A Foo Fighter: A World War II term used to refer to mysterious aerial phenomena.
Here's what usually happens when a band's leader dies. The other members go on TV and talk about their fallen partner - what a tragedy - a misunderstood soul - a loss for the world. They may even write a book about the experience. If they're lucky and talented, they might land regular session work. The surviving members rarely do anything significant. Almost never do they become the leader of their own highly successful group.
Following Kurt Cobain's death and the demise of Nirvana, drummer David Grohl looked like a perfect candidate for the session route since bassist Krist Novoselic was handling the remembrances. Grohl, a multi-talent musician had other ideas. Locking himself away he recorded the entire Foo Fighters' debut except for one guitar track contributed by Afghan Wig Greg Dulli (great trivia question: What was the song? Answer: "X-Static"). That's about as close as you can get to a solo project. But Grohl wanted a group, especially for touring. Bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith joined. Guitarist Pat Smear who toured with Nirvana also got the call. This edition hit the road as "This Is A Call" blasted across the airwaves along with the retro-sounding "Big Me."
A group effort, "The Colour & The Shape" followed with wall of sound guitars, blistering drums and "just about to break" vocals. During "The Colour & The Shape" sessions, tracks were tossed and re-recorded. Goldsmith decided to move on. Rumors claimed he was ousted or not happy that his work was scrapped or not up for the coming tour. Take your pick. Grohl ended up playing drums on the CD with Taylor Hawkins taking over on the road.
Smear decided to leave and was briefly replaced by Grohl's former pre-Nirvana band mate, Franz Stahl. He was around for one tour and a song on the "Godzilla" soundtrack ("A320").
'99 saw the release of "There's Nothing Left To Lose," which was recorded in the basement studio of Grohl's Virginia home. At this point Grohl took some time off to play drums on Queens Of The Stone Age album "Songs For The Deaf." That experience led to his touring with the group. Grohl also unleashed the Death Metal "Probot" CD.
Once these side projects were out of his system Grohl and the Foo Fighters recorded "One By One." The album earned three Grammy nominations with "All My Life" winning for Best Hard Rock Performance. Three years later, '05, the group released the double CD "In Your Honor."
One disc was Rock and the other acoustic. That was followed by an acoustic tour in '06. The end result was the November release "Skin & Bones" the group's first live CD. It featured "A" material, "My Hero" and "Big Me," as well as lesser know tracks, such as the Nirvana B-side "Marigold." Recorded over three nights at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, the group got additional help from Smear and former Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffe. A two-disc DVD followed a few weeks later.
With producer Gil Norton (who was also in the booth for "The Colour & The Shape"), the Foo Fighters stretched a bit yet maintained their core sound on "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace." "The album… sounds like a Foo Fighters album, but it's definitely moving in a few different directions," said Grohl. "It's cool man, I love it." Following the sessions, the Foo Fighters participated in Live Aid (the London edition). Also, Smear signed up for the band's summer tour.
During the '07 MTV Video Music Awards the Foo Fighters were holed up in a Vegas hotel suite with System Of A Down's Serj Tankian; Josh Homme and Troy Van Leeuwen from Queens Of The Stone Age; and Mastodon. During cut-aways in the Vegas originated program, the Foos and Tankian performed a cover of Dead Kennedys' "Holiday In Cambodia" and played the first single from "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace," "The Pretender." That same month (September), the album was released as "The Pretender" rolled out an incredible 18-week run at #1 on Billboard's Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart.
"Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace" also resonated with Grammy voters. The album won the Rock Album award at the '08 ceremony while "The Pretender" earned the Hard Rock Performance award.
In a presidential campaign where Republican nominee John McCain had already been roundly criticized by Heart, John Mellencamp, Van Halen and Jackson Browne for unauthorized use of their songs, the Foo Fighters took issue with the candidate's use of their '98 hit "My Hero" during his '08 campaign without the band's permission. "It's frustrating and infuriating that someone who claims to speak for the American people would repeatedly show such little respect for creativity and intellectual property," said a Foo Fighters' statement. "We hope that the McCain campaign will do the right thing and stop using our song."
On a more pleasant note, the Warren, OH, city council passed a resolution to change the city's Market Alley to David Grohl Alley, in honor of the locally grown Foo Fighters frontman. Grohl and company then vaulted to the White House lawn where they headlined an '09 Independence Day barbecue in front of a crowd that included President Obama, wounded military personnel and their families. "It's an honor to be playing here for you people," said Grohl.
The Foo Fighters next project was a greatest hits album that featured a pair of new tracks produced by Butch Vig (Nirvana), "Word Forward" and "Wheels." Simply titled "Greatest Hits," the set contained "Everlong," "Monkey Wrench," "Learn To Fly" and "Best Of You."
Communication is probably just as important to a band's success as creativity. And four or five people who record and tour together tend to form a strong bond. But despite that, there are still some awkward moments.
As work began on the Foo Fighter's seventh studio album, "Wasting Light," Smear, who left in '97, was reinstalled as an official member - after being part of the touring line-up since '06. Of course, no one bothered to notify Smear's eventual replacement, Chris Shifflett. He initially found the situation "difficult." But it got resolved quickly.
The return of Smear was not the only resurrection of the past. Vig was recruited to produce the Foo Fighter's seventh album. But the process got off to an unexpected start.
"He opened up his garage door and went, 'I want to record the record in here'," Vig said of Grohl. "And I said, 'Uh, OK ... "
"I want the record to sound rawer and somewhat imperfect," Grohl told Vig. "As good as we play, that's how good the record will sound." Grohl also insisted that the group record without computers.
It was like "old home week" when Noveselic contributed bass lines to "I Should Have Known." "Dave and I were sipping on some wine, and Krist started drinking some bootleg whiskey, and it was great . . . One story would lead to another story, and it was an amazing experience, just to be there, to open up all these things you may have forgotten about," said Vig.
A month before "Wasting Light" came out the Foo Fighters played two shows that raised over $1 million for victims of the Australian floods and New Zealand earthquakes. The show at the Auckland Town Hall was followed five days later by a performance at the Riverstage in central Brisbane. "The Foo Fighters were determined to help New Zealand and Australia in the aftermath of these terrible disasters," commented charity show organizer Michael Gudinski.
Also prior to the album's release, the band played a surprise sold-out show at Velvet Jones, a small club in Santa Barbara, that Grohl promoted via Twitter. The concert, which featured new material, included "Rope," the album's lead single.
"Wasting Light" went to #1 on the U.K.'s Album Chart. The album ended Soul star Adele's eleven week hold on the top spot. It was the Foo Fighters third U.K. chart topper. The other two were '02's "One By One" and '07's "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace."
"Wasting Light" was also nominated for Album of the Year for the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. In addition, the band was up for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance ("White Limo"), Best Rock Performance ("Walk"), Best Rock Album ("Wasting Light"), Best Rock Song ("Walk") and Best Long Form Video (Foo Fighters: Back and Forth).
Grohl, known for his sense of humor, found a semi-musical project to follow "Wasting Light." He served as the executive producer for a half-hour comedy pilot starring comedian Dana Gould. The premise was a Rock band on the verge of stardom that goes into therapy to keep from breaking up. Unfortunately, the band ends up with a misanthropic couples' therapist on the brink of divorce. Unfortunately, the pilot for the FX network didn't fly.
Putting that setback behind him, Grohl appeared with the Zac Brown Band at the 47th annual Country Music Association Awards in Nashville. A few months later Taylor was heard on the Birds Of Satan debut album. In between, the Foo Fighters performed their first concert in Mexico (at Foro Sol in Mexico City).
Later in '14, Grohl was among those paying tribute to late night's Chelsea Handler as she wrapped up her E! network talk show Chelsea Lately.
Then it was back on the road. Foo Fighters headlined the Invictus Games Closing Party at London's Olympic Park which was broadcast on the BBC. Then they returned to the U.S. to play their first crowdfunded concert at The National Theater in Richmond, VA - it was also their first Richmond appearance in 16 years.
All that was merely a prelude to "14's "Sonic Highways."
The album was recorded in eight cities (Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.) which led to the title.
With the tracks in the can, the Foos did a week-long stand on The Late Show with David Letterman to promote their "Sonic Highways," HBO special. The eight-episode series chronicled the album's recording and the musical histories of each city visited. It later won a pair of Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sound Editing and Outstanding Sound Mixing.
"Sonic Highways," the album, made its debut in November and featured guest performances by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, The Eagles' Joe Walsh, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen.
About four months down the road, Lieutenant, a Mendel side-project, delivered "If I Kill This Thing We're All Going To Eat For A Week." Mendel sang and played guitar on the album.
It was back to The Late Show in '15. Following final week appearances by Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, it was the Foo Fighters who were the last musical guest on Letterman's program, ending his 33-year late night run. Dressed in tuxedos, the Foos performed "Everlong" while a montage of classic clips were shown. The talk show host called the Foo Fighters his "favorite band."
Foo Fighters probably also became Gothenburg, Sweden's favorite band after a concert there. Grohl broke his leg when he miscalculated a jump and fell into the security pit. Most everybody thought that was the end of the show. But no. Hawkins led the group through a bunch of covers while Grohl was taken to a hospital. Patched up, Grohl returned and finished the show. Now that's commitment! However, subsequent concerts were canceled.
But you can't keep the Foo Fighters down. They celebrated their 20th anniversary with an Independence Day concert in the nation's capital. Grohl performed seated on a 'throne' supporting his injured leg. It was the group's first show since the accident.
1995 Foo Fighters
1997 The Colour & The Shape
1999 There Is Nothing Left to Lose
2002 One By One
2005 In Your Honor
2007 Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
2011 Wasting Light
2014 Sonic Highways
David Grohl has gone a long way to be remembered for more than simply being Nirvana's drummer. Foo Fighters play blistering post-Grunge (which Grohl comes by honestly), power-pop and acoustic based Rock. They've even had success unplugged.
There's no B.S., no fuss, no pretentiousness or arty statements. Tuneful melodies, lethal hooks, a propulsive rhythm section and unrestrained guitars dominate.