Everyone knows Dave Grohl was in Nirvana. This isn’t news. It’s the same; everyone on earth has probably heard a Foo Fighters tune. “Everlong” is old enough to have back pain at this point. Go to Target, and you’ll likely see some dude pushing a red cart in flip-flops and a Foo Fighters shirt. But what most people don’t know about the Foos is that while they’re probably one of the most written-about bands of the current era, only second to Metallica, almost every member of the band isn’t from a tepid pool of dad rock musicians waiting to be plucked, complete with a pair of cargo shorts and a Rush t-shirt, instead they’re punk rockers.
Just listen to the Foo Fighters; you can hear the imprint of Hüsker Dü and Naked Raygun throughout the records. While recording their HBO show and subsequent record, Sonic Highways, the band showcased their love for all things punk by highlighting scenes like D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. Grohl mentioned Hüsker Dü’s sound in an interview with RTÉ’s Planet Rock Profiles in 1996, “I mean, Black Flag was early on, and then when I discovered Zen Arcade I thought, God, these people write songs, man,” he added: “It’s amazing. It’s like the Byrds meets Black Flag, and it just blew me away, and the songs just stuck in your head forever and they were just amazing”.
While we know that Dave was in Nirvana, people don’t realize that while he was the sixth and final drummer of the band, he’s got legit street cred when it comes to knowing the history of Social Distortion or The Clash. When Chad Channing was kicked out of Nirvana, the band needed someone new to beat the skins. Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins suggested Grohl, who was recently out of a gig due to his band breaking up. Grohl met Osbourne as the drummer for seminal D.C.-based hardcore punk band Scream. Scream also put out their records through Ian MacKaye’s of Minor Threat/Fugazi’s label Dischord Records.
Without much to go on other than each other’s album performances, with Nirvana having recently released Bleach and Scream had No More Censorship, the communal noise of the trio worked. And we all know what happened to them, changing the world and all.
When Kurt Cobain died after the release of In Utero in 1994, Grohl retreated into the only place he knew: music. Under covert waters, Grohl recorded the first Foo Fighters record alone at home, playing all the instruments. From here, it’s interesting to see how Grohl put the band’s lineup together, almost certifying that punk credentials had to come to get the job.
Serving as the second guitar in Nirvana was a blessing for Pat Smear. Sure, he got a chance to play massive shows with the biggest band in the world, but when Cobain asked him to back him up, Smear was working at a record store in Los Angeles. Cobain and the rest of the band knew him as the fire-breathing guitar monster of The Germs, the legendary punk band who released one album that icon Joan Jett produced. After their singer Darby Crash purposely overdosed, the band ended, and Smear faded out of the punk limelight. So, when the Foo Fighters were put together, naturally, Grohl called up Smear to join. When listening to the Foo Fighters, it’s easy to hear those big, roaring riffs with a lot of punch and know it’s Smear behind the guitarwork.
Nate Mendel and William Goldsmith
Grohl was a big fan of indie-emo darlings Sunny Day Real Estate -so much so that he recruited their bass player in Mendel and the drummer in Goldsmith. While Mendel has been with the Foo Fighters since the first record, Goldsmith didn’t make it past the band’s second record, The Colour and Shape. But the fact remains that while Sunny Day Real Estate wasn’t Fear, they still evolved out of the punk world.
Over the years, Pat Smear has come and gone out of the Foo Fighters lineup. One of his times stepping out, Scream guitarist Franz Stahl stepped in for a minute but ultimately left due to creative differences.
Another Smear fill-in, Shiflett has stuck with the band since joining in 1999. (Now, he, Smear, and Grohl all play guitar.) But, again, Shiflett comes from punk band No Use for a Name and silly pop punk cover band wizards Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies. He’s also appeared on records by bands like Ten Foot Pole and Swingin’ Utters.
So, Jaffe isn’t exactly Mr. Sex Pistols, having served as keys for bands like The Wallflowers pre-Foos, but let’s not discount that he’s played for Coheed and Cambria and Chuck Ragan.
Hawkins tragically died of a drug overdose back in 2022. He was the one lone rock and roll purist of the bunch. He did play in a Police cover band and played with Coheed and Cambria. Does Coheed come from the punk scene? Yes. Are they a punk band? No. You argue about the details.
This one is bulletproof. Freese is one of the best drummers in the business. He’s played with both The Vandals and Devo. He’s played on records for a bazillion acts. He’s recorded with Good Charlotte (not arguing about purity on this one), Ween, Infectious Grooves, Offspring, the Replacements, Nine Inch Nails, and Paramour, to name a few.
When the Foo Fighters helped open the new D.C. Club, The Atlantis, they brought up Scream’s Peter Stahl and crushed a cover of the Bad Brain’s “At the Atlantis.” First song. Give credit to the old dudes. While they can fill arenas globally, I bet if you had the chance to have a PBR with any of them, you could argue long into the night about whether or not The Misfits Michel Graves era sucks.
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