Taylor Hawkins

On March 25, 2022 musicians, drummers, and music fans around the world were devastated to learn that drummer Taylor Hawkins had died. Hawkins was a good friend of Modern Drummer, and we join in the deep sorrow of losing such a wonderful person, amazing musician, and a bright light at such a young age. In the wake of such a tragedy we can all remember his deep love for music, his energetic drumming, his enthusiastic and refreshing attitude, and his fascinating and inspiring musical career. Taylor Hawkins and his musical life are well deserving of a closer look.

In 1994 Taylor got his first “big gig” touring with Canadian singer-songwriter Sass Jordan. Speaking about that gig, Taylor remembered, “Sass taught me how to be in a rock and roll band and she gave me my first rock and roll paycheck. On a 2015 YouTube video which had Jordan sitting in with the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl says, ”If it weren’t for Sass Jordan, Taylor Hawkins wouldn’t be in the Foo Fighters.” We all owe Sass Jordan a big thank you!

The Foo Fighters began with Dave Grohl playing all of the instruments on the brilliant self-titled debut, former Sunny Day Real Estate drummer William Goldsmith was brought in to play drums on the second record entitled The Color and the Shape. However, when Grohl deemed Goldsmith too green to play on the record, and offered him the job of touring drummer, Goldsmith declined and left the band. Advertisement

In 1996 Taylor Hawkins had moved on from Jordan and was tearing it up as the touring drummer for pop-superstar Alanis Morissette in support of her Jagged Little Pill record. We can all see the young enthusiastic drummer with boundless rock and roll energy by watching Alanis Morissette’s DVD Jagged Little Pill, Live. Amazingly, on live gigs, Taylor and the rest of Alanis’ band transformed Alanis’ highly produced hit pop songs into rock and roll headbangers. This is also when Taylor first played with longtime collaborator and close friend, bassist Chris Chaney. In interviews, Hawkins remembered that in a fleeting moment, Alanis actually asked him what he was going to say when Dave Grohl asked him to join the Foo Fighters? With his typical humility Hawkins just laughed her off.

At the time, Taylor and Grohl were casual friends, and it turns out that Grohl did ask Hawkins about potential new drummers for his new band. But when he did, Taylor gave him one only name, Taylor Hawkins. Grohl was skeptical because (Taylor’s current employer) Alanis Morissette was one of the biggest pop stars on the scene and doing very well. Taylor insisted, saying that he wanted to be in a rock band, not a drummer for a solo artist. Therefore, Dave Grohl plucked the energetic young drummer from Alanis Morissette’s band to join the Foo Fighters and a musical brotherhood was born, and rock history would never be the same.

Taylor Hawkins was the all-important final piece of the puzzle in creating the core of a legendary rock band. The drummer is the most important piece in a rock and roll band, and with the addition of Hawkins, now the Foo Fighters had two great drummers. At the beginning, Hawkins shared the drumming duties with Grohl on the recording There is Nothing Left to Lose. This is a very good recording that features one of Taylor’s favorite Foo tunes “Aurora.” Advertisement

As Hawkins, (bassist) Nate Mendel, and Grohl became more comfortable together, the outstanding songwriting and the overall groove got even stronger. Foo Fighter songs, grooves, and drum parts became much more integrated. Bands evolve, and the Foo Fighters are no exception.

Hawkins began playing all of the drums on the next recording called One by One. Going forward with One by One, In Your Honor, and Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, the Foo Fighters music and the groove grew even more refined. As Taylor’s drumming evolved, so did Grohl’s melodies and arrangements. In an interview, Taylor remarks how he acted as Dave’s “drum machine” when Dave was writing and arranging new songs. I can hear this as a strong element of the Foo Fighters. The songs and arrangements are very rhythmic. There are rhythmic and melodic hooks, it is no surprise that there were two drummers contributing to these songs and arrangements. Together Taylor and Dave created songs and arrangements that spawned drum parts that simply couldn’t be separated from the songs.

As is true with any pop or rock music, a truly great drum part will fit the song perfectly. A great drum part weaves itself within the song in a way that doesn’t detract from the song but doesn’t sit passively in the background either. A great drum part frames the song. Taylor’s drum parts framed Grohl’s songs so perfectly that they became one. Advertisement

In a band everyone has a role. The rhythm guitarist fills in the cracks and provides the rhythmic harmony for a song, the bassist is the foundational link between the drummer and the melody. This is what happened with the Foo Fighters. Through lots of live and studio playing, the rhythm section gelled, great songs followed, the band progressed, and the magnificent music and the accolades piled up.

In my opinion, everything peaked with 2011’s Wasting Light. This is a truly GREAT rock record! The bull-dozer groove (that Grohl, Hawkins, bassist Nate Mendel, and outstanding guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett) and the amazing songs Grohl had created, had indeed become inseparable and undeniable. Taylor actually takes three brief one bar drum solos on the hit song “Rope,” and listen for that single cowbell note. But the real star of “Rope” is the arrangement of the rhythm section on the verses. However, Wasting Light wasn’t about drum solos and one hit song, Wasting Light is filled with musical and drumming highlights. I truly believe Wasting Light is a modern rock (music and drumming) masterpiece. The driving groove of “Bridge Burning” and “A Matter of Time” are equal parts Copeland and Bonham. Listen to the rhythm guitars weaving around Taylor’s groove on “Dear Rosemary.” Pay attention to how Taylor’s clever drum parts are truly inseparable from the songs on “Arlandria” “These Days” and “Back & Forth.” Finally, the drumming on “Walk” is heavy and hard, but it grooves hard too!

The sheer strength of the songs on Wasting Light, producer Butch Vig’s deft production skills, and the record making process is documented on the outstanding DVD called Back and Forth. The DVD also further reveals Taylor Hawkins’ (and Grohl’s) wicked sense of humor, brotherhood, personality, and the drive that fueled Wasting Light. In the Foo Fighters, and on Wasting Light Taylor Hawkins became one of the most important and influential rock drummers of the 21st Century. For an added sense of musical excitement watch the band perform this entire record live from Grohl’s studio on YouTube, it’s amazing. Advertisement

On the heels of Wasting Light came the subsequent Foo Fighters recordings Sonic Highways, Concrete and Gold, and Medicine at Midnight. Hawkins’ explosive drum parts, unbridled energy, presence, and creativity took excellent songs into the musical stratosphere. With every recording and tour the camaraderie of the groove became even stronger (if that’s even possible,) the Foo’s became more popular, and Taylor Hawkins’ drum influence grew even wider.

Taylor’s sheer love of music and joy of drumming infected everyone he met. If you had the opportunity to talk to him about music or his drumming influences you became instantly inspired. His first musical inspirations came from the film soundtracks of Star Wars, Superman, and King Kong. But it was a chance encounter with Queen’s News of the World LP that introduced Hawkins to his first drum hero, Roger Taylor. He often recalled appreciating the many styles and the garage-band rawness of early Queen, while admiring Roger Taylor’s deep groove, cool drumsets and vocal prowess. Soon the young Hawkins was playing along to Queen’s A Night at the Opera. Upon Taylor’s brother’s insistence, Stewart Copeland and The Police soon came to the forefront for the young drummer. We can all hear (and see) the influence of Copeland’s unbridled enthusiasm, and cross-stick laden upside-down sounding grooves in Taylor’s drumming. In a BBC interview Taylor stated, “Those are the two guys (Roger Taylor and Stewart Copeland) that shaped a lot of what I do when I play drums in a rock band.”

His musical tastes and playing in early bands included covering the popular music of the late 70’s and 80s like Tears for Fears, Haircut 100, and The Clash. As were the popular bands like Siouxsie and The Banshees and their drummer Budgie, The Romantics and their energetic singer-drummer Jimmy Marinos, Van Halen and U2. Of Alex Van Halen, Taylor states, “The thing about Alex, is that he just couldn’t not swing.” Of U2’s Larry Mullen Jr. Taylor recalls, “He just had a very creative drumming style in the way he played songs.” Advertisement

In an interview with Prog Magazine, Taylor talks about even more of his musical influences. The influence of The Beatles came later. Speaking of The Beatles, Taylor remarked, “The Sgt. Peppers album is perhaps the first really progressive album. That started it all, as far as I’m concerned.” When Taylor remembered Rush’s Exit… Stage Left he remarked, “I picked up so much from listening to Neil Peart. Taylor goes on to call Genesis’ Seconds Out “just amazing,” and calls Phil Collins, “An incredible drummer. Anyone who wants to be good on the drums should check him out – the man is a master.

Taylor’s humility and self-effacing attitude was refreshing, and his knowledge of rock drumming and rock music history was deep and inspiring. Every interview with Taylor Hawkins reveals Taylor and Dave revealing a new musical influence and another musical hero. What other rockers sing the praises of Abba and John Bonham in the same breath. The Bee Gees, The Who, the O Jay’s, Yes, Cameo, Prince… Their musical tastes know no boundaries which is so refreshing. On 60 Minutes, when Anderson Cooper asked Taylor about Queen, Grohl remarked that Taylor’s answer would take 60 hours (not 60 minutes.) But it wasn’t just with the famous interviewers, and big stages; Throughout his life, a chance meeting with another drummer often resulted in a bit of drum and music talk and an inspirational memory for a fan. And when Taylor lit up any room or stage (large or small) with that big smile, you knew he was inspired, and you were in for something special.

In the Foo Fighters, we heard musical soulmates Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl (and the rest of the band) grow into a force of nature that became the most important rock band of the 21st century. However, Taylor’s musical skills couldn’t be confined to just one band. Many members of The Foo Fighters (Grohl, Hawkins, Jaffe, Hester) played on Foo Fighter guitarist Chris Shiflett’s side-project Jackson United’s recording Harmony and Dissidence. This record is an undiscovered gem. Shiflett is a very good singer and songwriter. Jackson United leans slightly towards a more modern punk sound with strong pop sensibilities. Grohl plays on seven tracks, and Taylor is tearing it up on five songs. This record is an outstanding way to hear the stark drumming differences between Hawkins and Grohl’s playing, but more than that it’s just a really good record that is highly recommended to any Foo Fighter or Taylor Hawkins fans. Advertisement

Hawkins’ musical skills went far beyond the drumset. Taylor Hawkins was also a wonderful singer and songwriter as well. With the Foo Fighters, Taylor made his lead singing debut on an EP, singing a cover of Cream’s “I Feel Free,” he even played piano on the song “Summer’s End” from Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. Live, Hawkins would occasionally sing lead with the Foo Fighters, and when he did, the charisma of a good front-man oozed out of him. But it was his ebullient presence, and his grounded sense of groove ecstasy behind the drums that made him a very special and unique voice in drumming.

Perhaps the band that Taylor’s drumming and musical tastes were best represented was his own band Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders. This is shown on their three outstanding recordings. Their self-titled debut was a wakeup to anyone who thought that they had a handle on Taylor’s drumming and musical abilities. It displayed his progressive musical roots and the Yes, Genesis, and Rush influence to which Taylor often referred. Not to mention cover art that paid homage to The James Gang Rides Again. With Coattail Riders, Taylor’s songwriting skills, singing, lyrics, and drumming are impeccable. The hook-up between Hawkins and bassist Chris Chaney (that started in the Alanis Morrisette years) is strong and telepathic. Guitarist Gannin Arnold is a guitar whiz that can do anything. One listen to the tracks “Get Up I Want to Get Down,” “Pitiful,” and “Better You Than Me” proves that in any other time, The Coattail Riders would have been a primary major musical force to be reckoned with. This live performance from Japan is very special.

The second Coattail Riders recording entitled Red Light Fever continued a special musical brew that was (perhaps) a little more polished and owed a little bit more to a Queen influence than their “progier” debut. Maybe it was just a more evolved record, but it was outstanding none-the-less! Red Light Fever (a favorite expression of musicians expressing the anxiety that occurs when the record button is pressed at a recording session) included guests that were Taylor’s musical heroes like Brian May and Roger Taylor from Queen and Elliot Easton from The Cars. “Not Bad Luck,” “It’s Over,” and “Never Enough” are the standout songs from Red Light Fever but there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. Advertisement

Unfortunately, 2016’s Get the Money will be the last Coattail Rider recording, that really hurts to say because Taylor and his band had a lot to say and had huge potential. Get the Money is Taylor at his funkiest and poppy-est. It features Taylor Hawkins playing and singing with some great female singers and songwriters such as Chrissy Hynde, Nancy Wilson, and LeAnne Rimes, with an all-star supporting cast of musicians including Dave Grohl, Pat Smear, Roger Taylor, Joe Walsh, Perry Farrell, and Duff McKagan. I ask you to find another musician that has both country singer LeAnn Rimes and (Janes Addiction’s) Perry Farrell guesting on the same record, not to mention the fact that he tried to get singer Olivia Newton-John to appear as well. Yes, Taylor’s musical tastes were diverse and special.

Taylor also led a cover band around LA called Chevy Metal. Chevy Metal gigs were special events which often included special guest musicians.

One frequent guest was Taylor’s friend and drummer Stephen Perkins. In 2016, Taylor and Perkins actually played with original members of the Doors (John Densmore and Robbie Krieger) in a special tribute concert to the Doors Ray Manzarek, pictures of this gig are included in this article.

In 2014, Taylor took the members of his cover band Chevy Metal into the studio to record some songs that he had been working on. Apparently, the members of Coattail Riders weren’t available to record due to other commitments, so Taylor asked the members of Chevy Metal (bassist Wiley Hodgden and guitarist Mick Murphy) to record. The band and the record is called The Birds of Satan, and was rounded out by Foo Fighters Dave Grohl, Rami Jaffe, Pat Smear, and Yes vocalist (and boyhood friend) Jon Davison. At the risk of sounding repetitive, this is a really good band that deserved much more attention. Their music wasn’t as heavy as the band’s name might imply, and the songs are great. The music is melodic, catchy, and indescribable. But I’ll try… There are catchy and heavy Black Sabbath inspired guitar riffs that lead up to very Rush inspired orchestrated sections, and Van Halen type soloing. Some musical sections sound very Police-ish, and others sound like driving new wave pop such as The Tubes, The Vapors, XTC or the classic rock of the Faces. Some of the vocals sound like The Knack, The Cars, Alice Cooper or maybe even Don Henley or Rod Stewart. And yet, amazingly, it all works fantastically!!! I can’t think of many other musicians that could put together music like The Birds of Satan. I wish there was much more. Advertisement

In 2016 Taylor released his KOTA recording. There was no pomp, there was no hype, just a musician releasing some new music. KOTA was powerful, accessible, a little raw, and fun. Which are four words that you could also use to perfectly describe Taylor Hawkins. Somehow this release has me thinking of some of the forgotten and great pop music from the 90’s from Jellyfish, Toy Matinee, The Grays, and Geggy Tah. Taylor had nothing to do with these bands, but as a tribute to Taylor’s deep love of music, I mention these (unfortunately) forgotten bands. Fans of any of those bands need to check out KOTA.

In his career, Hawkins also recorded with Coheed and Cambria, Eric Avery, Kerry Ellis, and Slash. With Avery, Ellis, and Slash, Taylor’s drumming and musical approach was like the bands that we have previously discussed. However, his one recording with Coheed and Cambria shows Taylor Hawkins in possibly his most progressive oriented musical setting.

He was brought in to play drums on Coheed and Cambria’s No World for Tomorrow because their very talented drummer Chris Pennie (from Dillinger Escape Plan) was under contract elsewhere. This is probably Taylor’s most different recording of his career. The production is BIG, the drum sound is appropriately MASSIVE, and the music is immense and cinematic. I can only imagine that Coheed and Cambria’s similar sound to Rush with dramatic sonic soundscapes that are similar to Yes, must have really excited Hawkins. Listen to how he sets up the different sections in “The End Complete” and his support of the romping “On the Brink.” Taylor was an excellent choice for this band and this recording. Again, I wish there was more. Advertisement

Taylor was even commissioned to complete an unfinished recording of Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson called “Holy Man.” I heard Taylor mention once that he heard a whimsical Beach Boys component to Dave Grohl’s early vocals. I had never thought of that, and it struck me as odd. But upon Taylor’s keen observation, I went back and listened, he was spot on. He had such an ear for music which combined with his flip flops, his shorts, and his surf boards, made Taylor the perfect choice to complete Dennis Wilson’s song.

In 2021, Hawkins formed a band with Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney called NHC. Their recording is due out in 2022 and will obviously be a bitter-sweet and sad occasion for all. (Again,) we can only imagine what might have been.

With the Foo Fighters, Taylor was an integral part of a legendary band. Outside of The Foo Fighters, his side projects, and the recording sessions that Taylor Hawkins found himself leading or participating in, gained from his open musical attitude, and his one in a million musical skills. But they also showed his musical consistency and his strength in choosing and participating in high quality musical projects. Taylor Hawkins always impressed me as a musician who “just” wanted to live the dream of making and playing music for a living. Some musicians lean into the spotlight, and some of them avoid it. There are others who don’t seem to care about the attention or lack of attention that they get from their music, they just want to play, and have fun playing! Advertisement

Taylor had a deep love for music, that flame was ignited at a young age, and it never dulled. It seemed to me, that the drums were a part of that love of music, but it was the music and how drumming fit into the music that really excited him. Some of his musical outlets showed Hawkins’ interest in a more progressive and drumistic musical side, some spotlighted his lesser-known singing skills, some were based around Taylor’s songwriting skills, some showed his strong sense of groove, and some spotlighted his keen sense of creating perfect drum parts for good (or great) songs. But they ALL had a musical thread that held them together, that musical thread was the great Taylor Hawkins, a talented musician that we will all miss dearly.

Away from the stage and outside of the recording studio, Taylor Hawkins was just a good “dude” from Orange County, California. He was a surfer, a musician, a drummer, and most importantly a father, and a loving husband. His smile showed us that he knew he was one of lucky ones, and we are all lucky to have been witness to his music. Those of us who knew him are the luckiest of all. Taylor Hawkins is survived by his wife Alison and three children.

The entire Modern Drummer family sends our deepest condolences to Taylor’s entire family, Dave Grohl and the Foo family, The Coattail Riders and Chevy Metal families, his close friend Chad Smith and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the rest of Taylor’s musical family and friends in this most difficult time. Taylor Hawkins was 50 years old. Advertisement

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May 2022 Issue