Remembering Taylor Hawkins

ESQ has learned of the unfortunate passing of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins (Friday, March 25), who notably recorded vocals for Dennis Wilson’s unfinished “Holy Man” recording in 2008 for Sony Legacy’s two-disc Pacific Ocean Blue/Bambu set. Dennis wrote and recorded the track for “Holy Man” in 1976 during the sessions for his legendary Pacific Ocean Blue solo album, but the song remained unfinished until 2008 when Taylor added vocals to the track. Additionally, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor (QUEEN) added musical flourishes to accompany Dennis’ original instrumental version. ESQ’s David Beard worked with author Jon Stebbins and the Sony Legacy team conducting multiple interviews for the collection’s liner notes. Among his interviews was this one with Taylor.

David Beard: How did you come to record and collaborate on “Holy Man”?

Taylor Hawkins: It really started about nine years ago [circa 1999] when I first met Gregg Jakobson. It was around that time that I found out that he worked with Dennis Wilson … I didn’t really know much about him to be honest. Later on, Gregg told me that he had plans to finish Pacific Ocean Blue and that there was a bunch of stuff that was incomplete that he wanted to finish. I think it was about a year ago (2007) when he reconnected with me and told me it was happening.

Then we started talking about this song that he wanted me to possibly do something with. I was actually a little bit hesitant to be honest because – after I listened to it and got into it – I realized that this was something that people really regarded as lost treasure and a classic. I mean … Who the f*** am I [laughs] to go in there and finish something by this guy who is a legend? He really was a great talent who never got his due. 

I went into the studio and they played what they had for me. There was a guide melody track by Carl … Sort of sketchy, nothing major. Gregg gave me the CD, and I took it home and didn’t really listen to it because I started thinking about the general fan reaction to me recording a Dennis Wilson song. But Gregg wanted me to get into the studio to work on it. I was like, oh fuck … When I got to the studio, Gregg and John Hanlon were there. Gregg handed me a sheet of prose … Not really lyrics; it was stuff that didn’t really fit the music. Within an hour I sketched the prose sections together and added a few lyrics and I said, “OK, let’s do a couple of takes, and I left.”

I (initially) listened to it and thought it turned out great! Then, I didn’t listen to it for a while because I was afraid of it. That sounds silly, but it’s true. The more I rationalized it, I figured it was an unfinished song, etc. How cool is it that I got to sing on this track when all the music was cut in 1976? I don’t think of it as a tribute, and I wasn’t trying to be Dennis … Appropriately enough, our voices do have a similar quality to them: a whiskey/smoker’s gruff style of vocal. I think it fits. I like it. I hope the purists out there can deal with it. If they don’t like it, then they can listen to the instrumental version. 

David: What do you personally think of Dennis’ music?

Taylor: I really love Pacific Ocean Blue and the Bambu stuff! I particularly love the heartbreaking stuff … the ballads. I really do. Those songs touch me. 

One of my favorite albums of all time is John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band; that’s my favorite. The thing that I love about that album is the brutal honesty and realism. (Similarly,) there’s something about the way Dennis expresses himself musically – even though his stuff is pretty well-produced – the delivery of his vocal (and his lyrics), which are really quite simple and straight from the heart. That’s the thing that really got me the most … the brutal realism of it – like blood applied directly to tape. To me – an aspiring songwriter in a way – that’s sort of one of the hardest things to get to bypass all the other shit that goes through your mind when the pen hits the paper and the vocal hits the tape. I’m putting it in a very clinical way, but that’s the thing that struck me the most: Dennis’ brutal honesty.

One of the beautiful things about him was his piano playing. I like Dennis’ rock and roll songs, but for me, the ballads are the best because I really feel like I’m hearing the real Dennis. I love “End of the Show” and “It’s Not Too Late.” It sounds like he’s singing from a barstool. I don’t mean any disrespect, but it sounds that way. Of all The Beach Boys, I think Dennis was doing the best work in the 1970s.

David: How would you like your recording to be received?

Taylor: I hope that it will turn people on to it that normally wouldn’t have checked it out. If anything, maybe there will be a 20-year-old Foo Fighter fan that will say, “What the hell is this?” and go buy it. I think the release is really cool, and I think Dennis is up there smiling. I hope he likes my version. I really wish he was here to finish “Holy Man” himself, but Gregg was a big part of the music and he asked me to do it. 

David: The parallels between you and Dennis are interesting …

Taylor: I am the drummer of a popular band but I’m hardly a household name. I grew up on the beach. I surf and we both have beards …

*Interview originally conducted in 2008

© 2008/2022 David Beard/All rights reserved


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