Drummers are a paradox. They don’t necessarily crave the limelight, yet the drum kit has the ability to overpower every other instrument onstage. Perceived as engaging in the primal act of hitting things with sticks, it all appears rather primitive and simplistic. And without melody or harmony to their instrument, they are often considered the least ‘musical’ of the band. However, the complex rhythmic calculations happening within milliseconds in the drummer’s brain are enough to intimidate any maths major.
Drummers are often the unsung heroes of any musical group. As part of the background, but the indespensible backbone. And that’s usually how they like it. This explains why there is a strong fraternal love between drummers in the music industry. A connection that isn’t as strongly felt between bassists, guitarists or singers across genres.
The death of Taylor Hawkins reverberated through the rock scene this week. At the young age of 50, his mastery of the craft left an indelible mark on modern rock and roll. Foo Fighters have been faithfully carrying the torch from a bygone era, and Taylor Hawkins has been the beating heart at the centre of it.
When learning an instrument, one of the best ways to improve is to emulate the masters. Find any drummer today above the age of 25, and I guarantee that at some point in their musical journey, a Foo Fighters song was on their list (myself included).
While Dave Grohl was the mastermind behind the original recordings, Hawkins injected his own personality into distinctive beats from the get-go. From the unmistakeable and unrelenting toms on “My Hero” to the sixteenth hats on “Everlong”, all the way through to “All My Life”, “The Pretender” and “Shame”, learning such drum riffs enabled us to gain an understanding of the fundamental 4/4 rock feel. Hawkins always had an incredible ability to play something relatively simple, yet undeniably him. There was just an enthusiasm and energy in his playing that every drummer wished to capture in their playing.
Even as music trends evolved, Foo Fighters remained a comforting constant. In an age of nauseating hyperpop, capricious Tik Tok trends, and narcissistic rapper and celebrity scandals, these heroes of the post-grunge era carried their torch well into the 21st Century. Putting on a Foo Fighters record always felt like slipping on a well-worn pair of Doc Martens – familiar, a little edgy, a little worse for tear, but dependable and still kind of made you feel like a badass.
That drummers from all genres shared their grief this weekend is testament to the brotherly love drummers share. From Hawkins’ personal heroes such as Queen’s Roger Taylor, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, and of course The Beatles’ Ringo Starr, to his contemporaries such as Rage Against The Machine’s Brad Wilk and Muse’s Dom Howard, to the next generation of drummers such as Paramore’s Zac Farro, Bring Me The Horizon’s Matt Nicholls and jazz prodigy JD Beck, his passing reverberated through the rhythm section of the entire music industry.
Particularly touching was contemporary and frequent collaborator Butch Vig of Garbage fame. He shared a poignant anecdote on Hawkins’ technical prowess and pure love of the craft of drumming.
Taylor Hawkins had an indomitable spirit and energy. As much known for his wide grin, flapping hair and flailing limbs as his technical skill behind the kit, Foo Fighters will never be the same. It wouldn’t be surprising if they choose to never fill his position.
Hawkins’ presence was more than musical. It was a true spiritual connection with Grohl and his other bandmates spanning almost three decades. It’s rare to see such a consistent and inspiring presence in any industry. Ultimately, it wasn’t just drummers, but everyone who loves music who lost a brother this week.
Rest in Beats, Taylor Hawkins