To steal a show from Dave Grohl, you need to be one of the greats. And Taylor Hawkins, who died today (March 26) from unknown causes, aged just 50, did it nightly. When Hawkins, having already proved himself amongst the best drummers in rock – as you’d need to be to drum with Foo Fighters for 25 years – would descend from his kit, turn frontman and own stadiums with barnstorming covers of Queen hits or one of his Foo Fighters songwriting contributions such as ‘Cold Day In The Sun’, it was no novelty sideshow to the main gig but the spirit of the band let fly. If Grohl embodies the play-all-night dedication of the Foos, Hawkins encapsulated how much fun they had doing it.
Though Foo Fighters were already two albums old when Hawkins arrived for the third, 1999’s ‘There Is Nothing Left To Lose’, he swiftly became the relatable life and soul of the band, key to both its tight family dynamic – he and Grohl were clearly very close from the off – and its essence. Foo Fighters are a band that rock hard but not too seriously, and a group borne of the cheery drummer of a world-beating rock band proving himself as frontman and songwriter. In both senses, Hawkins was the Foos.
Born Oliver Taylor Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas in 1972, Hawkins grew up in Laguna Beach, California. A fan of the classic rock of Queen, The Police, Rush, The Beatles and Genesis, he was inspired to take up the sticks by Roger Taylor and Stewart Copeland and drummed along to records by Siouxsie And The Banshees, Derek And The Dominos and Queen to hone his skills. “My dream was to sing and look like Roger Taylor and play drums like Stewart Copeland,” he told NME in 2016.
Taylor earned his dues in Orange County bands including Sylvia and by backing British Canadian singer Sass Jordan before joining Alanis Morissette’s band in 1995. When Grohl fell out with Foos drummer William Goldsmith in 1997 during the recording of second album ‘The Colour And The Shape’, going on to re-record most of the drums on the record himself, he thought his friend Hawkins would be too happy playing with Morissette to join the Foos, until Taylor, by his own account, phoned him up and told him “I’m your drummer – that’s it”.
From there Hawkins became a pivotal figure in Foo Fighters, co-writing some of their biggest hits including ‘Learn To Fly’, ‘All My Life’ and ‘Best Of You’ and taking lead vocals on ‘Sunday Rain’, his aforementioned self-penned ‘Cold Day In The Sun’ and the heading up the band’s covers of Pink Floyd, Cream and Joe Walsh tunes. His amiable attitude and immersion in the music helped define the band’s brand of approachable rock’n’roll enthusiasm, even though his partying tendencies sometimes got the better of him – in 2001 he suffered a drug overdose and was in a coma for two weeks after “this guy gave me the wrong line with the wrong thing one night and I woke up going, ‘What the fuck happened?’ That was a real changing point for me.”
Taylor’s side projects further illuminated his personality, naming his solo band Taylor Hawkins And The Coattail Riders for three albums between 2006 and 2019 and forming a rock covers band called Chevy Metal, which would morph into The Birds Of Satan for a 2014 album.
Fans and fellow musicians alike were drawn to him; he worked with a wide array of huge names including Slash, Ozzy Osbourne, Brian May, Chrissie Hynde and Joe Walsh, sang backing vocals with his heroes Queen on 2008’s ‘C-lebrity’ and formed supergroups with Roger Taylor and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith (dubbed SOS Allstars, for Live Earth 2007) and Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney (NHC, 2021, described as “somewhere between Rush and The Faces”). His magnetic persona even saw him cast as Iggy Pop in the 2013 biographical punk club drama CBGB.
Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, and many others, praised Taylor’s “spirit” in their tributes, and that’s how he’ll be most remembered – as the epitome not just of Foo Fighters’ celebratory attitude to rock’n’roll but the exhilaration of musical fandom too. Rest assured: as long as Foo Fighters endure, Taylor Hawkins will be in the band.