Grohl, who was raised in Alexandria, Virginia, began his music career in the 1980s as the drummer for the band Freak Baby, and later joined the Washington, DC punk rock band Scream. Buzz Osbourne of The Melvins recommended him to Nirvana after they fired drummer Chad Channing. Grohl joined Nirvana and moved to Seattle in 1990, where at first he shared a house with Cobain. Grohl's distinctively heavy-handed drumming, a style he learned from banging marching band sticks on his bed as a teenager, were a driving force behind Nirvana's breakthrough album Nevermind.
Although while a member of Nirvana Grohl was known to most fans only as a drummer and backing vocalist, he had in fact played guitar for several years. In 1990 he released a cassette demo, Pocketwatch, under the name "Late!", for which he played all of the instruments. From this recording, the song "Marigold" would later become a Nirvana b-side (with Grohl on vocals), while "Winnebago" would later be released as a Foo Fighters song, as the b-side of "This Is A Call". Grohl also contributed a riff which would later become "Scentless Apprentice", from Nirvana's album In Utero.
Following Cobain's death Grohl recorded a fifteen-track demo, on which he again played all instruments with the exception of a guitar part on "X-Static", played by Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs, and the bass part of "Alone + Easy Target", which was played by Krist Novoselic. The demo gained considerable buzz and was released, unchanged except for trimming three tracks, in 1995 as the Foo Fighters' debut album. Grohl did not want the effort to be considered the start of a solo career, so he recruited the other band members after the recording of the demo.
The Foo Fighters' tremendous success led once again to a life of touring and traveling for Grohl, who throughout the 1990s lived in Seattle, Washington and Los Angeles before returning to his native Virginia, where his basement served as the recording studio for the 1999 album There is Nothing Left to Lose.
Aside from the Foo Fighters, Grohl has worked on several other musical projects, earning a reputation as a rock and roll "jack of all trades". He recorded the score for the 1996 film Touch. In 2001 he joined Queens of the Stone Age as a drummer, both for the recording of their album Songs for the Deaf and the tour which followed the album's release. In 2002 also played drums for Tenacious D. He has also drummed on the latest Killing Joke album. Grohl has spent the last several years working on a new side project named PROBOT, which features various rock singers on vocals and Grohl's instrumentation.
In the 2002 Triple J Hottest 100 Dave Grohl achieved a new record of having a part in 10 of the top 100 songs, including the Nirvana track "You Know You're Right", over the release of which he and Novoselic had spent years battling with Cobain's widow Courtney Love.