Taylor Hawkins: A Tribute To A Talent Lost Too Soon

We’ve woken up to the terrible news that Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins has died at the age of just 50. A few words of tribute to him.

Taylor Hawkins, photographed in 2022

To stand out as a drummer in a band that also contains Dave Grohl – a man who pretty much overturned the music scene as we knew it in 1991 with four snare hits – is no small achievement. Yet Taylor Hawkins did just that, consistently, for 25 years.

He jumped ship from Alanis Morisette’s touring band and slotted into the Foo Fighters line-up after Grohl jettisoned his band’s original drummer and rerecorded most of the drum parts for 1997’s The Colour and The Shape himself.

While, sonically, the group is defined by its three-guitar roar and the openhearted melodies of the former Nirvana man, many have come to consider Hawkins the only other irreplaceable moving part of its highly successful rock hit factory, and key to its live and visual chemistry. Sadly – following today’s announcement of the drummer’s passing, aged 50 – we are going to find out if that’s true or not.

Taylor Hawkins

Despite being from opposite ends of the US – Grohl born in late-60s Washington State, Hawkins in early 70s Texas – it is perhaps because Grohl considered Hawkins a “partner in crime” rather than a source of creative friction that the drummer shone so brightly behind the frontman’s kinetic performances, and slotted in to such a high-pressure, high profile rock gig so seamlessly.

That he so emphatically stamped his mark on Foo Fighters’ image is testament to the dedication and talent he bought to his instrument, and the respect the band showed him for apparently pulling it to new levels of professionalism.

“He came into a band that was pretty scrappy,” bassist Nate Mandel told Rolling Stone, “and he was like, ‘Hang on a second, what if we become good?’ That was Taylor’s thing, like, ‘Why don’t we learn how to be better as a band and pay more attention to what we’re doing live?’”

Plucked from a music store to drum for Canadian rocker Sass Jordan in 1994 he was spotted by Morisette’s management team, which placed him in her back-up band during the Jagged Little Pill era. It was during this 1995 promo run he met Grohl, with the two bonding as they criss-crossed Europe’s summer festival scene in each other’s orbit. Hawkins often told of Morisette’s certainty that he would one day drum for the Foo Fighters, and, unsure of that his playing style fitted with the singer’s plans, he was keen to make the switch when asked.

Thus began the persistent public image of the pair; “a hyperactive blur of Parliament Lights and air drumming wherever we went”, as Grohl describes it in his memoir. When asked whether the two were really as good friends as they appeared by an interviewer in 2017, Grohl’s sarcastic “No, we’re just really fucking great actors! This is the best role I’ll ever play: Taylor’s friend!” is all the affirmation you’ll ever need for how close they were. Hearing Taylor add “And that’s not an easy one,” is heartrending in hindsight.

Open about his troubles with drink and drugs, Hawkins denied he was a full-blown junkie when a Heroin overdose at Chelmsford’s V Festival in 2001 left him comatose for two weeks, claiming instead to Beats Radio that ‘this guy gave me the wrong line with the wrong thing one night’. However, his passing – in Bogata, Columbia – will no doubt cause speculation that drugs were the cause. Nothing has been confirmed at the time of going to press, and he had given multiple interviews asserting how he was on a healthier path these days, spurred on by fatherhood and his mistakes of the past.

Taylor Hawkins drumming

An incendiary force behind the drums, which he played with great skill, athleticism, enthusiasm and abundant raw talent – with the archetypal US rock look – Hawkins performed outside of the Foo Fighters with Coheed and Cambria, Brian May, Queen, as well as with a couple of his own projects – the last of which was NHC, a collaboration with Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney that spawned an album late last year.

However, Hawkins will be – as he deserves – remembered for the key role he has played in one of the biggest bands of the last 30 years. “Foo Fighters is very much Dave’s band,” Hawkins said, “we just go in and fill in the blanks…”

While it may look like that sometimes, and displays the kind of self-effacing sentiment that made Taylor Hawkins the perfect Foo Fighters fit, the closer you look the more you realise it’s simply not true.

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