Remembering Taylor Hawkins: 10 great performances
In joining the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins had the unenviable responsibility of taking over for Dave Grohl behind the drum kit, and rose to occasion time and time again. In the nearly 25 years since, Hawkins created a wonderfully rich musical legacy all his own, both with the Foos and other collaborators. Hawkins died suddenly on March 25 in Bogota, Colombia, at the age of 50, just hours before Foo Fighters were scheduled to headline the Estereo Picnic festival. Variety looks back at 10 highlights from his remarkable career.
“You Oughta Know” (Alanis Morissette, “The Late Show With David Letterman,” 1995): Hawkins’ big break was joining Alanis Morissette’s live band just as her album, Jagged Little Pill, was exploding. Her national TV debut with David Letterman perfectly captures the proverbial lightning in an oh-so-mid-’90s bottle. Hawkins’ signature bleached-blonde hair is about the only splash of color on the set as Morissette seethes her way through this arresting performance, turbo-charged by the drummer’s thunderous snare hits and total dynamic command.
“Stacked Actors” (Foo Fighters, There Is Nothing Left To Lose, 1999): Hawkins first joined the Foos in the studio for their third album, following the departure of original drummer William Goldsmith in 1996. His power and versatility is instantly apparent on album opener “Stacked Actors,” as he shifts effortlessly from the light, cymbal-heavy swing of the verses to the huge, Zeppelin-y groove of the choruses. This is one of the more Nirvana-sounding songs in the Foos’ catalog from this early era, but Hawkins proves there’s still plenty of fertile ground to explore in that vein.
“Cold Day in the Sun” (Foo Fighters, In Your Honor, 2005): This breezy, acoustic guitar-led tune features Hawkins’ best lead vocal with the Foos—a winning combination of late period-Replacements and “Dead Flowers”-ish Stones. Hawkins had written the music several years prior to the album sessions and it wound up fitting perfectly on the second side of the half-loud, half-mellow In Your Honor. “Cold Day in the Sun” was also a staple of the Foos’ concerts, giving Hawkins the opportunity to play frontman for a few, smile-inducing minutes each night.
“Skin and Bones” (Foo Fighters, Skin and Bones (Live), 2006): There aren’t many mournful, country shuffles in the Foo Fighters canon, but in Hawkins’ capable hands, Skin and Bones conjures a refreshingly different side of the band on this live LP taped at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theatre. Rarely will you hear Hawkins playing this quietly and economically, until he can’t resist kicking in with full force for the last 21 seconds.
“Rock and Roll” (Foo Fighters with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, Wembley Stadium, 2008): In a scene straight out of a rock ‘n’ roll fever dream, Hawkins essentially fronted Led Zeppelin when that band’s Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones joined the Foos for a cover of “Rock and Roll” in front of 85,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium. With Grohl living out his own childhood fantasies subbing in for John Bonham on drums, Hawkins more than credibly acquits himself vocally on this classic, hitting just enough vintage Robert Plant high notes and saving the biggest one for the very end, as the crowd loses its ever-loving minds.
“Your Shoes” (Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders, Red Light Fever, 2010): Hawkins showed off his unabashed love for Cheap Trick-style power-pop and Queen-level arena rock pomp on the debut album with solo project the Coattail Riders. With its harmonized guitar leads, boogie rhythms and theatrical backing vocals, “Your Shoes” is the sound of a rock ’n’ roll lifer having a grand old time, on his own time.
“Rope” (Foo Fighters, Wasting Light, 2011): As heavy of a hitter as Hawkins was, he also excelled on the Foos’ more left-of-center, rhythmically obtuse songs. He’s a swinging metronome on the verses of “Rope,” a ride cymbal artisan in the choruses and a hard-rock powerhouse on the wicked outro jam. This song also showcases Hawkins’ intuitive interplay with bassist Nate Mendel, their sturdy rhythm section the understated backbone of the band.
“2112: Overture” (Foo Fighters with Rush, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, 2013): Hawkins was hugely influenced by The Police’s Stewart Copeland and Queen’s Roger Taylor, but he was also happily indebted to Rush’s Neil Peart, whose virtuosity and precision were key elements of Hawkins’ own style. When the Foos inducted Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, Hawkins and Grohl donned ‘70s-era kimonos and wigs as they performed the “Overture” from Rush’s legendary prog-rock opus 2112. One could easily imagine the pair in similar getups as they taught themselves how to rock in their teenaged basements, learning from the masters they’d one day come to call peers.
“Run” (Foo Fighters, Concrete and Gold, 2017): Many fans wish the Foos would write heavier songs in the vein of the band’s 1995 self-titled debut, so when infrequent moments like that pop up in their modern-day work, it’s cause for celebration. “Run” has one of the more punishing metal grooves in the Foos’ catalog, a speaker-rattling, head-banging delight on which Hawkins positively astounds.
“Holding Poison” (Foo Fighters, Medicine at Midnight, 2021): This cut from the Foos’ most recent, Grammy-nominated studio album is another showcase for Hawkins doing a little bit of everything in the name of a killer groove—arms aloft-worthy kick drum blasts to center the beat, snare fusillades to turn it upside down and even what sounds like a little sprinkle of cowbell for good measure. As always, Hawkins makes it.