Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Taylor Hawkins

“The song is over, I’m left with only tears. I must remember, even if It takes a million years.”

Our very last show here on the last tour was a charity event. A not-large benefit for Teen Cancer America, which has been done a few times before with Roger and also The Who. On the bill were Kenny Loggins, Pink, and Foo Fighters. The last drummer to play before us on that show was Taylor Hawkins. As you’ll see in the blog I posted about that night, he was SO excited to meet Bill Curbishley, longtime Who manager – but bands’ managers are certainly not something a normal “music fan” would be likely to know. Taylor went deep into things he loved.

More than anyone in their group, Taylor was a Who fan. He’d been along when Foo Fighters and others “saluted” The Who at UCLA for the VH1 Rock Honors event long ago. He had that bright, visible energy, and I remember seeing girls backstage swooning over the shirtless Hawkins doing his thing on the drums; he was attractive in all ways, and it opened doors beyond his superb musicianship. His personal charm AND musical talent put him right there with John Bonham and Keith Moon – something Taylor would laugh at; but so many would agree. And from what I know of all three, Bonham and Moon had such exceptional drumming qualities, but you’d much rather spend weeks and months stuck in a room with Taylor.

He was a music nerd, like many of us in this world (musicians and fans) who are really encyclopaedic about music we grew up with. Obsession is a somewhat negative term, but its apropos for the state – you devour music, learning about it, listening to it, studying album covers and credits, the players involved. It’s not that unusual, but Taylor was the next-step beyond. He was such a music fan that even when he was playing to millions of people a year with the Foos, he continued to play cover songs, a side band called Chevy Metal and his own Police tribute band. He’d play local fairs, corner bars, anyplace that would host them. You can find these bands on YouTube, and it’s a fascinating look at a top-level pro musician STILL doing music just for the fun. I can think of very few examples who have essentially no ego about their status, which was certainly significant in this case. Not in The Who, Zeppelin, U2, Macca, Stones, Rush etc – no local bars hangouts and regular shows. There is great joy in music, as we know, but to indulge it on all levels – just for the fun – is a rare treat and a sign of someone not concerned with fame or adulation. Although the Foo Fighters shows are high-level performances (the band is tight and powerful) even their stadium shows retain that element of sharing with the fans. They often bring out guest stars – mainly the music celebrities they grew up loving – who are now pleased to be invited to join in with this hip modern group. Alice Cooper, Paul Stanley, David Lee Roth, Brian Johnson, Billy Idol, etc. Like The Who, they don’t take themselves so seriously, don’t worry about being seen as special: They want to relate to the crowd, and do that so well. I think it’s one reason live shows from both our bands are so enduringly popular. Ten years ago, Taylor asked me to start a side-project band with him, and found a bass player and jammed some, but never went further as the Foo Fighters got busy promoting their Sound City film. (See it and their new horror movie, Studio 666, for some enjoyable hours.)

Their band is a songwriter/guitar-based hard rock outfit, with huge dynamics built into the form. Sound familiar? Their music is not like The Who, but there’s another similarity – a strong drummer’s component that is essential. With our Keith, Kenney, Simon, and Zak – there’s was always a strong drumming aspect to the show, it’s key. And it makes the show better – and a Foo Fighters show (as cool as the others definitely are) has become a “Dave and Taylor” show to most fans. Taylor even got to sing a bit every show, partly to let Dave relax and play drums.

Taylor and I met in Japan, the year before he joined Foo Fighters. He was a really cool guy (as we know now) and we became instant friends. He was with Alanis Morrisette then, the hottest thing on MTV and radio that year, but he was unknown to almost everyone. That first night we met, we stayed up all night and talked about Queen. I asked him some tough Queen trivia questions – and he knew the answers easily. I said that I knew only four people as deep as we were into that band, one of whom being Pat Smear/Foo Fighters, who he had also met. (I even took photos of us that night – just ’cause he made an immense impression, and it turns out the Foos also took photos the first day they met him – he stood out instantly as someone special.)

A few months later, I went to see the Foos film a video for ‘Monkey Wrench’ and they told me they had a new drummer, Taylor. “Finally, you guys have picked someone who will make people forget that Dave is a drummer . . .” I said. True. It worked just like that. On their first tour, with William Goldsmith on drums, almost everyone said “Why is Dave playing guitar and singing?” but once the blonde bomber joined, that conversation almost completely dried up forever. We love Dave on drums, but we don’t mind him not playing if THAT other guy is on the skins…

And so it was for the last show we did together – as I mentioned on our blog – many of our team were just watching Taylor back there. As we get with Zak, a fine drummer is a Work Of Art. A thing to be admired for the look and style as much as the sound. Musical punctuation and seasoning, plus it is that animalistic thing that drums can be; raw power and grace, like so many of the drummers Taylor admired. There is a BBC Radio 6 Taylor Hawkins Drumming Masterclass video; possibly one of the best ways to experience him.

Note: The BBC hasn’t done a drummer special with U2 or Metallica, AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Radiohead etc – yet this guy gets one. If you watch his face in interviews and onstage, Taylor is not cocky or overconfident; he was somehow still a boy, hoping to please people and do well. He knows he is good, really good, but not full of himself, quite the opposite – and he worked hard to get there. See his body language in that BBC special – he’s present and eagerly friendly, but not a rockstar vibe, literally ZERO attitude. He says “I’m not cool” and “I’m not THAT good…” – he was actually incredible, but he felt normal to himself. Just a guy who loves music and his favorite drummers; Roger Taylor/Queen, Stewart Copeland/Police, Stephen Perkins/Jane’s Addiction, Neil Peart/Rush, Budgie/Souixie and the Banshees, Don Henley of The Eagles, and certainly Cozy Powell and John Bonham – also two of Zak Starkey’s favorites. You can see here that nothing matters to Taylor but music itself – except his lovely wife Alison and his three children. He loved being a good husband and a dad.

I know several people who consider Taylor a “best friend”, but essentially no one can compare to Dave Grohl’s connection, more than 25 years closely together. I cannot imagine the feelings in Taylor’s family, the band/crew, and the fans. The Who fans know the feeling too well – losing a special drummer when things should still be moving forward. Not just any musician/drummer, as you know, it’s THAT guy – no one else. A hole that can never really be filled. Ever. (I’m sitting here thinking “it’s lame trying to explain how special someone was, to encapsulate what he meant to people” which may be true, but I’m trying here.)

Hello to our dearest Isobel Webb, of our previous crew – many of you probably met her on our tours’ VIP experiences. She is one of those intense English Foo Fighter fans that know every word. Having been next to her at their shows, I can verify that she is representative of millions who have had a peak life experience at their concerts. You know the feeling. I hope someday they can do something again, someday, but I really cannot even imagine it.

When John Entwistle died, our longtime guitar roadie Alan Rogan told me “All we can ask is ‘Was it a life well-lived?’. . . Yeah!!!” So true for The Ox, but as much so for Taylor. What a life, so sorry to not have you here for the rest of ours.

Thank you Taylor. A life well-lived.

Onward . . .