Rarely in the history of rock has a musician switched bands and instruments simultaneously with such a high degree of success as Dave Grohl. Born on January 14, 1969, Grohl grew up in Washington, D.C., teaching himself to play drums and guitar while listening to such heavy metal acts as Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Motörhead, and Black Sabbath, plus the punk outfits Black Flag, the Germs, Bad Brains, and the Stooges. While still a teenager, he joined his first real band, independent D.C. punkers Scream, and toured the world as their drummer. After Scream broke up in the late '80s, Grohl relocated to Seattle and tried out for a little-known band that had a drum vacancy, Nirvana. Immediately after Grohl joined the group in late 1990, Nirvana guitarist/singer/songwriter Kurt Cobain presented the band with the songs that would appear on the group's major-label debut, the 1991 classic Nevermind. Grohl also found time to write and record several demos around this time (playing all the instruments and singing himself), titled Pocketwatch, but more on that later. As everyone knows, Nevermind rocketed Nirvana to superstardom, as Grohl turned heads with his simple yet hard-hitting drumming style. During the sessions for the group's follow-up, 1993's In Utero, Grohl was allowed to contribute some of his own songwriting when he earned a co-writing credit for the heavy riff-rocker "Scentless Apprentice" and also recorded an original song, the quietly melodic "Marigold," which would appear as a B-side on the British "All Apologies" single.
Then Cobain's much-publicized suicide promptly ended Nirvana in April 1994. Instead of sitting around depressed, Grohl began working and playing with others, lending his drumming talents to the Backbeat motion picture soundtrack and Mike Watt's Ball-Hog or Tugboat? release (as well as serving as Watt's touring drummer for a stretch of time), plus backing Tom Petty on a Saturday Night Live appearance. Later in the year, Grohl dusted off some of the songs he recorded for the Pocketwatch demo and began writing and recording some new tracks, again playing all the instruments himself. Not sure initially if these songs would ever see the light of day, he eventually decided to issue them under the name Foo Fighters, and promptly formed an ad hoc band consisting of ex-Germs/Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear and ex-Sunny Day Real Estate members William Goldsmith (drums) and Nate Mendel (bass), while Grohl surprisingly put his drumming days behind him in favor of guitarist/singer duties. The band's self-titled 1995 release became a hit, as their sound was similar to his last full-time band: hard-edged punk rock mixed with melodic, midtempo pop/rockers.
While the band lineup solidified with the arrival of ex-Alanis Morissette drummer Taylor Hawkins, a revolving-door policy still applied to the other Foos playing alongside Grohl. Nevertheless, the group widened its fan base with each successive release. 1997's Colour and the Shape became the first truly collaborative Foo album and a worldwide hit; two years later, There Is Nothing Left to Lose dropped to widespread acclaim, and further distanced Grohl the songwriter, singer, and guitarist from Grohl the ex-drummer of Nirvana. In 2000, he took a quick break from his main gig, contributing drum tracks to metal hero Tony Iommi's self-titled solo record. Early the following year, the Foos threw eager fans a bone, streaming stomper "The One" from their website. But Grohl's past came back to haunt him in late 2001, when infamous Kurt Cobain widow and mouthpiece-about-town Courtney Love sued him, Krist Noveselic, and Universal Music Group for control of Nirvana's master recordings. The lawsuit would drag on for almost two years. Grohl and his band kicked off 2002 with a performance at the Winter Olympics. He then surprised fans and observers again with his emergence as the touring drummer for underground hard rock outfit Queens of the Stone Age. Grohl gigged with the band through the summer, and also played on the breakthrough Queens LP Songs for the Deaf, issued that August. The Foos' One by One appeared in October and almost immediately began spawning hit singles, each accompanied by a typically entertaining, Grohl-directed music video. The Love lawsuit was also settled, and late 2002 saw the arrival of a one-disc Nirvana retrospective. In spring 2003, Grohl, Hawkins, and the rest of the Foos embarked on an extensive tour in support of One by One.
In 2012, the Foo Fighters announced they were taking a hiatus and Grohl immediately returned to the confines of Queens of the Stone Age, drumming on their 2013 album ...Like Clockwork. He also threw himself into directing a documentary about the legendary Los Angeles recording studio Sound City. The film appeared early in 2013 to positive reviews and it was accompanied by a soundtrack called Sound City: Real to Reel, which featured Grohl-directed jams with a variety of Sound City veterans, plus Paul McCartney. Not long after its release, the Foo Fighters announced their hiatus had ended and they were working on a new album.
After two Foo Fighters albums — 2014's Sonic Highways and 2017's Concrete and Gold — Grohl made a documentary devoted to the pleasures of playing musical instruments. Entitled Play, the doc appeared in 2018, accompanied by a soundtrack containing a 22-minute track featuring Grohl on every instrument. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine