The Foo Fighters drummer dilemma: who will replace Taylor Hawkins?
In eight weeks’ time, one of the biggest rock bands in the world will embark on a new tour. Foo Fighters will play to around one million fans over 17 shows in the US, Canada, Brazil, Japan and Germany. The concerts will mark Foo Fighters’ first tour since their much-loved drummer Taylor Hawkins was found dead in a Bogotá hotel room in March 2022 (two tribute shows last autumn notwithstanding).
But there’s a crucial piece of the jigsaw missing. The band has yet to announce a new drummer. With a little over 50 days to go until the first power chords ring out from Dave Grohl’s guitar, who is likely to occupy one of the highest-profile drum stools in music?
The fact that the Foo Fighters are still going was never a given. With his towering stage presence, his winningly goofy smile and his flailing blond hair – not to mention his powerhouse drumming – Hawkins was, after Grohl, the Foos’ second most recognisable face. His death was felt deeply by fans. But on New Year’s Eve the band released a statement saying that they’d see fans again “soon” – confirming that they’d carry on. Hawkins, they said, will “be there in spirit with all of us every night.”
The plot about Hawkins’ replacement has thickened in recent days as two of the leading candidates appear to have ruled themselves out from the permanent role (more on that later). Why, you may ask, does any of this matter? Drummers are regularly replaced in bands with little ado, after all. Guns N’ Roses and The Beatles both replaced very-much-alive drummers, and even Grohl became Nirvana’s drummer when his former group were already one album into their career (he was actually the band’s sixth drummer). The Rolling Stones have carried on following the 2021 death of Charlie Watts with Steve Jordan on the drums, and they are – dare I say it – as good as they ever were. But this feels different.
As well as drumming, Hawkins formed a key part of the Foo Fighters’ live “experience”. During shows he’d walk to the front of the stage to take the lead vocals for a rendition of Under Pressure by his beloved Queen. Fans felt as though they knew Hawkins. Last year’s London tribute concert to Hawkins took place in front of a staggering 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium (a smaller one in Los Angeles took place in the city’s 20,000-capacity Kia Forum). How many other drummers would draw such crowds?
The six-hour Wembley show was a raw and emotionally charged affair. I reviewed it for this paper and was amazed, although not entirely surprised, at the who’s who of rock and pop I saw play. The gig featured (get ready) Chic’s Nile Rodgers, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Eurovision runner-up Sam Ryder duetting with Queen, and special guest Paul McCartney singing with Chrissie Hynde. Supergrass, The Darkness, Mark Ronson and members of The Police and Rush also played. His are big shoes to fill. This appointment matters.
And as well as being a band, the Foo Fighters are a multi-million dollar brand. Data from Pollstar shows that the band grossed $4.5 million from just three medium-sized concerts in 2021. Extrapolate that out and, well, it’s big business. Whoever takes the role will be joining a formidable machine, with all the commitment, travel and discipline that that entails.
In the last week, two hotly-tipped potential replacements seem to have become unavailable. Rufus Taylor, the talented drummer in The Darkness and the son of Queen sticksman Roger, was in my view a slam dunk for the job. Indeed, last year a well-connected source in the drumming world suggested that the job was already his. Rufus and his father were friends with Hawkins and his family, with Hawkins acting as a mentor to Rufus, who even shares an uncanny physical resemblance to the man. Queen’s DNA is all over the Foo Fighters’ music; to have some actual Queen DNA in the band would have been a beautiful touch, like the merging of two musical houses.
But last week The Darkness announced a world tour to mark the 20th anniversary of their Permission To Land album, with Taylor’s smiling face on the publicity poster. The dates don’t take place until after the Foos’ tour is over, which may mean that someone’s being clever here and that Taylor will be a full-time member of two bands at once. But being a full Foo Fighter is such a big job that I can’t see the logistics of that working. And why would other members of The Darkness – in which, incidentally, Rufus is said to be very happy – let him do that?
Also in recent days it was reported that Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron would be joining the band and had been rehearsing at Studio 606, the Foos’ studio in California’s San Fernando valley. Not true, said Cameron on Sunday. “FYI the internet rumours are false. I haven’t joined the Foos,” he wrote on Instagram.
There are numerous other candidates. A drummer called Atom Willard, who used to be in a band called Angels & Airwaves, has been linked to the role. Other internet forums put Josh Freese, a respected session drummer who has played with Nine Inch Nails, Weezer and Guns N’ Roses, as favourite. Jane’s Addiction’s Stephen Perkins has also been mentioned. Then there’s Hawkins’ teenage son Shane. At the Wembley tribute, Shane played drums on the song My Hero. As I noted at the time, his skill and poise were breathtaking. “There goes my hero/ Watch him as he goes,” the lyrics went. His dad would have been proud. A spokesman for the band said there is no new information to share on Hawkins’ replacement as things stand.
Which leaves, with just weeks to go, a drummer-shaped hole. Who would I go for if I were the Foos? No one. I wouldn’t appoint anyone. Not yet. I’d make this tour like an audition. I’d take a rotating roster of guest drummers on the road and see which hat fits. It would be like a live music version of Have I Got News For You with its guest presenters. It would then be relatively easy to figure out who’s best suited to the role on a permanent basis – the best musical fit, the most natural on-stage chemistry, the crowd’s reaction. Such a move would also allow Hawkins Jr to repeat that extraordinary performance without over-burdening him with having to play an entire set.
His appearance would be wonderfully, ahem, cymbalic. Additionally, such a set-up would allow members of other groups – Rufus Taylor and Matt Cameron, to pluck two almost-entirely random examples from the air – to play with the Foos without officially “joining” the band while also maintaining their full-time roles in their main outfits. It would be like a travelling festival of drumming, something about which Hawkins would no doubt approve.
When Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died, the band decided to not even attempt to carry on without him. When The Who’s Keith Moon died, the Faces’ Kenney Jones stepped in. The Foos, just like the Stones did, have opted for this latter path. Hawkins will be hard to beat. But we’ll find who they’ve snared – if only on a temporary basis – soon enough.