Back in the ’40s the World War II term “foo fighter” was a reference to a mysterious aerial phenomenon. In 1995, the phenomenon crossed over into the musical world and was mystifyingly linked to Dave Grohl. The first time I heard the Foo Fighters was very early on in their career. It was part of a movie soundtrack and the song was called “Walking After You.” I can’t remember the movie, but I will never forget that beautiful song and what would then begin my vast collection of their CDs.
In the wake of Kurt Cobain’s tragic death in 1994, Dave Grohl, the former Nirvana drummer, surprised us all with an incredible voice and implausible talent to play every single instrument. Unbeknownst to most Nirvana fans, Grohl had been writing and recording his own songs for years. Brought to Capitol Records from the president himself, Gary Gersh, (as well as former Nirvana A & R) these demo recordings were professionally mixed and would become the core of Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut album.
Grohl, however did not want to be a one-man show, so he worked quickly to complete a line-up for his new band – a band that would go through tumultuous changes throughout the next ten years. In a conscious effort not to create a Nirvana spin-off, Grohl avoided taking on former bandmates. Instead, he drafted dismantled band members from the Seattle-based band, Sunny Day Real Estate with Nate Mendel on bass and William Goldsmith on drums. Pat Smear, an unofficial member of Nirvana (playing only on occasion) was recruited as second guitarist, leaving lead vocals and guitar to Grohl; a role the public had never seen him in before. He would not disappoint them.
The critics were pleasantly surprised, yet the Foo Fighters were in for some surprises of their own – both good and bad. After touring extensively in 1996 to promote their debut album, it went platinum in the U.S. Singles such as “This Is A Call” and “Big Me” would put them on the map and become signature classics. However, in the midst of starting their second album, they would experience their first major setback. Drummer, William Goldsmith, would quit, citing creative differences. Determined to finish the album, Grohl completed all the drumming himself. He then filled the void with ex-Alanis Morrissette drummer, Taylor Hawkins, who would remain loyal to the Foo.
In 1997, they released their second album, The Colour and the Shape. It was avidly received by fans and critics alike, with great hits such as “Monkey Wrench” and “Everlong.” Unfortunately, success was met with disappointment once again: the departure of yet another band member – guitarist, Pat Smear. Only to be replaced by Franz Stahl and eventually re-replaced by Chris Shiflett – all in a span of less than two years. Would these trips to the lost and found finally come to an end?
Between the band’s own turbulence and Grohl’s personal life (living through a divorce) it’s no coincidence their third album (1999) was aptly named There Is Nothing Left To Lose. Ironically, they had everything to gain…at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards, the Foos walked away with Best Rock Album and Best Music Video Award for “Learn to Fly.” It’s no wonder–the album was a fluid balance between tenderness and testosterone: melodic numbers and throaty rock incarnations. A perfect chemistry that would repeat itself in years to come.
One By One followed three years later, but not without much ado in between. Drummer Taylor Hawkins accidentally overdoses but survives. Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, sues Grohl for control of Nirvana’s master recordings. And Grohl is the next one to walk through the revolving door – taking a leave of absence to temporarily tour as drummer for the underground hard rock outfit, Queens of the Stone Age. Again, the future of the Foos looked ominous, but such was not the case. Grohl just wanted to take a familiar backseat drumming; a much-needed change of pace and face.
One By One was released in 2002 to rave reviews and followed with the band’s biggest world tour to date. By 2004, the Foos had two more Grammies to add to their collection: Best Hard Rock Performance for “All My Life” and Best Rock Album.
In 2005, the Foo Fighters released their most ambitious accomplishment yet: In Your Honor, a testimonial to everyone that has made their decade- long journey possible: fans, friends, families and most importantly, themselves. In the double album, one disc represents the all-out aggressive rock they’re known for, and the other is a delicate, harmonious set. Their innate ability to balance the arrangements shines greater than ever before.
The Foos blazed a new trail with the acoustic half by adding guest performers to the tracks. Norah Jones lent vocals and piano to “Virginia Moon” – A dreamy, sultry number that shows yet another side of Grohl. Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones contributed piano to “Miracle” and mandolin to “Another Round” – songs that instantly make you melt. The unprecedented aura of the acoustic cuts ultimately affected the rock record. It was time to try something different with the second half, as well…
After marathon sessions back-to-back in the studio, the Foos created their hardest-hitting rock scores ever. If ten years of strife and struggle could translate into a song it would be “Best of You”; Grohl pours his heart out with unparalleled fury and sentiment. Other confessional anthems such as “No Way Back” and “DOA” deliver fast, energetic riffs with the famous Foo guitars and Grohl’s primal, raspy rants. In Your Honor is definitely their crowning achievement.
Ten years in and the Foo Fighters seem to be at the peak of their creative genius – which is somewhat incredible given what they have gone through. Will In Your Honor be their most memorable CD ever? It’s hard to say, but with each album they sound stronger and stronger and Dave Grohl walks further and further away from that “drummer in Nirvana” stigma…
Which reminds me–the other night I caught an old Nirvana video on TV and I was watching the drummer thrashing his head around. I thought he sort of looked like a teenaged Neil Young and a little like Dave Grohl…
wait a minute, that was Dave Grohl.
Happy anniversary to the Foo Fighters and congratulations to Dave Grohl – he and his wife, MTV producer Jordyn Blum, are expecting their first child in March.