Taylor Hawkins knew where he was going. Aged ten, he was taken by his mother to see pomp rockers Queen at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in Orange County. It was love at first listen. “I knew that I wanted to be in a huge rock band,” he said. He only had to wait fifteen years before he was playing the arena himself, as the new drummer with Dave Grohl’s rising post-Nirvana outfit Foo Fighters.
Sadly, where Hawkins would end up is dead in a Bogotá hotel room,killed by a suspected heart attack at the age of 50while Foo Fighterswere on tour in South America. The band were due to perform at Colombia’s Estéreo Picnic festival on the day his body was discovered. Instead of being graced by Hawkins’ infectious and charismatic presence, the festival stage became a candle-lit shrine to this good dude team player.
Unsurprisingly, the band have cancelled all future dates, saying “The Foo Fighters family is devastated by the tragic and untimely loss of our beloved Taylor Hawkins. His musical spirit and infectious laughter will live with us forever.”
Equally unsurprising has been the outpouring of love and goodwill to one of rock music’s huge yet humble characters, a gregarious collaborator who made friends wherever he went,who rocked the Californian beach bum look with aplomb, but was confident and ambitious enough to volunteer himself as the drummer in a band fronted by Grohl, who had occupied Nirvana’s drumstool at the peak of their powers.
No less a legend than Sir Paul McCartney testified on Twitter that “not only was he a GREAT drummer but his personality was big and shiny and will be sorely missed by all who were lucky to live and work alongside him”, adding “I was asked by the Foo Fighters to play on one of their tracks. It turned out that they wanted me to play drums on one of Taylor’s songs. This request came from a group with TWO amazing drummers!”
Even cursory contact with Hawkins could elevate the listener. He exuded good vibrations, with his Animal-from-The-Muppets exuberance, generosity and humour. Last summer, he toured with an image of Bee Gees frontman Barry Gibb on his bass drum in honour of the Bee Gees covers album, Hail Satin, which the Foos recorded as the Dee Gees for Record Store Day. It was fated to be the last album featuring Hawkins to be released before his sudden death.
He was born Oliver Taylor Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas to parents Terry and Elizabeth Ann but grew up in Laguna Beach, Orange Country, California, graduating high school in 1990. A childhood gift of a drumkit had already set him on his chosen path and there was no shortage of role models. Phil Collins provided a benchmark for any aspiring singer/drummer; Neil Peart of Rush brought the power and the pomp. But his main touchstones were classic rock players Roger Taylor of Queen and Stewart Copeland of The Police.
Hawkins initially joined some local groups, playing with prog rockers Sylvia, but he moved into a different league in the mid-Nineties as touring drummer for Alanis Morissette (“an amazing boss”) while she rode the wave of her mega-selling Jagged Little Pill album.
Immersed in the arena touring circuit, Hawkins soon crossed paths with Dave Grohl, then picking out his post-Nirvana path as the frontman for melodic grunge rockers Foo Fighters. The band was at a commercial tipping point, preparing to release blockbuster second album, The Colour and the Shape. But they were having drummer trouble. Grohl sought his new buddy’s advice on who should replace original Foos drummer William Goldsmith – Hawkins happily volunteered himself and the Foo Fighters found their ideal match.
Grohl has described their friendship as a brotherly love at first sight. “Our bond was immediate,” he wrote in his 2021 memoir The Storyteller. “Together, we have become an unstoppable duo, onstage and off, in pursuit of any and all adventure we can find.” The adventure briefly soured when Hawkins overdosed on heroin in 2001. Grohl was so troubled by his friend’s hospitalisation that he wrote Foos track On the Mend as a “love song to my dying best friend”.
In contrast to his low-key bandmates Nate Mendel and Chris Shiflett, Hawkins needed little encouragement to step out front, singing lead vocals on a couple of Foo Fighters songs – Cold Day in the Sun and Sunday Rain – and regaling concert audiences with classic rock cover versions from Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar to Cream’s I Feel Free. Appropriately, his last live cover, performed at the Lollapalooza Argentina festival, was Queen’s Somebody to Love.
Queen guitarist Brian May paid tribute to Hawkins, saying “you were family to us”. Among numerous collaborations with his idols, Hawkins played on May’s 1998 solo album Another World and with Roger Taylor on completing an unfinished track, Holy Man, by his natural forebear, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson.
Hawkins was a serial collaborator, playing in recent times with Miley Cyrus and on Elton John’s Lockdown Sessions. Despite describing his singing voice as “not exactly Pavarotti, a bit scratchy”, he released three albums fronting Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders between 2006 and 2019 and made good use of his Foo Fighters downtime in Police covers band The Cops, rock covers group Chevy Metal and pandemic jam band NHC, formed with Jane’s Addiction members Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney, a bandmate from his Alanis Morissette days. Their album is slated for release later this year.
Hawkins is survived by his wife Alison and three children.
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