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David “Dave” Eric Grohl was born at Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, Ohio. He was the second and last child to come out of Virginia and James Grohl’s wedding. At the time of his birth, Dave Grohl’s sister Lisa was a month shy of her third birthday. James Grohl was a classically trained flautist that fostered a great passion for jazz music. Virginia had sang with Three Belles, an a cappella vocal group she took part in during her high school days. By the time Dave Grohl was born, James worked as a journalist for the Scripps Howard news agency.
In 1972, James was already a rising start within the ranks of Scripps Howard. It was with no surprise that the news agency asked him to relocate to Washington DC, to help him further his career even more. James Grohl accepted the offer and moved with his family to the suburbs of Washington DC, more precisely to Springfield, Virginia. Three years later, a six years old Dave Grohl had to go through his parents divorce. So Dave Grohl grew up living with his mother.
In October of 1976, KISS blasted into Dave Grohl’s life with a bang. After watching them perform on ABC’s Paul Lynde Halloween Special, Dave Grohl quickly fell victim of KISS’s antics and look – even more that with their music. Dave Grohl’s interest in music came to life at this time and was fueled by a nylon-string flamenco-type guitar he found sitting around in his house. That guitar had been given to his father by his mother, but James never learned how to play and left it there when he moved out. By the time he was nine years old, and after breaking four of the guitar’s six strings, Dave Grohl was already playing Deep Purple’s classic “Smoke on the Water”.
Dave Grohl’s love for music was further fostered when Chip Donaldson, his mother’s new boyfriend, moved to their house with his massive record collection. Dave Grohl was exposed to great artists such as Jethro Tull, Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, Phoebe Snow, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Seeing her twelve years old boy’s love for music grow, Virginia decided to pay for guitar lessons. After a year of lessons, Dave Grohl decided to quit, since he found the lessons boring, and formed his first band. The HG Hancock Band was a duo Dave Grohl formed with fellow North Springfield Elementary School class mate and neighbor, Larry Hinkle. It was during that time period that Dave Grohl became interested in drums. It all started when a cousin of his gave him a copy of Rush’s 1976 effort 2112.
“…but it wasn’t until I heard 2112 that I really started to notice the drums, as like the focus of a song or a drummer that was really kind of charging the track.” – Interview to Edge Magazine, Issue 9, 2011.
Dave Grohl began teaching himself how to play drums using his bedroom’s furniture as a makeshift drum set.
“I had a chair that was next to my bed, and I would kneel down on the floor and put the pillow between my legs to use as my snare. I would use the chair to my left as the hi-hat and use the bed as toms and cymbals. And I would play to these records until there was condensation dripping from the windows.” – Interview to Modern Drummer Magazine, September 2005 Issue.
In 1982, a thirteen years old Dave Grohl and his sister spent the summer in Evanston, Illinois, at their cousin Tracy’s house. Tracy introduced Dave and Lisa Grohl to punk rock by taking them to see the band Naked Raygun at the Cubby Bear club in Chicago. This was Dave Grohl’s first experience with live music, and as such, was an overwhelming experience that literally hooked him on punk rock. By 1984, Dave Grohl was totally immersed in this underground sub-culture. He then began discovering heavier bands like Venom, Motörhead, Slayer, and Mercyful Fate. This turned him on to hardcore and heavy-metal which he soon realized was great to play-along to since it really conditioned him as a drummer. His favorite drummers at that time where guys like Earl Hudson from Bad Brains, John Wright from No Means No, Jeff Nelson from Minor Threat, and Dave Lombardo from Slayer. Much like he did with Rush’s 2112, Dave Grohl used his bedroom’s furniture to learn all of these drummer’s licks, note for note. Another one of Dave Grohl’s greatest drumming influences was John Bonham.
“I spent years in my bedroom listening to Bonham’s drums and trying to emulate his swing or his behind-the-beat swagger or his speed or power. Not just memorizing what he did on those albums but getting myself into a place where I would have the same instinctual direction as he had. I have John Bonham tattoos all over my body — on my wrists, my arms, my shoulders. I gave myself one when I was fifteen. It’s the three circles that were his insignia on Zeppelin IV and on the front of his kick drum.” – from Rolling Stone magazine’s article The Immortals – The Greatest Artists Of All Time: 14) Led Zeppelin
Dave Grohl attended Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Virginia for his freshman and sophomore years. Along with his mother, Dave Grohl decided to transfer to Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, because of the way his marijuana usage was affecting his grades. During his time in high school, Dave Grohl played guitar for several bands. In 1984, Dave Grohl joined Freak Baby after meeting Brian Samuels, the bassist for the band.
At one of Freak Baby’s rehearsals, Dave Grohl asked if he could play drums for the remainder of the session. Since Samuels had already gone home, David Smith, a bassist who played drums for Freak Baby, took on bass duties. Things went so smoothly that they decided to ditch Samuels and reform the band with Dave Grohl on drums and Smith on bass guitar. They called themselves Mission Impossible. This band ended when Bryant Mason (guitar) and Chris Page (vocals) headed off to college. Dave Grohl’s next project came about in December of 1985. The band was called Dain Bramage and formed after a jam session in Dave Grohl’s living room in Springfield.
In 1987, a seventeen years old Dave Grohl auditioned for the hardcore-punk band Scream after the departure of their drummer Kent Stax. Scream liked Dave’s playing and asked him to join the band. In what would prove to be one of the most important moves of his career, Dave Grohl quit Dain Bramage to join Scream in March of that year. He also decided to focus entirely on Scream by dropping out of high school. During this period (1986 to 1990), Dave Grohl became a friend of the band Melvins, and a big fan their drummer Dave Crover.
“It’s important for people to hear the drummer in the Melvins, Dale Crover. I still say to this day that he’s the best drummer in the world. There is no one who does what he does, and there’s no one who could. I get goose bumps when I hear his playing. He’s turned drumming on its side, and if I’d never heard the Melvins, I probably would not be playing the drums, because he made me realize that there’s a lot more to drumming than most people hear.” – Interview to Modern Drummer Magazine.
In 1990, Melvins’s vocalist Buzz Osborne took two of his friends to see Scream play live. They were non other than Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic. Scream disbanded a few months later. Without a band to play with, Dave Grohl turned to Buzz Osborne, who introduced him to Krist Novoselic. At the time, Nirvana was looking for a drummer after Chad Channing had quit from the band. This was due to creative differences stemming from Nevermind‘s first recording and writing sessions. So Krist decided to invite Dave Grohl to Seattle, Washington to attend their September 22 show at the Motor Sports International Garage with Dan Peters on drums. Dave Grohl spent most of Nirvana’s set outside the venue talking to a friend. But that didn’t stop him from nailing his audition with Nirvana and join them just in time for the recording of Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind. The album was released in 1991 and is considered one of the best rock albums of all time. And just like that, Dave Grohl became one of the greatest icons of rock drumming.
Dave Grohl’s first experiences with song writing began with the HG Hancock Band. The first song he wrote for the band was called “Bitch” and was written as a tribute to the Grohl family dog. Curiously enough, it was during that time that he began messing around with multi-track recording. He did this at home with the help of two cassette players. This side of his would resurface one again after joining Nirvana in 1990, when he began working on songs of his own. Later that year, Dave Grohl entered a studio to record all instruments and vocals for six songs. In the summer of 1991, Dave Grohl completed the first batch of songs with four extra tracks. Dave Grohl released his ten-song collection Pocketwatch under the pseudonym “Late!” in 1992, which featured “Color Pictures of a Marigold”, a track he worked on with Kurt Cobain.
At the same time as Dave Grohl recorded his first album, Nirvana was conquering the world with their music. Nevermind was released in 1991, and by January, 1992 had displaced Michael Jackson’s Dangerous at number one on the Billboard album charts. The album topped the charts in numerous other countries as well. Nevermind has sold more than fifteen million records worldwide to this date. During sessions for Nirvana’s 1993 release In Utero, Dave Grohl’s contributed with the main guitar riff for “Scentless Apprentice”, and with the song “Color Pictures of a Marigold”. The song was re-record by Nirvana and released as “Marigold”, a b-side on the “Heart-Shaped Box” single. Upon its release, In Utero entered the Billboard 200 chart at number one. It has since sold more than five million copies worldwide.
After Kurt Cobain’s suicide in April, 1994, Nirvana disbanded. Dave Grohl decided to take some time off from the music business, since he didn’t feel like writing music or playing drums. In October, 1994, Dave Grohl scheduled an entire week worth of studio time. He took the fifteen songs he liked the most from his personal library and recorded a demo. Much like what he did with the album Pocketwatch, Dave Grohl wrote and played all the music and lyrics on his demo – with the exception of a guitar part on the song “X-Static”. In the middle of that session, Dave Grohl was invited to perform with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on Saturday Night Live, and to join the band as their permanent drummer afterwards. Divided, Dave Grohl declined Tom Petty’s invitation and decided to start from scratch as the lead singer and guitarist for his own band.
Dave Grohl tried to keep his anonymity by releasing his music under the band name Foo Fighters. But after passing the demo around, Dave Grohl found himself in a biding war between major labels. So he decided to search for musicians who could accompany him on stage to play his songs. He drafted Sunny Day Real Estate’s bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith, and Nirvana’s touring guitarist Pat Smear. The Foo fighters were finally assembled. Their debut self-titled album was released in July, 1995.
Since forming the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl has performed with the band in seven studio albums, one live album, and two compilation albums. Foo Fighters (1995) reached number twenty-three on the Billboard 200 and has been certified platinum in the United States (U.S.). The Colour and the Shape (1997) reached number ten on the Billboard 200. It has been certified platinum in the U.S., Australia and Canada, much like the follow up There is Nothing Left To Loose (1999). One by One (2002) was Foo Fighters’s first record to reach the top of the charts in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia. The double-disc album In Your Honor (2005) has sold over one and a half million copies in the U.S. and has been certified three times platinum in Canada. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007) has been certified Gold in the U.S. while Wasting Light (2011) debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart in the U.S.. This was Foo Fighters’s first number-one album in the United States.
With Nirvana, Dave Grohl was nominated for 24 music awards and won 9, including a Grammy. With the Foo Fighters, Dave has been nominated for a grand total of 68 awards and has won 16, including 6 Grammys. Besides his massive work with Nirvana and Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl has recorded albums for his side-projects Probot, and Them Crooked Vultures, a rock supergroup Dave Grohl formed in 2009 with John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin’s bassist) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age’s guitarist and vocalist). Dave Grohl has lent his musicianship and writing skills to various musicians and bands such as Tenacious D, Puff Daddy, David Bowie, Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, and the Prodigy.
Dave Grohl’s approach to playing drum set is powerful and straight to the point. What Dave Grohl lacks in fancy orchestrations and rhythmic phrasing he makes up with a great sense of musicality. Nirvana’s Nevermind is an awesome example of just that and a mandatory album to listen to if you’d like to delve further into Dave Grohl’s playing. The rhythmic structure of the drum parts for the album are simple, for the most part. However, they’ve been written in such a way that they’ve become as important to the song’s identity as he guitar and vocal parts. This is the mark of full-blown musician.
You see, Dave Grohl makes sure every single musical statement he produces means something within the musical scenario he’s in. This makes the songs way more powerful, no matter how simple they may sound. Take the drum parts from the intro section of the songs “Territorial Pissings”, “Stay Away” and “Breed”. They are basically the combination of a single stroke roll accented pattern on the snare drum with quarter note bass drum strokes. This is a very simple and basic pattern, but one that if taken from those songs would just kill their initial intensity and momentum. This simple pattern really pumps up the listener for what lies ahead.
Another type of drum fill that’s heavily used throughout Nevermind are flammed hand-to-feet combinations. They’re especially audible in the intro for the songs “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “In Bloom”, and in the transition between verse and chorus of “Lithium”. Unlike the single stroke roll-based drum fills we talked about previously, these flammed hand-to-feet combinations propel the songs by creating an effective change of mood between quieter sections and heavier and louder ones. Now, Dave Grohl’s simple but awesome fill ideas are not limited to Nirvana.
In late 2001/early 2002, Dave Grohl joined Queens of the Stone Age for the recording of their third album, Songs For The Def. The first chorus of the song “No One Knows” has four very cool sounding triplet based rock drum fills that build in intensity as the chorus progresses, ending with a simple snare/ bass drum 16th note triplet embellishment on its last measure to take the band back to a calmer verse. We’d like to direct your attention to the third drum fill on the chorus. The underlying pattern on each count is the hybrid drum rudiment herta played as 16th note triplets. This is a repetitive but incredible pattern to play and listen to.
These songs and drum fills are a great showing of what separates Dave Grohl from a lot of other rock drummers out there. He’s able to play for the song while at the same time coming up with these really cool sounding and fun drum parts based on simple rhythmic ideas and orchestrations. He’s a great example of how to turn less into more, and of how to complement a song and make it flow flawlessly between different feeling sections.
Musicality and good taste aren’t limited to Dave Grohl’s drum fills. The song “Scentless Aprentice”, from Nirvana’s In Utero, starts with an awesome, challenging, and powerful sounding drum beat. This drum beat has a 16th note flam tap starting on the “ah” of count 3 on the snare drum and ending on count 3 on the hi-hat. The flam tap, the four-note 16th note pattern on count 3, and the off-beat bass drum strokes on counts 2 and 4 make for a very creative drum beat. This songs is a good showing of how fast, powerful and consistent Dave Grohl’s bass drum technique really is. If you’d like to get as good as him, check the free drum lesson “Beginner Single Pedal Bass Drum Speed“. On top of this all, the intro drum beat ends with a unison stroke between the floor tom and the snare drum on count four of the second bar of the song. This creates a moment of suspension between the intro drum beat and the powerful yet schizophrenic intro section. This small detail has an incredible effect over that transition.
Making awesome sounding songs by playing simple things is the true mark of a great musician. It’s great and fun to know how to perform complicated drum fills and beats. However, you should always remember that no matter what you play and how many notes you play, you have to make sure your statements are needed within the structure of a song. Much like Dave’s phrasing, your drum parts should be important to the song’s identity, due to how good they make them sound. It’s all about the music!