Everybody Plays the Foo: Dave Grohl's Unstoppable Belief Remains the Key to His Success
Christopher Victorio

Everybody Plays the Foo: Dave Grohl's Unstoppable Belief Remains the Key to His Success

All my life I’ve been dreaming about something I’ve always wanted to do. When I was a kid, I dreamed about being a Rock Star! In my mind, I was the front-man for the Ramones playing CBGB’s. The reality of life is such that for most of us, the closest we’ll ever come to stardom is singing into a hairbrush. That being said, the exception to all the rules landed on planet earth in 1969.

He was born David Eric Grohl, son of James and Virginia Grohl. This earthling grew up in Springfield, Virginia. Like many children, his folks split up when he was seven years old. Even Rock Stars had someone that guided them in one way or another as kids. That can be a good thing, or not. Dave had a normal childhood growing up in Virginia, the kind many of us can relate to. Until the 11th grade that is, that’s when he told mama-Grohl he wanted to drop out of school to be a musician.

I don’t know about you, but if I had that conversation, I don’t think it would have ended well. Luckily, Virginia had a knack for evaluating truth and sincerity. Maybe she got that from being a teacher for 35 years? She supported his decision and never wavered. In the music world, a great publicist can evaluate talent, but in the real world, an honest mom can identify character. For Virginia, it was the moments she observed, not the milestones that’s given her the dubious distinction of being Dave’s biggest fan. Then again, it takes a special relationship between mother and son to take this path. Remarkably, the two were able to listen to their favorite bands together. For the Grohl’s, they could listen to Bowie or Manhattan Transfer on any given day. It turns out that Serendipity had an address in Springfield, because Dave thought he was working towards becoming a great musician, but in reality, thanks to Virginia, he was starting his journey towards becoming a legend.

When Dave was a lot older, let’s say 12… he started learning to play the guitar. Like most kids, he got bored with lessons immediately, so he taught himself. He eventually started playing in bands with his pals. Like all young rockers, he was introduced to punk-rock in his early teens; in this case, by his cousin Tracy. Needless to say, even as a kid, he had eclectic taste in music. Some of his early favorites included Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, and the Beatles. Grohl played in a few bands in high school, and as luck would have it, he taught himself to play drums; the skins remain his favorite instrument. Virginia definitely had her hands full, but she believed in him. Which is ironic, because he still doesn’t know how to read sheet music, amazingly, he still writes music by ear. The truth is that punk rockers who wander are often lost, but the exceptional find their way. In that respect, Grohl continues to prove he is the exception to the rule.

A few years later, with his suitcase and drums in hand, Dave was off to Seattle. Luckily for us, he hooked up with a band called Nirvana. By then, front-man Kurt Cobain already had demos for the follow-up to Bleach, their debut album. The next project would be produced by Butch Vig. Everyone involved knew the demos were special; this next album was called Nevermind. Initially, the plan was to release it on Seattle-based Sub Pop Records. They got so much interest from shopping the demos, Grohl spent the initial months as the new guy traveling from label-to-label shopping for a deal. They eventually signed with DGC Records. In the spring of ‘91, Nirvana entered Sound City Studios in L.A. to record the album. Their seminal uber-album catapulted them to instant world-wide fame. They gained commercial success with songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Breed”, “In Bloom”, “Lithium” and “Stay Away”. The band went on to critical acclaim album-after-album taking us from the sublime with “Sliver” to a venture into the bizarre with “Heart Shaped Box” to a surreal Unplugged experience. Cobain’s suicide in ‘94 was devastating, especially for those closest to him.

The grief a person can experience over the loss of a friend can be overwhelming. Every person grieves differently, but in the end we find the strength to move forward. Surviving that loss is a part of life that draws us to Grohl, because to some extent, we all grieved together. When he formed Foo Fighters following Cobain’s death, it was like a rebirth for so many. Luckily for fans, the Foo Dudes are funny and as down-to-earth as you can be. So-much-so, their first practice session included the use of a karaoke machine. The name is also an enigma for some. Foo Fighters comes from a term used by pilots during WW II to identify UFOs. Throughout the years, their album art has had alien-inspired themes; some artwork looks like it came right out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The ethos of the name is so important, Dave even appeared in an episode of the X Files.

Sonically, the Foo’s are described as a post-grunge, alternative and hard rock band. That description kind of sells the experience of the music short. You have to see them to grasp the magnitude of their bone-piercing sound. With that Wikipedia description as a template, their debut self-titled album featured a ray gun on the cover; it was issued on Roswell Records. The album was an immediate hit. It featured songs like “This is a Call” and “Big Me”. Their follow-up album, The Colour and the Shape propelled the Foo’s to another level of bad-assery. That album featured “Monkey Wrench”, “Everlong” and “My Hero”. From that point on, the Foo’s were alt-rock’s big boys on the block.

Taylor Hawkins and Pat Smear
Taylor Hawkins and Pat Smear
Michelle Alvarez

What fans appreciate most is that the Foo Dudes are a great fit. With Grohl at the helm, there’s Pat Smear on rhythm/lead guitar; Pat is a former member of the Germs and live guitarist for Nirvana. There’s Nate Mendel on bass, Chris Shiflett on lead guitar, and the newest member, Rami Jaffee (keys/organ). Last but not least, Taylor Hawkins is on drums. Hawkins is as good as it gets, when he’s not banging the drums for the Foo’s, the long time Laguna Beach dweller is doing it for Chevy Metal. Not only do these cats gel as musicians, but they share a twisted sense of humor. In today’s world, it’s hard to make politics funny, but the Foo’s do that. Google two Foo counter-protests against the Westboro Baptist Church. The guys performed “Keep It Clean” on the back of a flatbed truck and they Rickrolled them too. These guys just have fun project after fun project. They’ve done the late-night rounds on Kimmel, and they were the last band to appear on Late Night With David Letterman. Not long ago, Dave had a drum-off with “Animal” of Muppet fame. More recently, the guys made an appearance on the Late Late Show with James Corden. They did Carpool Karaoke; let’s just say you’ll never listen to “All My Life” and “Best of You” the same way again. How ironic that life has come full circle with another karaoke-inspired memory.

What’s just as cool is Dave’s played unreal gigs as a session drummer. With who, you might ask? How about cats like Bowie, McCartney, Iggy, and bands like Garbage, Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails, and Queens of the Stone Age just to name a few. Honestly, you just never know who’s going to show up at a Foo’s show to sing-along. On the flip side, Dave doesn’t get much time off. When he’s not making records, or touring…. he’s directing documentaries and playing with his pals.

Things couldn’t be better for the Foo’s these days, and Dave in particular. In 2014, Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Dave’s also the father of three great kids AND Virginia published a book that’s received great reviews, it’s called From the Cradle to the Stage: Stories from Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars. As for the band’s commercial success, they have over 12 million albums sold in the U.S alone… four EP’s, one live album, two compilations, nine studio albums and five media features. They’ve also received a ton of awards that range from two MTV VMA’s, four Brit Awards, and 11 Grammy’s.

Everybody Plays the Foo: Dave Grohl's Unstoppable Belief Remains the Key to His Success
Michelle Alvarez

Some critics suggest that uber-bands, like the Foo’s, can phone in their performances and nobody would complain. Ironically, in 2015 Dave fell off the stage during a show in Sweden. The Foo Dudes kept playing while he got looked at. He returned to the stage and sat in a chair for the rest of the show while a medic tended to his leg. It turned out that he needed six metal pins to put him back together. They had to cancel the rest of the European Tour. They eventually went back on the road for the North American “leg” of the tour. They renamed it the “Broken Leg” Tour. Dave sat in his Game of Thrones-esque guitar-inspired chair throughout the tour. He did all this because he cares about their fans.

The band’s 8th studio album, Sonic Highways, elevated them to yet another level of cool. Vig and Grohl teamed up again for this. The guys traveled from coast-to-coast in eight different cities to interview musicians, engineers, producers and others discussing each city's music history. Sonic Highways was also an HBO-featured docuseries. Interviews included icons Buddy Guy, Joan Jett, Mike D, Chuck D, and Rick Neilson among others. They traveled to a different recording location in each city, and featured musicians who had ties to each city's musical history. If you haven’t seen this, it’s highly recommended.

This band continues to prove rock isn’t dead. You can throw them against a wall like a rubber ball and they just keep bouncing back with great music. Concrete and Gold is album number nine, featuring tunes like “Run”, “The Sky Is Your Neighbor” and “The Line” currently grabbing plenty of airplay. The album keeps their signature sound intact, while elevating their relevance yet again.

The band keeps evolving, but for their fans, they live and die by some of their other tunes like “Learn to Fly”, “These Days”, “Walking After You”, “Breakout”, “Next Year”, “Times Like These”, “The Pretender”, and “Long Road to Ruin”. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll play some covers for you…like “Holiday in Cambodia”, “Band on the Run”, or “Darling Nikki”. It’s surreal to see people go Looney Tunes cartoon-crazy when they see the Foo’s; it’s like seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. Ask any of the Foo Dudes and they’ll tell you that the most powerful feeling you can ever experience is having 80,000 people sing your music back to you. Bottom line, there’s a big difference between being good at something and being great at it… the difference is the effort. Just being good has never fit the Foo’s. It’s the truth and consequence of hard work.

The Foo Fighters perform this Saturday, Oct. 7 at CalJam 2017 at the Glen Helen Regional Park and Festival Grounds in San Bernardino. For more details, click here.


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