Photo Credit: Richard Dobson/Newspix
After nearly three decades, the Foo Fighters, sometimes called “the Last Great Band,” experienced their first-ever casualty on March 25th when longtime drummer Taylor Hawkins was found dead at age fifty in Bogota, Colombia, where the band had been scheduled to play the Estero Picnic Music Festival as part of a South American concert tour. While the Foo Fighters have always been mainly a platform for former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl (who switched to lead vocals and guitar), after joining the band in 1995 Hawkins would play almost as important a role in the band’s legacy.
Taylor Hawkins was born in Fort Worth, Texas but grew up primarily in Laguna Beach, California, where he began playing drums at age ten. He played drums in a band called Sylvia and then as part of the backing group for Sass Jordan before being recruited by another Canadian female singer, Alanis Morissette, to play on tour in support of her hugely successful 1995 album Jagged Little Pill (Hawkins wasn’t on the record but did appear in the videos for a few of the singles). Elsewhere, at this point, the Foo Fighters – which had seen frontman Dave Grohl moving the grunge rock that he had helped create away from angst and anguish towards more of a Beatles pop influence and a general sense of fun – were also well underway.
Photo Credit: Ashley Beliveau
In 1997 the Foo Fighters split with drummer William Goldsmith, which prompted Hawkins to contact them upon hearing about the vacancy. Grohl – as the story goes – assumed that Hawkins was going to recommend another candidate but instead volunteered himself, which in turn surprised Grohl, who questioned why anyone would be willing to leave an artist as successful as Alanis Morissette to join the Foo Fighters. However, once onboard, Hawkins (who explained that he sought to become a band member once again after spending time as a sideman) almost instantly became the most identifiable member of the Foo Fighters (other than Grohl), which he would always remain.
In his autobiography (published last October) Dave Grohl would call Hawkins his best friend and his “brother.” Indeed, for the last twenty-five years, the musical and personal bond between the two has been impossible to miss. This goes all the way back to a short segment that aired on MTV not long after Hawkins joined the band in 1997, where the two – Grohl with his arm around Hawkins, both looking straight into the camera – discuss the joys of cigarette smoking and the right to do so in public (thematically, the clip has obviously not aged well, but clearly shows the rapport that the pair had already developed). One of the last major Foo Fighters projects released during Hawkins’ lifetime, the feature film Studio 666, includes a scene in which Grohl tells Hawkins: “We’re both drummers. We speak the same language.”
Photo Credit: Jerod Harris
While considered one of the best rock drummers of his generation (he cited Neil Peart, Ringo Starr, Phil Collins, and Queen’s Roger Taylor as influences), Hawkins would also follow Grohl’s lead in stepping out front, with his own solo side-project Taylor Hawkins & the Coattail Riders. The three studio albums released between 2006 and 2019 not only feature Hawkins on lead vocals but also reflected his interest in prog, glam, and new wave, all while maintaining the Foo Fighters’ emphasis on melody and song structure. The project also turned into something of an all-star affair, with members (or ex-members) of Queen, Heart, the Eagles, the Cars, Guns N’ Roses, and Jane’s Addiction making guest appearances (despite this, the albums weren’t commercially successful, but hopefully can still be discovered by a mass audience).
Hawkins clearly believed in all things rock ‘n’ roll, but unfortunately, was not averse to what could be its deadly trappings: in 2001, while in England, Hawkins overdosed on heroin and ended up in a coma for two weeks. “Everyone has their own path, and I took it too far,” he told Kerrang! just last year. “I believed the bullsh*t myth of live hard and fast, die young.” Beyond this, Hawkins was never especially public regarding his substance abuse (or lack thereof), but after his death, at least ten controlled substances – including opioids, benzodiazepines, and tricyclic antidepressants – were found in his system (although the exact cause of death has yet to be revealed).
Photo Credit: Oliver Halfin
In better times, Hawkins and the Foo Fighters spend the first two decades of the twenty-first century creating fun, accessible, authentic rock ‘n’ roll and selling out arenas even as the overall musical climate increasingly favored pop and hip-hop. Last year the band – including Hawkins – was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in their first year of eligibility). After his death on March 25th, tributes to Hawkins poured in from all over the music spectrum, from artists as stylistically and generationally diverse as Paul McCartney, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Billie Eilish. The Foo Fighters canceled all scheduled performances (including the Grammys, where, ironically, they would win three awards) and as of this writing, the band’s future has yet to be determined. But if they do choose to continue, we know that the Foo Fighters, and rock ‘n’ roll in general, will never be quite the same without Taylor Hawkins.