Remembering Taylor Hawkins

When Dave Grohl first met Taylor Hawkins, it was a relationship that was destined to last a lifetime. “The first time we met, we were at some radio show backstage, and he came up with a beer in his hand,” Grohl told Grunge magazine. “He’s like, ‘Hey, man, what’s up? I’m Taylor, I play with Alanis Morissette. Dude, I love your record, it’s so cool!’ He was such a spaz. I was like, ‘Wow, you’re either my twin or my spirit animal, or my best friend.” Whether it was the former or the latter doesn’t matter. 

The two became an extension of the other ever since Hawkins joined Foo Fighters in 1997 and sometimes wordlessly exchanged ideas that would take the band from a personal project to the biggest rock stars in the world. 

Oliver Taylor Hawkins’ death on Friday, 25 March 2022 has left the music industry empty. Looking back on his 25-year history with Foo Fighters, his legacy as one of rock’s most powerful drummers is only surpassed by the love shared with his loyal and doting frontman, Grohl. In a radio interview, both agreed that the reason they make the music they do together is because their musical foundation is built on their friendship. “When he joined the band, his drumming was the least important factor,” Grohl once said to NME. “I just thought I want to travel the world with this guy, I want to jump on stage and drink beers with this person.” 

When I met the band in 2014, Grohl took it upon himself to personally introduce me to his bandmates and when he got to Hawkins, he said, “And this is my little brother, Taylor. You might know him from a few Canadian projects he’s done.” Hawkins rolled his eyes and Grohl grinned, the two sharing what was obviously one of many cheesy moments before they launched into a full-bodied harmonised rendition of Elton John’s ‘Nikita’ for me. Hawkins told me that I smile like sunshine before whispering, “Your shirt button is undone.” 

Yes, I had met the Foo Fighters with my shirt slowly unravelling and all Hawkins did was gently tell me, and smile as I fixed it.

It was a brief yet telling meeting. Larger-than-life Grohl and his best friend, the unassuming master behind the drums, who came to life on the drum throne when their three-hour set began. The Johannesburg leg of the band’s Sonic Highways trout was a congregation of fans that have been on the journey since Grohl recorded the first Foo Fighters album solo in 1994 following the death of Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain. Grohl played the role of puppet master as Hawkins and he seamlessly and almost spiritually lifted each song out of their then eight-album catalogue and brought them to new life, along with bandmates Pat Smear, Nate Mendel, and Chris Shiflett. Their relationship was even more pointed as they performed covers of Queen and The Rolling Stones with Hawkins taking centre stage with Grohl on the drums. It was an experience to behold and an awakening for the crowd who bent to the band’s will with each song.

At the time of Hawkins’ death, of which the cause has not been established, the band was touring in Colombia, South America. They were due to play at the Festival Estéreo Picnic but following his death, the band’s slot was left empty with candles lit on stage to honour the drummer. Hawkins was said to have overdosed, according to journalists in Colombia but this has not been confirmed. He had a history of heroin addiction and overdosed in 2001 in an incident that left Hawkins in a coma for two weeks. He had described this incident as him having “taken it too far”. Grohl was on the verge of ending Foo Fighters and quitting music after Hawkins’ overdose, saying he equated music with death, especially after Cobain’s suicide. 

Before joining Foo Fighters, Hawkins had been prolific in his own right, having been Sass Jordan and Alanis Morrisette’s touring drummer but built his career around Foo Fighters and related acts such as The Holy Shits, Eagles of Death Metal, The Birds of Satan, Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders, and his own experimental project, Sylvia. Just last year, he formed a supergroup with Jane’s Addiction members Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney called NHC. The album was due to be released this year. His drumming style was very much influenced by Grohl himself but was energetic, powerful, and varied in technique. He did what served the song, bassist Mendel said in our interview for the Mail & Guardian in 2014. “He brings an energy that is unparalleled and fitting for every single song,” Mendel said, adding, “It’s like Dave and Taylor read each other’s minds sometimes and it’s magical to see how they work together.” 

The tousled, long-haired drumming genius from Lacuna Beach, California leaves behind his wife of 17 years, Alison and three children. But he has also left behind an entire generation of fans who have been left devastated by his death. Tributes from his compatriots have been testament not to just how influential he was in the music industry but how loved he was as a person.

Taylor Hawkins, thank you for the music. There goes my hero. Rest in peace.