The music world let out a tragic sigh when it heard that drummer Taylor Hawkins had left this mortal coil. He had one of the strongest voices of his generation, but it was his percussion skills that made him popular in Dave Grohl’s eyes. Grohl was a drummer by trade and was loath to give up the kit. But Hawkins was strong in his resolve, creating a backbeat for Foo Fighters that Grohl could comfortably sing over.
All drummers have their influences, and Hawkins acknowledged the presence of five individual percussionists as men who paved their way in his work. He cited Stewart Copeland, founder of The Police; Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for Rush; and Queen’s Roger Taylor as men who provided the backbone for his work. In other interviews, he noted Genesis drummer Phil Collins and Jane’s Addiction main-man Steve Perkins. In their own way, they made it into his work as a drummer, something he was happy to acknowledge.
Copeland was the first to enter into his lexis. “He was probably my earliest, like, real drum influence,” he told Metal Hammer. “He was my first drum hero and that had a lot to do with my brother, who’s five years older than me – I still have the Police Around the World, video which I remember him getting me as a kid when I was first learning to play.”
In an interview with Far Out, Copeland returned the shout and tipped his hat at Hawkins. Tellingly, this interview took place weeks before Hawkins died, and Copeland acknowledged Hawkins in a tidily written tribute. Taylor similarly likened Hawkins to a “younger brother”, and felt that his presence in the Queen drummer’s life made an imprint on him.
Hawkins admired Taylor, feeling that the drummer gifted Queen their sound. “Roger gave Queen their heavy feel and big sound,” he said. “His playing was laid back, loose and – I use this term loosely – punk rock because he did have that sort of rough edge to his drumming, too. And he always put on a real show – he was a very theatrical drummer.”
“[Roger Taylor] swings like no one else, and that’s impossible to emulate,” Hawkins continued. “You know it’s him when you hear the hi-hat open up every time he hits the snare. I can play every fill he’s ever done, but I could never get his feel. I’ve tried and it’s impossible!”.
Neil Peart and Phil Collins are more unusual choices, precisely because Foo Fighters have never tried their hand at progressive rock. But Hawkins was also happy to give the Rush drummer his share of applause and credit, precisely because Rush directly influenced a track.
“The chorus beat in [Foo Fighters’ 2001 song] ‘Rope’ is a paradiddle, directly lifted from Neil Peart,” Hawkins told Modern Drummer. “It’s ‘The Spirit of Radio’ all the way. When we were doing the demo for ‘Rope,’ everyone thought it was my idea. But I have to say to Neil Peart in Modern Drummer: I’m sorry I stole that from you, Neil, but it was Dave’s idea to do that, not mine”.
Hawkins was happy to champion Phil Collins in 2003, at a time when everyone from David Bowie to Noel Gallagher seemed to be making a concentrated effort to distance themselves from the drummer turned singer. Sure, Hawkins wasn’t talking about his solo career but highlighted his technical prowess as a stickman.
“People seem to have forgotten that Phil [Collins] is one of the greatest rock drummers ever to have walked the planet,” Hawkins announced. “I’ve been lucky enough to have had drum lessons from people like Chad [Smith] and Dave in the past, but I’d love to get a lesson from him. So Phil, if you’re out there, please come and teach me how to play ‘properly.’”
Collins would tour with Genesis in 2007, before entering into semi-retirement. He would tour with Genesis for a final time in 2022, but only as a singer, his son taking over the drum demonstrations. But while Collins and Peart weren’t the most obvious of influences, Steve Perkins was an easier guess to draw.
“A big influence on me was Steve Perkins,” the Foo Fighters drummer said, “I remember watching him with Jane’s Addiction … his big Afro. He was like an animal behind the drums. Not as hard-hitting as I thought he was — he’s got a lighter touch than I do. He reminds me of Gene Krupa.”
Hawkins was happy to speak favourably of the musicians who inspired him, but he was also more than happy to show the world what a strong talent he was. His fans were myriad: Liam Gallagher, Gene Simmons and Stevie Nicks all expressed their sympathy for the death of the drummer. One day a rock drummer will certainly name Hawkins as a formative influence on their work, but until that time, we should celebrate his drums as an artist.
In a clip from the last few years, Hawkins and Copeland can be seen enjoying a jam, trading licks with Matt Stone and Chris Chaney. The tune holds a jaunty quality and features Copeland on lead vocals. He’s having a blast, as is Hawkins, which can be seen in the footage.
Taylor Hawkins’ favourite drummers:
- Stewart Copeland
- Roger Taylor
- Neil Peart
- Phil Collins
- Steve Perkins