Taylor Hawkins: Remembering Rock’s Most Infectious Musical Spirit and My Journey with the Foo Fighters

Words and Photos by Max Stewart

Hawkins in Atlanta at Shaky Knees Music Festival, October 2021, paying tribute to Charlie Watts

It is oftentimes difficult to make sense of life when someone you love passes away, especially in the months or years that follow after the initial shock has worn off. A memory or a moment you want to share with the person will pop in your head unexpectedly during the day, and for a second you forget they are gone… and then the pain of their passing comes all back. It can be confusing sometimes if you did not know the individual personally, but merely their contributions to the world. For Foo Fighters‘ drummer Taylor Hawkins, I suspect I am like many others that felt a kinship to him based on his excitable, positive spirit that always seemed to resonate in live shows and interviews.

When he passed away in March, we lost one of music’s brightest shining stars and it truly felt like I lost one of my good friends.

What always drew me to Taylor was how effortlessly badass he could be, all the while still having a childlike excitement for the fact that he was living out his rock star dream. He never seemed to forget how amazing that was. I was always a fan of the Foo Fighters, but my first real introduction to Taylor Hawkins was when I was 12 and my cousin showed me a video of Taylor and Dave Grohl doing an interpretation of Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway to Heaven” on the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn. Sure, it was kind of a goof with Grohl singing Jimmy Page’s iconic solo and him forgetting the lyrics, turning back to Taylor for help. But what really stood out to me was the brotherhood that him and Grohl clearly shared… and the fact that they were having a good time while playing. This was a time when it was not cool to be a rock musician who had fun onstage. It was 7-string guitar’d nu-metal bands, rich kids in leather jackets and a lot of pretense.

Watching this video with my cousin was such an uplifting and encouraging moment for a young, impressionable music fan. From the outside looking in, Taylor Hawkins was a blonde-haired Southern California kid having a blast playing some covers with his buddy Dave. Not to mention he laid down very impressive drums in such a laid-back style. Who was this guy? I had to know more.

After this video, I dove head first into my Foo Fighter fandom, and really got to love Taylor in the many interviews and articles I read. Hearing about him helping out Grohl when he got arrested on a scooter in Australia, watching the two bond in an interview before a pay-per-view performance in Atlanta (while the the audience of the show made a ‘T’ for Taylor), or even more recently seeing them guest host the Los Angeles radio show Jonesy’s Jukebox on KLOS, there was something magnetic about this dude that made him such a gravitating force.

It was always clear that Taylor was a fan first: he constantly shouted out or paid tribute to his rock idols of the Seventies and beyond. It was heartwarming seeing him geek out when playing award shows alongside heroes, or getting to play big festivals with bands he looked up to. So very relatable.

Because of Taylor, I really dug into Queen‘s catalog and got to know the genius of drummer Stewart Copeland and how we anchored The Police. When I finally got to see the Foo Fighters perform at Atlanta’s Music Midtown in 2004, I was completely blown away. T-Hawk soared high while carrying the band on his wings. Between thrashing tunes like “All My Life” or “Monkey Wrench,” Hawkins and Grohl kept the on-stage banter hilarious in a lineup that consisted of mostly overly-serious 2000s rock-metal crap. Taylor and Dave’s onstage chemistry continued to blossom over the years and the many performances I was so lucky to witness. Seeing two best friends play music together made me like them both and the band even more.

The Foo Fighters were clearly Dave Grohl’s band, but Hawkins seemed like a co-pilot.

Hawkins and Grohl singing Queen in Atlanta, GA (2018). Notice the Van Halen shorts, always a fan first!

After that night in 2004, I entered full immersion into all things Foo and Taylor. I tried to play drums but turns out I sucked, so I turned my attention to guitar. My friends and I (unsuccessfully) covered Foo Fighters songs in our little bands in high school, trying to mimic the coolness and comradery of the band (my first live singing performance I stumbled through was “My Hero”).

To me and a bunch of my high school friends with clippings of Guitar World and Rolling Stone on our walls, it felt like we were buddies with Taylor Hawkins, even though we had not come close to meeting him. He was the chill neighborhood buddy who had somehow made it. One of us.

Over the years, I was very fortunate as a fan to have some incredible experiences with the Foo Fighters. I was inspired by Taylor and his no-shame fanhood, always talking about Queen and Roger Taylor, and frequently covering their songs live. This gave me all the motivation I needed to fully embrace following the Foo Fighters. I bought all the albums and merchandise I could get my hands on. I followed intently as the band continued to grow in popularity with each album release.

After Taylor passed in March (a few days after my wife and I went to see the band’s horror movie in theatres for my birthday), it really did feel like I had lost someone in my inner circle. A few months has allowed me time to reflect on my fanhood and journey with the Foo over the last couple of decades, and the amazing times I got to enjoy thanks to Taylor and the band.

Some highlights of my Foo journey:

Taylor’s drumstick from 2003 Foo Fighters / Weezer show that was reviewed in Rolling Stone. Had to clip and keep the article.
Taylor smiling as I capture a blurry image of band at Sonic Highways premiere in Washington D.C
  • Catching Taylor’s Drumsticks: I caught two of Taylor Hawkins’ drumsticks at two separate shows. One at Foo Fighters / Weezer (“Foozer”) Tour in 2003 and the other at Hangout Music Fest in 2011.
  • Sonic Highways Screening in D.C.: I met Taylor at a screening of the Washington, D.C. episode of the HBO docuseries ‘Sonic Highways’ in 2014. Beforehand, as I was in the the back row of the theatre and the band watched the show, I snapped a picture behind me and only Taylor smiled. It made my night. He recognized my geeked-out excitement.
  • The Signed Wood of Studio 606: At that screening, I actually got a piece of wood siding from the band’s old studio (Dave Grohl’s old house that was remodeled in Alexandria, VA: Studio 606) autographed by the band. ‘Uhhh.. what?’ To clarify, I happened to know where the house was located when I was living in nearby D.C. thanks to a biography about the band that was recently released. I noticed it was being remodeled when I visited, so I picked up a thrown-away piece of wood amongst dozens in the dumpster as a keepsake. To me, it was like having a brick from Graceland. Years later, when the thought of getting the band to sign it at the screening entered my mind, I sprung at the opportunity. Dave mentioned this encounter of me asking him to autograph the wood on stage at a secret show in D.C. the next night. Unfortunately, someone who was not me claiming to be a realtor in the front of the stage took the credit. My parents ended up getting it framed for me for Christmas one year. Friends still give me crap for this one, but man I think it is badass.
  • Secret Foo shows in Washington D.C.:
    • 9:30 Club in 2014 for Big Tony’s (of Trouble Funk) birthday, happened to be one of first dates with my now wife. Taylor sang his fantastic “Cold Day in the Sun,” a highlight of any setlist.
    • The Black Cat in 2014 (the night after the above screening and wood incident). Taylor sang “Stiff Competition,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love,” “Miss You,” and “Under Pressure.” It was a party.
  • 20th Anniversary July 4th at RFK Stadium 2015: Seeing the Foo Fighters headline a full day on July 4th at RFK Stadium in D.C. for their 20th Anniversary alongside my wife and many friends, with a lineup that consisted of Buddy Guy, Heart, Trombone Shorty, LL Cool J, and many others.
  • Cal Jam 2018: At the Foo Fighters’ festival in Southern California, I got to see Taylor and the band headline the main stage, see some other great bands throughout the weekend (Tenacious D, Iggy Pop, Deer Tick), sit in the White Limo from the music video, and check out the Foo Museum on site! Twas a time.
  • Hangout Music Festival in 2011 in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the band filled in for Cee-Lo Green (who was late) during a day slot, performing covers (including “Darling Nikki”) before blowing it out for their headlining performance. Again, what a day.
  • Interviewing guitarist Chris Shiflett for his solo country album, West Coast Town. It took everything in me not to ask a million Foo Fighters questions.
  • Witnessing Taylor perform at I Am The Highway: A Tribute to Chris Cornell at the L.A. Forum in 2019, singing lead vocals on “The Day I Tried To Live” before performing with the full band as well. One of the heavier musical moments I have ever witnessed. I flew in from Atlanta to see this show.
  • Photographed two Foo Fighters shows in my hometown: Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta in 2018 (with Taylor singing “Under Pressure”) and Taylor’s final Georgia performance last year at Shaky Knees Music Festival in October 2021 (with Taylor singing “Somebody to Love”). Some of these photos are in the gallery at the end, and these will be shows that I will always treasure.
Hangout Music Festival poster with Taylor’s drumstick on top (with his signature Hawk logo showing under the tape)
Autographed wood from Studio 606, Alexandria, VA

So yeah, I am a fan. And I certainly recognize some of this fandom could be seen as a bit much. But I will always harken back to the interviews I read/saw with Taylor and how they would tour Europe and he would go out of their way to see a now-bakery where Queen once recorded and he would nerd-out over that. That was always my energy for the Foo Fighters.

My autographed wood of Studio 606 is no doubt my favorite item that I own. To me, it is made even more important because Studio 606 (in the basement of Dave Grohl’s Virginia house) is where Taylor came into his own in the band during the recording sessions for There is Nothing Left to Lose and One by One.

Watching Taylor’s obsessiveness over rock ‘n’ roll made me feel like I was not alone in my enthusiasm and energy for collecting, seeking out historical music locations on vacations, and generally freaking out about music. Especially in interviews like the one below where he described being surrounded by his music memorabilia collection as ‘comfort food.’ It totally made sense to me.

As I continued my fanhood journey as I got later in my twenties and early thirties, I really dug into some of Taylor’s music outside of the Foo Fighters as well, including The Coattail Riders, the amazing cover band Chevy Metal, and NHC (alongside Jane’s Addiction‘s Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney). All of this music carries his signature pure-of-spirit and unbridled energy. His voice was also superb, and he could get a stadium crowd amped up while hitting Freddie Mercury notes and not breaking a sweat. The man could really do it all.

Tribute shows for Taylor Hawkins in Los Angeles and London

There is absolutely a void in this world now that Taylor is not in it. Him coming to the front of the stage to sing was always a highlight of any Foo Fighters show, and it guts me to know we will never see him do it again. Or that we won’t see him shine his pearly white teeth at every perfect snare hit on the drums. Very glad that there will be star-studded tribute events for Taylor in Los Angeles and London; these will surely be joyous yet difficult nights of music.

I am so thankful for the time I got to enjoy watching Taylor Hawkins on this planet and the joy it brought me, my family, and friends. His unabashed passion for music made a massive impact on my life and inspired me to learn everything I could about music and turn my passion into Live Music Daily writing contributions, of which I am now the editor. I cannot wait for millions of fans in the years to come to have a similar journey, watching and listening to his many musical contributions and going down YouTube rabbit holes for hours to celebrate the charisma and coolness of Taylor Hawkins.

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