In announcing the cancellation of all tour dates this week following the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins, Foo Fighters stated that this is a time to “grieve, to heal, to pull our loved ones close”.
The passing of Hawkins (a preliminary forensic medical study found traces of 10 drugs in the drummer’s urine) has likely hit Foo Fighters singer and founder Dave Grohl extra-hard for multiple reasons. First off, the former Nirvana drummer has been down this dark road before, losing bandmate Kurt Cobain to drug-related suicide in 1994.
As a fellow timekeeper, Grohl seemed to have an extra special bond with Hawkins, who publicly described the alt-rock founding father as a big-brother figure and often acted as his foil during interviews. Then (in what’s guaranteed to make anyone who bought Bleach on its release day feel extra-old) there’s the fact that the two had a 23-year-history with Foo Fighters.
Once the wounds caused by the loss of Hawkins start to heal, the big question will be who picks up the sticks as Foo Fighters move forward.
It’s well-documented that Grohl—who first surfaced behind the drums at age 17 with Washington, DC punk band Scream—has a serious love of early North American punk and hardcore.
When Foo Fighters first formed, Grohl enlisted former Germs guitarist Pat Smear as his right-hand man. After quitting the group in 1997, Smear eventually rejoined in 2005, and remains part of the band today.
Fear frontman Lee Ving, meanwhile, has not only been known to join Foo Fighters onstage, but also made an in-studio appearance in the band’s 2013 documentary Sound City. And Grohl lists not only Minor Threat as one of the bands that changed his life, but also D.R.I., and Naked Raygun.
Given his obsession with punk's past, one might rightly assume that, when he’s ready to move Foo Fighters forward, Grohl might seriously think about reaching back into time. Here are four of first-wave punks’ most legendary drummers, with three of them, at the moment, seeming somewhat underemployed.
All of them (sorry Robo!) have skills and chops that Grohl himself would be hard-pressed to match—that being every bit the compliment that it sounds like.
C.V.: Circle Jerks, Redd Kross, Bad Religion, L.A.s Wasted Youth
From the number of bands he’s listed as playing with on his Wikipedia page, Lucky Lehrer sounds like one of the busiest guys in rock not named Johnny Marr. Do some digging though, and it seems like he was in Bad Religion for a quick soy no-whip latte, and it’s debatable whether he ever made it beyond the practice space with Redd Kross.
The sole reason then he’s often credited as being the Godfather of Hardcore drumming? That would be his nothing less-than-fucking-devastating work with the Circle Jerks, especially on the band’s deservedly iconic debut Group Sex. While punk made Lehrer famous, he credits jazz legends like Buddy Rich for shaping him as a musician. The best compliment one might give the Godfather of Hardcore drumming then? That would be it’s hard to imagine an in-his-prime Rich being able to faithfully replicate Lehrer’s work on “Red Tape”.
While busy behind the scenes as a drum teacher since the Circle Jerks, Lehrer's mostly kept a low-profile as a working musician, reportedly most at home on jazz stages these days.
It’s not like he needs the money—in addition to having a law degree, he owns a high-end eyewear store in Chatsworth, California. But Foo Fighters are looking for a tireless workhorse with A-list punk credentials, Lehrer’s fits both criteria. He also has a history with Smear, whom he played with in the post-Germs Darby Crash Band. And, as an added bonus, who better to help Grohl nail every one of the exhausting 56 seconds of “Red Tape”.
C.V.: Fear, Nina Hagen, Lydia Lunch, Dick Dale
Like Lucky Lehrer, Spit Stix—seems to have worked with a variety of acts while only being truly associated with one of them. So while the man known to his fellow composers, jingle writers, and soundscape artists at Tim Leitch has supposedly survived being on the same tour bus as Lydia Lunch, he’s best known as the human locomotive behind the kit of Fear’s completely essential The Record. Stix knows when to stick to a groove and let the singer shine—which explains his metronome-like precision on “I Love Livin’ in the City”. The last thing you want to do is take the attention away from lyrics like “My house smells just like a zoo/ It’s chock full of shit and puke!/Cockroaches on the walls/Crabs crawlin’ on my balls!”
Leitch, who since leaving Fear has dabbled in everything from scoring films to teaching drums to sound-designing online children’s books, is also capable of making a song sound like full-blown tribal warfare as evidenced by “We Destroy the Family”. Interesting trivia: when asked once about how he felt about being voted best punk drummer by Los Angeles’ influential Flipside magazine, Lehrer responded with “Disappointed, because I voted for Spit.”
C.V.: Bad Brains
If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, Bad Brains drummer Earl Hudson should be honoured to know his DNA is part of one of rock’s most mega-famous songs. Dave Grohl once acknowledged that, when working on the intro to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, he channelled his inner Hudson. That admiration has carried over to Foo Fighters, with the Bad Brains timekeeper having been invited onstage to jam with the band—with both Grohl and Hawkins behind the kit.
For a primer on what makes Hudson so great, start with the Let Them Eat Jellybeans version of “Pay to Cum”, the fusion-jazz-trained drummer somehow manages the impossible feat of slowing the landspeed-guitars down, while also propelling the back end forward with breakneck force. He's heavy, hard-hitting, and always in the pocket, even when his bandmates have the accelerator stomped to the floor. Commenting on Hudson, who began as a jazz-fusion drummer, Grohl has confessed that he made it an early goal to learn “all of his licks verbatim”. Did we mention that thing about imitation and flattery?
C.V.: D.O.A., Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Danzig, Social Distortion
In the excellent Vancouver-punk-scene documentary Bloodied But Unbowed, human pitbull Henry Rollins pops up at one point to marvel about D.O.A. in general, and Chuck Biscuits in particular. His gushing assessment of the tirelessly inventive time-keeper born Charles Montgomery can be boiled down to this: he fucking swings.
Any of the records recorded by D.O.A.’s most feared, and revered, lineup, will confirm this, but start with the apocalyptic “World War 3”, pile-driving “The Prisoner”, or, well, totally swinging “Unknown”. After quitting D.O.A.” in 1982, Biscuits bounced from one L.A. punk band to the other, never seeming to find the chemistry he had with Joey Shithead, Randy Rampage, and Dave Gregg.
His mammoth talents would eventually be wasted in Danzig, followed by a stint in Social Distortion.
Today—reportedly soured on the music business—the man often heralded as punk’s answer to Keith Moon reportedly lives in semi-seclusion in Seattle. (Depending on which Reddit page you’re on, he either works as a computer programmer, artist, or—if you believe Glenn Danzig—Costco shopping-cart collector). That’s right—Seattle, the city where it all really started for Dave Grohl. Sometimes the stars align to send you a message. R.I.P. Taylor Hawkins.