The year was 1994. Dave Grohl found himself to be at somewhat of a crossroads. His band Nirvana was done following the suicide of Kurt Cobain and the drummer wasn’t sure what to do next. His desire to play music had faded with Cobain’s sudden passing and he was adrift.
That same year, Stan Lynch, the drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, announced he was leaving the band. With a performance scheduled for Saturday Night Live to promote Petty’s solo album Wildflowers, Petty was in need of a replacement.
“Someone from my management calls and says ‘hey, Tom Petty just called, wants to know if you’ll play drums with him on Saturday Night Live‘,” Grohl told MTV News at the time. “‘I’m like, what the fuck is calling me for? He couldn’t find a good drummer?’ I said ‘of course I’ll do it. No question, I’ll do it.’ It was the first time that I’d really look forward to playing the drums since Nirvana ended.”
Grohl manned the kit for Petty and the Heartbreakers’ SNL performance on November 19, 1994, playing two songs off of Wildflowers, “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “Honey Bee.” Grohl’s hammering thunder style of drumming fit perfectly with the songs and for a brief moment, it seemed as if Grohl had found himself a new gig.
According to rock mythology and folklore, Petty allegedly offered Grohl the gig going forward. Grohl (also allegedly) politely declined. He would instead retreat back to Seattle, where he hunkered down, writing songs and eventually recording them, playing all of the instruments himself. The material was then released under the moniker The Foo Fighters and you know, some twenty years later, the Foo Fighters are now one of the biggest bands in the world.
But what if Grohl hadn’t refused? What if he had said yes?
For starters, it’s hard to imagine that even if Grohl still went on to form the Foo Fighters that they’d be as big as they are now. Grohl has kept himself busy with various side projects in recent years, but in the Foos first few years they were his main gig. He poured everything he had into the band and one of the biggest results of that effort and work was their excellent second album The Colour and the Shape.If he had elected to become a Heartbreaker, he likely wouldn’t have had the time to dedicate to the Foo Fighters. Two years after the Saturday Night Live performance Petty officially “reunited” with the Heartbreakers (Wildflowers was technically a Petty solo album) and released She’s The One, the soundtrack to the film of the same name. They released Echo three years later and officially entered the Rock Legends phase of their career, keeping busy with tours, festival appearances, anthology releases and a new album every couple of years.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ last album was Nobody’s Children, which was released in 2015. Grohl has boundless energy and enthusiasm, but seeing as how he spent the better part of 2013 and 2014 traveling around and recording the HBO series and companion album Sonic Highways, finding time to record a Heartbreakers’ record would have been a stretch; something would have had to give.
That’s actually applicable for nearly every Foo Fighters’ album. Both bands seemed to be operating under a similar release schedule.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers She’s The One – 1996
Foo Fighters The Colour & the Shape -1997
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Echo – 1999
Foo Fighters There Is Nothing Left to Lose – 1999
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers The Last DJ – 2002
Foo Fighters One by One – 2002
Foo Fighters In Your Honor – 2005
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Highway Companion – 2006
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Mojo – 2010
Foo Fighters Wasting Light 2011
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye – 2014
Foo Fighters Sonic Highways – 2014
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Nobody’s Children – 2015
Foo Fighters Concrete and Gold – 2017
It goes without saying that Grohl teaming up with the Heartbreakers would have made for some good fun and given the band an edge and backbeat that only Grohl could provide. But come on, it would have been a luxury. It’s not as if Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were any less great in the years that followed their brief flirtation with Grohl. Adding Grohl to the Heartbreakers would been akin to a packed team adding a high priced free agent even though they were already title favorites.
Grohl not joining the Heartbreakers could be considered a pretty big loss, but the real loss would have been everything Grohl has been able to accomplish because of him (allegedly) deciding to not accept Petty’s (alleged) offer to join forces. Grohl in the Heartbreakers will always be a fun what if in rock history, but as more time passes, it becomes more and more of a whimsical what if, one that no one takes all that seriously. It would have been cool if Dave Grohl became a Heartbreaker, but Grohl becoming one of the biggest rock stars in the world is significantly cooler.
Either way, it’s still fun to think about.