Looking back on a career cut off far too soon
Suddenly, shockingly, drummer Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters passed away Friday.
Fans were gathering at the main stage Festival Estéreo Picnic 2022 in Bogota last night when word came that the Foo Fighters set had been canceled. Perhaps 10 minutes later, word began to circulate of Hawkins’ death. A number of candles were placed on the stage. The main video screens at festival stages carried the words “Taylor Hawkins Por Siempre” (translates to “Taylor Hawkins” forever).
Hawkins’ first break was getting the opportunity to be the touring drummer for Canadian rocker Sass Jordan during a 1994 tour of Europe, when Jordan was opening for Aerosmith.
VIDEO: Sass Jordan Live with Taylor on drums
That, in turn, led to Hawkins getting a successful audition to be Alanis Morrissette’s drummer on the tour behind her massive Jagged Little Pill album.
It was at some point during those shows that Morrissette and the Foo Fighters were on the same bills and Hawkins crossed paths with Dave Grohl for the first time. The two hit it off quickly, a bond obvious to others.
Morrissette asked Hawkins, “What are you going to do when Dave Grohl asks you to join the Foo Fighters?”
Hawkins poo-pooed the idea, but it wasn’t long after that it became apparent that things weren’t working out with Foos drummer William Goldsmith, especially in the studio where Grohl wound up overdubbing his parts. Goldsmith opted to leave and Grohl did indeed ask Hawkins to join.
Grohl, in his 2021 autobiography, The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, called Hawkins his “best friend and partner in crime.”
He added, “Part Beavis and Butthead, part Dumb and Dumber, we were a hyperactive blur of Parliament Lights and air drumming wherever we went.”
It’s no small task being the drummer in a band where the front man is one of the most well-known and respected living rock drummers on the planet. It even took Hawkins a little while, but not long.
His first album recorded with the Foo Fighters, 1999’s There Is Nothing Left to Lose, wound up with a fairly even split between Hawkins’ and Grohl’s drum parts. Hawkins later said “Aurora,” a solid album track halfway through the tracklist, was one where he felt his footing and one can hear it in the crispness, especially in the song’s second half.
AUDIO: Foo Fighters “Aurora”
That would be it, as every drum part on every Foo Fighters album since would be Hawkins. All those hours of self-taught lessons from albums, singles and songs on the radio, all that practicing had paid off.
As music writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine put it on Twitter last night: “Taylor Hawkins might’ve been the only drummer alive who could support Dave Grohl and not make you wish Grohl was sitting behind the kit.”
Hawkins was one of those fanboys who made it big and he always looked like he was still full of joy over the fact that he did. He once said, “I wanted to be Roger Taylor. And I wanted to be in Queen.” Taylor and the Police’s Stewart Copeland were early influences, but in those days before YouTube and with paying for lessons not an option, he learned to play by listening and playing over and over.
In a likable 2020 interview with BBC Radio 6, Hawkins was as self-deprecating as he was skilled. Through different points, he played little snippets of drum parts in the style of other drummers. When Alex Van Halen’s name came up, he praised Van Halen, saying that he couldn’t keep from swinging no matter what. Then he said, “I don’t have a double bass. I wish I could play the double bass.”
VIDEO: Taylor Hawkins on the BBC (2020)
He joked about learning to play from drum parts that he didn’t realize were live drum parts (the loop in Tears For Fears’ “Shout”). He even didn’t do the obvious for Phil Collins — skipping Genesis and solo Phil to play a bit of that memorable ’80s boom bap that Collins contributed to Frida’s pop hit “There’s Something Going On.”
Those early days never left Hawkins, both in the enjoyment of his craft and his dedication to getting better at it.
The sense of fun also permeated Hawkins’ side projects. There were three albums with Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders (reuniting him with former Alanis Morrissette bandmate bassist Chris Chaney) — 2006’s self-titled, 2010’s Red Light Fever and 2019’s Get The Money. There was his live covers band Chevy Metal, which led to a one-and-done offshoot Birds of Satan. And there were the various appearances on other bands’ and artists’ albums, even getting to play with members of his beloved Queen.
His solo work allowed him freedom to indulge wider facets of his musical personality. There were songs that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Foo Fighters album, but there were also elements of other classic rock that didn’t make it through the Foo filter often — psychedelia, prog, heavy boogie, hints of classic pop.
If none of it qualified as essential, that was beside the point. Hawkins was having fun, getting to stretch out and, honestly, the material was often better than one would have expected. The combination of likability and talent goes a long way, especially when the songs clicked.
VIDEO: Taylor Hawkins explains to Howard what it was like to join the Foo Fighters (2021)
Hawkins never knew when he’d find a collaborator either, finding a contributor to Get the Money’s four-and-a-half minute mini-suite “C U In Hell” at a function at his kids’ school, which is how he found out that he lived in the same neighborhood as LeAnn Rimes, who was willing to sing on it.
The Foo Fighters is what Hawkins will be most remembered for, of course. Regardless of the quality of the albums, Hawkins was a rock-solid foundation on them and he was indispensable live, as one could see even eight days ago, at the band’s headlining show at Lollapalooza Chile.
Many times over the years, through the last week, you could see why Grohl said, “I don’t mind no longer being a drummer when I’m in a band with the best drummer in the world.”