Like many of you, I woke up yesterday morning stunned and saddened to see the news of Taylor Hawkins’ passing at the age of 50.
Feeling grief and sadness over someone relatively famous that I’ve never met before and don’t know may seem a bit childish, but it is hard to swallow and accept no less.
I don’t know what happens next. It’s likely the Foo Fighters stop touring for a period and grieve the loss of their friend and bandmate. Maybe in due time, someone will try to fill in on drums. It’s too early to have to even fathom.
All I know is that Taylor Hawkins deserves massive credit for the Foo Fighters ascension from small demo project, to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees.
The sad irony is Dave Grohl has already done this before: overcome the untimely death of a bandmate after Kurt Cobain in 1994. The parallels are too eerily familiar already.
In the summer of 1995, I purchased the first Foo Fighters self-titled album along with ‘Frogstomp’ by Silverchair at Best Buy.
First listening to it then, I was immediately intrigued by the demo rock sound of Foo Fighters, specifically the tracks ‘For All The Cows’ and ‘Alone + Easy Target’. I still am intrigued to this day, 27 years later.
Dave Grohl recorded every instrument and sound on that album. I see this as evidence of a man that was looking to just create and move on following the death of Cobain. It is well documented that during this time of the many opportunities for Grohl to become a drummer in another band, notably to join Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.
Fortunately he passed on those opportunities, forging the unlikely way for a mountain of beautiful music. Starting with the debut in ’95.
The Foo Fighters started as a one-man demo with no intentions of being what they have become. Dave Grohl has admitted this on record many times. But I’d be willing to bet that even he would admit that if Taylor Hawkins had not joined Foo Fighters in 1997, they may not be the rock & roll force of nature they have become.
The recent and beautiful Ringer film Jagged Little Pill chronicles where Taylor Hawkins got his break: as a touring drummer for Alanis Morissette. A young and fresh-faced Hawkins is seen throughout the film, ultimately making the decision to leave Morissette after Grohl reached out to him to inquire if he knew any drummers that would be interested in joining Foo Fighters.
“Uhhh, dude. How about me?”
He joined in 1997, right around the release of their 2nd album: ‘The Colour and the Shape’. This one I bought at K-Mart. The Colour and the Shape was a stark difference from the first album: this was polished and engineered to perfection, and one could argue it is the defining rock sound of 1997.
Grohl still wrote every song, but others recorded with him. It is documented that during the recording Grohl was not satisfied with the drumming sound of William Goldsmith, so he re-recorded the drum parts himself. This didn’t go over well with Goldsmith, and he left the band.
It couldn’t have been easy to play drums in a band with Dave Grohl. Anyone who has ever listened to Nevermind or In Utero by Nirvana knows why. Dave Grohl is an absolute animal behind a drumkit. Someone would need to be a great drummer, and not feel intimidated by another bandmate.
The Colour and the Shape was a massive success. Songs include Monkey Wrench, My Hero, February Stars, f*cking Everlong. On and on and on.
The next person to play drums on these songs would need to be someone ready to be part of a rocket ready for takeoff. Musically, technically, sonically: someone would need to be able to bring it.
Someone like Taylor Hawkins.
My first Foo Fighters show was in Minneapolis in 2000. The lineup that evening was Muse, Foo Fighters, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Today, each of those bands sells out Wembley Stadium on their own.
During the Foo Fighters set, Dave Grohl announced to the audience that this was the first arena tour for them, and they were excited to have Hawkins’ drum set on risers for all to see.
This tour was in support of their October 1999 release ‘There is Nothing Left to Lose’. I bought this album at a place called On Cue. Rage Against the Machine’s ‘The Battle of Los Angeles’ came out the exact same day. I had about $15 to my name then, and could only afford one.
I chose Foo Fighters.
The Foo Fighters to me represent a coming of age young kid ready to make his own choices and create his own path in life. At the risk of getting too profound; let me say I’ve always taken great pride in being on board the Foo Fighters train from day 1.
Fast forward this entire life journey to now and many many shows later, I’m proud to say the Foo Fighters have been along with me everywhere I’ve been.
I’ve been lucky enough to see them perform all over the country, notably many great shows in Seattle over the years.
In my time spent living in Europe I can say with a straight face: that outside of meeting my wife Stephanie, the best moment of my time there was seeing the Foo Fighters on a July night in Berlin in 2011. There was an energy in that audience that I’ll never forget. “Holy sh*t, Germans LOVE the Foo Fighters” is what I yelled many times to myself from the pit in the front row.
In all those shows, the common denominator was the developed musical connection of Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl playing off of each other that stands out. Trading solos. Trading “Can you top this?!” riffs, going back and forth. Sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes not.
If you’ve seen the Foo Fighters, it’s likely you know what I’m talking about: the improvised jam sessions between songs, each time leading into the next song in a way that builds and builds and then explodes. It’s a tightly-knitted sonic boom of electricity, with giant smiles on their faces the entire evening. I’m sad this piece with Taylor in it is now over.
I’m going to miss seeing Taylor Hawkins during those moments the most: his hair and arms and legs flying everywhere, looking like the golden rock god that he forever is.
Thank you for taking the sound of the Foo Fighters to the highest heights. You were the heartbeat behind it all.