruthenberg
Born (1959-08-05) August 5, 1959 (age 60)
West Los Angeles, California, U.S.
GenresAlternative rock, punk rock, hardcore punk, deathrock, grunge, post-grunge
Occupation(s)Musician, singer, songwriter, actor
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals, piano
Years active1976–present
LabelsWhat?, Slash, Geffen, Capitol
Associated actsGerms, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, The Birds of Satan, 45 Grave, The Adolescents, Belinda Carlisle, Paul McCartney

Georg Albert Ruthenberg (born August 5, 1959), better known by the stage name Pat Smear, is an American musician and actor. He was a founding member of punk band the Germs, and was the touring guitarist for grunge band Nirvana from 1993 to 1994. After Nirvana ended, its drummer Dave Grohl went on to become the frontman of rock band Foo Fighters; Smear soon joined on guitar, and has since recorded four studio albums and a live album with the band.

Early life[edit]

Georg Ruthenberg was born and raised in West Los Angeles, California, to a mother of African-American and Native American descent and a German Jewish immigrant father. His parents forced him to take piano lessons at a young age, and a few years later, he began teaching himself to play the guitar. Before becoming a musician, he was a very religious child and at age 13 left home to join a commune. Later, he attended IPS (Innovative Program School), an alternative school within University High School in Los Angeles.[1] It was there that he met vocalist Darby Crash, alongside whom he would play in the Germs in the late 1970s.[2] Smear and Crash were both expelled from IPS due to concerns they were inciting unruly behavior among the students.[3]


Germs (1976–1980)[edit]

Smear lists his influences as Joan Jett, Brian James, Brian May, and Steve Jones. As a teenager in 1976, Smear and Darby Crash formed the Germs with bassist Lorna Doom and drummer Dottie Danger (the pseudonym of Belinda Carlisle, who went on to front The Go-Go's). Smear was the only band member who had any musical knowledge or proficiency.[4] For most of his time in the Germs, Smear reported that he didn't own a guitar but rather "just borrowed from whoever we were playing with".[5]

Carlisle was soon replaced by Don Bolles and, in 1979, the band released their first album, (GI), produced by Joan Jett.[6] The record is now regarded as a milestone in the history of punk rock, with Smear earning praise for his guitar work: "Smear has an equal claim to being the album's star [alongside Darby], though, and for good reason – not only did he co-write everything, his clipped, catchy monster riffing was as pure punk in the late-'70s sense as anything, wasting no time on anything extraneous."[7]

The Germs, including Smear, appeared in the punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), directed by Penelope Spheeris.[8]

The Germs endured for one more year before finally disbanding in 1980 after Crash committed suicide.

Solo work (1980–1993)[edit]

Following the demise of the Germs, Smear played in 1981 with ex-The Screamers keyboardist Paul Roessler and his sister Kira Roessler in a band called Twisted Roots.[9] Although short-lived, the band was the toast of the Hollywood punk scene. Smear would go on to play with Nina Hagen and make two solo albums of his own, Ruthensmear (also recorded with Roessler), and So You Fell in Love with a Musician... Smear also had a brief stint as a member of punk band The Adolescents in 1981.

During this time, he also worked as an actor in bit parts,[2] appearing in the television shows Quincy, M.E. and CHiPs, and in the films Blade Runner, Breakin' and Howard the Duck. While working on Breakin', Smear became friends with Courtney Love. In addition he also appeared as an extra in the music video for Prince and The Revolution's single "Raspberry Beret", he can be seen sitting in front of Lisa Coleman's piano.

45 Grave (1981)[edit]

Smear was briefly in deathrock band 45 Grave with Don Bolles (the former drummer for the Germs). During this stint, they recorded a 7" titled Black Cross.

Nirvana (1993–1994)[edit]

In 1993, he received a call from Nirvana's frontman Kurt Cobain, asking him to join the band as a second guitarist for an upcoming tour. Smear at first thought that it was his friend, Carlos "Cake" Nunez, playing a joke on him; however, Courtney Love had told Smear a few days prior that Cobain was going to call him. Smear accepted immediately and played his first show with Nirvana on Saturday Night Live on September 25, 1993. He toured with Nirvana for about six months, and appears on their live albums MTV Unplugged in New York, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, as well as on material for the compilations Nirvana and With the Lights Out and the concert DVD Live and Loud.

Smear's time with Nirvana brought him his first mass audience exposure. Nirvana came to an end with Cobain's death in April 1994.

Foo Fighters (1994–1997)[edit]

Following Cobain's death, Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl formed a band to support his self-titled album, the first effort from the band which would become known as Foo Fighters. Smear joined the group from its inception in late October 1994, but because the band's first album was a collection of demos recorded solely by Grohl, Smear did not appear on a Foo Fighters album until 1997's The Colour and the Shape.

Shortly after the release of The Colour and the Shape, Smear quit the band. As Smear later explained, [10] he quit mainly due to exhaustion from the band's relentless touring schedule. Smears departure was also related to inner-band tensions that sprung up in regards to Grohl’s recent split from his first wife, Jennifer Youngblood, whom at the time Pat sided with. Grohl explained[11] that he "begged" Smear to stay, and Smear agreed to remain in Foo Fighters temporarily due to scheduled touring obligations and until a replacement guitarist could be recruited. Grohl eventually invited Franz Stahl, his former bandmate from Scream, to fill the lead guitarist slot.[11]

Smear announced his departure during a live performance atop the marquee of Radio City Music Hall, right before that year's MTV Video Music Awards. Smear played partway through the set, then introduced Stahl who completed the set.

Hiatus from the Foo Fighters (1997–2005)[edit]

During his absence from Foo Fighters, Smear kept a fairly low profile, producing the band Harlow's debut album and making scattered television appearances.

He was employed as a creative consultant in a motion picture about the Germs and Darby Crash, entitled What We Do Is Secret, named after one of the band's best-known songs. The film was released at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 23, 2007, and had a limited theatrical release in 2008. It is now available on DVD. In the film, he is depicted by actor Rick Gonzalez.

In 2005, he began performing reunion shows with the Germs, with actor Shane West (who portrays Darby Crash in the film) filling in as lead vocalist.

The previously unrecorded Germs song "Golden Boys", which is on Smear's 1988 SST album Ruthensmear, originally appeared on the soundtrack of an early cut of the 2007 film Cthulhu, but the producers replaced it due to rights issues.

Rejoining the Foo Fighters (2005–present)[edit]

Since his departure from Foo Fighters in 1997, there had been talk over the years, beginning around 2001, between Smear and Dave Grohl about Smear possibly rejoining the band at some point. This prospect caused some tension in the band, as Chris Shiflett, who had replaced Stahl in 1999, was concerned about being fired from Foo Fighters.[11] However, Grohl made it clear that Shiflett would remain regardless, and if Smear was to rejoin eventually it would be as a third guitarist. Grohl later expressed fondness for Shiflett and Smear's contrasting guitar styles both being important to Foo Fighters, with Shiflett specializing in precise melodic playing versus Smear's thick, aggressive rhythms.[11]

In late 2005, Smear began performing selected shows with Foo Fighters again, and in May 2006, Foo Fighters announced they would play limited acoustic dates across North America. It was announced Smear would be one of the touring musicians aiding the band during the shows. He also appeared with them on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in September 2006 and on the same stage as Bob Dylan and The Eagles at Genentech's 30th Anniversary party. On October 21 and 22, 2006, he also joined the band for both days of the Bridge School Benefit Concert, hosted by Neil Young. In addition he is a featured musician on the Foo Fighters live album Skin and Bones. In August 2007, he appeared on stage with the Foo Fighters at the UK's V Festival, Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh and Marlay Park, Dublin, Ireland.

On September 9, 2007, Smear joined the Foo Fighters for their MTV Music Video Awards party room show. Smear was then added to the band as a touring guitarist for their supporting tour of the album Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. Smear also is credited with playing guitar on the song "Let It Die" off the same album. On October 13, 2007, Smear joined the Foo Fighters for an appearance on Saturday Night Live and also joined the Foo Fighters on stage at the MTV Europe Music Awards, confirming his return to the band as a full member.

He appeared with the band on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross on November 9, then played both Foo Fighters dates at the O2 Arena, London on November 17 and 18, 2007. On February 10, 2008, Smear also performed live with Foo Fighters at the 2008 Grammy Awards broadcast on CBS from a stage outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles. On January 23, 2008, on the first show for the Foo Fighters' Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace tour in Dallas, he performed several songs with the band, and on February 20, 2008, he appeared on stage (with the whole touring band) when Foo Fighters played "The Pretender" on the Late Show with David Letterman.

On February 25, he performed for approximately half of the set list for the Foo Fighters at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois (a Chicago suburb). On March 3, 2008, Smear joined the Foo Fighters for the acoustic portion of their show at Cox Arena in San Diego, California. Despite urging by Grohl, though, Smear did not play a guitar solo during band introductions. On March 6, 2008, Smear joined the Foo Fighters for all portions (acoustic/plugged) of their show at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Urged by Grohl, Smear did play a guitar solo (eight notes) during band introductions. Since then, he has played a solo whenever asked to by Grohl.

He also played at the two concerts at Wembley Stadium on June 6–7, 2008. While Smear did participate in the concert, it was only for certain songs and the stage lights were not on him. This also occurred at several concerts with Smear playing basically in the dark. These concerts provide video for the Foo Fighters Live at Wembley Stadium DVD and Blu-ray, which also featured special appearances by Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. On June 21, 2008, Smear performed live with Foo Fighters at the 2008 Hurricane Festival in Germany. He also appeared at the Foo Fighters' private gig for Bethesda's Fallout 3 game launch party in Los Angeles on October 16, 2008, at the LA Center Studios complex.

Smear once again joined the Foo Fighters on their tour which kicked off in Seattle, Washington, on July 9, 2008. At the Virgin Mobile Festival at Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore, Maryland on August 9, 2008, Smear performed with the Foo Fighters, even being introduced by Dave Grohl. Smear appeared alongside Foo Fighters on the November 3, 2009, live broadcast of the Later... with Jools Holland music show on BBC Two in the UK.

During album sessions for the Foo Fighters' 2011 release, Wasting Light, recorded with producer Butch Vig, Smear was fully integrated back into the band in 2010. As photographic evidence and video snippets posted on the Foo Fighters' Twitter page confirmed, he recorded and developed many guitar parts in the new songs. Artwork from the album depicts Smear along with the band's other members. Smear appeared on The Daily Show to promote Wasting Light on April 11, 2011, on Comedy Central. Since then, he has performed with Foo Fighters on all performances.

In the summer of 2014, Smear spent time working with the rest of the band on the Foo Fighters' 8th studio album, Sonic Highways, recording parts for every song.


On August 29, 1997, during the Foo Fighters' Friday night performance at Bumbershoot Festival, former-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic joined his ex-bandmate Dave Grohl and Pat Smear on stage during the Foo's encore in an apparent salute to the late Kurt Cobain. Grohl took his old position on drums, Novoselic jammed on bass and Smear on guitar. A spotlight encompassed the mic to honor Cobain, who took his life in April 1994. They performed a cover of Prince's "Purple Rain", after which a roadie for the Foo Fighters joined them on stage and sang a version of Led Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown".

On December 22, 2010, the remaining members of Nirvana played together at a last-minute Foo Fighters show at Paladino's in Tarzana, California. This concert was recorded for a documentary.

On December 12, 2012, Smear, Novoselic and Grohl reunited again for a televised Live Aid Hurricane Sandy benefit. This time, they were fronted by Paul McCartney. They performed "Cut Me Some Slack", the first track from the film soundtrack for Sound City.

On December 15, 2012, they performed "Cut Me Some Slack" on Saturday Night Live, once again fronted by McCartney.[12][13]

On July 19, 2013, Smear, Novoselic and Grohl reunited on-stage, again with Paul McCartney, during both the first and second encores of McCartney's "Out There" tour stop at Safeco Field, Seattle. They performed "Cut Me Some Slack", the first track from the film soundtrack for Sound City, as well as numerous Beatles' songs.

On April 11, 2014, Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Though Smear was not inducted, he joined Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic on stage for performances of Nirvana songs along with Joan Jett, Lorde, St. Vincent and Kim Gordon.

The surviving Nirvana members reunited yet again with Joan Jett and Deer Tick's John McCauley for a six-song encore set to close out Cal Jam 18 on Saturday, October 6, 2018 at Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, Calif.


Smear almost exclusively uses Hagström guitars, after buying one late during his time in the Germs.[5] Smear's most used guitar since 1997 is a custom made black Hagström, made in the 90s. In 2013 Hagström built exactly the same guitar, as his signature model.

Pictures of Pat with the early gigs of the Germs show him playing a Rickenbacker 430 and a Hagström H-11 but in The Decline of Western Civilization documentary he is seen playing a Gibson Firebird.

During his time in Nirvana, Smear mainly used his old Hagström H-11 and several Fender Stratocaster models that Kurt Cobain's endorsement deal with Fender had provided him. In an interview, he stated he had 3 of each Strat and had to scratch them to tell the difference. These guitars were normally used on the songs "Scentless Apprentice", "Heart-Shaped Box", "On a Plain", and "All Apologies". Smear sometimes used a blue Mosrite guitar that Cobain gave him as well. For the MTV Unplugged in New York performance, Smear used a Buck Owens American acoustic guitar, which belonged to Krist Novoselic.[14]

With the Foo Fighters Smear used a plethora of guitars, including Gibson SG models, Gibson Barney Kessel models and the closely related Gibson Trini Lopez models, although different from Grohl, Smear preferred the Deluxe model while Grohl went for the thinline Standard model. Smear also used a Gretsch White Falcon which appears in the music video for Monkey Wrench where Grohl plays it. In recent years Smear started playing his Nirvana era Fenders again both live and on recordings.

For amplifiers, Smear has used Peavey 5150 and 6505 heads, but currently uses Laney Lionheart L20H or L50H heads.

Personal life[edit]

According to the 2011 documentary Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, Smear is married and has children.[15]


With the Germs[edit]

With 45 Grave[edit]

With Twisted Roots[edit]


With Deathfolk[edit]

  • Deathfolk (1989)
  • Deathfolk II (1992)

With Nirvana[edit]

With Mike Watt[edit]

With Foo Fighters[edit]

With theHell[edit]

  • Southern Medicine (2013)

With Paul McCartney[edit]


  1. ^ Mullen, Brendan (December 27, 2000). "Annihilation Man; How Darby Crash lost control. Of the Germs. Of Circle One. Everything". LA Weekly. Archived from the original on October 9, 2012. Retrieved May 23, 2007.
  2. ^ a b Michael Sutton, Biography: Pat Smear,, accessed 21 September 2017
  3. ^ Mullen. Lexicon Devil. p. 23.
  4. ^ Mullen. Lexicon Devil. p. 46.
  5. ^ a b Elias Fulmer (2014). Pat Smear Remembers Auditioning for Nirvana Alternative Nation, Dec 8, 2014; accessed 21 Sep 2017
  6. ^ Blush, Steven (2001). American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Second ed., 2010. Feral House. ISBN 9781932595895. p. 16.
  7. ^ Raggett, Ned. "(GI) – Germs". AllMusic. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
  8. ^ Janet Maslin (1981). "The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2013.
  9. ^ Felt, Hunter (May 20, 2004). "Twisted Roots: self-titled". PopMatters. Retrieved March 21, 2019.
  10. ^ Moll, James (Director) (March 15, 2011). Foo Fighters: Back and Forth (Motion Picture). USA: Netflix.
  11. ^ a b c d See the 2011 documentary Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, directed by James Moll.
  12. ^ Minsker, Evan (December 16, 2012). "Watch Paul McCartney Front Nirvana Again on "SNL"". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 18, 2013.
  13. ^ "McCartney, Grohl, Novoselic, Smear – "Cut Me Some Slack" Live on Saturday Night Live". YouTube. December 15, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Moll, James (Director) (March 15, 2011). Foo Fighters: Back and Forth (Motion Picture). USA: Netflix.

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