DRUM SONGS ARE HARD
Robert Plant had John Bonham keeping time like no other drummer before or since. Led Zeppelin couldn’t exist without his singular talent.
The Who? A band driven by one-in-a-billion Keith Moon, but a completely different entity without him behind the drums.
Rush has Neil Peart dispensing complex beats identically every performance. When he retires soon, their touring future will end.
Not just run-of-the-Ringo time keepers, but irreplaceable secret weapons that transform great bands into the truly epic.
But what if you lost your drummer and what you needed was… a carbon copy behind you pounding the skins? Someone as wild, as hairy, as prolific? An expert at making drum songs infused with endlessly rambunctious energy and catchy hooks?
Dave Grohl ran into this problem in 1997.
After establishing himself as the best drummer in arena rock with Nirvana, Grohl had played every instrument on the 1995 debut of his new project Foo Fighters.
For the follow-up, a full band vibe became necessary. He tried to tutor Sunny Day Real Estate’s William Goldsmith in the Grohl school of drumgoddery, but ended up rerecording every drum part for The Color and the Shape himself. Goldsmith quit soon after.
If Grohl wanted to be a Cobain-level rock hero cranking his guitar as a screaming front man, he needed a partner-in-crime replacing him on drums with an identical vision. A shaggy, precisely manic take on Keith Moon backing Motorhead, a brother-with-arms yearning to create lighthearted Van Halen-type jams on the fly.
But Grohl couldn’t just go and hire his only equal in the music industry, Animal from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. The bushy eye-browed Muppet is a little too perfect a choice for Foo Fighters. Besides, an infamous drum-off ended in a tense stalemate…
Luckily, California-raised Taylor Hawkins fit the bill perfectly. His sunny presence solidified the ‘Foos lineup. With Nate Mendel, Pat Smear and others, Foo Fighters have been the most prolific and perennial rock hit makers of the last twenty years.
And Hawkins brought a personality almost identical to Grohl’s, a musical doppleganger of sorts, even contributing hard-to-distinguish guest vocals on a Foo Fighters cover of Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar.”
SIDE PROJECTS UP THE YING YANG
The Who, Cheap Trick, Queen, and AC/DC are pillars of hook-driven classic rock and sell millions of albums. Foo Fighters write perfect pop songs that happen to rock hard. They are eternal staples of alternative and rock radio. ANDERSON frickin’ COOPER even grilled them for their secret recipe…
Grohl and Hawkins obviously adore infinite influences from their boyhood, but probably don’t have time to squeeze them all into Foo Fighters releases. So like Green Day has Foxboro Hot Tubs making secret tunes with relatively the same lineup, Hawkins keeps coming up with musical projects that extend on the Foos’ love of crunchy pop rock.
While Taylor Hawkins is the ringleader in many of these forays, Grohl and exciting guest stars show up suddenly like Lemmy does in the “White Limo” video…
A deep dive into any project by Hawkins brings endless joy.
First up was the home recorded Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders in 2006. Opening track “Louise” has a wicked bed of drums throughout…
The star-studded second album under this moniker is pretty special, 2010’s Red Light Fever. Side one is packed with catchy nuggets and cameos by Roger Taylor and Elliot Easton. Brian May even contributes guitar expertise and Queen’s signature layered harmonies in “Not Bad Luck.”
Then The Birds of Satan came along in 2014. The most consistent of these side projects opens with a 9-minute rock opera complete with more Queen guitars and vocal pyrotechnics. Hawkins makes like Thin Lizzy covering “Jesus of Suburbia” with extra splashes of Night Ranger. And “Raspberries” is sprinkled with awesome Bun E. Carlos drum fills…
Three tracks from Sound City: Real to Reel [606 sessions] are the icing on the cake. Hawkins plays drums on tracks with Lee Ving, Rick Springfield, and Rockin’ the Suburbs favorite Stevie Nicks…
A solo EP KOTA is a juicy cherry on the sundae. The video for “Range Rover Bitch” is pure hilarity. Hawkins finds himself stuck in a surreal sequel to a famous Queen video…
Track this side of music down. A deep dive is like traveling to a record store behind Willie Wonka’s candy factory and finding a collection of fizzy bubble-gummy classic rock ditties. While Grohl’s lyrics often tackle universal themes, Hawkins shares fly-on-the-green-room-wall tales on a narrow scale. Each song is a little rock star coming-of-age moment, eye-opening slices of Hawkins’ wild life.
His word choice even in song titles – “Thanks for the line” or “Too far gone to see” or “I’ve got some not being around you today” — feels more akin to Cameron Crowe movie quotes than the repetitive affirmation choruses preferred by Grohl in Foo Fighters.
But these hairy boys will definitely grow old together as long as they meet every once in a while to cover their favorite rawk tunes.
Hawkins even has a cover band called Chevy Metal. I wonder if they do any Chevrolet songs. Here Grohl joins the party…
Foo Fighters still make the best videos. Here’s the most recent for “Run”…
Grohl is a hard talent to replace, even when he contributes guest drumming for other bands like Queens of the Stone Age. It reached a peak on 2014’s …Like Clockwork where Grohl drives the best tracks. Here’s a live festival clip of him backing their biggest success “No One Knows.”
Next time on the RTS Musings channel:
What about the voice of Geddy Lee? How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?
Well, I know him, and he does.