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Obituary: Taylor Hawkins, Foo Fighters drummer whose energetic style of playing defined the band’s sound

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Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters performs onstage during the 2021 iHeartRadio ALTer EGO concert. Picture by Kevin Winter

Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters performs onstage during the 2021 iHeartRadio ALTer EGO concert. Picture by Kevin Winter

Taylor Hawkins, left, and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. Picture by Phil McCarten

Taylor Hawkins, left, and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. Picture by Phil McCarten

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Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters performs onstage during the 2021 iHeartRadio ALTer EGO concert. Picture by Kevin Winter

Taylor Hawkins, who has died in Bogota of a suspected heart attack aged 50, was drummer for a quarter of a century with the Foo Fighters, the acknowledged kings of stadium rock.

A former touring drummer for Alanis Morissette, Hawkins joined the band, led by frontman Dave Grohl, in 1997 after their original drummer William Goldsmith quit. “I didn’t know how long it was going to last,” Hawkins recalled. “Every year it was just, ‘Oh, I guess we’re going to keep going.’”

In fact he remained a band member for 25 years, played on eight albums, won 12 Grammy awards and was voted “Best Rock Drummer” in 2005 by the drumming magazine Rhythm. He co-wrote many of the band’s songs with Grohl, sang lead on occasions notably on Sunday Rain and fronted his own side project, Taylor Hawkins & the Coattail Riders.

His drumming, sharp, precise and phenomenally energetic, was influenced by the likes of Roger Taylor, Phil Collins and Neil Peart, and it became integral to the sound of the Foo Fighters’ pummelling but melodic rock’n’roll.

His evident talent was supplemented by the looks of a super-cool blond Californian surfer dude coupled with the strength and stamina of an athlete as, often stripped to the waist or in sleeveless T-shirts and Bermuda shorts, he reciprocated the mosh-pit energy of stadium fans with the sheer physicality of his performance. Hawkins, who was happily married with three children, was also generally regarded as the nicest member of the band.

But he also struggled with drugs. In 2001 he overdosed on heroin in London and was in a coma for two weeks. Grohl admitted that he had thought about disbanding Foo Fighters as a result: “When he woke up, I said, ‘Dude, I just want you to know, we’re not talking about the band until you’re ready.’ And we didn’t for a while.” 

In an interview in 2018 Hawkins denied being a “junkie per se”, explaining it had been simply a matter of the partying getting “a little too heavy”. He claimed, however, he had knocked the problem on the head.

The day after his death in a hotel room in Bogota, where he had been due to perform with the Foo Fighters Colombian authorities announced that a preliminary toxicology test indicated he had 10 substances in his system at the time of his death, including marijuana, antidepressants and opioids.

The youngest of three children, Oliver Taylor Hawkins was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on February 17, 1972, to Terry Hawkins, a businessman, and his wife Elizabeth. When Taylor was four the family moved to Laguna Beach, California.

“I wasn’t really anything spectacular at my school,” he told the Independent in 2019, “not the best at sports or anything like that. I was a chunky little kid, and then I found drums, and it became my defence mechanism against the world. It was like a badge of honour, my armour, and what really defined me.”

By his late teens he was working as a drummer-for-hire, playing in the Orange County experimental rock band Sylvia, and for Sass Jordan. From 1995 to 1997, he was Alanis Morissette’s drummer on the tour supporting her breakthrough album Jagged Little Pill.

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Taylor Hawkins, left, and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. Picture by Phil McCarten

Taylor Hawkins, left, and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. Picture by Phil McCarten

Taylor Hawkins, left, and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. Picture by Phil McCarten

Though Morissette was a bigger act than Foo Fighters at the time Hawkins regarded joining the band as a no-brainer: “I knew I liked the music and I wanted to be a part of it. I was going from band to band and doing whatever I could at that point just to keep working, and one of my favourite bands in the world was Foo Fighters.”

Being a member of a headlining stadium band was, however, extremely stressful. “I’m scared to death every time I get on stage,” he said in 2005.

In recent years Foo Fighters gigs often included a spot from Hawkins in which Grohl the former drummer with Nirvana would take his seat behind the drums while Hawkins sang versions of songs by his beloved Queen.

While remaining a full-time member of Foo Fighters, Hawkins played as a guest drummer with other artists, and had a number of side projects, most notably, from 2005, Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders. The name was an in-joke, trading on the notion that Hawkins was merely riding on Grohl’s coattails. They released three studio albums for which Hawkins, a gifted collaborator, roped in guest performers such as Roger Taylor and Brian May of Queen and Grohl among others. In 2021 Hawkins and his fellow Foo Fighters were inducted by Paul McCartney into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Taylor Hawkins wed his long-time girlfriend Alison in 2005. She and their three children survive him.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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