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Taylor Hawkins, hard-driving but humble, reached drumming greatness with a smile

He played with one of the greatest drummers in modern rock, but he thrilled fans around the world with his loose-limbed energy and cultivated a towering reputation of his own.
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When the rock musician Dave Grohl set out to find a new drummer for his up-and-coming band Foo Fighters, the odds were stacked against whoever sat behind the kit.

Grohl was widely considered one of the most sonically explosive and technically gifted drummers in modern rock. He helped define the ethos of a generation with Nirvana.

But he was going to be the frontman in his new band — and he needed someone who would not make fans keep wishing he had stuck with drums.

It was fair to wonder whether any drummer — no matter how prodigiously talented — could possibly live up to Grohl's exacting standards or the music industry's merciless expectations.

And yet in the hard-driving yet down-to-earth Taylor Hawkins, who was touring with Alanis Morissette, Grohl found a creative collaborator and a spiritual brother.

Alanis Morissette performs with Taylor Hawkins circa 1995.
Alanis Morissette performs with Taylor Hawkins around 1995.Mick Hutson / Redferns file

"I was like, ‘Wow, you’re either my twin or my spirit animal or my best friend,'" Grohl recalled in an interview with a radio host last year.

The two men met backstage at a show. Grohl later followed up with a phone call and made his pitch. Hawkins was game: "I’m your guy."

Grohl elaborated on their kinship in his memoir, writing, "I am not afraid to say that our chance meeting was a kind of love at first sight, igniting a musical 'twin flame' that still burns to this day."

Hawkins, who was found dead in Colombia on Friday, powered some of Foo Fighters' most electrifying tracks with relentless energy and wide-smiling charm, limbs flailing with abandon.

The job — playing drums for an all-time great drummer — could have inspired ego-shattering trepidation, like taking the court after Serena Williams or substituting on set for Martin Scorsese.

Foo Fighters fans weep at the Stereo Picnic festival in Bogotá, Colombia, on March 25, 2022, following the death of the band's drummer Taylor Hawkins.
Foo Fighters fans weep Friday at the Stereo Picnic festival in Bogotá, Colombia, after the death of the band's drummer, Taylor Hawkins.Juan Pablo Pino / AFP - Getty Images

The first official drummer for Foo Fighters, William Goldsmith, quit the band after he learned that Grohl was secretly re-recording his parts on their second record, "The Colour and the Shape."

When Hawkins joined the group shortly after that, he blew through the noise, exhilarating audiences around the world with his muscular solos, propulsive rhythms and infectious enthusiasm for the sheer act of performance.

He even took the occasional turn in front of the microphone.

"I keep hearing people say that he was the only guy who could shine as the drummer in a band with Dave Grohl," said Jordan Runtagh, a music writer who has contributed to Entertainment Weekly, People magazine and other publications.

"It might have been hard to imagine going to a concert with Dave Grohl and not having him on drums, but Taylor was never a disappointment. He was the engine behind it all. What a machine," Runtagh said.

Hawkins aspired to be in a rock group from the time he was a kid. He told The Associated Press in 2009 that he was inspired by Stewart Copeland of The Police, Roger Taylor of Queen and Phil Collins.

Stuart Copeland, formerly of The Police, left, Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters perform in a drum circle during MTV2's "24 Hours Of Foo" on June 11, 2005. in New York.
Stuart Copeland, formerly of The Police, left, Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters perform in a drum circle during MTV2's "24 Hours of Foo" on June 11, 2005.Scott Gries / Getty Images file

Collins was "one of my favorite drummers ever," Hawkins told the AP. "You know, people forget that he was a great drummer as well as a sweater-wearing nice guy from the '80s, poor fella.”

Hawkins was known for his surfer dude demeanor and everyman's humility. But it became increasingly clear that Hawkins and Grohl were artistic peers, bound by mutual respect and a complementary drive for musical precision.

In one of his final interviews, with Rolling Stone, Hawkins described Grohl as his "older brother" and explained what he saw as the simple difference between their thrilling drum styles.

Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins in Sydney in 2017.
Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins in Sydney in 2017.Richard Dobson / Newspix via Getty Images

"If he is the disciple of [Led Zeppelin drummer] John Bonham, I’m a disciple of Stewart Copeland," he told the magazine. "I mean, that is really kind of the easiest way of putting it."

In an industry legendary for epic clashes between larger-than-life personalities puffed up by fame and fortune, the two men seemed to have a cheeky rapport and an easy camaraderie.

In live shows, Grohl would sometimes get behind the drums while Hawkins took the lead mic to belt out a cover song, like Queen's "Somebody to Love."

"The best part of getting to be the lead singer of the Foo Fighters for just for one song is I really do have the greatest rock 'n' roll drummer on the planet Earth," Hawkins said before a rendition of the song in a March 18 concert in Chile.

Grohl could be heard telling him to shut up, according to news accounts of the show.

The Foo Fighters perform during day three of Lollapalooza Chile 2022 at Parque Bicentenario Cerrillos on March 20, 2022 in Santiago.
Foo Fighters perform on the third day of Lollapalooza Chile 2022 at Parque Bicentenario Cerrillos in Santiago on March 20.Marcelo Hernandez / Getty Images file

And yet Hawkins, who spoke openly about his experiences with drugs and substance misuse, sometimes hinted at feeling out of place — and the psychic toll of measuring up.

"A lot of my insecurities — which led to a lot of my drug use — had to do with me not feeling like I was good enough to be in this band, to play drums with Dave," Hawkins told Spin magazine in 2002.

"It was never anything that Dave ever said," Hawkins went on to explain, adding later: "He could have f----- given up on me a long time ago, but he believed in me, so I could get out of that hole."

In the minds of Foo Fighters fans around the world, however, Hawkins did far more than exceed expectations. He forged his own enduring place in rock: that of the happy warrior and drum virtuoso.

"It wasn't just his raw power," Runtagh said. "It was his pure joy on the kit, which is something he shared with Dave.

"They were soul mates."