Pat Smear

Pat Smear
Smear performing in September 2017
Smear performing in September 2017
Background information
Birth name Georg Albert Ruthenberg
Born (1959-08-05) August 5, 1959 (age 61)
West Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Alternative rock, punk rock, hardcore punk, deathrock, grunge, post-grunge
Occupation(s) Musician, singer, songwriter, actor
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1976–present
Labels What?, Slash, Geffen, Capitol
Associated acts Germs, 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 is best known as a rhythm guitarist in the rock band Foo Fighters, with whom he has recorded five studio albums.

Smear was a founding member of punk band the Germs, and was the touring guitarist for grunge band Nirvana from 1993 to 1994. After Nirvana disbanded following the death of its frontman Kurt Cobain, its drummer Dave Grohl went on to become the frontman of rock band Foo Fighters, with Smear soon joining on guitar.

Early life

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)

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 killed himself.

Solo work (1980–1993)

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)

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 and other tracks that would later appear on 45 Grave’s 1987 compilation album, Autopsy.

Nirvana (1993–1994)

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)

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. Smear's departure was also related to inner-band tensions that sprung up around Grohl's divorce from his first wife Jennifer Youngblood, who was a close friend of Smear. 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 at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. Smear played partway through the set, then introduced Stahl who completed the set.

Hiatus from the Foo Fighters (1997–2005)

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.

Rejoining the Foo Fighters (2005–present)

In late 2005, Smear began performing selected shows with Foo Fighters again. He would continue to play intermittently with the group, often not for the entirety of a concert, before fully rejoining in 2010 and participating in the recording of what would become the album Wasting Light. He would go on to record with the rest of the band on their 8th studio album, Sonic Highways.

Nirvana reunions

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", 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, Deer Tick's John McCauley, as well as The Distillers' Brody Dalle 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 1990s. 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

According to the 2011 documentary Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, Smear is married and has children.[10]


With the Germs

With 45 Grave

With Twisted Roots

  • Pretentiawhat (1981)


With Deathfolk

  • Deathfolk (1989)
  • Deathfolk II (1992)

With Nirvana

With Mike Watt

With Foo Fighters

With Paul McCartney

With theHell

  • Southern Medicine (2013)


  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 September 21, 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 Archived September 22, 2017, at the Wayback Machine Alternative Nation, December 8, 2014; accessed September 21, 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. ^ a b Moll, James (Director) (March 15, 2011). Foo Fighters: Back and Forth (Motion Picture). USA: Netflix.
  11. ^ a b 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. ^ "The Buck Owens Acoustic Guitar Played By Pat Smear On Nirvana MTV Unplugged Belongs To Krist Novolselic". December 12, 2013. Retrieved January 22, 2020.

External links