“There’s so much that I love about being the drummer in a band and I always have. It’s the responsibility, the anonymity, the pure physicality of it…” so Dave Grohl told Rhythm magazine back in 2009 when he returned to the kit for drum duties with his supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, with Josh Homme and Led Zep’s John Paul Jones.
He may be as well-known as the guitarist/frontman of stadium-rockers The Foo Fighters, but to many of us Dave Grohl is, quite simply, a god of rock drums, having powered Nirvana on their groundbreaking Nevermind album, and gone on to drum with the Foos, Queens Of The Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures. Each time, he provided swing, power and blistering rock fills to create enviable drum tracks that all aspiring rock drummers look to emulate.
Having grown up in Washington DC on a varied musical diet of rock, pop, hardcore punk and gogo music, Grohl was just 17 when he landed himself the drum seat in local hardcore punk-rock outfit, Scream. His fast, powerhouse drumming caught the attention of Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, who invited him to join Nirvana… and that - inevitably - is where our list of five great albums that feature Dave on drums starts…
1. Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
In case you’ve been living on the moon for 40 years, let us fail to overstate the importance and brilliance of this album. This was the first time most of us heard Dave Grohl’s muscular playing - on the flammed intro to Nevermind’s opening track.
The grunge crossover felt like a rock revolution, with the release of this album powered - and we do mean powered - by Grohl’s hard-hitting, almost violent, beats, along with one of the best drum sounds ever, courtesy of Butch Vig.
In Bloom, Come As You Are, Lithium, Breed, Territorial Pissings - all awesome. But best of all was the aforementioned opener, Smells Like Teen Spirit, with its flammed one-bar intro to a relentlessly pounding groove. Great dynamics, all delivered with such undeniable conviction that it still remains a rock drumming benchmark.
“The one thing I am most proud of is the raw simplicity of Nevermind,” Grohl told Rhythm magazine in 2005. “It’s bare bones, simple drumming, and I think the fact that it is so stripped down and so easy to nod your head to is why people still listen to it.”
Key track: Smells Like Teen Spirit
2. In Utero (1993)
Nirvana’s final album was recorded by Big Black’s Steve Albini, whose work with the Pixies and others had impressed Kurt Cobain. The drum sounds are consequently raw, as Albini preferred them, allowing the power of Grohl’s drums to ring and thunder.
Heart Shaped Box features the classic Nirvana formula of quiet verse/loud chorus, an approach to dynamics that inspired a whole generation of post-grunge rock bands. On Scentless Apprentice - a track clearly built around his powerful playing - his massive authority from behind the kit is achieved without overplaying; the mark of a true great.
“There was never any concern with making an album that was better than Nevermind,” Grohl told Rhythm back in 1993. “We just wanted to do something that was different. Sure, if we had it would’ve sold like crazy, and it would’ve put us in huge arenas and we would be some huge rock band, but we hate repeating ourselves.
“The thing that keeps us moving is experimentation: we like being very noisy sometimes and we like being very quiet; we like being melodic and we like being a sledgehammer.”
Key track: Scentless Apprentice
3. Foo Fighters - The Colour And The Shape (1997)
This was the Foos’ first album proper as a band, although original drummer William Goldsmith left the band after Grohl himself re-recorded the drum parts.
The result is an album of classic Grohl drumming; from the insistent groove of Everlong, with its thunderously powerful chorus fills, to the more typically grunge-like Hey, Johnny Park! and Monkey Wrench.
My Hero, with its powerful, tom-heavy groove, is one of Dave Grohl’s drumming career highlights. And that’s saying something. The thumping backbeats and the toms were recorded separately and panned slightly off-centre to give each their own weight and distinction.
Key track: My Hero
4. Queens Of The Stone Age - Songs For The Deaf (2002)
One of the holy grails in terms of both drum sound and the incredible Cobham-style fills around the kit, No One Knows is just one of the great tracks that benefit from Grohl’s magic rock-drumming touch. A nod to Grohl’s love for the Descendents’ Bill Stevenson, we get pounding toms, neat fills and scattergun snare all over the top of the hypnotic Josh Homme riff.
The creativity of Grohl’s playing, combined with the unique way in which the drums were recorded with a ‘drums first/cymbals later’ approach, yielded powerful-sounding results. On the intro of A Song For The Dead, Dave solos over the guitar riff for 19 bars before launching into a syncopated groove with over-the-barline phrasing. A genuine classic of modern rock drumming.
Key track: No One Knows
5. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures (2009)
With Them Crooked Vultures, Grohl, Homme and Led Zep bass star John Paul Jones formed the ultimate alt-rock supergroup. The Zep-fuelled tracks were all the more interesting as it was Grohl’s big return to the drums after hitting stadiums fronting Foo Fighters.
New Fang, No One Loves Me And Neither Do I, and Mind Eraser, No Chaser are all great examples of a rock drummer still at the top of his game. For all his Zeppelin influences, Grohl is himself continuing to influence rock drummers the world over.
“My priority was just to have a great sound,” Dave told Rhythm shortly after the album’s release. “I didn’t want the drums to be too effected, or too mechanical.
“There was a smaller room with an old red Ludwig in, that the three of us would cram ourselves into, and then there was a larger room, with a bigger ’80s Gretsch. After we’d written a song we would jam and arrange something, and then decide which room and drum sound suited it. Sometimes we would do the opposite; sometimes we would do both.
“The basic tracking for drums, bass and guitar on all the songs is live performance - it’s the three of us playing off each other. There’s no click, no gridding or stuff like that. I knew that we would be a good live band after the first week because of the way we were recording. We’d just hit the red button and go, and if we made a mistake we’d go back in and do it again.”
Key track: New Fang