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Dave Grohl: "My Most Embarrassing Onstage Moment"

(Image credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Foo Fighters guitarist and frontman Dave Grohl recently joined his mother to promote her new book, From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars (opens in new tab).

In writing her memoir, Virginia Hanlon Grohl reached out to the mothers of musicians like Dr. Dre, Michael Stipe and Amy Winehouse to learn their stories about raising young musicians and how they felt about their children’s success and fame.

Dave Grohl, who wrote the book’s foreword, sat down with his mom for a session with Entertainment Weekly. During their talk, he recounted how she once begged him to sit in on the drums with a local jazz act while he was still just a novice drummer. The episode was embarrassing, but it taught him a valuable lesson, as he relates below.

“Oh my god, this is the most embarrassing thing ever,” he says at the outset. “So, it was my mother’s birthday. We went down to One Step Down, which was this jazz club outside of Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Every Sunday they had a jazz workshop with a house band: Lawrence Wheatley and Lenny Robinson. And they were heavy old-school jazz dudes in Washington, D.C.

“It probably held, what, like, 50 people? It was tiny. So it was an afternoon thing on Sunday. What they would do is the house band would play a set, and then for their second set they would invite other musicians to come up and play. So if you were a local musician, you would sign your name on the paper, give your name and instrument that you play, and they’d call you up, and you could jam with this band. And they were the heavy cats. This was not some high-school gig; this was the real deal.

“So we go for my mother’s birthday, I think it was just you and I,” he says to her. “At this point I had discovered punk rock: I had stupid hair, and ripped-up jeans, and a dumb T-shirt, and the whole deal. I did not look like I should be in a jazz club. We sit down at our table and ordered crab dip, or whatever the heck we always got. And my mother said, ‘You know what I want for my birthday? I want you to go up and play drums with the band.’

“And I think at this point I had been playing drums on pillows for, like, a year. So, I was like, ‘Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no.’ Because the jazz musicians—I mean, jazz drummers are like magicians. It’s like a whole other level. I’m like, ‘Oh, Mom, no, I can’t. I don’t know how to.’ She’s like, ‘Please, it’s my birthday.’

“So I walk up to the pad of paper and I wrote my name down—David Grohl, drums—and slinked back to the table, and thought, ‘Oh god, no, no, no, please don’t call me.’

“At one point Lawrence Wheatley says, ‘All right, next up we’ve got Mr. Dave Grohl on the drums.’ And I stand up, and the whole band looks at me like, ‘Oh, are you fucking kidding me?’ And so I just walked up. We had been to the club for years. We’d seen the band; they had probably seen us walking out of there a hundred times. And I just went [imitates playing a simple shuffle beat] for about three minutes. And they’re like, ‘Okay, let’s hear it for Dave,’ and kicked me back to my seat.

“But that was huge for me, because not only was it [my mother’s] birthday but I had just, like, jumped in the icy lake of live performance with the heaviest of all jazz bands, and realized that I sucked and I needed to get it together. It really raised the bar.”

To hear Dave and his mom tell the story, go to EW.com.

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Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player (opens in new tab) magazine, the world’s longest-running guitar magazine, founded in 1967. In his extensive career, he has authored in-depth interviews with such guitarists as Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Corgan, Jack White, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, and audio professionals including Beatles engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott. He is the co-author of Guitar Aficionado: The Collections: The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World (opens in new tab), a founding editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine, and a former editor with Guitar WorldGuitar for the Practicing Musician and Maximum Guitar. Apart from guitars, he maintains a collection of more than 30 vintage analog synthesizers.